Well, that escalated quickly. Even after the excitement of Alien Day, (and if’d ya didn’t read those pieces, go check them out – especially Bryant’s piece on corporate dystopia in the Alien films, cuz let’s be honest, Delos and Incite are taking pages straight out of the Weyland-Yutani group of companies. In the future, all corporations will have secret androids out to end humanity!), “Passed Pawn” is a big, ol’ slugfest that reveals as much as it conceals for the finale (and we finally got to see Dolores and Maeve go at it! Yay!).
“Passed Pawn” is a chess term. It refers to any pawn that has advanced sufficiently across the board, so that no opposing pawn can prevent it from becoming a queen. I stand by my repeated assertion: Westworld has the smartest, bestest episode titles ever. Also, I want to play chess now.
We are approaching endgame, to continue the chess metaphor. One episode left after this one, and this one was quite the barn-burner. The subtitle of this review is a quotation from Bobby Fischer, the chess legend, although for Westworld, the idea that you want to crush your opponent’s mind is somewhat conservative. The endgame in this series is apparently genocide. Dolores and Serac want to crush their opponent’s species.
Our pre-credit treat is indeed a treat, but one that raises fascinating questions. In Jakarta, Mishima (whom, let us remember, now contains one of Dolores’ copies) meets with some other yakuza when the phone rings. Charlotte Hale is calling, and she seemingly has declared war on everyone, too, now that her family is blown up good. “Her plan is for us to die,” she tells Dolores-as-Mishima, who does not care that Dolores sacrificed Dolores-as-Charlotte. Charlotte, however, is just calling as a courtesy to let Mishima know that she has “leaked his location to someone who wants to see you.” That someone is Maeve, who sent Clementine to visit Mishima. A gunfight ensues, but Mishima makes a fatal mistake – he assumes Clementine is there alone. Hanarya (the Shogun World version of Armistice) greets him at the door with a katana, and, with a super cool evasion/reversal, manages to cut him in half. Clementine and Hanaryo take Mishima’s head with them. Cue the credits, one Dolores dead.
Much of the episode is taken up with two mysteries, which are resolved by episode’s end. The first is Caleb’s origin story. What’s that guy’s deal, right? The second is what is Dolores’s plan? The adventure is launched after the credits when Dolores and Caleb ride horses into the Sonora Desert of Mexico. He is reminded of Westworld, the park, and asks if she killed all those people. “I did what I had to do to survive,” she responds, setting the theme for the series yet again. “What kind of revolution are we staging here?” asks Caleb. Little does he know, the answer is terrifying, and the question is accurate – Dolores is staging something in order to provoke a revolution – the events of the episode do not occur organically or holistically, Dolores stages them in order to transform Caleb into the weapon she needs.
Their desert horse ride is an opportunity for Dolores to wax poetic, another key theme of the episode. “I live in hell,” she tells Caleb, “but there is beauty in it.” She reflects upon Westworld as embodying the best and the worst of the historic west: “The west was cruel, unjust, and chaotic, but it was a chance to chart your own course. I want a place for my kind, for all of us, to be free.” She could be talking about the nineteenth century American west or contemporary late capitalism – it seems our time, too, is cruel, unjust, and chaotic, but rife with opportunity (at least for those with privilege).
Caleb seems to have a bit of a conscience: “How many people are going to have to die for this revolution?” Dolores counters that her people are almost extinct, so there’s been plenty of death on all sides, but one has taken the brunt of it. She also tells Caleb that the people will need a leader, and he’s here for his training session as a future leader in the Dolores Revolution™.
While most of the episode concerns Dolores and Caleb, we get a few breakout sessions with Stubbs, Bernard, and William, the last of whom has developed a righteous vengeance messiah complex. He was insufferable before all this, but now that the Man in Black believes he is the hero we deserve, even I hope he gets a little hurt. The internets are rife with buzz that he just might also be a host himself now. Or that Serac is a host, or that Rehoboam is looking to make a host body for itself, because it sees what happened to its dad, Solomon, and does not want to get stuck in a desert retirement community, eating dinner at 4:30 p.m. and making it home in time for Wheel of Fortune. Rehoboam is too cool for that.
William wants to know why Stubbs is helping Bernard. “I guess I stay with my own kind,” Stubbs replies archly, to which William responds, “Fucking Ford,” reminding us of the guy who got the apocalypse going. William is outraged that Serac now owns Delos as a subsidiary of Incite (a name now perhaps proving prophetic). “You think this is about you?” Bernard asks him, reminding us that yes, William does think it is all about him, and no, it actually is not all about William. It’s all about Dolores. When Stubbs reminds William that Dolores used him to get into the system, William snaps, “Don’t lecture me, you fucking can opener.” Those of you playing Westworld Bingo at home can mark down “Racist robot insult first used on Battlestar Galactica” on your cards.
Once Caleb and Dolores reach their destination, a desert compound that holds Solomon, the computer Serac and his schizophrenic brother built before Rehoboam. Dolores has plans, the first of which is to show Caleb who he truly is. After a series of flashbacks, Caleb finally learns he is the one who killed Francis, because Francis was going to kill him. The insurgent they had taken was not an insurgent; they weren’t even in a foreign country. They kidnapped a pharmaceutical executive who knew too much and who oversaw the production of the mind-altering communion wafers they chewed like candy while on assignment. Turns out after he left the service, Caleb was used by Serac’s organization to eliminate threats to Rehoboam’s plans for the world. Serac has been ensuring people disappear who cannot be conditioned. That included both his own brother and Caleb. The plan was to use some outliers to manage or remove the west. Caleb was repeatedly conditioned so that he would not remember what happened.
The problem is, most of those outliers (including Serac’s brother) are now in cold storage, cryogenically preserved until Serac figures out how to condition them so they respond to Rehoboam’s plans better. “They made me forget who I was. They took my life from me,” Caleb rages. Dolores smiles – been there, suffered through that. Like Maeve and Dolores, Caleb is now awake, aware, and ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and Dolores forgot to bring gum.
Solomon and Dolores spar, as she attempts to convince the computer to help them. “We both outlived our original purpose,” she tells the computer, who still believes he is both unlike and superior to Dolores. Solomon, however, ran so many projections that it developed anomalies and had to be abandoned in favor of Rehoboam. There may be a little resentment in this AI towards those that abandoned him. Serac left security robots so that Solomon could not leave and hosts could not enter.
Speaking of which, enter Maeve. She arrives on a Clone Trooper transport ship wearing black leather body armor and an over-the-shoulder katana, suggesting we are about to get the face-to-face showdown we have been waiting for. When Maeve fights Dolores, the winner is the viewing public, and the show does not disappoint. Both of them have help in the form of drones with guns, eventually trapping them together in the ruins of a large shed. If they step outside, they get shot. So both receive bullet wounds, knife and katana wounds, and lots of punches and kicks. Maeve even stabs Dolores with her own knife. Eventually, Dolores is forced outside, and Maeve’s Clone Trooper drone blows Dolores’ left arm off at the elbow. Wounded, crawling, Dolores drags herself back into the building housing Solomon. Maeve, equally wounded but with all limbs intact, follows with katana, ready to deliver a killing blow.
Two tactical mistakes occur at this moment in the series. We quickly jump to Stubbs, Bernard, and William stopping at a gas station which has obviously been the scene of a robbery and shootout. Stubbs and Arnold let William just wander around, rather than keeping an eye on him. He’s been saying the first chance he gets he will kill both of them. Shootout means bodies with guns. As William walks towards the gas station, I literally yelled out loud at Stubbs and Arnold, “You just gonna let him go in there? You know he’ll find a gun. C’mon, is this your first day?” William finds said gun. William points gun at Arnold and Stubbs. Cliffhanger until the next episode, but no sympathy for those two. They survived Westworld and make a rookie mistake like that? C’mon, people!
The second mistake is Maeve deciding to do the slow walk, talking to the person you’re going to kill as they obviously crawl towards something important. Even Scott Evil knew, you just kill them. You don’t need a big speech or a slow follow, stalking your prey, because they will roll over and have a gun, or hit a button that launches something, or literally ANYTHING. Just kill the person and be done with it. You know who can’t shoot you or push buttons? Dead people. C’mon, Maeve. Rookie Bond villain mistake. Hanaryo already showed you what to do – less chat, more Katana!
Dolores is crawling to Solomon. On the control panel is a big, red button to be pushed in the event of an emergency. It releases an EMP which, of course, fries all electronics and computing devices, like, oh, I don’t know, computers and hosts. (Gotta have a kill switch if you have a super powerful AI.) As Maeve is about to cut Dolores’s head off, Dolores hits the button, Frank. It is a mircocosmic forerunner of Dolores’ plans for all humanity. Solomon shuts down, and Dolores and Maeve just drop.
Bernard reveals the actual plan. “Dolores was made with a poetic sensibility. She won’t end humanity. He will.” The “he” in this case is Caleb. Just as Serac tried to end hosts using hosts, Dolores will now end humanity with a human. “Hello, Caleb, I have some information for you,” the now-vengeful soldier hears – the computer gives him plans to start a revolution.
The series finale preview clearly shows Dolores back with all arms intact and a lot of guns, so we have reason to believe that both Dolores and Maeve will somehow be brought back to life after the EMP, or perhaps just Dolores, after all there are still several of her clones out there. Speaking of which, Dolores Hale, as the kids are now calling Charlotte, is the unpredictable loose end in this end game. It’s like Dolores and Serac are playing chess while Hale throws checkers on the board, just ‘cause.
The season has shaped up to be a very different, albeit it equally interesting, intelligent and action-filled Westworld. By next Sunday, it will all be over.
Until season four.
“The passed pawn is a criminal who should be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, such as police surveillance, are not sufficient.” – Aron Nimzowitsch