Westworld S3E3: “The Absence of Field”

Dolores and Caleb look off camera with purpose

You have to feel sorry for the hosts of Westworld. No matter where they are—the park, the so-called “real” world—they cannot outrun the boundaries of their own identity crises, particularly in Westworld S3E3.

First, it was the realisation that what they took for reality were just programmed narratives keeping them trapped in pre-ordained roles for the entertainment of the guests, who took delight in degrading them.

Then, there was the problem of consciousness itself. Yes, it offered the hosts the freedom of deciding who they wanted to be, but it also gave them the anxiety of having to choose, whereas previously they’d had no desires of their own. What to do with freedom when you never even knew it existed?

Now a third crisis of identity has emerged, as established by this week’s episode, “The Absence of Field.” Previously, a host’s consciousness would be housed in the same body; their role may change, and their costume along with it, but the body would mainly stay the same; perhaps if the body were changed, the mind would lose an anchor of sorts to itself and would plunge into disarray.

Just like what happens to Charlotte Hale.

I Am Not Who I Am

“Charlotte Hale,” to be clear, is not Charlotte Hale. One strength of the streamlined approach this season has taken to storytelling is that, whilst there are still mysteries, the show is a lot more upfront about these and is a lot clearer about giving you information that you need to unlock the narrative, whereas previously such information would have been ambiguous for ambiguity’s sake. The showrunners appear to have learnt from previous mistakes and I applaud them for that.

So. “Charlotte Hale” is not Charlotte Hale. The show made this clear in an opening sequence that showed the creation of a new Hale host body (suggesting that the Hale body Dolores used to abscond from the park has been discarded or destroyed). The human Hale was of course killed by Dolores at the end of Season 2. So who inhibits the new Hale host body?

We can’t say—the show’s keeping us on our toes regarding that one. But what’s clear from the ensuing conversation between Dolores and the now online Hale is that the consciousness inside Hale belongs to one of the few host minds Dolores took with her from the island. There is also the suggestion that Dolores and this person know each other pretty well, what with the familiar tone of their conversation.

Whoever it is, they’ve got a job to do. If they’re going to bring humanity to its knees, they’re going to need Hale to carry on leading at Delos, pushing them into operating as a public company. For what purpose, I’m not sure. But Hale is needed to make it happen.

But Hale is not Hale. And as the new Hale looks at herself in the mirror, getting used to her new host body, the uncertainty is writ large over her face. This is not going to be an easy ride.

Charlotte Hale looks into the mirror and is curious at what's looking back at her

Shoulders to Cry On

It appears that everyone’s favourite sinister Frenchman, Serac, is executing a takeover of Delos of sorts, having stealthily acquired enough stock over the years to have become the major shareholder. This puts a block on the company going public. Worse, it appears there’s a mole at Delos feeding Serac information. Whatever importance Delos holds for Dolores’ plans, such happenings no doubt do nothing but impede them.

Whoever it is inside of Hale, they aren’t handling the pressure very well. Not only do they seem to be in over their head amongst all the corporate intrigue, ringing Dolores constantly in a barely controlled panic, the internal conflict between who they were, who they are, and who they’re pretending to be seems to be getting more intense by the moment.

A Delos executive notices Hale picking a hole in her arm, the wound gently starting to bleed. That’s uncomfortable in itself. Self-harm is said to be a temporary form of release from anxiety or despair and this makes sense in the context of Hale’s inner conflict. But it gets worse. Not getting any response from Dolores, Hale rushes to her hotel. But she is barely Hale. She reveals the wound on her arm and Dolores traces its sad path up her arm and across her shoulder to her chest. That’s more than just looking for a release. That’s tearing yourself up at the seams.

Hale is on the verge of a breakdown. The length of time spent in another’s skin and living their life is having a transformative effect and not for the better. “What’s happening to me?” Hale snaps from the pit of her confusion. Dolores raises an interesting point when Hale says she cuts herself because she can’t stop. “They don’t have impulse control. We do.” Will Dolores be able to control her impulses to kill humans if it threatens her plans? It’ll be interesting to see if Dolores can show the same resolve she preaches.

Hale in return raises her own interesting idea: it feels to her like Hale, the real Hale, is trying to take back control of her own body and life. This can’t be possible because there is no trace of Hale left; the body is a replication and the mind is somebody else’s. It almost sounds like the host mind is suggesting that the soul, if such a thing exists, of the original body can possess its replication, regardless of who it’s hosting. It’s a curious question, one that takes the idea of consciousness in artificial intelligence deeper into more metaphysical areas. I don’t know of they will pursue this avenue of thinking further, but I enjoyed its suggestion here.

Of particular interest here was the relationship between “Hale” and Dolores. Whoever is using the Hale body, they clearly have a strongly affectionate bond with Dolores. “No-one knows you better than me,” Dolores tells her, “and no-one knows me better than you…You belong to me. Don’t hurt yourself.” Hale responds, “Stay with me,” and they lie together on the bed, Dolores protectively holding Hale in an embrace. There’s nothing sexual or necessarily romantic about the act, more a sense of warmth and affection and the desire to protect. It’s a beautiful, tender moment from a character who spent a lot of the previous season discarding her affections in pursuit of her mission of vengeance.

Such affection begs the question: who’s inside Hale? As I said before, the relationship isn’t necessarily romantic but the strong feeling between the two suggests Teddy. He would certainly be the obvious choice.

An outside option, however, would be Clementine. She seems to engender affection and concern from those like Maeve who get close to her. Perhaps Dolores and Clementine were able to form the same kind of bond. But how and when? Clementine was in Dolores’ party last season, but she was non-verbal, able to kill but not to talk.

I don’t think we’ll find out the answer for a little while yet but the clues are starting to be laid in their own way.

Before then, though, our mystery friend might find she’s becoming more like Hale than she imagined.

Charlotte Hale looks at Dolores sadly

Becoming More Like Charlotte

Sometimes, if we’re in enforced close contact with others, we start to adopt parts of their personalities, their mannerisms, their actions. There’s no closer contact, I’m sure, than inhabiting someone else’s body and living their life.

It seems the real Charlotte Hale left behind a young son, a child she more often than not bailed on for work, so that the Hale host, on meeting “her” son for the first time, is surprised to be told that she doesn’t love him because she’s hardly ever around. It’s heart-breaking, as every parent trying to juggle a full-time job or career and making sure to be there for their children can attest to. I certainly know that feeling of guilt, even when I’m getting the balance right.

It’s easy to suppose that Hale was possibly a negligent parent, too obsessed with her position of power, based on her previous behaviour. But host Hale is shown a video that the real Hale recorded for her son during the uprising where she touchingly pledges her love for her son and sings him their special song, “You Are My Sunshine.” It shows that even the worst of us love our children. And it is perhaps this touching vulnerability that speaks to the host Hale, a realisation of a common ground.

How does this realisation manifest itself? In violent ends, as always. Host Hale goes to pick up her son from the park, only to find a strange man with a dog talking to him. Calmly sending her son to play, she congratulates the stranger on having disabled the surveillance cameras (perturbing predatory behaviour in itself) and proceeds to viciously throttle the man to death, all the while talking about her love for her son. To that end, she takes the man’s dog, who was obviously the lure for the boy, and gives it to her son as a present. “You are my sunshine,” she says, smiling, making love seem sinister. It’s a great scene and one with curious implications.

What will happen when the consciousness inhabiting Hale is returned to its own body? How much of Hale will it have absorbed? How much of itself will remain?

Returning the Favour

Talking of changes, life is about to get a whole lot different for Caleb. The last time we saw him, he was cradling a wounded Dolores and screaming for help.

Now the cavalry arrives in the form of an ambulance. But that’s not all. A police car flags them down en route to the hospital, but Caleb is suspicious. And he’s right to be. A quick look at his “Rico” app confirms that someone’s been hired quickly to take out Dolores.

It’s a little strange that Caleb is so protective over someone he doesn’t really know—she could have killed people for all he knows (and she has). Still, try to protect her he does, not that she needs it—coming back around in time to slay her assailants.

Caleb doesn’t know what to think and I don’t blame him. His intervention, however, has serious repercussions. Checking his “Rico” again, he sees that there’s a new job opportunity—and he’s the target! Intercepted at the hospital whilst visiting his mother, he’s taken to a very tall building and held right against a ledge, with the implication being he’s about to have his first diving lesson without a parachute unless he gives up Dolores’ whereabouts.

All of which means it’s fortunate Dolores had chosen that particular moment to ask the seemingly all-knowing system she is using (what system is it anyway? How did she get access to it?) to do a little digging on Caleb. Seeing that his current situation involves him being kidnapped, Dolores decides to repay the favour and rescue him, guns blazing. He doesn’t quite know it yet, but his life is going to be turned upside down by this woman.

Stepping out of the Cage

Dolores and Caleb face each other at the pier, the water behind them and the sun setting

They go to a cafe, a place Caleb knows well but not a place he banked on Dolores knowing. Dolores is well informed because she has access to the system and is well aware that its not just data but experiences and choices that are being harvested. She can repeat word for word what Caleb said when he was abandoned by his mother at the same cafe when he was a kid. That people can have access to such a vulnerable incident in his life quite rightly enrages Caleb. But he doesn’t know the half of it.

Walking along the pier, Dolores reveals this is where Caleb will commit suicide. Yes, will. It’s here Dolores reveals how little agency Caleb has. The system she has access to is the system presumably used by or generated by Rehoboam. The idea of socially categorising here is rendered very literally.

On her tablet, Dolores shows Caleb his profile on the system. It has everything down to what the ceiling is on the job type he is allowed (spoiler: it’s low) to life expectancy and cause of death—and the system confirms Caleb is indeed to commit suicide. How could it be anything else? He’s being driven to it by the literal restrictions being placed on his life. I assume any potential employers would check his profile first for his status and anyone below the required status would automatically be rejected for the job. It would explain why Caleb got rejected without feedback in the first episode of the season. He still had to go to the interview to give the illusion of free choice and opportunity. It’s crushing and logical and evil.

Having reduced his life to ashes, Dolores offers Caleb an opportunity. Come with her and take down the system. Sounds simple when you put it like that. But regardless of how realistic a chance they have of bringing the system to its knees, this is a turning point in Dolores’ attitude to humans. She’s come to see that it’s not just hosts that humans classify and degrade but it’s each other. That’s why she can relate to Caleb—they were both living in a cage.

It’s an important development but across the city, Hale is about to step into a development of her own.

The Unknowing Mole

Sitting in the back of a taxi, Hale solves the puzzle of a series of messages she’s received on her phone as digital tones. Played as a series, they match the tones a phone keypad would make if a certain number was being dialled.

Upon ringing the number, the call is answered but there is no voice on the other end. Hale demands to meet Serac, guessing he’s behind the messages, and the taxi is hacked, changing its course to arrive at a mansion that does indeed house a certain Mr. Serac. Or a projection of him, as Hale finds out when she has to wear special glasses to see him, and he vanishes like a hologram being switched off at the end of the conversation.

As the conversation progresses, it turns out Hale and Dolores have got more than they bargained for. Hale was the mole in Delos, and Serac wants the guest data from the park that she promised him. The data is apparently out there, floating in the digital ether but they need the encryption key. Luckily, Serac knows where it is: Dolores has it…

Will Hale broker a meeting between Serac and Dolores? What will happen when they finally meet—does Serac have some tricks up his sleeve? Will Dolores be able to restrain herself from violent delights? Place your bets and join me next time.

I’ll be waiting for you—in Westworld!

Written by Chris Flackett

Chris Flackett is a writer for 25YL who loves Twin Peaks, David Lynch, great absurdist literature and listens to music like he's breathing oxygen. He lives in Manchester, England with his beautiful wife, three kids and the ghosts of Manchester music history all around him.

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