Westworld: 3.03 The Absence of Field
The more focused nature of Westworld season three is doing a wonderful job of fleshing out the world outside the park and delving into the psyches of key characters. After the attention on Maeve and Bernard last week, The Absence of Field shifted the focus back to Delores, Charlotte and new character Caleb, peeling away at the mysteries to offer an utterly absorbing look at the next stage of Delores' 'rebellion.
Saving Delores after her full Terminator-style attack in the season opener, Caleb quickly came face to face with the real danger; Delores herself. The raid on the ambulance by corrupt detectives resulted in a tense, brutal fight that saw Caleb on the run and Delores revealing her ruthless killer persona to take down her wood-be abductors. It was a great action set-piece, providing a nice contrast to the more introspective character moments of the rest of the season. While season three is clearly moving beyond some of the high-stakes drama of the first two seasons, these moments of violence, transposed from the park to the real world, add to the danger of Delores and her quest to take down humanity.
While season two gave us a cold, merciless Delores, season three have started to give her back some of her humanity and this episode certainly allowed Evan Rachel Wood to explore the emotional depth of Delores under the hard shell of the killer host. Her scenes with Charlotte conveyed real warmth, caring for the host as she struggled to climatise to her role as the spy within the Delos Corporation. The Absence of Field never made it clear which host was impersonating Charlotte - my money is on Teddy, the one host that Delores ever felt truly close to. The manner in which she comforted her portrayed more than a desire to keep her mission on track.
Similarly, there was more to her rescue of Caleb than just his potential to join her cause. She absolutely manipulated him into seeing things her way - relieving the memory of the worst day of his life through the knowledge gained by Insight was a particularly brutal way to reveal her plan. And yet that final scene on the pier showed that there was a real connection between them. Delores's allies are far and few between and yet in Caleb there was a hint that she had genuinely found someone who she could confide in. I'm intrigued to see how their relationship develops.
Similarly, Aaron Paul is really making an impact on the show. A man haunted by his past, dealing with his institutionalised mother since he was a child, grieving the death of his friend and now hunted by the corrupt authorities for helping Delores. The revelation that his life has been one big manipulation, steered by algorithms that have limited his career choices and even predicted his suicide, was a particularly dark twist.
One of the key ideas of the future world presented in Westworld is that is a natural extension of the world we live in today. While driverless cars and robotic workers are not too far removed from today's ever-evolving technology, the real hook of the story is Insight, an AI device that can catalogue your every purchase, job search, internet query and life choice. The idea that this AI can create predictive algorithms to plot out your life plan, even being used to help decide whether you are financially viable or should be accepted for a job application is a frightening prospect, but one that again is not too far removed from the life we live today. Who hasn't seen an advert for that item you searched on Amazon a week ago pop up on Facebook? Sometimes, it's uncanny just how well a profile can be built up of you online. The idea that those decisions can then inform the direction of the rest of your life is a chilling prospect, and one that shapes Caleb's decision to help join Delores's cause. As she puts it, he is in a pre-programmed cage, just like she was. Who wouldn't want to break free of that?
And then we have Charlotte Hale and the host within her's struggle to play this role he has been assigned. Her son is quick to ascertain that this woman that looks like his mother isn't his mother - no matter how well a song is sung or a pet dog given. And yet, there is still a sense of good in her / him / whoever this host really is. Her killing of the predator stalking her son in the park is done to protect him as much as it is to play for his affections. And there is a real sense of despair in Charlotte, cutting herself just to feel something, forced to be someone she is not. It's a compelling narrative, one that plays against Delores, even as Caleb joins her side. The twist that Charlotte was in league with the mysterious business man and his hostile take over of Delos adds another complicated layer. Particularly when that man is Serac, the man that resurrected Maeve to take down Delores.
The Absence of Field was a compelling episode, adding layers to the narrative as Delores's plan unfolded. Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Paul and Tessa Thompson all gave compelling performances, exploring a future Earth that is disturbing only a small step from our own. The rich world building of season three is already paying on, the focused nature of episodes centring on just two or three characters giving the audience some powerful character stories to invest in. It is unclear just where the season is taking us, but that is a great thing. Westworld had reinvented itself again, and that unpredictability really makes for compelling television.