Westworld has always been good at keeping secrets. Take, for instance, Caleb’s (Aaron Paul) backstory. Right from the season three premiere until last week’s episode, Caleb’s enigmatic origin story has been kept very tight. We know that he is a war veteran who happens to meet Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) while she’s wounded in the first episode. We also know that he has a dead buddy named Francis (Kid Cudi). Other than that, however, he just seems like another pawn in Dolores’ revolution. Nothing more.
But of course, knowing how meticulous Dolores is, Caleb must have been integral to her whole operation. And as revealed in this week’s penultimate episode, that indeed is the case. In fact, Caleb has always been Dolores’ biggest plan in her robot revolution. She wants him to be the face of the rebellion against humanity because, as Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) put it, Dolores has a poetic sensibility, and what’s more poetic than having real human fighting for humanity?
Caleb’s Tragic Backstory
Yes, “Passed Pawn” is a big episode for both Caleb and Aaron Paul, who each episode keeps giving a marvelous performance as the traumatized war veteran who’s struggling to adjust into civilian life as a construction worker. But before we get the answer to why Dolores chooses him to be the face of her rebellion, the episode reveals the tragic truth behind Caleb’s life, and how his tie to both Rehoboam and Serac (Vincent Cassel) is stronger than the other characters. When we first meet him in the first episode, Caleb looked like the human version of Dolores; a pawn who has no control of his own life and doesn’t have any idea that everything about him has been controlled by a predictive AI. And the similarity of these two characters is made more explicit when Dolores tells him that before she takes charge of her own life, she used to be just like him.
At this point, Caleb still has no idea what that even means. But he still goes along with Dolores to Sonora, Mexico where the predecessor of Rehoboam is located, and where Delos gets the inspiration for the park. As we knew from episode five, before Serac can perfect Rehoboam, his schizophrenic brother Jean Mi (Paul Cooper) had previously made Solomon. But unfortunately, it has too many flaws that allowing it to operate will instead bring humanity into extinction, a risk that Serac cant afford. In order to keep it a secret, Serac keeps Solomon in a facility where he also conducts the reconditioning experiment for the outliers. And Dolores plans to enter it so that she could have a chat with this system, assuming that by getting Solomon’s iterations, she could destroy Serac’s plan.
As Dolores and Caleb are having a conversation with Solomon about predeterminism, it’s revealed that Serac’s reconditioning experiment isn’t always effective. In fact, the success rate is only one out of ten, with the nine people who failed frozen in cryo-chambers. And it turns out that Caleb is one of those successful numbers. Of course, Caleb is shocked to hear about this because, for most of his adult life, he’s been led to believe that he has free will, and that he’s just a man who’s traumatized by the death of his buddy while they’re on wartime combat. Parts of it are true though; Caleb is indeed a war veteran, but the part where his friend died on combat is manufactured into Caleb’s mind as he undergoes the reconditioning experiment.
The truth is, both Caleb and Francis are honorably discharged from the military. And when they come back to civilian life, they collect money from an app called RICO which gives them a mission to kidnap a number of random people. But the people they hunt down are far from random. They are, in fact, the outliers, or anyone who poses a “danger” to Rehoboam’s predictive system. And through a series of flashbacks, it’s also revealed that Caleb is actually the one who killed Francis after both of them are manipulated by the RICO app to murder each other for more bonuses. It’s a solid backstory, one that emphasizes how the similarity doesn’t just stop with Dolores and Caleb, but also extends to the fact that the real world is basically just another version of Delos park. And Paul’s display of emotions is really fascinating throughout the episode, showcasing the disbelief and pain that Caleb is facing in a very subtle way.
But tragic as it is, sadly it doesn’t add much to both the story and the characters. We already know that Serac is the bad guy in this scenario from a few episodes before, and we can also suspect that Caleb is bigger than just a pawn even from the very first episode. So there’s really no additional value from this backstory. For the most part of season three, this has become the biggest issue; sacrificing emotional impulse in trade for unnecessary lengthy expositions that have no added value at all. And as a result, the majority episodes of this season, especially the last three, feel just like a setup after setup.
The Lines Are Drawn
While Caleb is grappling with his reality, Dolores is trying to stop Maeve (Thandie Newton) who appears out of the blue outside of the facility. Right before the season began, the trailer of season three has promised us that there will be a big showdown between Dolores and Maeve, and this episode really delivers on that promise, giving us a thrilling and creative action sequence with Wood and Newton’s astonishing physical performances at the center of it all. A drone and a helicopter get involved, adding more explosions to an already-epic battle. But what in the end makes this scene even more exciting is when Dolores faces off against Maeve directly.
With her katana and neat black suit, Maeve chases Dolores. And Dolores with her knife is ready to do whatever it takes to stop Maeve from getting in the way of her plan. As the two try to kick each other’s asses, the show gets creative with its visual. There’s a slow-motion run, of course. There’s a brief digitalized look to the fight as if it’s shot from the screen of Dolores’ drone. It’s overall a wonderfully-staged fight sequence, and it’s just a testament to how great the action has been throughout the season. But before one of them take the victory, Dolores, with one of her arms blown off, triggers the EMP button, causing the two to get shut down.
Dolores and Maeve aren’t the only two characters who get a chance to show their fighting skills this episode. In fact, from the get-go, “Passed Pawn” already offers exhilarating combat between some familiar faces; Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) who are obviously in Team Maeve, are fighting against Musashi/Dolores (Hiroyuki Sanada) at a bar in Jakarta. The opening also gives us a hint that Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), who at the end of last week’s episode got burned down to crisp, has cut her tie with Dolores, and moved to Team Maeve. And all of these happen while Bernard, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), and William (Ed Harris) are trying to understand what Dolores’ endgame is.
Setting Up the Season Finale
Even though the action sequences of the episode are thrilling, much of what happens during this episode is, in the end, just a setup to what will hopefully be an epic season finale. And while we finally get the answers to who Caleb is, as well as what his role in Dolores’ plan will be, there’s a lot of questions that the season still needs to answer, with Maeve and Dolores’ idealism at the center of it (seriously, I still have no clue to why Maeve and Dolores don’t see eye to eye when it’s clear that they actually share the same enemy?). With only one episode left and given how disappointing the last few episodes have been, it’s hard to trust that the season will stick its landing. But let’s hope that with the pawn is now ready to take down the king, and there’s still plenty of unpredictable power players left, the finale will at least be fun.
What do you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments!
All seven episodes of Westworld season three are available to stream on HBO GO and HBO Now.
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