The thrilling, enigmatic, occasionally bananas HBO series Westworld is back, although you may not have recognised it. Much like Delores and Bernard, the season three premiere has left the troubled park and its massacre behind for the outside world, where Delores is planning her Host revolution. Unfortunately, it turns out the real world isn’t quite as interesting as the one full of killer robot cowboys.
Although it has its moments, “Parce Domine” is the least exciting of the show’s season premieres. It starts very slow and the various storylines are completely separated, which makes it hard to build momentum (or excitement). The episode contains none of the show’s trademark mind-blowing twists to get fixated on. Perhaps the biggest problem is that there’s simply no Westworld—instead, it’s a science fiction story set in a future technological dystopia with a lot of great gadgets and one giant, unfathomable A.I. which controls everything and everyone. It’s a premise we’ve seen/read/heard many times before, and it doesn’t help that a major portion of the episode is devoted to introducing Aaron’s Paul’s character Caleb, who has absolutely nothing to with anything we’ve seen in the series and only joins the main storyline in the episode’s final moment.
At least Paul does an expectedly terrific job as Caleb, an army vet who was wounded (shot in the head, specifically) in an unknown war, and came back with some trauma which leaves him stuck doing menial construction work as assigned by the massive A.I., called Rehoboam. To make ends meet, he takes jobs for an app called Ri¢o, which offers real-life crime assignments, masterminding the entire operation from transportation to accomplices, which is how he eventually meets Delores. His army buddy Francis (rapper Kid Cudi) calls him constantly to check on him and how he’s doing…although it becomes obvious he’s talking to a computer using his friend’s voice before the show confirms it by revealing the real Francis died in the war.
Delores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) and her quest to Kill All Humans take up the bulk of the episode, naturally. She begins by hacking the very large bank account of a Delos shareholder who also happened to use Delores to “blow off some steam” when he had his bachelor party in Westworld some time in the past. Delores hacks his extremely smart home (as in it’s completely run by its own computer system), ties him up, throws some VR glasses on him, and takes him on a trip down memory lane—specifically the stops when he secretly killed his first wife and abused his second. Shortly, Delores offers to trade his life for the confidential files he kept when he was working at a company called Incite, which built Rehoboam (named for the son of the wise King Solomon of baby-splitting fame, by the way). Delores is as good as her world, but as she’s leaving the man tries to brain her with a golf club—except she’s a hologram, causing him to fall in his pool, hit his head on the concrete on the way down, and die in the same manner as his first wife.
Three months later, Delores has taken a new identity and managed to become the girlfriend of Liam Dempsey Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.), owner of Incite and son of the man who created Rehoboam, which would be a very useful tool to kill all humans and that Delores wants very badly. Unfortunately for Delores, he’s just a figurehead who’s been locked out of the A.I. by his dad’s former business partner, a man named Serac who’s so ruthless he locked Liam’s dad out of his creation and then had him killed. Also unfortunately for Delores, before Liam can spill those particular beans, Liam’s majordomo Conells (Tommy Flanagan) discovers Delores is not who she says she is, tases her unconscious, and tells Liam his girlfriend was using a fake name and is either an industrial spy or a thief. He says she was planning on luring Liam to meet a mysterious someone at an underpass where things probably weren’t going to go well for him.
Conells takes the unconscious Delores and a lot of armed goons to the underpass to set up an ambush, but Delores’ compatriot never arrives—although Caleb does, having been hired by his app to unknowingly drop off a box of poison-filled syringes (for Delores, naturally). The job complete, Caleb leaves but not without a glance at the unconscious Delores, though as he’s brushed off by guards, he misses her wake up and kill many, many goons. Only a wounded Conells is able to escape and drive away, although Delores knows where he’s headed and beats him there. After a few bullets to the knee, Conells is the one who reveals Serac’s identity. Of course, Delores prefers to add insult to injury—a Host version of Conells appears and then human Conells meets the unpleasant fate of being murdered by himself. By the episode’s end, Delores, who took a bullet in the gut along the wat, passes out and falls into the arms of Caleb, who had thought better of it and returned to the underpass to make sure she was ok.
That’s all pretty exciting, except that it doesn’t happen until the last 15 minutes or so of the episode, and before that is a lot of weird business-y stuff that goes beyond Delos, which bogs the premiere down in the Phantom Menace/Trade Federation tradition. There’s plenty of Incite business talk, and Liam also meets with Guardian of the Galaxy’s Pom Klementieff, whose character is presumably working for Serac since she tells him someone seems to have hacked inside Rehoboam to run some mysterious tests. Whoever she works for, she thinks Liam may be the culprit and threatens him on behalf of her boss. Liam says her company should be more worried about the Delos situation, although we have no idea what the connection is.
Then there’s Hale (Tessa Thompson)—who’s a host, if you recall, although we don’t know which Host’s consciousness resides inside her—who has become the acting CEO of Delos and is deadset on taking the company private, obviously so she can obscure the company’s money and use it for whatever Delores’ scheme is. Alas, Hale can’t make the move without approval from the MIA Man-in-Black, William (Ed Harris), except she can because he (well, almost certainly someone pretending to be him) named an A.I. “machine board member” as his proxy, and the computer says go for it. This is probably important information, but it’s also literally a corporate shareholders meeting, and it’s significantly less fun than watching robot cowboys killing hedonistic human park-goers. At least we get the joy of host-Hale dismissing the massacre of more than 100 people at Westworld as no big deal because it was mostly Delos board members and employees, which appalls everyone but the “machine.”
Even Host-Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) doesn’t get much to do in his limited screentime, even though he’s been framed as the architect behind the Westworld massacre, and has been on the run since coming to the real world. He’s living in a sort of free-range farm and butchery with onsite, geodesic dome dwellings, where he constantly tests his own code to see if Delores has messed with his programming. He’s even created a little remote control that allows him to switch from his normal, conscious self into Diagnostics Mode to ask questions of his other half. When a couple of fellow workers realise he’s a wanted criminal and attack him in an utterly unnecessary scene, he accesses the fighting skills buried in his programming (although he does entreat his robot self to “Remember yourself. Please don’t hurt them too badly.”).
Once he’s the run again, he finds a small fishing village and hires a boat to take him to…Westworld! Admittedly, I have no idea what Bernard’s hoping to do there, but he knows that Delores is gunning for Hosts to become the dominant species on the planet and he wants to stop her. In other good park news, the post-credit scene shows Maeve (Thandie Newton) in Warworld—a recreation of 1940s Nazi-occupied Italy—a gun in her hand, several corpses on the floor, a German man tied to a chair, and quite clearly no idea how she got there or what happened.
It’ll be nice to get back to the parks for sure, but even so, I don’t know how much that will keep Westworld’s third season from feeling so off. Seeing Delores in cocktail dresses and self-driving cars is a strange sight after two years in her blue dress and cowboy togs, but her quest needs something to hook us beyond being set in a not-particularly-distinct sci-fi dystopia. Hopefully, now that Westworld has shown us this new world, the show can focus on the storytelling—and start blowing our minds again.
“Parce Domine” is Latin, which means “Spare us, Lord!” and was one of the things some Catholic monks used to chant back in the day. Near the end of the episode, Delores tells Conells “The real gods are coming, and they are very angry” before killing him. Not too hard to put two-and-two together here.
Modern, officially licensed songs like Pulp’s “Common People” have been added to the show’s soundtrack, which also feels very jarring.
One of Caleb’s accomplices is played by Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who does a swell job. But the best thing about his character is that he’s wearing a shirt with a list of moods on it, one of which lights up depending on what he’s genuinely feeling. At one point he’s waiting for an ATM-esque kiosk to blow up, and his shirt reads “BORED.” When the ATM explodes, the shirt switches to “AMUSED.” It’s great.
Apropos of basically nothing, an agitated dude at a cocktail party tells Delores “How fucking ironic would it be to put a simulation inside of a simulation? That’s a massive fuck you!” It’s so blatantly delivered and painfully meta it genuinely made me wince out loud. But I’m taking this as a promise the real world is indeed real, and the show isn’t going to pull that particular bullshit, which is honestly a bit of a relief.