It’s been an uncharacteristically slow, straightforward start for Westworld’s newest season, but the series is finally returning to its strengths by leaning hard into one of the show’s biggest mysteries: Who the hell is in Delos director Charlotte Hale’s body?
No, we don’t get an outright answer, although in classic Westworld-style we get a lot of clues, a few of which seem to contradict each other, amidst a lot of other revelations about the former, living Hale (Tessa Thompson). (Note: For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the current Host occupying the body as Hale, and the deceased human being as exHale, as it’s another pun so horrid it brings me genuine joy.) Unsurprisingly, it turns out exHale had a lot going on before she found herself a victim of Westworld’s Host revolution.
“The Absence of Field” begins with two flashbacks; the first is of exHale, in the aforementioned revolution, recording a video message for someone named Nathan, and the second is of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) welcoming the Host in Hale’s body as it wakes up. Unlike the seemingly unflappable human, this Hale is panicked when she (we don’t know it’s a woman, technically) comes back into existence, and both scared and hurt when she realises she’s going to have to play the role of Hale instead of returning to her original body. But Dolores needs someone in charge of Delos—someone she pointedly says she can trust—if they’re going to bring more Hosts into the real world en masse, instead of the three, remaining, as-yet-unknown Host cores Dolores has stylishly arranged on the table between them. From there, it’s a triptych of Hale at work, Hale at home, and Hale with Dolores.
At Delos, Hale is understandably displeased to learn that a plethora of shell companies have been quietly buying up Delos stock piecemeal, which all turn out to be unsurprisingly owned by Serac (guest star Vincent Cassel), making him the company’s majority shareholder, thwarting Hale’s (and Dolores’) plans to take Delos private. Eventually Hale discovers exHale was the mole, although she came to Serac first and offered a deal to get him all of Delos’ profile data on its guests. That data was beamed out of Westworld last season, but unfortunately for Serac, the encryption key is in Dolores’ head—another reason he needs her found and taken out, in addition to stopping the potential extinction of the human race.
At home, Hale unexpectedly encounters her ex-husband and starts up some steamy sex…until she learns she has a child, named Nathan, and that she forgot to pick him up from school. It’s weird how surprised she is, given that she’s supposed to know everything, or at least the big things, about exHale’s life. It’s even weirder when the kid straight-up says she’s not his mummy, although the show indicates its because Nathan is (understandably) fussy his mother keeps ignoring/forgetting about him, rather than him straight-up realising she’s a robot. Either way, the child brings some very powerful emotions out of Hale, especially when she’s given the video exHale recorded at the very beginning of the episode, which is just the usual trope of a work-obsessed parent who faces a crisis that makes them realise what’s really important is family.
Hale’s powerful emotions are an increasing problem because, for the first half of the episode, she begins cracking under the strain of pretending to be someone she’s not. Having so much of exHale’s memories/data added to her own core gives her a special kind of identity crisis. As she explains to Dolores later, it makes her feel like exHale is trying to take her life back. Dolores heals her (increasingly elaborate) self-made wounds, caresses her face, and after grabbing a private hotel room comforts her with some spooning in bed.
“No one knows you like I do,” Dolores tells Hale. “No one knows me like you do.” The physical contact implies the Host inside Hale is her former lover Teddy, and Hale is certainly as sensitive as Teddy was for most of the show’s first two seasons—that is, until Dolores told him he was too sensitive to help her in her war, forcibly changed his programming to make him tougher, which ended up with Teddy committing suicide. Teddy really was too sensitive to fight the war against humanity, and I’m not sure Dolores would put him through that again, out of practicality if not affection. (Note: There is a theory floating around about who’s in Hale’s body that is such a perfect Westworld twist I’m almost certain it’s true, so I’m only linking to it as an extra spoiler warning. If you want to guess, the “killer” speech she gives to the sexual predator who was targeting Nathan is a pretty solid clue.)
“The Absence of Field” also picks back up with Dolores and Caleb, with the latter calling 911 after finding the former, collapsed, and bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound. There’s real suspense in putting Dolores on an ambulance as the EMTs begin to discover how not human she is, although this comes to a close when Caleb gets a notification on his Rico app offering him a job murdering a high profile target in his area. Two fake cops stop the ambulance, and four murders later, Dolores informs Caleb he’s a marked man and needs to disappear as she hijacks the now ownerless police car.
Caleb doesn’t disappear and becomes the target of his own Rico mission, and two guys—one of whom he helped in episode one—hijack his health-regulating implant, max his adrenaline levels, and threaten to throw him off a high-rise if he doesn’t tell them where Dolores is. A couple of murders later, Dolores and Caleb have breakfast at the diner where his schizophrenic mother abandoned him when he was eight. A lot happening here!
Dolores not only has all the details of what happened that day right down to what he ate but even has a transcript of his conversation with the waitress who eventually called child services—all recorded by inCite’s massive, all-powerful A.I Rehoboam. More disturbingly, she gives him proof that Rehoboam isn’t just recording his life, but dictating it—she shows him a secret file that marks him not only unfit for social promotion beyond his job a menial worker but unfit for reproduction, too. It also predicts Caleb will kill himself in 10-12 years, and, based on his past actions, Dolores points out the program is probably correct. The data collecting isn’t finding a way to help Caleb, it’s dictating his life…and his death.
We learned most of this in episode one, so Westworld really didn’t need to spend so much time having Dolores spell out how real-world society proscribes roles for the poor and disenfranchised just as Delos controlled the lives of the Hosts (as well as very deliberately giving them literal roles to play in the park) even if she’s doing it more thoroughly and enunciating it more clearly this time. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s only at the end of their storyline when Dolores recruits Caleb for her revolution that something new finally happens. While this was obviously coming, it still introduces the mystery of why Dolores would partner up with a human. Sure, she sees a kinship in how they’ve both been used and controlled by the elite, and Dolores is moved by Caleb’s noble refusal to rat her out when held at gun and ledge-point. But even if she wasn’t tapped into Rehoboam, she couldn’t be completely unaware of humanity’s capacity to not be shitheads. More importantly, the goal of Dolores’ revolution is still Destroy All Humans. How does Caleb fit into that? And how will Caleb react when he realises the full extent of what he’s fighting for?
These are interesting questions that, like the mysteries of Hale, give the show some welcome momentum. But again, they’re still posed at the end of the episode, meaning Westworld won’t explore the potential answers until next week at the earliest. As the season’s slow-burn gets slower, it’s becoming increasingly important that the show be preparing to set everything on fire, so to speak. If, like the jump to the real world, this is another part of the series’ new normal, these first three episodes won’t be nearly as good as they’re pretending to be.
In case there was any confusion, Dolores has three other Host cores in her possession. Since we’ve had no evidence there can be multiple copies of Hosts yet, we can rule out Maeve (not that she was ever an option). Dolores could have copies of humans in there, but the implication is that they’re fellow Hosts. So who could they be? Feel free to name your candidates in the comments. I’m going to guess one of them is Lawrence, but that might be wishful thinking on my part.
I have to assume Hale wasn’t surprised to learn she had a kid—surely that was all in her Delos profile, if not basic online records—but surprised to discover Nathan was in her apartment and that she was supposed to be dealing with him? Or maybe the confusion between Hale’s core and exHale’s memories are just that disorienting?
I’m very confused/interested in how Rehoboam prevents people like Caleb from having kids.
So Delos makes other robots, including a large “riot control” ‘bot made of five crates that combine like goddamned Voltron, and I am down with it. It turns out 300 of them have been produced, which were to be sold to the Saudi’s until they understandably backed out after other Delos robots started massacring people en masse. Hale, ominously: “Oh, I’m sure we can find a use for them.”
Where the hell is the Man in Black, anyway? And for that matter, when is he?
If I were a crueler man, I would have dubbed Host Hale as inHale, but I suspect you guys can only stand so much.