Okay, we’ll admit we’ve been bad about covering this particular show on HBO, but it’s not for lack of love the show. The contrary is true. We feel wildly incapable of covering the intricacies presented in a show like Westworld. From the jumping timelines to the never-aging body-jumping hosts, to the deep philosophical themes that require a LOT of rewatching and a lot of discussions, Westworld is a show that demands your full attention and even then, you still might not get it.
So, as I attempt to embark this season on a weekly recap bear with me as I make mistakes, jump to conclusions, make wild assumptions, and forget tidbits from the previous seasons. There’s a lot to look at.
Although preview and teaser material seemed to throw the show into a completely new point of view, “Parce Domine” quickly weaves in the new addition of characters like Aaron Paul’s Caleb Nichols to Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) story. The neo-Los Angeles that we are suddenly immersed into — which is really just current day Singapore — is one that feels both believable and otherworldly.
Technology has evolved by leaps and bounds and tech companies hold a large amount of power over people. The concept of data mining is subtler but still there as we watch people and see their attachment to implants and devices. Watching over all this information and tracking this data is a company called Incite. As Dolores says, “Bit of a tactical mistake, really. You want to be the dominant species, but you built your whole world with things more like me.”
While Delos was the controlling god of Westworld, Incite’s masterpiece system Rehoboam seems to be the god of the real world. Rehoboam’s algorithms control everything from the job market to traffic to surveillance, it is able to make strategic decisions and is referred to as having “thoughts”. Liam Sr. designed it with the idea that unrealized potential is the biggest problem in the world, and Rehoboam can chart a course for everyone. The name of the game is control.
The episode name, “Parce Domine,” is in reference to the Catholic antiphon, whose lyrics translate to, “Spare, Lord, spare your people: Be not angry with us forever.” Given that and the multiple references to god, from Liam’s ranting atheist friend to Dolores’ speech to Martin Connells (Tommy Flanagan) — “You were free, you had no god. But you tried to build one, only that thing you built isn’t God. The real gods are coming, and they’re very angry.” — this season is going to play heavily on the themes of religion, punishment, and control.
Three months after the massacre at Westworld, Dolores has quickly adapted to the modern world. We watch her easily outsmart a Delos shareholder living comfortably near the North China Sea, take over security systems, motorcycles, hack, and spy all with stylish ease. She’s adopted the alias Lara Espen and even found herself a new boyfriend, Liam Dempsey (John Gallagher Jr.)
Liam is in Dolores’ sights because he is the figurehead of Incite. Along with Hale (Tessa Thompson) — who could be Teddy now? — the two are set on infiltrating these two large tech giants and taking over the world from humanity’s grip. For Dolores, who has only seen the worst side of humanity, this seems to be a worthy aspiration. It’s not as if the people she’s targeting don’t deserve it. The Delos shareholder we meet in the first scene is one of the men who raped Dolores at Westworld on a bachelor’s party and beat and murdered his first wife after they were married. No one is shedding a tear at his loss.
Of course, Dolores soon learns that Liam has no power over Rehoboam. When Liam is called back to Los Angeles from London to meet with the powers that be (an Incite higher-up played by the lovely Pom Klementieff) at Incite, Dolores eavesdrops on their conversation. She learns that someone is trying to access Rehoboam and it has to be someone from within the company. The management at Incite seems to be working against Liam, who wants more real control over the company.
When he reveals to Dolores that he wants to kill Rehoboam because he has no access to the system, she is intent on finding out who does. After his father died, his father’s partner locked Liam out of the system. No one but the architect knows the system, a man named Serac (Vincent Cassel). Unfortunately, Martin has found out Dolores’ cover and believes she is spying on the company. He incapacitates Dolores and takes her to a meeting spot he found from hacking her phone.
Again, Dolores has the upper hand. She seemingly planned this whole ambush. A car arrives distracting Martin and his men long enough for Dolores to kill them all. She easily catches Martin in his escape and shocks him when the same car catches up to her and a host version of Martin steps out. Killing the real Martin, she orders host Martin to leave so she can finish killing off the men. Injured but successful, she falls into the arms of Caleb.
Enter Caleb Nichols. Caleb represents a different face of humanity. He isn’t William, who was naive and then corrupted and cruel. He represents a kinder side of humanity. A veteran suffering from PTSD living in neo-Los Angeles, he’s struggling through construction jobs while trying to find a better paying job so that his sick mother can be taken care of. Without many options, he turns to mercenary work through an app called RI¢O to pay the bills.
RI¢O is the Uber for criminals. A user can choose from jobs like smash and grabs and grand theft auto to more “personal” jobs, like kidnapping or murder, which Caleb refuses to take part in. These jobs have snarky little nicknames like babysitting, fireworks show, Red Rum, wetwork, and Redistributive Justice, and the app gamifies criminal acts. The more personal jobs add to your “stats” and allow you to take higher paying gigs.
During a RI¢O job, he meets Ash (Lena Waithe) and Giggles (Marshawn Lynch). It’ll be interesting to see if Ash and Giggles will play a more pivotal role in the season or if they’re more one episode cameo types. Regardless, Ash is full of charming swagger with her disruptive devices and the magic of Giggles’ shirt keeps me as amused as he remains (until you punch him in the face).
For Caleb, this technologically advanced world doesn’t seem as helpful and enrapturing. Throughout the episode, he is isolated. At work, he spends his time and eats his lunches with one of Delos’ George robots. After his interview, he receives his rejection basically via robocall. Even Francis (Kid Cudi!?), his veteran friend, who seems to persistently call him to check up on him, is actually a therapy subscription. I felt very proud of myself for guessing this pretty early on, though initially, I thought he was an implant.
His only human interaction is with a therapist, who seems to garner more of Caleb’s ire than offer him comfort, and the other mercenaries of RI¢O like Ash and Giggles. For Caleb, this new society, seemingly a complete meritocracy, has let certain people fall to the wayside. As a part of some type of government program (or perhaps private contracting program), Caleb’s missions were observed and when he was injured he came home to few prospects waiting for him. He recalls Francis’ words to him as they were being Medivaced out, “You said they built the world to be a game and then they rigged it to make sure they always won.”
Caleb’s outlook brings a new perspective. In this sleek and high tech world, he’s the everyman who reminds you to look down. People are still struggling, crime still exists, technology didn’t actually solve everything, things might be worse, the game feels rigged. With the way that Caleb and Dolores’ storylines crashed together, it will be interesting to see where the chips fall. The parallels of Dolores falling into Caleb’s arms like she did with William are undeniable. But that was a different Dolores and Caleb is a far cry from William. What was Caleb’s previous mission that got Francis killed? Who shot him? Is that why he can’t have an implant? Is he part machine? Is that why his mother says he’s not her son? The questions are immediately endless.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Asia, Bernard is laying low. Dolores and Hale seemed to have pinned the catastrophe at Westworld on him, so he is stuck at an industrial meat farm. He’s now Armand Delgado, and after his work hours, he runs his own self-diagnostic asking himself questions. His dual personas seem to be at war with one another, and he seems worried that his Bernard side is speaking with Dolores. Although he says that he wants to save humanity and he wants to stop Dolores, it’s unclear what he’s been doing for the last three months. After being found out by some of the other factory workers, he kills the two of them and takes a boat to the location of the physical Westworld.
Then we have Maeve, who we don’t see until after the credits. She wakes up, completely not sure where she is, and we soon see that she is in some Westworld version of the Third Reich. Reichworld? Where is she? When is she? The show is basically notorious for crazy timelines, is Maeve far in the future? Did Delos really think a World War II inspired world was the best way to redeem their brand?
The questions are endless, and I’m going to be watching this episode at least another two times before I even have a semblance of an answer.
Westworld airs Sundays on HBO.