Season 3, Episode 6: ‘Decoherence’
With only two episodes left in the season, “Westworld” spent this week’s putting all the pieces in place for a mix-and-match battle royale between humans and hosts, hosts and hosts, and humans and humans. There was still the usual chatter over free will, mostly in a metaphysical group therapy session where William confronts his father and various incarnations of himself, but the episode was mostly about arranging the pieces on the board.
Many major characters have clocked out for long stretches this season — Bernard has been close to a non-presence, for example, and the Man in Black has disappeared into his own navel — but all of them make an appearance here.
The episode opens with Maeve in a simulation of the Valley Beyond, imagining the permanent reunion with her daughter that she has been pursuing for nearly the entire run of the show. (Maeve’s attachment to this sentimental and illusory mother-daughter relationship plays against the shrewdness and lethality she displays in almost any other circumstance. She can never see through it.) Burned by her failure to contain the Dolores’s coordinated insurrection, Serac wants to give her proper motivation to get the job done, and he wants to give her the team she needs to battle multiple Doloreses, Caleb and their mercenary hangers-on. So Hector gets taken out of cold storage and the other decommissioned host bodies are torched.
The timing coincides with Serac’s successful corporate takeover of Delos, secured by murdering a board member in broad daylight. He wants Charlotte to deliver the data he has coveted, after which he intends to obliterate a trillion in intellectual property because keeping Delos operating isn’t a priority. This will surely be a blow to elites anxious to murder robots on their vacations, but Serac’s focus is entirely on Incite and Rehoboam and on getting back to exercising more control over human destiny.
Serac figures out the big twist that Charlotte is actually Dolores — has he been reading Reddit threads, too? — but Charlotte-bot has prepared for this contingency and gases all his cronies in the boardroom. (Of course, he prepares for this contingency by being a hologram.)
“Westworld” hasn’t needed to spend much time on how Dolores has learned to play various humans so convincingly, presumably because she has all the personal information required. But there’s a fascinating thread here about how the host and human separate from each other over time, as Dolores’s conscience processes events and relationships differently than Charlotte herself would have. It’s significant that the tip-off for Serac was Charlotte-bot’s interest in her son, whom the real Charlotte would never have prioritized over running the business. One of the basic conceits of “Westworld” is that the hosts are more human than humans, and Charlotte’s ex-husband and son are the beneficiaries of that — at least until they’re blown to bits for it.
With the coalescence of forces in this episode, the good news is that the Man in Black, now dressed in white, finally has an active purpose this season, in alignment with Bernard and Stubbs. The bad news is that it takes some absolutely grueling scenes to get there. After proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s not fit for group therapy, the Man in Black gets shifted to a special “A.R. treatment” that’s usually reserved for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress. The treatment is invasive and confrontational, a virtual meet-up with his childhood, young adult, and elderly selves, along with his cruel stepfather. But there’s been so much foul anguish whipped up around this character that the treatment feels like another form of wheel-spinning. He marinates in the past without doing anything to move the larger narrative forward.
The Man in Black’s emergence as a self-described “hero” completes all the table setting required for the homestretch, but some excitement is lost in the process. The show stages a few action sequences to try to quicken the pulse, including Maeve’s Nazi-punching warm-up in Warworld, the activation of the riot control robots at Delos and the massive fireball that consumes Charlotte’s SUV. But what’s missing from the episode is a more proper follow-through on the data leak that has thrown society into chaos. These are the horses Serac is trying to put back into the barns, but it’s hard to get a sense of how much human life has been transformed by the leak.
The one exception is the fate of the Man in Black’s therapist, who learns along with her husband that she is projected to lose her medical license and get divorced because of multiple affairs with patients and an opioid addiction. For all the show’s talk about the potential for free choice, this destiny is accepted as such a given that her husband already leaves with the kids and she hangs herself in her office. It never occurs to anyone that she might steer clear of popping pills and sleeping with patients now that the algorithm has detailed the consequences. For the main characters on the show, such moments of existential recognition are a catalyst for change. Others, apparently, find it impossible to break out of their loops.