The following contains spoilers for Westworld season 3 episode 7.
The episode titles and descriptions for Westworld season 3 have been kind of all over the place. The season’s first episode was named after a short Christian chant derived from Joel 2:17. Episode 3 was called “The Absence of Field,” seemingly from a Mark Strand poem and having little bearing on the episode. Then episode 6 went ahead and called itself “Decoherence,” which can’t help but come across as a joke at this point.
That all might change in season 3 episode 7 “Passed Pawn,” however. This penultimate hour of Westworld season 3 not only fills in all the missing details on Caleb Nichols’ (Aaron Paul) fascinating origin story, it casts Caleb’s future as the titular “passed pawn.”
For those not up on their chess terminology (which until recently included your dear author), a passed pawn is a pawn with no opposing pawns blocking it from reaching the 8th rank. This means that a pawn can advance clear to the other side of the board and be promoted to a queen, knight, rook, or bishop (but almost always a queen: the most powerful piece). It’s in this way that the game’s least powerful soldier becomes its most powerful. And oh boy does that seem to perfectly apply to the events of “Passed Pawn.”
First, let’s break down what happened in Caleb’s past, as it’s likely crucial to understanding his future. Dolores has taken Caleb to Sonora, Mexico for a very important reason. In Sonora is a facility that once served as the home for Serac and his brother Jean Mi’s first attempt at a Rehoboam-like supercomputer, with this one being named Solomon. Though Solomon is a little kooky from inheriting Jean Mi’s paranoid schizophrenia, he (he’s a genderless machine obviously but the default voice he chooses is male so we’ll just call it a “he”) still is capable of operating near Rehoboam’s omnisicent quantum computing level. It’s here that Dolores requests that Solomon fill Caleb in on what really happened to him in his life as a soldier.
Serac understood that “outlier” individuals like his brother would only interfere with Solomon, and later Rehoboam’s mission to save humanity from itself. To begin with, Serac imprisoned thousands of society’s undesirables in suspended animation in the Sonora facility. Serac wasn’t 100% cruel, however (at least not in his mind), and realized that mothballing huge swaths of humanity likely wasn’t sustainable. So he used Solomon to create a “Reconditioning Therapy.” This operates similarly to the experience that William had in the previous episode. Subjects are given magic techno-goggles and are forced to relive some awful memories for supposedly therapeutic purposes.
Caleb was “lucky” enough to be the first to receive the revolutionary treatment. Psychologically damaged from his time as a soldier in Crimea, Caleb went through the treatment and came through “cured” of his outlier status. In fact, Caleb was also the first ever person to be considered cured, something that only 1 in 10 subjects achieve. But even after Caleb was cured, Solomon didn’t just let him go back to a quiet, healthy life. Caleb had to stay on the path that Serac and Solomon created for him.
To that end, Serac developed the RICO app for low-level criminals. Caleb used RICO to make some extra money, but in reality he was unknowingly assisting Solomon and Serac in “disappearing” outliers. Throughout the season, Caleb has had scattered memories of a moment shared with his Army buddy Francis (Kid Cudi) and another unnamed prisoner played by Veronica Mars’ Enrico Colantoni (who shall heretofore be known as simply “Enrico”). Caleb thought that Francis was killed during a mission to transport the insurgent cell leader Enrico back to base. In reality, Enrico was a former pharmaceutical exec who sold the drug that Francis and Caleb takes that dulls their memories.
Solomon decided that Enrico’s time was up and enlisted Francis and Caleb via the RICO app to kill him. The problem is that Enrico tells Caleb all of this. He also tells Caleb that Solomon will want one of Francis or Caleb to kill the other as well to tie up loose ends. Sure enough, Francis receives an offer to kill Caleb that he can’t refuse. And Caleb is forced to kill his closest friend in the world.
Now if all of this weren’t traumatic enough for Caleb to find out…there still remains the terrifying question of what he’s going to do about it. For while Dolores has largely been a good friend to Caleb, she’s not opening up his eyes to the truth out of the goodness of her own heart or so that Caleb can begin the long process of healing emotionally from it. No, she has her own agenda just like every other creature, man or machine, on this show. And she’s not shy about telling Caleb this.
Before they even arrive at the Sonora facility, Dolores tells Caleb that she intends to make a new world for humankind since hope has all but run out for her own kind. And in this new world, Caleb will need to step up and serve as humanity’s leader. That’s a tall order for any ex-soldier turned mechanic. But as those flashbacks reveal, Caleb is a bit more than that. He’s a finely-tuned killing machine who is one of the very few outliers to successfully make it through Solomon’s conditioning. He could therefore bring a lot to the table as a leader of men. But what kind of world does Dolores intend that leader to inherit?
When Dolores speaks to Solomon and requests that he set up a new system in place for humanity to replace the paths set forward by Rehoboam, Solomon knows what system she’s referring to immediately: The Final Strategy. This is the strategy that Jean Mi asked Solomon to create. The world is so different now from when Jean Mi made that request.
“Make it fit this world. And him,” Dolores says.
Solomon says he can do this, it will just take some time. That’s OK. Dolores can get him some time.
Later on when Bernard, Stubbs, and William learn the truth of who Caleb really is, Bernard comes to a starling realization.
“Dolores was made with a poetic sensibility. She won’t destroy humanity, he will,” Bernard says.
It’s unclear if Bernard is right on this point but if anyone on Westworld has a deep understanding of Dolores’s modus operandi, it’s the facsimile of the man who created her.
There’s no reason to doubt that Dolores wants to create a new world for humanity. Now, however, there is significant reason to believe that will be a terrifying world. Just what exactly does Dolores have in store for the human race and how does Caleb factor into it? There is not a lot of hard and fast evidence around to say for certain. The best we can do is to make conjectures based on what we know about Caleb, Jean Mi, Solomon, and Dolores’s poetic sensibility.
The whole point of a pawn reaching the other side of the chessboard is to become a powerful monarch – a queen. When Dolores says she wants Caleb to become a leader, it could be interpreted as a touching moment. But what if by “leader,” Dolores means queen…or monarch…or tyrant, even?
Depressingly, very few characters on Westworld seem to be operating under the belief that humanity is capable of acting on its own accord without some invisible guiding hand keeping them on the right path. Delos Corporation discovered that human consciousness is exceedingly simple. Serac expounded upon that data to realize that humanity would destroy itself if every controllable human being wasn’t kept on their own individual paths. Even the sensitive Jean Mi was seemingly down with humanity being controlled before he turned out to be an outlier himself.
It seems disturbingly plausible that Dolores’s issue with Serac and Rehoboam isn’t that someone or something is creating a plan for life on Earth…it’s that the wrong someone or something is creating that plan. Perhaps Jean Mi and Solomon’s Final Strategy is to take a simple human being and turn them into an omniscient supercomputer of sorts. It’s the singularity combined with Doctor Manhattan basically. And Caleb, with his unique history as both a human being and as a Solomon guinea pig presents a superb candidate for Godhood.
Bear in mind that this is all conjecture, with little textual evidence to back that up. But it does feel true to the theories that the show has presented and the goals of several powerful characters within it. And if it all seems too outlandish to imagine a 40-foot tall Aaron Paul vaporizing buildings with his eyes, just remember that this very same episode features two cyborgs sword-fighting while their respective drones fire warning shots all around them. Very few things are too outlandish for Westworld.