This Westworld review contains spoilers.
Westworld Season 3 Episode 4
There’s something pathetic about seeing a villain brought low, not by the good guys, but by their own paranoia and hubris. Good beating bad? Hooray, kudos all around. Bad guy reduced to a shell of a man, ranting and raving at the ghosts in his head in a Grey Gardens mansion? Not quite as satisfying, especially when that villain is The Man In Black, AKA William (Ed Harris), president of Delos and terror of Westworld and all its hosts. An entire season of William luxuriating in chaos and violence in an attempt to get to the heart of the maze, only to be trapped in a maze of hallucinations and grief, tormented by Grace (Katja Herbers) and constant reminders of his own failures as a husband, father, and friend.
His wife is gone, dead by misadventure or suicide. Grace is gone, gunned down by her father in a paranoid fit in Westworld. Logan and James Delos are both gone, to drugs and to the failure of William to reconstruct his father-in-law’s mind inside a Host body. William has one thing left to him that matters, and it’s not Delos, it’s the data constructed by William and Hale (Tessa Thompson) in Sector 16. When an appeal to save his company from Serac (Vincent Cassell) doesn’t work, an appeal to keep Sector 16 safe does, and however briefly, we see William as he truly is. The Man in Black pulls himself together for one last ride, however brief it might be.
While William shakes off his delusions and resumes being who he truly is, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Caleb (Aaron Paul) begin a process of donning the proper disguises to infiltrate the world of the ultra-rich, thanks to money stolen from Liam’s private accounts by Connells. Dolores points out that most of what the rich use to identify other rich people comes down to essentially plumage. Suits, hair cuts, shoes, and the simple act of looking like you belong wherever you are make a huge difference, as she instructs Caleb during a brief Pygmalion sequence. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) don’t have the money to suit up and infiltrate, so they do the next best thing and dress to blend in with the security guards and limo drivers hovering just outside the party to disable the person who they believe Dolores has replaced with a Host, Liam Dempsey Jr. (John Gallagher Jr.)
“The Mother of Exiles” is functionally a cat-and-mouse sequence, with multiple cats and multiple mice, all working at cross purposes to one another. Caleb and Dolores are at the same party as Liam and his friends. Have they set a deliberate trap for Ashley and Bernard, or is that simply a happy accident? It’s not explained, though Connells does indicate that their friends (meaning Bernard and Ashley) have arrived early.
That sets up one of several brilliant fight sequences that are scattered throughout the episode. Most of them involve Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her trip through the underworld in search of Dolores. Dolores might have a three-month head start, money, and resources, but Maeve’s ability to control electronics, from gun-aiming arm braces to doors and the menu monitors on noodle carts might serve to be her ace in the hole as she uses that skill to first track down the person that sold Dolores her Laura Essman identity and further to Musashi AKA Sato (Hiroyuki Sanada), the brand-new boss of the Yakuza in Singapore who helped her smuggle four bodies out of the country.
Gunfights, sword battles, and knock-down, drag-out brawls are scattered liberally across the episode, and all of them are wildly different, and wildly entertaining, courtesy of director Paul Cameron. The fights between Hosts are more drawn-out contests, considering both sides are nigh indestructible, and the battles between Hosts and humans are pretty simple affairs for the Hosts, with Maeve using her trickery to force the Yakuza to shoot themselves before gaining access to Sato’s hideout and engaging in a sword fight with the Shōgunworld version of Hector Escaton. Similarly balanced is the brawl between Ashley and Dolores, which takes place in front of a bunch of drugged-out rich people in Eyes Wide Shut masks.
However, it’s more than just blood and guts and fighting. Lisa Joy and Jonah Goldberg take time and care to punctuate the action sequences with a surprising vein of comedy. Maeve has always been quippy, and Thandie Newton’s comic timing, especially after gunshots, is impeccable. Dolores generally isn’t as funny, but she gets a few solid laugh lines this week, particularly her little salute in acknowledgment to Roderick (Rafi Gavron) as she leaves the party following throwing Ashley over the guardrail and into something fragile and breakable.
It’s necessary lightness, because William’s scenes are all wrenching, particularly at the end of the episode when it is revealed that he’s essentially being set up by Charlotte to take control of Delos. The one thing he had, snatched away from him. His mansion traded in for a sparsely-furnished room in a mental hospital. The Man In Black cuts a pathetic figure in white pajamas and slippers, and the way that Ed Harris can shift in a scene from enraged and dangerous to pathetic is incredibly impressive. In a show loaded with great actors, he’s still one of the most arresting screen presences, as evidenced by his final moments of simply shuffling around his room prior to having one last conversation with the farmer’s daughter that’s consumed decades of his life, Dolores Abernathy.
It’s a neat trick Westworld pulled, completely inverting the hero and the villain of the first season by the third. It’s no longer Dolores cowering while William runs roughshod over the world. Dolores is a multi-billionaire who easily blends into the halls of power while the man in charge of a billion-dollar company on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence is reduced to a tired-looking old man talking to no one in a paper jumpsuit. The big bad is now the most pitiable figure on the show, and the helpless farmer’s daughter mostly fit to be menaced in a barn is now the most dangerous being on the planet, with resources to match her grand schemes.