Westworld: Season 3 Premiere “Parce Domine” — a review

WestworldS3

You know me. I don’t do many reviews of season premieres.

Here’s the thing. I was pretty much sure that the story being told by Westworld during seasons one and two was over. I couldn’t imagine that there was anywhere else the story could go, really.

My imagination is limited. If nothing else, this premiere convinces me of that. Parce domine is a Roman Catholic antiphon, This means that it is a short chant or a refrain sung as part of a ritual. What does that mean, exactly?

It translates, perhaps, into “Spare, Lord.” In the antiphon, it was “Spare, Lord, spare your people.” Take from that what you will.

This premiere episode has reenergized my fandom for this HBO series. Three months after the attack at Westworld, in which 113 people were killed (although these were mostly board members and soldiers), Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) coerces Gerry, a former shareholder in Delos, to sign over his shares in the AI company Incite. Gerry dies after he tries to attack Dolores, after signing over his shares along with other confidential information. Dolores doesn’t kill him directly, but allows him to make the attempt on her life, then fall into the pool, striking his head against the side of the pool as he falls in, still bound.

This teaser leads to a new opening sequence. With Westworld, we know that no images are meaningless. During the opening, we get images of birds flying into what appears to be an eclipse. Definitely Icarus vibes here. Also, we get a lot of those pale basic Host forms who appear to be swimming, then approaching their own reflections in water. Narcissus, anyone? We know that Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan don’t shy away from mythological archetypes. We also get images of a dandelion dispersing its seeds. And images of a globe with lines of code appearing upon it.

This is all good stuff. But, what makes this series interesting to me again is what happens next.

Aaron Paul is new to Westworld. He’s introduced as a character named Caleb, or “Cal.” He’s a military veteran, who appears to be suffering from PTSD. The world of neo-Los Angeles is introduced as a technological meritocracy. Caleb’s reputation score prevents him from getting the jobs he wants. As the season opens, he’s working as a construction worker beside a robot. His mother is in a hospital, which provides some of his motivation to make more money. He moonlights by doing jobs given to him on an app. Mostly nickel-and-dime criminal jobs. Low-level crimes.

Meanwhile, Cal sees a psychiatrist in order to keep his veteran’s benefits coming in. He also has frequent conversations with someone named Francis, who was a former comrade-in-arms. Francis keeps trying to encourage Cal to be positive and go forward. We don’t see Francis in person until a flashback at the end of the episode. While I wasn’t exactly surprised to find out Francis’ current situation—how’s that for oblique references?—it was still a satisfying reveal.

Questioning reality is what Westworld has always been about, right?

Meanwhile, back on the ranch . . . Literally, in this case. We catch up with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), who has become the fall guy for the Delos massacre. He’s in hiding, working on a cattle ranch. His head is fully shaved and he’s wearing a beard and using an alias. He spends some off-work time plugged into a computer and interrogating himself. He found out that he was an android, you might remember. So, he is questioning everything, just as the viewer should. Predictably, a couple of enterprising guys see through his disguise. You’ll just have to watch to see how Bernard reacts to being discovered.

Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) is also back. Sort of. The real Charlotte was replaced by a doppelgänger host, you might recall. She is now the interim CEO of Delos.

Dolores begins a relationship with tech mogul Liam Dempsey (John Gallagher Jr.), who inherited a corporation called Incite from his genius dad. It seems Dempsey’s dad created the behemoth computer known as Rehoboam, which is apparently running this version of the world through complex algorithms. Dolores wants access to this computer, of course, since she’s hell bent on world domination (I think). In the Bible, Rehoboam is the first king of the Kingdom of Judah. Solomon’s successor. Judah became a vassal state of Egypt during his reign apparently. What does that mean for this series? Don’t know.

Dolores is essentially conducting industrial espionage. Her subterfuge is discovered and she’s captured by Incite’s security chief, Martin Connells (Tommy Flanagan). Things superficially look bleak for Dolores for a moment, but this entire episode has been engineered to arrange a meet-cute between Aaron Paul’s Caleb and Dolores. Maybe “meet-tech” would be a more accurate term. Of course, this happens. The relationship between the two and where it’s heading will obviously be a focus of the season.

We also get a glimpse of Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) in a short, post-credit sequence in which she appears to be in Nazi Germany. I’ll decide how I feel about that later. Another section of the Delos park, perhaps? That seems most likely.

No Ed Harris yet. But, we know the Man in Black is coming.

I’m trying to stay away from online discussions of the series. Reading fan theories on the computer and listening to podcasts a couple of years ago robbed me of some of the pleasure I get trying to figure things out on my own. I prefer to let the images and scenes unfold in front of me, and then figure things out on my own or else be surprised by what happens.

Because of the familiar characters, this feels very much like a continuation of Westworld. But, there are strong Black Mirror overtones as well. I’m not complaining, because I enjoy that series. I am glad we’ve had so long between seasons, because that time is serving as sort of a palate cleanser. While this is the third season, the first part of Dolores’s story is over and this feels like the jumping off point that it should, as Dolores makes her way in the wider world.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I am definitely on board the Westworld train again. I look forward to what’s coming.

Firewater’s They-Put-a-Coat-of-Paint-on-it-But-Inside-It’s-Rotting-to-Pieces Report Card: A

A

Mind-bending science-fiction that may make you wonder if we’re living in a simulation.

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