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March 19, 2020

Analysis Mode: 17 questions heading into Season 3, Episode 2 of Westworld

Here's what we were left wondering after the premiere and how that might apply to Sunday night's episode, 'The Winter Line'

Television HBO
Westworld-premiere_031920_usat Birdie Thompson/AdMedia/Sipa USA

Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores) and Aaron Paul (Caleb) at the Season 3 premiere of HBO's "Westworld."

We're living in strange, scary times as a pandemic threatens not only our way of life, but our lives in general. And for most of our regular readers, their favorite distraction when things get like this — sports — has suddenly been taken away, leaving more time for those dark, negative thoughts to come creeping back in. 

Luckily, at least in the short term, NFL free agency has provided a brief respite in between the constant coronavirus updates and press conference and breaking news alerts. Yes, there are things much more important than sports — and we're getting perhaps our greatest example of that in our lifetimes — but that doesn't mean that the distraction, social bonding and, depending on who your favorite team is, the joy they provide is needed more now than ever. And we don't have any games to watch — and we won't, at least for the next two months. 

So, where does that leave us sportswriters? Well, we'll continue to provide you with all the latest news and analysis about your favorite teams. But we're also going to be looking for other things to write about — and for several members of our staff, that's likely going to be television and pop culture. After all, that's what many of us will be turning to in the coming days and weeks to provide a safe space, if only for an hour or two, where we can temporarily break away from the non-stop coverage of COVID-19. 


MORE: Missing the games? Here are the best sports movies, TV shows and documentaries to stream


And that brings us this post, which you probably clicked into with the hopes that it would be about something other than the coronavirus, and from here on out that's what you're going to get. It just felt like a brief explainer was needed as to why a sportswriter was suddenly writing about an HBO series... Now, on to Westworld.

Westworld is an immensely complicated show — and while it's one of my favorites for exactly that reason, I'd be lying if I said I understood everything I was watching on a week-to-week basis. It's one of those shows that's immensely better on a rewatch, especially after the entire season has aired and you can use that information to fill in the many (intentional) blanks from earlier episodes. So when it came to trying to decide how I wanted to cover the show, I opted to cover it much in the same way I watch it: by asking A TON of questions. 

Typically I watch the show once when it airs on Sunday night, and then I'll rewatch it later in the week before the next episode airs the following Sunday. The first time I just take it all in. And on the second watch, I look for some answers to the show's biggest questions moving forward in the season. Most of the time, I don't yet have the answers because the show runners have decided not to share them yet. But that doesn't make the questions any less important.

Originally, I was going to ask five big questions heading into the second episode of Season 3, "The Winter Line." By the time my rewatch ended, I had quite a bit more than that. 

Here's what I'm hoping to have answered in the coming weeks, as well as any random thoughts I have on how the show might attempt to fill in the blanks for us. And, as is often the case with Westworld, most answers only lead to even more questions.

Let's get started... 


How powerful is Dolores outside the park?

Over the course of the first two seasons, Dolores Abernathy went from the sweet rancher's daughter to a vicious killing machine. And by the end, she was the most dangerous thing (person?) in the park, largely because of her bloodlust. But now she's on the outside, no longer connected to the Delos system, and possibly without the safety net of a backup control unit — unless, of course, one of the ones she smuggled out at the end of Season 2 is actually a copy of her own. 

So, is she still the alpha?

Analysis Mode: When she was inside the park, Dolores may have been one of the most "woke" robots, but she was still considerably less powerful than Maeve, in the sense that she couldn't control the hosts in the way Maeve could. However, inside the Mesa facility during the second season, it seemed like Dolores could at least in some way get inside the system and control it, presumably because they're built with similar Delos tech. But it appears her abilities to control computer systems are not limited to the park, as we saw in the cold open. It seems like she is able to control all sorts of computer systems, like the security system at Incite Jerry's sick cliffside mansion, as well as those hologram glasses he wore. 

"You want to be the dominant species, but you built your whole world with things more like me." —Dolores

What is Rehoboam? 

So far, we don't have a lot of answers to this question, other than it's a supercomputer that can do ... a lot. It's referred to as "the strategy engine that saved the world," but even Incite's CEO (?) Liam Dempsey doesn't know how it works or how to "control it." The only person who can do that is the mystery cofounder of the company, who we don't meet this episode and only get a name at the very end. More on that later.

In case you're wondering where the name came from, here's more from Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair:

Never a show to dwell too much in the future, however, Westworld also goes very ancient in naming the system that keeps watch over and dictates the lives of the humans in the real world. The company is Incite, but the system is called Rehoboam.

A preseason ad for Westworld indicated that an earlier build of the Incite system was named Solomon, after the wise king in the Old Testament who famously doled out justice. King Rehoboam was the name of Solomon’s son. So it would make sense for a tech company to name a later version of a product named Solomon after the son, Rehoboam. But should we be worried that during Rehoboam’s reign there was a bloody and divisive civil war? We…probably should.  [vanityfair.com]

Analysis Mode: This is going to be one of the central mysteries of the show. How much does Rehoboam know? What exactly can it be used for? And how does it account for the presence of sentient robots in the world? 

How powerful is Rehoboam?

Again, we're probably not going to get an answer to this for some time, but it seems like this system is so advanced that it can predict the future, meaning it already knows how the events of someone's life is going to play out. Once again, the show is taking up the free will vs. predestination debate, however this time it's not just about the robot's free will, but about the humans' as well. 

This is one of those questions that has many different parts, like...

• Rehoboam can predict the future, but can it — or the person controlling it — do anything to change future events? 

• If Rehoboam sees a divergent event or an anomaly, like in those black and white transition scenes, what types of steps does it take to put things back on course? Or does it just adjust to the new timeline?

• And if Dolores can control computers here in the real world, can she theoretically hack into Rehoboam and control that as well?

Analysis Mode: There's still a lot to learn about this machine and its powers, but it's clear that it has a far-reaching impact on life in 2058. There was also this back and forth between Dolores and Dempsey when he first shows her Rehoboam that is very reminiscent of her dialogue from Season 1, and it could be very telling about what's left to come. 

Dempsey: "[My dad] thought that if you could chart a course for every single person, then you could make the world a better place."

Dolores: "A path for everybody."

In Season 1, there were several references to this idea.

westworld-path-for-everyone

[h/t to u/staaky on reddit]

It looks like a theme they're going to continue to explore in Season 3, but with the added twist that the ones living in loops are the humans, and instead of being under Dr. Ford's control, like the robots in Westworld, they're under the control of Rehoboam. 

This is hardly the only reference to past seasons, but it's probably the one that's going to have the biggest impact on the plot moving forward. 

Is this all a simulation?

We got some Simulation Theory talk in the premiere and, boy, was I all ready to jump in of the prospect of this whole season (or large parts of it) taking place inside Rehoboam — like the Cradle in Season 2, but for humans. I had some arguments that supported it, like the fact that the RICO app looks like it's straight out of Grand Theft Auto, and even the jobs it hands out feel like GTA missions. Then there's Caleb (Aaron Paul) and Ash (Lena Waithe) talking about how they need to get their scores and stats up, which certainly sounds like a video game. Finally, there's the flat out conversation at the award dinner between Dolores, Dempsey and his two rich friends. 

Analysis Mode: On the rewatch, however, it seems almost like this is a meta conversation almost meant to poke fun at all the theory crafting that goes on around this show. For now, we'll say no, this is not a simulation. And while Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have created several of these big reveals throughout the first two seasons, having the entire season (or a large part of it) take place inside a simulation would be a surefire to lose all your remaining fans. For now, we'll say no. 

Who is Serac and what is he using Rehoboam for?

If you watched the preview for the upcoming episodes, then you already have a pretty good idea who Serac is: French actor Vincent Cassel, who has been in a ton of stuff but to me will always be the Night Fox from "Ocean's Twelve." But the bigger question here is who he is in the context of this world — and what role will he play in the forthcoming battle between Team Dolores and Team Maeve/Bernard?

Analysis Mode: Based on that preview, it appears as though he'll be working with Maeve, however he likely isn't going to have her best interests in mind. Instead, he could simply view her as the best and only chance to stop Dolores and will simply use Maeve until he no longer needs her any more. I'm not expecting him to turn into a good guy, especially if you're hoping for this robot uprising to be successful. 

Furthermore — and we alluded to this earlier — it remains to be seen how Rehoboam accounts for robots entering the world. Based on the preview, it seems like the computer predicted their arrival, but how well can it read the robots, who we already know are more complicated creatures than humans. It looks like we'll get to meet him and begin to find out his story on this week's episode, so stay tuned. 


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And now, some simpler questions... 

Who is in Charlotte's head?

This is part of the biggest mystery coming out of Season 2 — which control units did Dolores smuggle out of the park? It's a safe assumption that one of them belongs to Teddy, but I don't think he's the one inside Charlotte's head. Here's why... 

Who is in Connell's head at the end of the episode?

After Dolores survives the attack by Dempsey's henchmen, led by his head of security, Martin Connells, a replica Connells walks over and finishes the job. If I had to bet, I would guess this is Teddy. The biggest clue? When the Connells-Bot says to Delores, "You're hurt, badly." I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure that's a line Teddy said to Dolores in Season 2. 

How many people are in Bernard's head?

My guess would be two. Both Arnold — because it seemed like in Season 2 Dolores was testing for fidelity with Arnold, and not Bernard. After all, Ford created Bernard to be much easier to control than Arnold, and one of the things Dolores wanted to do for him was to return him to his true self. Now, those two minds seem to be in conflict, as one can trust the other. Also, can we take a moment to applaud Jeffrey Wright's acting in this episode (and the entire series for that matter).

[Sidenote: Hat tip to Kim Renfro of Insider.com for pointing out that Bernard's fake name, Armand Delgado, is an anagram for Damaged Arnold. This show, man.]

How does Bernard control himself going in and out of analysis mode?

If he doesn't even trust his own brain to tell him about contact with Dolores, how can he trust that when he pushes that "Analysis Mode" button, that his robot half will push it again to switch back? I need some more info here.

"She's had months to plan. I'm alone, and can't trust myself."  —Bernard

Where is the Man in Black?

This was another big mystery at the end of Season 2, largely because of that post-credits sequence after the finale. He was clearly on a cot in a medical tent on the beach when Delos was evacuating, so how did he wind up down in the basement with his robot daughter? I believe that post credits sequence hasn't taken place yet, and was a flash ahead to his ultimate fate in the future. But if that's the case, then why isn't he present at the board meeting when Charlotte is trying to take the company private. Is he still a human or is he a robot? And if he's a robot, what will be his role in Season 3?

What exactly are those drugs people take?

Here's an answer from Kim Renfro of Insider:

This appears to be a futuristic way of taking drugs or medication. The company that runs Rehoboam, Incite, has an Instagram page. On it, a close-up photo of these little disc-pills reveals the label "limbic sedative." 

The limbic system "is part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival," according to the Queensland Brain Institute. 

According to that Incite image, the limbic sedative Jerry takes is a "single dose" and lasts for six hours, which is the same duration of the "mellow sunset" soundscape Jerry turns on before laying down in bed. 

Are those drugs controlled by a computer? 

First, there's Incite Jerry seemingly syncing up his tablet's "mellow sunset" with his drugs. Then there's the guy tripping at the party and yelling, "Shadow people!" They first attempt to bring him down by using his tablet, but he's already smashed it, so they attempt to use a tranquilizer. 

There's also Caleb talking about how he doesn't have "implants" because he doesn't want to take the edge off. Are these drugs connected to those implants? And are those implants one of the ways Rehoboam tracks everyone? There's a lot of talk about "a system" that everyone is living by, and it seems there's a strong possibility that the two are connected. 

It seems as though people have implants in them — unless they want to be off the grid like Caleb — and perhaps that is how Rehoboam is tracking them. But what are those limbic 

Where can I buy Marshawn Lynch's shirt?

It's like a mood ring, but for your chest. I don't have nearly enough swag to pull that off, but I wouldn't hate having one for my wife so I always know what mood she's in. Although I have an idea already of what her mood will be after she reads that...

On a related note, my wife wants to know where she can buy Dolores' quick-change dress.

Did BeastMode have the line of the episode?

Caleb walks up to him during the "Party Cleanup" mission and asks, "What's up?" Lynch replies with, "Must come down," which is both a great play on a words and a direct reference to the fact that their job at hand is to bring this guy down from his high. Well done.

What happened with Caleb and Francis? And is it important to the storyline at all?

It might not wind up being a big part of the plot, but if they show you something in Westworld, especially in a flashback, it's almost always important. Some questions about this question: 

• What were they doing in the flashback? There was one where they were in military gear, but in the one where Francis (Kid Cudi) died, they weren't in military gear at all? Were they special ops?

• What is the system that Caleb is in? Will his departure from it at the end of the episode have implications? 

• When was Caleb shot in the head? And how did he survive? 

• And what does all the talk between the two about the world being built to be a game really mean? 

Caleb first tells Francis, "You said they built the world to be a game, and then they rigged it, to make sure they always won."

Later, Francis tells him, "I've been thinking about what you said I told you. ... That the game is rigged ... Even if it is, you still have to play if you want a chance to win, right?"

Caleb corrects him and says, "That's not what you thought at all, the real you, I mean. You said that the system didn't care about us at all. That it didn't give a shit whether we lived or we died. That we had to have our own plan. Stick together. And you were right. But you never had to figure out how to live in this world, because you never made it back. And I wish you were here, but you are not."

Maybe that's all this was about. Caleb moving on. He then cancels his service and says he's going to find something "more real," which sounds a lot like something William said to Logan in Season 1, immediately before stumbling across a wounded Dolores, just like Williams does in the first season. 

And, finally, what's going on with Maeve?

For the first time since she had her bulk apperception jacked all the way up, Maeve looks confused in this post credits scene. She doesn't seem to know where she is — it's called Warworld, by the way — or how she got there. Could she have possibly been reset? Or is this just to throw us off the trail? The good news for those hoping to see her with her full abilities in Season 3 is that in the preview for future episodes, it looks like she's walking through a square of frozen Nazi, which would suggest that she can still control other hosts.

Which begs the question, what is she doing in Warworld? How did she get there? And will she still be there when Bernard eventually shows up? 

Reader Question of the Week

Earlier this week, I asked for questions from my Twitter followers. Here's the best one:

Yes, I definitely think all three — Dolores, Charlotte and Bernard — are all in the same timeline. While Bernard is in analysis mode, he says it's been 92 days since his last contact with Dolores. That seems to match up with Charlotte saying it's been three months since the disaster and Dolores saying that she's only been "here" (outside the park) for a short amount of time in the cold open. That could've taken place a a few weeks before the rest of the events of the show, but I think it's a safe bet that, at least for now, we're all operating on one timeline. But with this show, you never know. 

OK, that's it for this week. I promise these will get shorter (and better) in coming weeks as I get more used to writing about something new. 

Here's hoping that your path brings you back to me. 


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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