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March 28, 2020

Analysis Mode: Questions and theories heading into S3, E3 of Westworld, 'The Absence of Field'

HBO Television
Vincent-Cassel-Thandie-Newton_032820_usat Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA

Thandie Newton (Maeve) and Vincent Cassel (Serac) at the HBO’s Westworld Season 3 Premiere.

Welcome back to another edition of Analysis Mode, where we'll ask — and sometimes even try to answer — the big questions heading into each week's episode of HBO's popular Sunday night series "Westworld."

If you haven't yet watched the second episode of Season 3, "The Winter Line," you should probably stop reading, since there are definitely going to be spoilers from that episode below — if you want to read the preview for that, you can do so here. It's probably worth revisiting anyway, because so many of the questions coming out the premiere remain unanswered, mostly because they switched to a different perspective and storyline for the second episode, one that they'll likely return to on Sunday.

If you're worried about spoilers for Episode 3, "The Absence of Field," don't. There won't be any. That's because I haven't watched it yet — and I'll be able to prove that to you once this week's episode airs and you see how absolutely awful some of my predictions are. 

That being said ... not all of my predictions from last week were terrible. In fact, some even turned out to be correct, but we're working with an extremely small sample size here and with a show like "Westworld," things are likely to swing back in the other direction before long. 

Let's dive down the rabbit hole and see what questions we have heading into Episode 3...

How many timelines are there?

One of the staples of the first two seasons of Westworld was the use of multiple timelines. And they used them in very different ways. In the first season, the fact that there were two timelines (or three, depending on how you look at it) was hidden from the viewer until the big reveal in the finale. It wasn't impossible to deduce this, as many internet sleuths were able to point this out — and the fact that Jimmi Simpson and Ed Harris were the same person — before the reveal. 

Westworld-S1-reveal-GIF

In Season 2, the use of multiple timelines was a bit more obvious, although they were still able to keep some surprises for the end when it came to the characters' identities, specifically the fact that in one of the timelines, Charlotte Hale was actually a host being controlled by Dolores. Season 2 also introduced to simulations and the role they could have in this show, while teaching us a very important aspect ratio lesson that appears to again be on the table in Season 3 (more on that in a minute).

But when it comes to the question of how many timelines there are in the current season, it's probably still a little early to tell exactly. However, there are some signs pointing at there being more than one. It will probably take too long to cover every plot line and what specific timeline they're in, but here's just one example of how it could play out, starring everyone's new favorite couple, Bernard and Stubbs.

For starters, both are hosts, so it would be impossible to tell how much time had passed based on their physical appearances. Sure, in the premiere, Bernard does a self diagnostic that suggests its only been 90-ish days since his last contact with Dolores, which would seem to line up with Hale telling the board that it's been three months since the incident at the park. But how do we know the information Bernard is receiving in those diagnostics are true? He said himself in the most recent episode that Dolores put a corruption in his code that he's been unable to find. Perhaps part of that corruption has to do with his last memory of seeing Dolores, and it always says it's been 90 days so he has no way of knowing how recently she's been messing with his code. 

Then there are the circumstances surrounding his all-too-easy return to Westworld. Are we really supposed to believe that there isn't more security to prevent boats from just cruising up unchecked, especially if we're just three months removed from a mass-casualty event in which the majority of their board members and security forces were slaughtered? Aside from rival corporations looking to profit — maybe this is how how Serac was able to get Maeve's pearl? — Delos should also be worried about media and others from the outside trying to get onto the island. But there's none of that. Bernard is able to just roll in, walk RIGHT THROUGH the scene of the murder of a high-level employee and into the not-so-secret lair of the park's dead founder... really? And did you notice how dusty the office looks? A lot dustier than it should if there was a flurry of activity in there just a few short months ago.

Something seems off. 

There's also the juxtaposition between what Bernard and Stubbs see the techs doing and what Hale and the rest of the board are talking about in the previous episode. In Episode 1, Hale and the board discuss taking the company private and it sounds like she's still in favor of keeping the parks open and running, suggesting that people will get over this in short order. Why then, seemingly just a few days later, does Bernard see two techs* talking about them liquidating the assets and selling Drogon** parts to "a startup in Costa Rica***?"

*Those two techs were played by "Game of Thrones" show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The cameo was forced and took me out of the moment and made me question the nature of the show's reality, which is never a good thing.

**That dragon looked an awful lot like Drogon, and having the GOT show runners taking a circular saw to a fan favorite seems very meta indeed.

***Was ... was that a Jurassic Park reference? 

See how easy it is to convince yourself that there are multiple timelines? And you can do this for almost every plot line in the show. Is that because we've been condition to expect that after two seasons of multiple timelines? Or is it because Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are already laying down the framework for another big reveal like in the first two seasons? We'll have to wait and see. 


ICYMI: Analysis Mode: 17 questions heading into S3, E2 of Westworld


How many simulations are there?

Episode 2 was one of the better episodes of Westworld to date. And considering that most of what took place — at least in Maeve's storyline — didn't really matter because it took place in a simulation, that's really saying something. But I think that's a credit to the show runners more than anything else, because they were able to keep the plot pretty self-contained, and the reveal that this was a simulation came early enough in the episode that you didn't feel cheated by investing in something that wasn't real.

We got to see Hector and Lee Sizemore again, both of whom could've been left behind after the second season, but it was nice to get one final sendoff. Furthermore, the entire Maeve storyline played out perfectly, with one reveal after another pointing us toward the ultimate ending, and giving us just enough each time. 

The question — and concern, really — now becomes about how many simulations there are. And that's always the danger with plot devices like this. Once you start down this path, the audience begins questioning every reality, which could be what they want us doing. However, another reveal like this — like, say, that Dolores is currently in a simulation and also being tested, or worse yet, that the entire show has been taking place in a simulation — and they risk ruining the show. That would be extremely difficult to pull off in any sort of satisfying way. 

It's one thing to tell us that 30 minutes of one episode have been in a simulation*, but it's another thing to tell us that an entire season, or god forbid, the entire show has been a simulation.

*They have done this before, with Benard in the Cradle in S2, but we knew at the outset that it was simulation. 

For now, we'll have to wait to see how both this simulation question and the previous one about timelines play out in Dolores' plot, which seems like it will be featured prominently on Sunday night. 

But there's also the question about whether Bernard and Stubbs are in a different timeline OR a simulation, just like Maeve. 

Like, how did Stubbs miss the charge in his neck from point blank range? Does he simply not have one? Or was this all a setup? Like, seriously, he's a host, sitting in a room full of Bernard bots that Delos knew existed. He's not exactly hiding and yet, while the rest of the park is supposedly being stripped for parts, no one came to get him? There's also something about the way the techs interact with Stubbs once they're in the Mesa that seems off, kind of like how the techs were in Serac's simulation for Maeve. 

Maybe there's a chance that Bernard and Stubbs are both in a different (previous to Maeve) timeline AND a simulation. After all, that could explain how Serac got her control unit and how he is able to so easily control the Delos tech despite not working for them. This could've been set up by Serac to have Bernard find Maeve, with Stubbs playing the role of Lee. This entire time, we think Bernard is looking for Maeve but can't find her, and when he finally finds her later in this season, they pull back the curtain to reveal that this is precisely how Maeve was delivered to Serac. 

We have a lot more questions about Serac — and we'll get to those in a minute — but this theory would at least answer some of them.

Is Dolores actually in the real world?

Aside from asking whether Dolores is in a simulation, it's also worth wondering if Dolores is in actually in the real world. What if she only thought she escaped at the end of Season 2? What if the "real world" that Arnold showed her in the past was only another park modeled after the real world? Maybe it's the last park we haven't been shown yet? We already know about Westworld, Shogun World, Raj World, Warworld, and Westeros(?) World. Could the last missing park (since we know there are six) be Future World? Aaron Paul's character, Caleb, sure seems like he's stuck living in a loop. 

However, with the first episode giving earthly locations (like Los Angeles) in a graphic between scenes, it would be odd for those to then turn out to have not actually taken place in reality.

Of course, that could just be a meta conversation on the world we live in and the fact that people also operate on loops, but it's not something that can be entirely dismissed at this point. Man, this show is weird. 

What's the deal with Serac?

I've got a lot of questions about this guy, but I can already feel like this story is getting too long, so let's just run through them, and hopefully I'll be able to try to answer some of them next week:

• Where is Serac's compound? Is it in another simulation? A simulation within a simulation?

• How did Serac get his hands on the Westworld/Delos tech?

• How did he get Maeve's control unit? And if they aren't in a simulation, where did he get her body? 

• How can he override her code and force her to freeze all motor functions with a little button?

• How did Serac know about Maeve's powers? Or did he just learn about them during the simulation?

• Why does Serac have Lee take Maeve to the Forge? Does he just want the guest data that's stored there? How does he know so much about it but not know that it's been destroyed?

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. That doesn't even go into what he's doing with Rehoboam, how he's "writing the future," and how he plans on winning a war that's already been lost. So, yeah, we've got a lot to learn yet about this character. 

What is the square root of -1?

Westworld-not-real-gif

That's a math joke. 


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