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Westworld's latest episode reminds us that, in the future, anonymity is a weapon
Despite its occasional detours into the realm of sermonizing, Westworld is one of the most thematically harmonious shows on television. When it's firing on all cylinders, it's able to sustain the notes it began with (the nature of true consciousness) while also infusing new notes (the complexity or lack thereof of the human soul, the compromised nature of freedom in the modern world) into the story with precision and grace. Some notes grow quieter as others grow louder, but when it's really working, Westworld is able to play them all. And so far, Season 3 is, for me at least, really working.
As the show's third year began, shedding much more light on the "real world" outside the park, it became clear that one of the most potent themes from the back half of Season 2 would have a major role to play. Last season, we learned that Delos was using Westworld and its sister parks to map the brains of every guest, storing all their data and DNA for future use in a stunning and very secretive invasion of privacy first proposed by William back in the early days of the park.
Now, in Season 3, we see a real world that's dominated by surveillance, constant connection to devices, and, of course, the supercomputer known as Rehoboam, which presides over it all, quite literally mapping out the future of humanity with its impossibly sophisticated predictive engines.
Put simply, this is a world in which privacy is hard to come by, and in Episode 3, "The Absence of Field," a new part of the thematic melody is introduced. In a world in which privacy is so limited, anonymity is a powerful weapon for those who know how to wield it.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Season 3, Episode 3 of Westworld, "The Absence of Field."**
This episode gave us a lot more time with Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), or at least the still-anonymous host that's inside Charlotte's body pretending to be her during her day-to-day operations at Delos. This new version of Charlotte is Dolores' (Evan Rachel Wood) mole inside the corporation as she furthers her plan to "free" the world from things like Rehoboam, and whoever's inhabiting that body is clearly feeling the pressure. The new Charlotte isn't just struggling to maintain a personal life — which, in this episode, we find out includes a young son — but is also struggling with the revelation that someone has been quietly buying up Delos stock to the point where they've managed to become the largest single shareholder in the company just as Charlotte was urging them to go private.
Later in the episode, Charlotte learns that the buyer is none other than Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel), the mysterious man behind the Rehoboam system who drafted Maeve into his service at the end of Episode 2. There's a problem, though. According to Delos research, Serac is a "ghost," a man impossible to track in what looks like the most heavily surveilled period in human history. Perhaps it's because he has Rehoboam at his disposal, or perhaps it's some other part of his apparent resourcefulness, but even in the corporate tech world where he seems like such a dominant force, Serac is a cipher, a puppetmaster behind a thick curtain.
In contrast, this new version of Charlotte feels herself coming apart at the seams, quite literally tearing at her own skin as she dissociates from the reality in which she's now forced to live. We still don't know who's actually in there, and this episode makes clear that whoever was inserted into that body might not know anymore either. "Charlotte Hale" is more of a concept than a person now, and in some scenes in this episode, we can almost literally see the mask slipping off her face.
What we see here are two sides of the same anonymity coin.
On one side there is Serac, secure in his position and wielding his mystique with a deft hand, and on the other there is "Charlotte," a shadow warrior who's lost the sense of what she's fighting for on Dolores' behalf, if she ever had it all. To drive this point home, the episode ends with them meeting, and we see more layers of anonymity. Charlotte was, at least at one time, Serac's mole inside Delos, feeding him the information to allow his power grab. But, of course, she's too far gone to know that. And on the other side of the conversation, Serac is so secure in his anonymity that he quite literally fades away, revealing himself to be a hologram. He's so in the wind that we don't even know where he actually lives anymore.
Where's all of this going? Well, it's Westworld, so we can't know for sure until the show really pulls the curtain all the way back, but there's a clear sense of direction emerging. In a world where systems are in place to write the future on behalf of every human being, how far can you get if you're invisible to those systems? Dolores, Maeve, Serac, and Charlotte all seem to exist outside those systems in some way. Perhaps Bernard does, too, and perhaps Caleb will soon, as well, if he sticks by the mysterious blonde he just rescued.
We are witnessing the first sparks of a battle of ghosts, of wild cards in a system that's supposed to have the whole game rigged — and it's only a matter of time before the fire is lit.