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Westworld has always been a show with at least two narratives running at once, and when it's really kicking, it feels as though it could manage half a dozen without breaking a sweat. There's the overarching narrative of the show itself, the one we're watching as viewers, and then there's the narrative the characters are imposing on each other through their various technological and philosophical means of control.
In Season 1 that second narrative belonged to Ford, while in Season 2 it belonged increasingly to the various self-aware hosts Ford had awakened through his machinations. Now, as we near the end of Season 3, the battle for the narrative within the show is on, and Dolores is doing her best to cast at least one more new villain as she tries to rewrite the future.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Westworld Season 3, Episode 7, "Passed Pawn" below.**
Westworld did plenty of its nimble meta-narrative dancing toward this revelation last week, as we saw the pseudo-Dolores entity captured by the host declare that neither she nor Maeve is a villain, even as elsewhere, William was re-christening himself as "The Good Guy."
Battle lines were clearly being drawn, and this week we saw some of the fallout from that as William made some key moves to wield what little influence he has left and Maeve and Dolores finally faced off in a glorious and bloody struggle that ended in a stalemate. It was an episode full of big developments, but it saved perhaps the biggest for last.
For weeks now, we've been wondering exactly why Dolores got so close to Caleb so fast, and now we know: He was a survivor of Serac's augmented reality rehabilitation program, who showed signs of fraying at the edges. That, plus a little push from Dolores herself, was enough to push him to seek out a plan to kill Serac on his own. As Bernard puts it: Dolores is not the future destroyer of humanity, and she perhaps never intended to be.
Instead, Dolores has cast Caleb in that role, pulling his strings in a way that even the Incite data leak never could.
Bernard explains to Stubbs that this is due to Dolores' "poetic" sensibility, the same part of her programming that made her the artistic and sensitive rancher's daughter back when we first met her. Dolores herself was recast as Wyatt the Death Bringer by Ford, and in retrospect, she considers that an act of enlightenment — a gift of freedom that her most docile self never had. Now, she's done a version of the same thing to Caleb, radicalizing him to her cause through suggestion and careful revelation, and it's a move made all the more potent by Caleb's own past.
"Passed Pawn" shows us, through flashbacks and revelations from the Solomon supercomputer (my biggest complaint about the season now is that the show waited this long to introduce us to the Mad Supercomputer), that Caleb is undergoing the last in a long line of rewrites to his own brain. His tragic past and the loss of a friend is not the product of war, but of Serac's reconditioning. His criminal exploits are not his own recklessness seeking out distraction, but part of Serac's covert program to round up "outliers" through the use of reconditioned hunters.
Dolores told him several episodes ago that Rehoboam had mapped out his life for him, written his destiny already, but she left out several key parts. Caleb is, like Dolores once was, a character in a story that is subject to constant revision, but now the writer of his story has changed. Now Dolores is in charge of his story, and she's determined to make him her own version of the Death Bringer. Whether her poetic sense of Caleb's role also lends itself to an emotional connection isn't clear, but it wouldn't be surprising to see her drop him in favor of her own victory later.
Of course, Dolores is not above getting some rewrites of her own in all this, as a brief scene early in the episode makes it clear that the Charlotte Hale version of her has decided to stage some kind of defection as payback for what happened to her family last week. Dolores' Charlotte copy has been showing signs of distress for weeks now, and it seems she finally had enough of being yet another character in someone else's story, as she helped Maeve and her new/old friends Clementine (yay!) and Hanaryo (double yay!) take out the Musashi copy of Dolores in Indonesia.
Dolores' hosts are falling while Maeve's are rising, and it seems it gives Maeve at least a little bit of an advantage in a fight. It's worth noting, though, that even after all of this, there's still one more Dolores pearl out there somewhere, unaccounted for.
And speaking of things that are unaccounted for, there's Bernard and his place in all this. After taking such a key role in Season 2, the host who Dolores deliberately set up as her adversary has been at least one step behind her for weeks now, and his character has suffered a bit for it.
In "Passed Pawn," though, it feels like the show is finally ratcheting up the tension on Bernard's story as he prepares to make a move with William and his tracer-laden blood in tow. Bernard, like Dolores, knows what it's like to be a character in someone else's story, but while she's pressed ahead with rewrites, he's taken the more analytical approach.
He recognizes her poetry, but can he guess the next rhyme?
What happens next week? Well, it's Westworld, so just about anything could come out of the season finale at this point, but what we seem to be looking forward to is a clash between Destroyers (Dolores, Caleb, William) and Preservationists (Maeve, Bernard, Serac), each with their own motives and narrative needs. We can see the overall narrative, the one we're watching from the outside, taking a pretty clear shape. The real question is what rewrites these characters are planning for their own stories next.