Westworld has always been a show that delights in subverting the various iconographies of genre fiction, whether the genre is Western or science fiction or some strange blending of the two. We saw it in the very beginning when the man in the black hat turned out to be not a killer robot, but an all-too-human player in the park's violent delights. We saw it in the way the show gradually revealed William's journey from naive young man to full-blown sociopath, in the way Dolores evolved into Wyatt, and in the way characters like Akecheta were revealed to be far more than mindless antagonists set up for the park's many narratives. This is a show that delights in pointing us in the direction of a hero, and then showing us a villain, and vice versa.
It makes sense, then, that as Westworld turns the corner and heads into its final Season 3 episodes, it would once again start to play with the notion of who the real heroes and villains are in this story. Through a pair of pivotal conversations in Episode 6, "Decoherence," the show draws a new set of battle lines that nevertheless still manage to come down to the same old characters, though they are made new again by the world around them.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Westworld Season 3, Episode 6, "Decoherence."**
Over the past couple of weeks, between the reveal that she's copied herself and the massive Incite data leak she oversaw, it really seemed like Dolores was on a path to victory, or at least a path to a stalemate that would mean Serac would need to readjust his strategy. The mind behind Rehoboam is not so easily rattled, though, and much of the plot of "Decoherence" features Serac making moves to curtail Dolores' efforts. Despite her attempts to fight off his buyout of Delos, Serac has still managed to secure his purchase, and he's also managed to land Maeve's continued assistance in his effort to win once and for all. Dolores certainly has her own countermeasures in place — many of them involving Charlotte Hale's secretive efforts to steal Delos data from beneath Serac's nose — but Serac has made some real headway.
Of course, much of his endgame to beating Dolores still seems to involve Maeve, her mind control powers, and her willingness to do whatever it takes to gain access to the Sublime and be with her daughter again. To make that happen, Serac puts his own host machinery to good use and promises Maeve allies as she is returned to the simulation to wait for a new body. Serac has also harvested the corrupted control unit from Dolores' copy of Conells, which means that while she's in the simulation, Maeve can have a conversation with a version of Dolores herself.
This dynamic — the two warrior-queen hosts facing off in a controlled, somewhat imaginary environment — is a promising one, made all the more interesting by the fact that the "real" Dolores only appears as a voice in one scene of this episode. In the absence of her leader, the simulation of Dolores is left open to moments of vulnerability, as she explains that she and Dolores Prime "were the same," but "our paths have changed us," something we see quite clearly throughout the episode via Charlotte's actions to protect her family. Maeve, unafraid to speak her mind, demands that Dolores answer for her willingness to be the "gatekeeper to two species," but the Dolores copy won't give in to Maeve's branding of her leader as a tyrant. Maeve, after all, has her own version of control for all hosts built in, and Maeve has also stood by while others sacrificed themselves for her efforts.
To the Dolores copy in the chair, neither woman is a villain, but it's Maeve who refuses to acknowledge her own sins. Compare this to the phone call Charlotte shares with the real Dolores in the episode — in which she chides Charlotte for caring about "her family" that was never actually hers to begin with — and you can see even more cracks forming in the kind of hive mind Dolores has built for herself. Her copies are committed to her, even willing to make excuses for her, but even they can't muster the same passion they once did. For all her talk of freedom and truth, it's becoming clearer that even those closest to Dolores can't put the notion of her villainy completely out of their minds.
Then there's William, who remains in a mental hospital after Charlotte committed him under Dolores' orders. "Decoherence" sees the former Delos titan subjected to a form of augmented reality therapy that leads to one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series so far: William in a group therapy session with himself. We see William the mental patient, William the philanthropist, William the killer, William the young man (Hey, Jimmi Simpson is back!), and William the boy, all presided over by the specter of his father-in-law, James Delos (Hey, Peter Mullan is back!).
Just as characters like Dolores and Bernard have already gone through their reckoning with what they've done and why, William is having his own moment of confronting his sins, though he's reluctant to start digging at first. Beginning with the murder of his daughter, William eventually does journey all the way back to his childhood and finds that the same sense of brutality that he awakened in the park was, in some form, always a part of him, even if he's never been willing to admit it.
So, did he become the Man in Black or was he born that way? Did he choose to be William the brutalizer, or was he just along for the ride?
His answer: "If you can't tell, does it matter?"
William ends the episode by butchering the old versions of himself in an imaginary confrontation that both confirms his brutality is still present and allows him to — in his own mind, at least — move past his sins. He declares himself "the good guy," a revelation that conveniently coincides with the arrival of Bernard and Ashley at the facility. As confrontation seems to loom again, William seems primed to join the cause of Dolores' enemies, though Bernard may not know his own side in this war has just recruited a deeply unstable new ally.
The episode leaves virtually every character -—except Dolores, who remains conveniently offscreen — on extremely shaky ground. Charlotte is half-dead, Serac owns the ashes of Delos, Maeve has lost Hector but gained another mystery ally, and William is trying to shake away the fog of his therapy session.
Over the next two weeks, these characters will converge in ways we haven't yet seen. They will cast themselves as heroes and villains in a fight for two different species, moving soldiers across the ruined landscape of Rehoboam's attempt at a perfect world. "Decoherence" is an episode that reminds us frequently that we can never trust any character on Westworld to be totally good, totally bad, or even totally, reliably themselves. As the various factions at play in the next clash come together, we're left wondering who is really right and who is really wrong, and when we ask that question we now have William's voice ringing in our heads:
If you can't tell, does it matter?