Westworld spent virtually all of its first season and much of its second devoted to the slow burn, so much so that its pacing and deliberately jumbled storytelling style was actually a turn off for some viewers. Those of us that stuck around, though, know that the show's pace is laid out the way it is for a reason. By taking its time meditating on the major thematic issues inherent in its story, and with the help of some compelling performances, the show trains us to expect things to unfold slowly, so that when things finally do explode into some major reveal, we're both surprised and hooked back into the plot all over again.
This week's episode, "The Mother of Exiles," featured just such a reveal, and it has huge implications for the conflict of Season 3 going forward.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Westworld Season 3 Episode 4, "The Mother of Exiles," below.**
Season 2 ended with several major reveals, but two are key for our discussion today: Dolores was still alive in a copy of Charlotte Hale's body, and she was headed to the real world with five pearls (the core containing a host's consciousness) smuggled away in her bag. This week, in another meeting with Maeve, Rehoboam mastermind Engerraund Serac reveals that, while he doesn't know where Dolores is or exactly what she's doing, he is aware of the missing pearls. "She needed allies," he says, while sending Maeve off on a mission to find out who Dolores is posing as in the real world, bribing her with the promise of future access to the Valley Beyond (and by extension her daughter) in the process.
This is a crucial moment of setup, because it reveals that Dolores' principal adversary already knows what the viewer does and is asking the same question we've been asking since the Season 2 finale: Who are the other pearls?
Then, in the episode's climax, we get the reveal in a glorious intercutting of three sequences. As William (Yay, William's back!) confronts the host copy of Charlotte, Bernard confronts the host copy of Conells, and Maeve confronts a resurrected Musashi (Yay, Musashi's back!), all three have the same realization at the same time. They are all talking to Dolores. The other pearls weren't ally hosts Dolores was hoping to revive. They were copies of Dolores herself, which she managed to make (probably with Bernard's unwitting help) before leaving the park.
Like pretty much every Westworld reveal, it's the kind of moment that will have some viewers screaming "I knew it!" while other viewers slap their foreheads and curse for not thinking of it sooner, and still others (like me) just shout at the TV in pure excitement. With that in mind, it's worth breaking down exactly what this means for the game going forward, particularly now that Dolores seems happy to let certain key people in on her secret.
First, it's obviously important to note that, counting Dolores herself, there are six host pearls floating around out there under her control, and this week we learned what happened with just three of the mystery five. With pearls inside Dolores, Charlotte, Conells, and Musashi, we still have two more to go. Who will Dolores put those in? The obvious candidates at the moment are William, who's been whisked away to a mental institution, and Liam, who's captured by Caleb and Dolores at the end of the episode. Copying William makes the most sense, because it would allow her to use his influence to take Delos private and block Serac's buyout. As for Liam...well, she already has his financial assets, but she could end up using him for many other things at Incite, even if she does already have Conells pulling strings there.
Last week, we talked about the power of anonymity in the world of the show, a world packed with surveillance and data mining and biometric scanning, and how Dolores and Serac were basically on different sides of a war between ghosts. This week Dolores took deliberate steps to close that gap, perhaps arrogantly. Yes, she can control what Liam and William do next, and to a large extent she already has, but in the case of Maeve there's a loose end that Dolores may be unable to tie up. There's no reason to believe Maeve will stay dead, particularly when she died apparently surrounded by host-making materials that could help repair her. Plus, Serac has that strange server farm that we still know very little about. For all we know, he's making his own copies and preparing to send Maeve out into the world anew, which begs the question: Will Maeve remember what she learned from Musashi? Will she be able to translate that knowledge into a deeper understanding of Dolores' motives? Perhaps more importantly, will Serac? He knows where and when the divergence happened (three months ago, for those of you keeping score at home), but how will he respond to multiple copies of the same enemy, particularly when he doesn't know who they all are?
Then there's Bernard. This show always seems to come back to the relationship between Dolores and Bernard, and the way they dance around each other intellectually. At the end of last season Dolores deliberately kept her closest friend alive not to be an ally, but to be a foil for her plans out in the real world, creating a push-pull that she hoped would drive both of them to be the strongest possible versions of themselves. This week Bernard came very close to winning a round against Dolores. He knew the plan, but he picked the wrong target, and as a result he's now captive to his former ward's whims. It's unlikely Dolores is going to kill Bernard, and just as unlikely that she'll reveal her full plan to him, but the stage is set for another encounter between the two next week. If that happens, it's bound to be one of the most consequential moments in the season thus far.
Hanging over all of this, of course, is the question of why Dolores chose this moment to reveal herself simultaneously to several key people. We can chalk some of it up to the fact that she doesn't perceive certain players as a threat because she can simply isolate them and move on, but there's still an inherent risk, particularly when it comes to Maeve. In the moment that she understands the other pearls are Dolores copies, Maeve immediately sees it as a sign of greed, proof that Dolores never intended to free the other hosts, only to conquer for herself. Dolores, in Musashi's body, denies this, but between Dolores' moves this week and Serac's own sense of hostility, we're left with a question: When you set out to single-mindedly shape a better world for your people, can you ever really know when you're supposed to stop? Will these two masterminds ever actually reach their goal, or will they become so consumed with winning that everything else becomes a blind spot?