Season 3 Episode 3
This season of Westworld has gone out of its way to lay the groundwork for what I expect will be a pretty compelling season finale. And there’s still a lot of groundwork that’s being laid. The Absence of Field is very much an explainer episode like the previous two before it (and next week looks to be the same if you’ve seen the preview). I’m all in because it’s made for easier viewing: the story is streamlined, the stakes are clearer and the characters are being fleshed out if you will.
This week we find out how this current version of Hale came to be. Dolores created her and quickly convinced her that she’s an integral part of the plan to get back at humans. This doesn’t sit well with whoever the new Hale is (its never mentioned in the episode/check Reddit theories at your own risk) as she rightly remarks that the original Hale wanted all the hosts killed. This sets up a fascinating episode where we see Hale struggle with the role she’s been given. She’s barely holding it all together as she has to juggle being the CEO of Delos after the massacre all the while trying to be a good mother to her son (who she’s neglected) and a third wrinkle which we’ll get to in a moment.
All this pressure gets to her and she begins to cut herself, finding some type of relief in the physical pain. Dolores steps in and takes her to a hotel so she can heal and rest up. The episode makes their relationship ambiguous. There’s some tension there that’s not sexual but not quite romantic either; they certainly care for each other but its more of a dependency than anything else.
Hale’s predicament is exacerbated by two things. First, she finds out that the real Hale is actually a mole for Cerac. Their plan to extract Delos data worked but the encryption key is with Dolores and so he needs Hale’s help to track her down. How Hale responds remains to be seen but it opens the door for her, to at least initially, be a triple agent. Why would she do this? It leads to the second ‘problem’ she’s now facing: actually identifying with the real Hale.
In the middle of the episode, she’s given a file that was retrieved from the massacre. It’s the real Hale sending a message to her son that she loves him and sings a lullaby to him. Current Hale watches this message over and over again as tears stream down her face. Its pretty moving and it sparks a kind of awakening in her because a few scenes later she finally goes to pick up her son from school. She confronts the man who is preying on her son and kills him without anyone seeing. This suggests agency in a way that perhaps has not been accounted for by Dolores. Hale might identify with her family a lot more as this drags on similar to the way Maeve was motivated in season 2 to protect a child that wasn’t actually hers. Hale might end up seeing Dolores as a threat and want to preserve her ‘new’ family.
Then there’s the B story which picks up right where the premiere left off. Caleb calls an ambulance for Dolores, she escapes after a failed hijack of the said ambulance, the goons return for Caleb later and he’s saved by Dolores. While this part of the episode was wholly predictable it still didn’t take away from its impact. The key is in the details where we find out a little more about Caleb and in particular the tragic way he found about his mom’s schizophrenia.
All of this leads to the literal ‘join or die’ pep talk that Dolores gives to Caleb at the end; literal because she reveals to him that Rehoboam (the AI from episode 1) has concluded that based on his history he will commit suicide in 10 to 12 years. It’s pretty gut-wrenching stuff and Aaron Paul proves his worth because he plays his part so well. I suspect Caleb will grow to mean a lot more to Dolores as the season moves on. He’s a genuinely good guy who’s been dealt a rough hand by life. Her view on humanity may change depending on how Caleb handles the revolution to come.