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Westworld 3.03 Review – ‘The Absence of Field’

March 30, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Westworld - The Absence of Field Tessa Thompson Image Credit: HBO
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Westworld 3.03 Review – ‘The Absence of Field’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Sunday’s episode of Westworld.]

Westworld is very much an ensemble show, but at its core it’s indisputably more Dolores’ story than it is anyone else’s. That’s not to say that the paths taken by Maeve, William, Caleb, Charlotte, Bernard and others don’t matter; far from it. That said, when it comes down to pushing the main plot forward, it’s increasingly more regular that Dolores is the one taking the steps or pulling the strings. Westworld is a story about our identity and freedoms in a world where our technology has surpassed our moral equilibrium, and Dolores is the hand bringing a flame to that powder keg.

That said, Dolores is just one woman and she can’t drive a revolution all on her own. She needs allies and agents, and “The Absence of Field” focuses on two of those assets – one established, one potential – in Charlotte and Caleb. There is a lot to be learned about these two, albeit coming from different directions. This week’s episode doesn’t answer all those mysteries, nor does it make much of a pretense toward trying to do so. That’s one of the aspects of season three that has made it fresh in comparison to season two: it spends a lot less time hinting enigmatically at answers and focuses more directly on the progression of the story.

And sure, there’s still a little of that. That’s fine; mystery is good, and you don’t want to forget the hooks that keep people guessing in a show like this. But Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy have happily decided that a little goes a long way, a truism that this episode enthusiastically embraces.

Westworld Charlotte

The title of this episode, “The Absence of Field,” comes from a poem by Mark Strand called “Keeping Things Whole.” The relevant stanza of poem reads as follows:

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

The implication of this stanza is that the speaker is acutely aware how their presence forces something else out of that space, something that belongs there. Consider it akin to the saying that nature abhors a vacuum but presented in the context of whatever fills said vacuum being uncomfortable with displacing what was originally there.

That brings us to Charlotte, or whoever Charlotte truly is. Faux-lotte (I promise, that’s the only time I’ll use that name) is that absence of field, reminded that she is not the human Charlotte at every step. Charlotte’s son recognizes that something’s not right with her, as does her ex. She wants nothing more than to be who she really is, but Dolores needs her to be someone else. Grappling with identity is a major theme of these series and Tessa Thompson has some potent thematic ground to work with in Charlotte this episode. Her Delos colleagues essentially accuse her of being a mole and she even sees a recording of human Charlotte just to remind her that yes, what she sees while looking in the mirror used to be someone else.

All of this is having a negative affect on Charlotte’s mind, to say the least. She is taken to wounding, explaining it as the other Charlotte trying to take back what’s hers. As the absence of field, Charlotte feels the field trying to take its negative space back and it’s not doing enviable things to her psyche. There’s a lot here to be said about how host Charlotte’s struggles – including things like self-harm – parallel the idea of people out there having to pretend to be what they aren’t in order to fit in. If Charlotte revealed her true identity to the world, she would be feared and hated. But acting like she’s someone else – someone who’s “normal” and acceptable to society – opens a very dangerous can of worms for her, even if it’s the safest choice right now.

Westworld Dolores Charlotte

I’m sure that most of the discussion around Charlotte will revolve around her identity for obvious and understandable reasons. There’s definitely some mystery still going on with that, and the hints we got probably won’t dissuade one of our commenters here on 411 from the notion that Charlotte is actually Dolores while Dolores is actually Maeve (Hey there Chompskers!). I personally don’t think that the evidence bears this out for a couple of reasons, but it would be a very Westworld-ian twist.

Most of our clues as to who Charlotte could be come from her interactions with Dolores or by process of elimination. The latter makes Teddy, Akecheta, Kohana, and Maeve’s daughter impossible as they’re all in the Valley Beyond. As for the Charlotte host herself, we know that she has a very deep relationship with Dolores, who tells her, “No one knows you like I do. No one knows me like you.” Charlotte also asks Dolores in flashback, “Why can’t I be myself, like you?” Neither of these things suggests that Charlotte is actually Dolores and Dolores is actually Maeve, though I’m not entirely sure what they do tell us. My money had been on Angela, and to be honest it’s as good a guess as any right now (though I’m sure there are a lot of other theories with more evidence behind them).

Whoever she is under the skin, Charlotte finds herself in a difficult position when she tries to discover the identity of Serac’s mole within Delos and discovers – surprise, surprise! – it’s her. Or the old her, but you get my point. This makes her someone who is pretending to be someone she isn’t while being pulled at by two different masters. Fortunately for her one of those raw points that chafes at her pretense gives her what she needs to recenter herself. Having viewed the video message from human Charlotte, host Charlotte takes a bit of her agency back when she finds a rather sick man trying to pick up her young son. Thompson’s delivery of her vicious little monologue was a delight as she strangles him (presumably) unseen; the fact that she was able to assuage young Nathan’s discomfort with a dog was an added bonus.

Westworld Caleb

Where Charlotte is a much-needed ally that Dolores already has in the bag, Caleb is the one that she has yet to bring on board when the episode starts. At that point, our new favorite Good Samaritan construction worker is just looking out for Dolores. It doesn’t take long, however, until he ends up in over his head as the cost of being a decent person in the show’s world. Caleb has the temerity to warn Dolores when she becomes the target of everyone in Rico, that crowdsourcing crime app, and that makes him a marked man – which, in turn, helps to make him perfect for Dolores’ recruitment pitch.

I won’t lie here; while I was watching, it was hard to guess how much of this was happenstance and how much Dolores has engineered. I still see her as a largely sympathetic protagonist, but sometimes the heroes have to pull a con if they want to beat the bad guys. The fact that this is all directly following on the events of last week means that she didn’t have access to Rehoboam through host Connells though, and I don’t think she can predict all of this. Either way, Caleb is an excellent fit to Dolores’ revolution. We may not know how he fits into Dolores’ plans, but it’s understandably easy to bring him on board after she proves how the 0.01% (or thereabouts) use their system to rig the game against people like him. It’s a bridge too far for him, and even if his immediate reaction to her stated goal of starting a revolution is “No offense, but what the fuck does that mean,” he doesn’t need too much convincing. I can’t say that I would either.

Westworld Caleb Dolores

“The Absence of Fields” was scripted by Denise Thé, who is a big part of this season as she is also an executive producer and is credited as co-writing the season finale that will air in May. Thé delivers nicely on keeping the tone consistent while keeping things nicely straight-forward for the most part. Most importantly, it has some serious revelations; we learn that Charlotte was Serac’s mole and new Charlotte is under the gun to deliver, exactly what threat Rehoboam represents, and a few details of Dolores’ plan. The plot progression is a welcome change from shows (like Westworld season two) who set up something cool, spend all of the middle doing fairly little of consequence and then rushing the rest of the story at the end.

Even better, that plot progression is balanced out with character growth and depth. Charlotte is suddenly a more sympathetic character after this episode, and not just because she killed a sexual predator. We learn plenty about Caleb through his subplot, and we get a better sense of where Dolores’ head is at through her interactions with both of the others. I’m not entirely convinced that I should care too much about Serac, but I at least expect that he’ll be a potentially formidable adversary. With only eight episodes this season, Westworld realizes it can’t dawdle all that much, and that’s resulting in an all-around tighter season which makes me very happy.

Westworld Serac

Some Final Thoughts:

• Those wounds Charlotte was digging into her upper body seem particularly distinctive. My first thought was that they’re vaguely symbolic or maze-like, which suggested the possibility of Charlotte being Lawrence. However, as Dolores and Lawrence didn’t really have much to do with each other, I don’t think that’s likely.

• Line of the Week is replaced this week with Monologue of the Week, that being Charlotte’s entire slightly snarky, entirely terrifying one-sided conversation with the would-be pedophile as she chokes him to death. Kudos to you on that delivery, Miss Thompson.

• Pour one out for Caleb’s robot co-worker, gone too soon.

• I’m sure Charlotte’s comment that she’s “sure we can find some use” for the giant scary riot control robots won’t turn out badly at all. No, really.

• So those Host pearls. We know one is Bernard, one is Connells, and one is Charlotte. We still have two unaccounted for. I’m not ready to venture a guess yet, but I’m sure we’ve met at least one of them.

• The cello cover when Charlotte is being brought to see Serac was of Moses Sumney’s “Doomed,” a gorgeous song about whether one can truly live if they are without love.

• Next week: We catch up with William, who is in a prison of his own sins. Yeah, I’m sure he’s not unstable at all…

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Westworld does some solid character building in "The Absence of Fields" while pushing the story forward in effective ways. The host version of Charlotte and Caleb make great allies for Dolores and it's nice to see their characters explored through an impressive script, good direction and some stellar acting. It's perhaps not as flashy an episode as the last couple, but in some ways it's better for that.