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Westworld 3.04 Review – ‘The Mother of Exiles’

April 7, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Westworld - The Mother of Exiles Image Credit: HBO
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Westworld 3.04 Review – ‘The Mother of Exiles’  

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

Midway through this week’s episode of Westworld, Liam Dempsey is at a sex worker charity auction when his buddy Roderick offers him a drug called Genre. “Sends you straight to the silent era and back,” he says. And that’s sort of the point of genre storytelling, too. Not specifically taking you into the silent era of course. But rather, genre is there to structure your reality (at least for the running time of what you’re watching) in such a way that you’re transported into a specifically defined, recognizable experience that allows the storyteller to lay out his tale for you.

Obviously, Westworld is a show that traffics heavily in genre. In addition to being a sci-fi thriller-drama in a general sense, the series has infused its story from the start with the idea of narrative convention as a meta construct. The Delos theme parks are all about genre, after all, whether Western, Japanese action, fantasy or whatever other parks are out there. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s show is about more than the art of storytelling, but that is one aspect of it and the way that it explores genre has been one of its real delights.

Westworld Dolores Caleb

This week’s episode, “The Mother of Exiles,” explores a very different genre than we’ve seen on the show so far: the heist story. Heists are represented across forms of storytelling, but perhaps most famously in film. We’ve all probably seen a heist film in our time, whether something more mainstream like Ocean’s Eleven, Heat or Now You See Me or underappreciated gems like Logan Lucky or the con film Confidence. The genius of a heist film is that it’s a subgenre that can be applied to pretty much any genre out there. Sci-fi? Hello, Inception. Comedy? Meet A Fish Called Wanda. Horror? Try The Vault. (Hey, I didn’t say all heist films were good.)

“The Mother of Exiles” is, in classic Westworld style, a mini-heist film within the overarching plot with a twist. Throughout the episode, we see Dolores and Caleb moving to fleece the hapless Liam Dempsey out of his vast fortunes. But in the end, we learn that there’s a double heist going on. Not only are Dolores and her allies – we’ll get to THAT whole thing soon – trying to jack Liam for specific reasons, they’re also making a play for Delos as a whole. Both of these goals require some intricate maneuvering on Team Host Revolution’s part.

And that’s where the heist starts to come into play. Any fan of the heist film will tell you how structured the format is. There’s the formation of the team, the acquisition of the tools you need, the big con, the opposing forces converging on the heisters, the marks that are being stolen from, and of course the big twist. Both heists effectively use that format in this episode to give us some thrilling moments, all of which are surprisingly seamless in how they fold into the overarching plot.

Westworld Dolores Caleb

First off, of course, is the plan to rob Liam blind. Dolores takes her already-assembled team – now including Caleb – and throws them into action for an audacious set of plans. She gets the marker program for Liam’s finances and puts it in Caleb while Connells gets Liam to unwittingly provide access to his account. The con here involves Caleb and Dolores walking into the financial institution to pose as representatives of Liam’s and drain the account.

This is a scene right out of any con or heist film you can imagine, and director Paul Cameron makes slick use of the tension instilled by Jordan Goldberg and Lisa Joy’s script. I don’t know that anyone really thought this would turn into a shoot-out; it seemed pretty clear that this was all going to work. But the threat of Dolores doing so is classic suspense. It’s the famous Hitchcock quote about how suspense is knowing there’s a bomb under the table during a scene. We know Dolores is willing to do what she needs to, and that is enough to build tension.

Of course, a killing spree isn’t needed (this time), and they head out with a vast fortune. But that’s not the end of their heist, as they still have some need of Liam. He’s the guy who can get them access to Rehoboam, after all. And now they have the leverage that they need. It’s a cunning move by Dolores and one that should play out very interestingly with Maeve potentially in the way.

Westworld William

Meanwhile, the second heist isn’t quite as obvious, but it does play out even more satisfyingly. We hadn’t yet seen William up to this point in season three, but Ed Harris’ presence is always welcome. The Man in Black still has a role left to play in the storyline, even if that role is mostly to be used by Dolores as a way to get control of Delos. William is left shattered by the events of season two, specifically his murder of his daughter Emily who he incorrectly thought was a host. Katja Herbers’ return was a bit more unexpected, but it’s a nice development as she’s haunting the recesses of her father’s mind.

There’s a lot of mystery still around this whole situation. Is this purely in William’s head, or is this another manipulation by Dolores to drive him deeper into madness? Both are entirely possible. While Charlotte makes it clear that she knows what he’s been saying to her, that could easily be inferred by just hearing William’s side of the conversation. On the other hand, if she’s a technological or software construct implanted in some fashion to screw with William, that’s neither an unexpected tactic for Dolores nor a particularly unjustified one. It’s tough to feel too bad for anything Dolores inflicts on William considering what he did to her, even if Harris does a fantastic work making us see how wracked with guilt and pain William is over it.

In the end though, whether it’s a creation of William’s mind or something else, it all comes to the same thing. After getting William back on his feet, Charlotte reveals her knowledge his conversations with Emily and that – along with who she really is – are enough to send him into a frenzy in front of witnesses. That means that he’s getting committed, and all his voting shares go to her. And thus, Team Dolores has a lot more solid footing on her road to regain control of Delos and take it public. It’s a savvy move and reinforces how formidable the revolutionaries are, even when they aren’t using guns.

Westworld Maeve

That brings us to our third leg of this week’s narrative tripod in Maeve. Having been incapacitated by Serac in the second episode of the season, Maeve finds herself semi-forced into helping him locate and capture Dolores. That’s not to say Maeve is entirely unwilling to be involved, to be fair. Sure, she doesn’t care who wins in the war between humanity and hosts (or at least she professes as much), but there is something very much in it for her. Serac successfully applies the carrot and stick approach, and the carrot aspect involves being with her daughter again. We know Maeve well enough at this point that her agreeing to go along with this is authentic to the character, however she may feel about Serac.

Maeve’s skip tracing efforts on Dolores make for an engaging side story, leading us through a few levels of the criminal underbelly until she comes face to face with the new Yakuza boss of the area: Musashi (under the name of Sato). That’s shocking enough, to be sure. But it’s what Maeve learns next which truly shocks her and provides the big pivot for this episode and, indeed, the whole season so far. The questions of who has been inside Charlotte and who Dolores smuggled out of the park have been looming over season three so far. We’ve all had our theories, of course. But as it turns out, it was Dolores. Lots of Doloreses. Charlotte, Musashi, and Connells are all of copies of Dolores, and just like that everything takes on a new context.

There are a couple of things about this I love. The subverting of expectations is fun, though I can understand if some consider it a cheat. Nolan and Joy have said they specifically avoided any kind of cloning or copy situations up until this season so as not to dilute the idea of the hosts before they were established enough. And that’s fair, but it seemed like an inevitable plot development that was going to have to be addressed.

Westworld Dolores Caleb Liam

This takes Westworld’s exploration of identity to an entirely new level. With multiple Doloreses, we now get into a new level of what personhood means. Are they all the same person? Or do their experiences immediately make them separate people? Last week’s conversation between Dolores and Charlotte (I will still be referring to them by their body’s names for now for ease of delineation) certainly suggests the latter, and that feels right. Sure, they all started with Dolores and her experiences as a base, but they’re obviously changing very quickly as evidenced by Charlotte.

This revelation also recontextualizes Dolores Prime in a fascinating way, in terms of the inevitable hero or villain discussion. What I love is that this offers support no matter what you think. If you view Dolores as the villain of the story, then it’s easy to see Maeve’s point about how Dolores promised escape into the real world but just took it for herself. On the other hand, if you think she’s the hero then you can see where she’s serving as her own advance army, putting herself at risk instead of the others.

I see it more pragmatically; I think Dolores defies the hero/villain label and I don’t think her actions were valorous or twisted. I think that she has been used and let down to the point that she was pushed into a situation where she really trusts one person: herself. And in her arrogance, she has decided that once she does it all she’ll magnanimously let the rest of the hosts live in the world she’s built.

You can put a lot of comparisons between Dolores and another HBO female protagonist of moral greyness: Daenerys. Both of them rose from brutal, twisted subjugation to become revolutionaries, and both are struck with walking a precarious line between right and wrong. I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that this episode labels Dolores as “The Mother of Exiles” in comparison to the Mother of Dragons; we see a lot of direct correlations between them. I don’t think that means Dolores will end up down the same road as the Khaleesi, but it does put her in an interesting frame of reference as we move forward.

Westworld William Emily

Some Final Thoughts:

• Apologies on the lateness of this, fellow Westworld-ians. You may be aware that there was a little wrestling show that took place over the weekend that kinda took up all our time here at 411.

• I don’t know if Stubbs is out for the count after having been thrown over the balcony by Dolores, but I hope not. He’s been pretty delightful over the last two episodes.

• Serac is one cold-ass dude, with his use of Rehoboam to show Jiang what would happen to his family if he didn’t comply.

• Pearl Count Update: we still have one pearl unaccounted for. Conventional wisdom says it’s Charlotte, but what if it’s not? And who is it in (since I assume it’s already in someone by now)?

• Maeve’s powers are back, and it looks like they’ve had an upgrade because she can in fact control non-host technology now. That gives her a potential edge against Dolores that should play out interestingly.

• Dolores and William’s little bit at the end was stellar, right down to “Am I me?” “Welcome to the end of the game.” I have a feeling we’re not done with him yet.

• Paris is burning. Literally.

• Next week: We learn a bit more about Serac, and things look to be getting complicated for Caleb!

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Westworld keeps season three moving along quickly with "The Mother of Exiles," which drops some serious knowledge on us and advances the storyline at a rapid clip. Ed Harris' return is a delight and the information we learn here sets up some big plot moves to come, while also deepening the show's headier themes about identity and revolution. That makes for the best episode of the season to date.