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Westworld 3.05 Review – ‘Genre’

April 13, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Westworld - Genre Image Credit: HBO
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Westworld 3.05 Review – ‘Genre’  

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

Going into even this season of Westworld (to say nothing of the first season), I never thought too much about what films and stories would be a reference point. Part of that was because it seemed obvious; this is literally the adaptation of a sci-fi film of the same name, after all. And even as the scope expanded beyond the park to start the third season, things were so wide open that I didn’t particular care to try and confine it into the frame of reference other films or shows might provide.

Still, even if I had I somehow doubt that Fight Club would have been one of my picks. And now that seems silly, because they so obviously touch on similar themes. Both are stories about identity and revolution with unreliable narrators and big twists, in which their protagonists are incredibly unreliable narrators with complex and highly debatable moral codes. But Fight Club was mostly about raging rather impotently at the machine. No one with any sense of understanding about the complexity of the modern world would believe that Edward Norton’s character blowing up buildings with credit card records would do anything; it was the act that mattered, not what it accomplished.

Westworld, on the other hand, is looking for results alongside its methods. Those methods are put into play in “Genre” as Dolores and her army of – well, herself – enact the first stage of her plan to start the revolution in earnest. That act pushes the series to a new stage in its story as the circle widens to bring the whole of humanity into this particular wave of defiance against those on top.

Westworld Caleb

But before we get into that, we have to take a look at the title of this episode, “Genre.” As I discussed at some length last week, Westworld is a show that loves to play with the intricacies of genre storytelling. Last week saw the show really dive into the concept; this week officially tells “Mother of Exiles” to hold its beer as episode writer Karrie Crouse uses that drug Liam Dempsey Jr. got his hands on as an excuse to go into overdrive. The very idea of a limbic system drug that provides a genre filter to everything you’re experiencing is ridiculous in the best way, and Crouse and director Anna Foerster take Caleb on a gonzo trip that is as meta-silly as it is potent.

Execution is key here, of course. It’s interesting to imagine how particular filmmakers would use a drug that changes genres on people. You could play this exact same script for any number of tones; imagine the kind of goofiness that Kevin Smith would use this for on a comedic level, or the acid-infused lunacy that Terry Gilliam would go through. On the other hand, put this in the hands of someone like Guillermo Del Toro or Jordan Peele and it could become nightmarishly terrifying. That’s a statement to how strong authorial intent becomes for a director when you’re dancing in this kind of self-aware metatext.

Fortunately, Foerster knows what she’s doing here and has the right handle on how to play this within the context of the episode. Instead of leaning too heavily into the effects, she uses a light touch that fits Westworld’s style. Sure, it’s a bit on the nose when “Ride of the Valkyries” plays during the action sequence or “Theme From Love Story (Finale)” keys up for a brief dive into romantic territory while Caleb stares at Dolores. But it’s purposefully on the nose, knowing exactly how far it can go and propped up by a performance from Aaron Paul that leans into Caleb’s drug-addled perceptions.

Westworld Dolores Caleb

But while Caleb is taking a trip through the different flavors of storytelling Dolores has a revolution to kick off in earnest. Our host freedom fighter reveals the first real stage of her grand plan, with forced help from Liam Dempsey Jr. and willing help from Connells, Caleb, Ash, and Giggles. Dolores’ motives during this season in particular have been nebulous, making her a sort of Rorschach test of morality. It’s not hard to see her as the hero or the villain here, or more likely as somewhere on the scale in-between. The exact motives of her actions in “Genre” are still a bit nebulous – we’re relying on her words to understand why she does what she does, and she’s not always the most honest of people. But what she does is clear as day and will likely draw some strong opinions in both directions.

Every big arching plot in a show like this has a big red button, that thing that will release the narrative Kraken and completely change the world of the story in an undeniable, irrevocable way. Most long-form shows are often afraid to push those buttons, because such a destabilizing change can make the status quo unsustainable. It’s real work to set up the state of a world and tossing it for a new one carries a lot of risk. But it’s also no surprise that some of the best shows, from The Good Place to Breaking Bad, have been willing to do so. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s the kind of game changer that can really elevate a series.

Do Dolores’ actions really do change things forever? It’s hard to be certain; there are always narrative tricks that could be used to put this genie back into the bottle. But it certainly seems that way. Dolores knows that the world is controlled by the unholy teaming of Serac and Incite, which allows Rehoboam to plot out the course for every single person and decide how to manage them. When you find you’re in that kind of a dystopian sci-fi setting, there are a lot of things you could do. You could try and work quietly within the system to break it down and remove the control, for example. Or you could just throw napalm on the situation by telling everyone the truth. Knowing Dolores as we do, there’s no question where she’s headed; she goes for the latter.

Westworld William

This is the endpoint for a lot of stories. The quest along the way is the struggle to tell the world the truth, and we see the hero walk away without knowing what’s going to come of it from there but carrying a hopeful feel. It’s satisfying, and it works in a lot of situations. But it can also feel like something of a cheat. When everyone knows “the truth” about the systems of control, whatever that may be, does that just mean everything’s fixed? Depends on the story, but realistically no.

Westworld isn’t interested in that being the end goal; there’s a lot more going on here, and we start seeing the effects of what Dolores has done right away. It’s not pretty, nor does it make sense that it would be. We see the very beginnings of riots and chaos, which – yeah, that tracks. But by the same token, it’s at least a chance for people like that little girl who was projected to slit her wrists in five to eight years. It’s messy and it’s chaotic, an anarchist’s solution at its core.

Do those results make what Dolores has done wrong or right? That’s the big question, and I appreciate that thus far at least Westworld isn’t trying to answer that. Certainly, we can’t argue that Rehoboam was acting in all peoples’ best interests. It’s a system designed to control people and keep “undesirables,” those who can’t be “fixed,” down. I think how people feel about that says a lot about their perspectives in the world, but all things considered I have a problem with trying to classify her as the wrong one here. I don’t trust her motives yet and I don’t believe for a second that she’s doing it just for the good of mankind, but it doesn’t make what she does any less important.

Westworld Serac

By the same token, Serac is the flip side of the coin in that his motives are sympathetic, but his actions are – well, to call them suspect would be an understatement. Delving back into his past in flashbacks courtesy of Dolores scanning his datafiles, we learn how the nuclear destruction of Paris drove him and his brother on the path of trying to find a way to save the world. Many of the best bad guys start off with such sympathetic goals; for the second time in two weeks, I’m referencing Daenerys in Game of Thrones, who wanted to save people from an oppressive ruling class until she became one.

To be fair, Serac hasn’t burned anyone with dragon fire or (to the best of our knowledge) murdered an entire capital city. But his move into fascist control methods is no less significant. He starts off his control system by manipulating the stock market for Liam Sr.’s benefit, and from there graduates to experimentation on people (including his brother) and manipulating governments to chart the course of the world. By the current time of the series, he has the entire world under his thumb with only Dolores and her crew standing in direct opposition to him that we know of. Credit to Vincent Cassel, who’s giving one of the better performances of his career by making Serac a character we can empathize even while we recognize how messed-up what he’s doing is.

This juxtaposition culminates thus far in the first direct conversation between Serac and Dolores, which is a crackling scene between Evan Rachel Wood and Cassel. It’s two generals sizing each other up before delving headlong into a war that’s already started, full of grandstanding on both of their parts. I’m very much looking forward to how this plays out in the final three episodes of the season – and yes, there’s only three left. Whatever you can say about Westworld season three, you can’t say it’s wasting any time.

Westworld Dolores Serac

Some Final Thoughts:

• STUBBS LIVES! I very much cheered when Liam Hemsworth showed up on the screen after he was thrown over a balcony by Dolores last week. You can’t keep a good suicidal host on a mission down.

• On the other hand, we sadly say goodbye to Connells this week as he blows himself and several of Serac’s people up in order to protect Dolores’ mission. I’m sorry to see Tommy Flanagan go, but he went out putting fear in Serac’s eyes for the first time as well he should have. Because he’s Tommy Freaking Flanagan.

• This week’s piano arrangement was of the very appropriate “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Sure, it’s on the nose, but in the best way.

• Aaron Paul got to flex his comic timing a bit during the Genre scenes, to his benefit. And he got to fire a target-locking grenade launcher, so I’m thinking it was a win for Caleb this week all things considered.

• We see both Dempseys’ demise this week, and there’s not a tear to be shed for either of them.

• The Seracs named their various generations of predictive machines Saul, David and Solomon before Rehoboam. It’s probably best they got it right here, as Abijah doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

• Next week: The conflict between Dolores and Maeve heightens, and William returns. Also, maybe bad things for Charlotte’s family.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The revolution begins on Westworld in "Genre," changing the stakes of the third season by an exponential level. The script for this week's episode strikes a fine balance between the wackiness of Caleb's drug trip and the major plot twists and reveals, resulting in another episode high. Season three is really finding its stride over the last couple of episodes and, if it continues this trend through the finale, could just manage to top its first season when it's all said and done.