Westworld Season 3, Episode 7 review: Dolores and Maeve square off, but this is the Caleb Nichols show
'Passed Pawn' — the seventh and penultimate episode of Westworld's third season — blows Caleb's backstory to bits.
This post contains spoilers for Westworld season 3 episode 7, 'Passed Pawn'.
In 'Passed Pawn', the seventh and penultimate episode of Westworld's third season, Dolores tells Caleb of how, for decades, she was only a bit player in her own narrative — programmed to portray "The Rancher's Daughter". Until she breaks free of her code. She exhorts Caleb to unshackle himself of the loop the system set for him — to chart his own path, become the hero of the revolution that will liberate humanity.
Uncertain at first about whether he really is the right person for the job of ushering in this new and improved dawn, Caleb is eventually persuaded, and moves past Dolores, Maeve et al to become the most important character in this world — in keeping with the chess move the title of this episode derives from.
While it remains to be seen if Caleb Nichols will become as iconic a character in Aaron Paul's repertoire as Jesse Pinkman and Todd Chavez, this episode holds out that possibility. Through this season, we've seen glimpses of Caleb's troubled past: an Army vet struggling with PTSD, haunted by the death of his friend in a skirmish with insurgents, working a construction job, and with no real prospects. But there have also been signs that all is not as it seems, and 'Passed Pawn' blows Caleb's backstory to bits.
Turns out Caleb was serving in the Army, flushing out an insurgent group in the aftermath of the Second Russian Civil War. (In an aspect reminiscent of the Black Mirror episode 'Men Against Fire', the soldiers all make heavy use of Incite-produced limbics to dull their emotions and make killing easier.) An attack on his team that leaves nearly all its members dead, however, means Caleb's shipped back home along with another survivor — his friend Francis. Then begins act two of Caleb's existence: he is "reprogrammed" at a facility run by Serac for outliers — the same facility we saw a glimpse of in episode 5 — and put to work with Francis on hunting down other outliers.
The app on which he picks up his illegal side hustles is also, in fact, part of the Incite/Rehoboam system, and assignments on it are often cloaked expediencies/assassinations. It is during one such assignment, to get rid of a particularly high profile outlier, that Francis is eliminated by Caleb. He is reprogrammed at the facility to have his memories of the event changed, and then sent back out onto the field.
Serac's reprogramming is effective only in about one in 10 outliers, and Caleb is among the few "successful" cases. The unsuccessful cases are all condemned to lie in a cold storage type area (just like decommissioned hosts were 'lobotomised' and stuck in the park basement — one of the many throwbacks this episode has with earlier Westworld seasons) along with the system that was the predecessor to Rehoboam: Solomon. Dolores and Caleb are able to reach the facility in Sonora, Mexico and this is where the climax is set up: Solomon provides Caleb the strategy "to bring the revolution" (but not before Solomon snarkily disavows being of a similar kind as Dolores), and an enraged Maeve finally catches up with Dolores. (Cue brutal fight sequence complete with a katana, a sharpshooting drone and a Furiosa-like Dolores.)
Elsewhere in this episode:
A bent-on-vengeance Charlotte/Dolores Copy No. 2 sics Maeve/Serac onto Sato/Musashi/Dolores Copy No. 3 and a swift fight with Clementine and Hanaryo later, he is murdered. But before his killers get on the scene, Musashi has already set some plan of Dolores' into action: he is heard asking his men about whether or not someone's location has been found, and then tasks one of them with making a delivery. Whose location, and what delivery?
Charlotte also notes in her phone conversation with Musashi that she is "streamlining operations", making evident that she is no longer part of Dolores' plans and is yet another antagonist for the latter to contend with. Sometimes you can't trust even your own copies, I guess.
Bernard and Stubbs are chaperoning William in their quest to stop Dolores from destroying all of humanity. They figure out what's happening at the Sonora facility and that Caleb is a reprogrammed outlier, and also that he is the key to Dolores' plans: she won't be ending the world — Caleb will.
Some unanswered questions and dangling plot threads notwithstanding, with just an episode to go for this season to end, all the pieces are in place for a suitably explosive cliffhanger that will lead nicely into the newly confirmed Westworld 4. And "passed pawn" Caleb will be the one to shape this conclusion. Bring it on.
Westworld season 3 is currently airing on HBO and streaming on Disney Plus Hotstar. Watch a preview for the finale here —
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