As Westworld’s Season 3 approaches its halfway point, Dolores’s plans for a revolution are beginning to come into focus, the major players in the impending war between humans and robots are starting to reveal themselves, and the battle lines have been drawn.
“The Absence of Field” offers a closer look into the backstories of Caleb Nichols and whoever is inside of Charlotte Hale, while also showing some of the parallels between the lives of hosts in Westworld and those living in a human world shaped by big data and artificial intelligence. Caleb serves as our case study, as we witness how his life’s narrative was written by Incite Inc.’s supercomputer Rehoboam, just as Robert Ford once played god for a new species built by his own design.
After visiting an entire world of simulations last episode, we return to the “real world” conditioned to question everything (as if this show didn’t already raise enough questions). Here are the key characters and most interesting technology of the week.
This Week’s Key Characters
Despite her limited screen time until this point, one of the great mysteries of Westworld’s third season is the question of which host is living in Charlotte Hale’s body. And while the third episode does little to answer that, ironically, we learn more about the original Charlotte in this episode than we did in the past two seasons.
The episode begins with a quick reminder that Charlotte is not who she appears to be. A flashback brings us back to the chaotic night when Robert Ford was killed in Westworld, as we find a crawling Charlotte sending a video message to someone named Nathan, who’s later revealed to be her son. But before long, we fast-forward in time to Charlotte being rebuilt by Dolores in Arnold’s house, and to the first moment the mystery host opens up their eyes in a brand-new body. Dolores tells her to remember who she really is, but also that she has a job for her to do.
That job, as our confused host soon finds out, is to pretend to be Hale, now the most powerful executive at Delos Incorporated. Throughout the episode, Charlotte is tasked with putting out the company’s continuous fires, as Delos figures out that there’s a mysterious (and somehow secret) trillionaire named Engerraund Serac who’s been quietly buying up enough of Delos stock to prevent them from going private. Not only that, but there’s apparently a mole within the company who’s feeding information to Serac, there are missing host control units from the parks including Maeve’s, and Charlotte keeps receiving these strange, wordless voice messages from an encrypted source. As everything unfolds, the host living inside Charlotte begins to slowly unravel, badly cutting her arms with her nails as she loses sight of who she is.
Things get worse when Charlotte returns to her apartment to find her ex waiting for her, as well as her son, Nathan, whom she’d neglected well before she got killed and was replaced by a robot. As the host meets Charlotte’s child, two key pieces of information are revealed: In 2053, elephants are extinct (damn you, Rehoboam, for saving Angelenos from bad traffic before saving the elephants!); also, Nathan can tell that the Charlotte he sees is not really his mother.
Charlotte continues to unravel to the point that she flies to Los Angeles to seek out Dolores and shows just how bad her self-inflicted wounds are getting. “It’s like she’s trying to take back control, like she wants to cut into her skin and rip me out of her head,” the host tells Dolores.
“Hale was always ruthless, a predator,” Dolores responds. “Perhaps you’ve come to identify with her too much.”
After maybe taking those words a little too close to the heart, Charlotte plays a quick game of To Catch a Predator when she picks up Nathan from school and finds a creepy man using his dog to lure in Nathan. When Nathan runs off without a care in the world, Charlotte blows off some steam and slowly chokes the life out of the child predator. “The harder I squeeze, the more I remember,” Charlotte says as she tightens her death grip. “I remember what it’s like to be me.” She kills him, and in an incredible flex, she takes his dog, too!
Charlotte eventually figures out that the wordless voice messages she received all episode can be played in sequence to recreate “You Are My Sunshine,” the same tune the real Hale sang to Nathan in that aforementioned video message we saw in the episode’s cold open. She unlocks the source of the calls, simultaneously causing the driverless Uber she’s riding in to reroute to a new location. There, she meets Serac in the flesh (well, in hologram form, but more on that later) and she learns that the real Charlotte Hale was the one secretly working for Serac all along.
At some point, the real Charlotte approached Serac to offer Delos’s greatest secrets: the profiles for every one of its guests. But now those files are stored away in Dolores’s mind, and Serac still wants Charlotte to bring him what he was promised.
We still don’t know who Charlotte really is, beyond the fact that she or he is Dolores’s most trusted ally. (Teddy? Clementine?) But we now know that the original Charlotte had her own motives beyond Delos’s agenda. Whoever the host may be, they find themselves in the unique position of playing for three sides—Dolores, Delos, and Incite—and could be the key to Dolores’s plan to take down Incite and Delos. Charlotte just has to make sure she doesn’t completely unravel before that can happen.
As Charlotte undergoes a very reasonable existential crisis, Dolores is busy making preparations for her imminent revolution. We find her in the same predicament she was in at the end of the premiere, wounded by Incite’s security team, and in the care of a confused Caleb. Caleb waits with her as an ambulance arrives, operated by two EMTs who can’t figure out what to do with Dolores since their machine can’t diagnose her or provide a treatment plan. Caleb uses his knowledge of gunshot wounds, and he saves Dolores just before a pair of crooked cops pull over the ambulance in search of her. After the two worst EMTs of all time get killed, and Caleb manages to buy Dolores some time, Dolores kills both of the cops and takes their van for good measure.
Later, Dolores hits up New Martin (the Scottish Incite security head who Dolores cloned and replaced in the premiere) to check in on Caleb, only to learn that he’s been kidnapped at the hospital while he was visiting his mother. She tracks him down as he’s on the brink of cardiac arrest and about to be hurled off a ledge by two men, and she kills both of them, too. (Dolores is really going full John Wick this season.)
Thus begins Dolores’s recruitment of Caleb to join her in the war against Incite. She takes him out for breakfast at the diner he visits on the same day every year, orders his exact meal—down to the number of cherries he gets in his strawberry shake—and demonstrates how his life has been tracked and recorded. Dolores shows him a transcript of a conversation he once had with one of the diner’s waitresses, recorded back when Caleb was only eight years old, on the day that Caleb’s mother abandoned him in the same very diner, months before she was institutionalized for treatment for schizophrenia. “Every purchase, job search, doctor visit, romantic choice, call, text; every aspect of your lives recorded, logged, in order to create a mirror world of this world,” Dolores tells him. “It’s not about who you are, Caleb. It’s about who they’ll let you become.”
As Dolores explains, the source to blame for this massive invasion of privacy is Incite, but more specifically, the machine the company is built on, Rehoboam. After being fed Caleb’s raw data, including his long list of personal traumas, Rehoboam assessed who he’d become and charted a path for him—all the way to his suicide 10 to 12 years in the future (please note: “Marriage not recommended”):
Thoroughly upset by this barrage of troubling information, Caleb agrees to help Dolores pull the plug on Rehoboam and, as Dolores puts it, reveal the world for what it truly is. With Caleb now a part of the team, Dolores has a four-member army, with two more control units still yet to be used (at least, as far as we know). Hopefully Caleb brings Marshawn Lynch along with him.
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
—Mark Strand, “Keeping Things Whole”
In the poet Mark Strand’s “Keeping Things Whole,” he writes: “Wherever I am, I am what is missing.” The third episode borrows a phrase from that stanza for its title, with Charlotte and Caleb representing that feeling of being displaced in the world. For Charlotte, it makes sense: She’s a robot pretending to not only be human, but a human with a history and real, complicated relationships. For Caleb, it’s not as simple; he’s a human who has tried his best to adapt to society, but has constantly felt like an outsider. His only relationships are with his mom, his robot coworker (rest in peace), and his Rico partners-in-crime Lena Waithe and Marshawn Lynch. Caleb doesn’t make use of his Drip implant unlike seemingly everyone else around him, and he finds no use for a program for veterans that basically allows him to speak to his dead friend Francis (just listening to Kid Cudi hum is therapy enough for me, but to each their own), and he’s in constant search for something “real.” Caleb, too, is the absence of field.
Caleb’s Incite assessment has predetermined the course of his life, putting him in a Minority Report situation in which his predicted future is accepted as an unavoidable reality. He can’t get a higher paying job because Incite says that the only occupations he can do involve manual labor or putting a gun in his hands.
Thanks to Dolores, he now knows he’s been set up to fail, and he joins her revolution with the resolve that he’s a dead man regardless of if he runs or stays with her. There’s still so much we don’t about Caleb: Now that we know about his past, is that even his mother that he’s always visiting in the hospital? Did he actually get shot in the head, as he said during the season premiere? (That’d actually explain Caleb’s “I’m already a dead man” line.) Does he prefer Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon or Man on the Moon II? But the most important question might actually be: Is Caleb even human?
How Does It Work? A Running Series
While the pitfalls of technology are certainly highlighted throughout this episode when we see the incompetence of tech-reliant EMTs and the scary autonomy of driverless cars, we do, however, get to check out some pretty sweet futuristic eyewear.
First, there are Dolores’s contact lens:
It’s not clear what the lens actually does beyond briefly emitting a neat little light that encircles your iris, but given that Dolores is a robot likely with perfect vision, it’s probably safe to say it’s doing something more impressive than improving her eyesight. But more interestingly, we also see Charlotte try on a pair of glasses capable of projecting holograms, courtesy of Incite. Charlotte puts on the glasses and before her eyes appears the ever-elusive Serac in perfect clarity, creating an image so convincing that it makes the holographic tech used by Jedi in a galaxy far, far away look like the handiwork of cavemen.
In a time when Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts have become a regular way of life, these glasses seem like they’d be the perfect way to be with friends—or speak face-to-face with your greatest enemy—without having to be anywhere near them; the perfect glasses for the age of social distancing.
Though we were briefly introduced to this technology in the season premiere when Caleb was hanging out with Lena Waithe and Marshawn Lynch, we get our first real glimpse at a “Drip” in the third episode.
The Drip is an implant that’s placed at the roof of your mouth, and it allows the user to manually and instantly make bodily adjustments to things like adrenal rate and hormone levels. With Marshawn, we saw how such technology could be implemented in an almost drug-like fashion—it’s safe to assume Marshawn had raised his serotonin levels or something. But in a parallel with the hosts of Westworld, Drip also allows human control in the wrong hands, as seen when Caleb—who, despite having a military-grade Drip, prefers to leave his off—has his Drip hijacked by the two Rico guys who kidnapped him. Similar to how one could choose to raise the levels of a host’s pain sensitivity or cease their motor functions, the Rico guys boost Caleb’s adrenal rate to the point that he’s approaching cardiac arrest. Humans controlled the hosts in Westworld, but they also built their own world on tech that allows themselves to be controlled.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.