Season 3, Episode 5: ‘Genre’
“Which genre is this?”
“It’s reality, man.”
Let’s get that absolutely atrocious exchange out of the way now, because it was one of the few bum moments in this week’s episode, the best of the season so far. “Westworld” had spent much of the past few hours teasing out the idea that ordinary people are like hosts in their own world, tethered to a sophisticated algorithm that not only predicts their fate but also goes a long way toward engineering it. The reality, man, is the chaos that inevitably erupts after humans have been freed from their own loops and allowed to make real choices, rather than submit to a numbing illusion of having them.
The third season has been unfolding like a mirror version of the first, only now it’s the humans who are unknowingly locked into an automated and carefully managed routine. And much as with Dolores and other key hosts in the first season, change starts to happen the moment they achieve self-awareness. Companies like Incite have an interest in controlling the masses with the private information they’ve stolen from them, which is the natural endgame to what Delos intended with the Forge. The more a corporation could anticipate — and, better still, dictate — consumer behavior, the more it could manipulate mankind to serve whatever ambitions it might have.
There’s a lot of talk about how the system in 2020 serves the billionaire class; in the future, with men like Engerraund Serac pulling the strings, its serves the trillionaire class.
Yet the situation isn’t so cut and dried. It’s easy enough to decry a system in which people are at the mercy of a deathless algorithm. But this episode begins with a young Serac and his brother witnessing the leveling of Paris and everyone they knew and loved. “Humankind was hurtling toward extinction,” explains Serac, so whether God existed or not, He wasn’t doing enough to keep oblivion at bay. Another omniscient being would have to be created to replace God, and the Serac brothers make it their life’s work to get it done. Serac may be the villain of the season, corrupted by monstrous hubris, but his starting point was the basic survival of the species. That’s an idealistic goal if there ever was one.
The episode proceeds elegantly along two main tracks. One tells the story of the Seracs and Liam Dempsey Sr. as they build the spherical AI deity known as Rehoboam, and the other follows Dolores, Caleb and a kidnapped Dempsey Jr as they take action to dismantle it. Serac is the key player across both subplots because he has a strong interest in keeping anyone else from accessing the deeper layers of Rehoboam. He may be fairly accused of enslaving his fellow man with his creation — and, more diabolically, of editing out the behaviors of those anomalies who threaten it — but his predictive model isn’t optimistic about what will happen to the world if it weren’t under strict supervision.
Caleb is one of those anomalies, which is why Dolores has deputized him for the fight, but the episode heavily suggests questions about his own identity. In a pitiful bid to escape his captors, Dempsey Jr. injects Caleb with the party drug “Genre,” which works a little bit like the experimental gum in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” only with movies instead of meals. Each stage prompts him to see the world through a new filter, like the black-and-white of postwar noir or the glossy romance of “Love Story.”
The show doesn’t do enough visually to reflect the change in filters: Music cues for films like “Apocalypse Now” and “The Shining” anticipate a shift in the action that never quite arrives. There’s too much on the agenda to fuss over Caleb’s addled perspective.
But the fight over Rehoboam does yield some thrilling futuristic action, as Dolores and Caleb blast their way through an ambush by Serac and his goons. A heat-seeking rocket launcher and a detonated motorcycle provide most of the pyrotechnics, but the show adds a little bit of symbolism to the spectacle by questioning how a driverless vehicle might figure into a car-chase sequence. In this future, citizens have ceded control over their own destination: They no doubt get escorted where they want to go safely and efficiently, but the system can turn them from passenger to prisoner at any time. That’s the trade-off.
But there are, as Serac explains in the opening narration, “flies in the ointment,” and he hasn’t found a big enough swatter yet. A facility that Serac builds to “edit” the behavior of human anomalies, including his own brother, looks conspicuously similar to the glass enclosures in the Mesa where technicians do their tinkering with the hosts. The Delos brass were always confident that they could restore and reprogram the hosts to bring them back to compliance. How’d that work out for them?