Westworld is a television series. This analysis contains spoilers.
Westworld returned with episode one of its third season, and we were introduced to Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), an army veteran who works in construction alongside robots in Los Angeles circa 2058. With a hospitalized mother and expensive bills, Caleb performs illegal jobs to earn cash as part of the criminal gig-economy. All the while, his friend Francis plays the role of confidant by speaking encouraging words over the phone as Caleb attempts to reintegrate into society.
Adding Caleb to the story is immensely important, as he is the first human character who is neither a rich park-goer nor a Dellos employee. He is the story’s first average Joe, and the creators of Westworld introduce him in an uncanny parallel to the introduction of Dolores in the first season.
Both of them are depicted living in their respective “loops.” Dolores wakes up every day, rides to town, and carries out her programmed narrative as one of the park’s hosts. Caleb wakes up every day, goes to work, and carries out his lowly role as one of society’s unimportant people.
In constructing this parallel, Westworld essentially compares the average human being to a host: we are merely pawns in a capitalist’s game, carrying out our roles in monotonous loops while the powerful seize profits and extract entertainment out of our labor.
To strengthen the parallel, both characters are introduced with a narrative voice asking them questions. In Dolores’s case, the voice of Bernard/Arnold leads her to proclaim her optimistic view of the world and its beauty:
Bernard/Arnold: “Tell me what you think about the world.”
Dolores: “Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. The disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe there is an order to our days. A purpose.”
In Season 3, Francis speaks words of encouragement to Caleb, who expresses a fatalistic view of the world as a rigged game.
Caleb: “Sometimes it seems like the world looks alright. Like they’ve put a coat of paint on it. But inside it’s rotting to pieces.”
Francis: “You have to stay positive, Caleb. Things will work out.”
Caleb: “Will they?…You said they built the world to be a game. And then they rigged it to make sure they always won.”
Caleb starts the season with a worldview opposite that of the original Dolores: he sees the world as rotten and dystopian, where the powerful win and the poor live with no purpose. Any beauty in the world is just a coat of paint that has been applied to cover up this ugly truth.
Let us juxtapose the characters’ introductions further. In season 1, Dolores is introduced as an AI being analyzed by a human (although Bernard is actually a host, I consider his voice to be human during Dolores’s introduction for two reasons: (1) not even Bernard knows that he is a host at this point, and (2) this dialogue may very well have occurred between Dolores and Arnold instead of with Bernard).
On the other hand, Caleb is introduced as a human being analyzed by an AI. The Francis voice that Caleb converses with is actually an AI programmed to emulate his dead friend—their calls constitute a therapy service designed to help Caleb get over the trauma of the real Francis’s death.
In this first look at the life of an average human in the outside world, we can see an increasingly blurred line between humans and AI. While humans are the gods who created the AI hosts in Westworld, manipulating them via code and command, AI serve as HR personnel and even digital therapists to humans in the outside world.
Consider, also, the seemingly all-powerful AI called Rehoboam. To better understand its function, just visit the Incite website created by HBO to supplement Westworld Season 3, which advertises its services as being able to “tell you who your real friends are” and “take you where you really want to go.” Does humanity control AI, or does AI control humanity? Regardless of the answer, this question seems to lead perfectly into the war between hosts and humans that Dolores will soon instigate.
If you’re stuck in a loop, try walking in a straight line.
Caleb’s turning point in the episode comes when he becomes disillusioned with AI Francis, who fails to provide advice like that of the real Francis.
Francis: “Even if [the game is rigged], you still have to play for a chance to win, right?”
Caleb: “No…that’s not what you thought at all. The real you, I mean. You said that the system didn’t care about us at all. Didn’t give a shit if we lived or died. That we had to have our own plan. Stick together.”
He then decides to break the loop by terminating his service. By introducing the characters in roughly the same way, the creators of Westworld are able to use the simplicity of Caleb’s decision to emphasize the torturous difficulty of Dolores’s own path to autonomy. The real tragedy of the hosts is their lack of free will, a concept already hammered into viewers as Dolores regained memories, became “Wyatt,” killed Ford, searched for the Valley Beyond, etc. All Caleb had to do was say “Unsubscribe.”
In unsubscribing, Caleb also foreshadows his meeting with Dolores by proclaiming that, in order to move on with his life, he needs “something—someone—real.” This description is a bit ironic, given that Dolores is just a better programmed AI, but we can understand that her flesh-and-blood verisimilitude are more convincing than a digital voice clone of Francis. Perhaps this also foreshadows another Francis-related twist (i.e. Francis is actually alive, Dolores creates a Francis-host, etc.) Nothing would be more Westworld-esque than that.
And of course, Dolores and Caleb meet. Season 1 Dolores seems to have the perfect words to describe their crossing of paths:
Dolores: “All lives have routine. Mine’s no different. Still, I never cease to wonder at the thought, that any day the course of my whole life could change with just one chance encounter.”
With this interplay between the introductions of Dolores and Caleb, and with Episode 1 ending in Dolores and Caleb’s chance encounter, a sort of camaraderie is established between the host and the working man. As the story progresses to Episode 2, more questions than answers will arise, but one thing seems to be clear so far. Those of us seeking to break free from our loops have had a straight line assigned to us—one that leads to siding with the hosts in the war to come.