“Westworld” Episode Review: “The Absence of Field” by Nate Blake

“The Absence of Field” once again finds the Westworld show-runners focusing on only a small segment of the cast and creating a mostly riveting hour as a result. The episode further develops the relationship between Caleb (Aaron Paul) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), but mostly focuses on Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) and peeling back the mystery (without a full reveal) of which host is currently occupying Charlotte’s body.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

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This hour was the first in this series to be written by Denise Thé, and she makes an impressive debut. Watching the as of now unknown host within Charlotte struggle to be accepted by her son, husband and co-workers was compelling stuff. We also see that a lot of intimacy exists between Dolores and the Charlotte she created. That narrows down the options as to which host resides within Charlotte. It could be Teddy, and it could be a more minor character, but my guess is that The Man in Black is the mystery host. Denise Thé’s script dropped hints that could lead the audience to any of those conclusions. For example, although Dolores and The Man in Black have a complex and deep relationship, it’s hard to imagine her displaying quite this much affection for the elder version of William, which points in the direction of the mystery host being Teddy. However, to me the biggest hint in the opposite direction came when Dolores noticed Charlotte’s sleeve was stained red from a cut on her wrist. The host within Charlotte admits she has been hurting herself, and that cut on the wrist is eerily similar to the wound The Man in Black gave himself at the end of the season two episode “Vanishing Point.”

This was certainly a showcase episode for Tessa Thompson, and at this point I find it hard to believe that she, Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood won’t all be nominated for Emmys in a few months. They would all deserve it, but the show should also be nominated for writing this time around. Yes, I’m till pissed at the Emmy voters who didn’t nominate the season two episode “Kiksuya” for writing. Anyway, I know we are  only three episodes in, but we are nearing the halfway point of the season and the show has not only delivered on many of the questions raised earlier in the series, it is expanding the context in which the Delos park existed.  And hell, if “The Iron Throne” was somehow deserving of a writing nod, it would be criminal not to nominate at least one episode from the third outing of Westworld.

I’ve been dumb enough to read a lot of the comment threads on the Westworld Facebook page and they feature some disillusioned fans who wish the show would just go back to the park. Why? There is not enough left to explore there. The series needs to expand and move forward, and this season’s arcs about Incite, the Rico app and Rehoboam make for a more compelling look at some of the ethical and sociological issues that await in the not so distant future. This is a continuation of the themes explored in the seasons that focused on the Delos theme park. The story was always on a trajectory that would leave the theme park and build to a battle in the real world. This is just my opinion, but I’d rather a show grow and expand rather than stick to a safe loop like one of the Delos hosts. This is HBO, not CBS. If you want the same format and the same escapades week after week, you’re in the wrong place.

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I found the Dolores and Caleb story line in “The Absence of Field” to be more of a mixed bag. I loved the scene in the café as well as the reveal that Caleb will commit suicide in ten years, at least according to Rehoboam, which is why he can not be hired for anything other than a menial job. This is of course a bit of a catch twenty-two, as one of the reasons Caleb takes his life is an inability to move beyond menial work.

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Dolores is seeming less bloodthirsty this season. While her actions in Delos during the second season were all about revenge, dare I say she has some pity for humans, at least the ones like Caleb who are caught in their own loop. This could be an act, but I like that her actions aren’t as straightforward right now. There’s some ambiguity in what she’s up to and the show is better for it. That said, I didn’t find the parts of the episode where Caleb is being pursued by some of his former associates all that compelling. The ambulance shootout was well shot and a bit suspenseful, but the later scenes in the hospital and when Dolores rescued Caleb were less interesting than everything else going on.

Based on the trailer, it looks like we finally get the return of The Man in Black next week. I cannot wait.

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