“The Mother of Exiles” is the best Westworld episode this season…minus that twist

After three weeks of set up, things heat up fast on tonight’s new episode of Westworld. “The Mother of Exiles” marks the halfway point of the season, and it features the return of some familiar faces, an action-packed convergence of characters, and one really surprising twist.

It’s pretty amazing that in such an exciting episode, one of the most enthralling things was the quiet return of William, a.k.a. The Man in Black (Ed Harris). As much action goes on elsewhere in “The Mother of Exiles,” a good chunk of it is focused on William’s character as he prepares to re-enter society…only to be institutionalized at the end by Charlores Hale (yup, we’re gonna talk about that twist) in a sneaky coup.

The question that haunts William, which viewers have wondered about ever since that cryptic post-credits scene in the season 2 finale, is whether he’s really him anymore, or if he’s living in a new host body, or something else? “Am I me?” a distraught William asks a vision of Dolores from days gone by, who comes to visit him in the asylum. “The Mother of Exiles” does not answer this question. If only we knew, William!

Photograph by John P. Johnson:HBO.

It can’t be understated how much the return of Ed Harris brought to the table this week, but the real pleasure of “The Mother of Exiles” is in how deftly all the plotlines come together. So far, each episode has been narrowly focused on just one or two main characters, so it was a great relief to see every character currently on the chess board making moves. This was also the twist-iest hour the third season has given us so far, which felt almost like a return to form.

And what a return it was. It was a pretty genius move by the Westworld crew to take a trope that should be familiar to just about any fantasy fan — the Masquerade Ball — and put their own near-future spin on it. It was really cool to have Dolores, Caleb, Connells, Bernard and Stubbs all crossing paths as they try to nab rich boy and Rehoboam figurehead Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) to either protect or exploit him, or maybe both.

Photograph by John P. Johnson:HBO.

There were a lot of great scenes this week, too many to talk about every single one. The brawl between Dolores and Stubbs is the best fight scene the show has had in ages. Dolores and Caleb’s bank heist was tense and a little unpredictable, even if it did all work out pretty conveniently in the end. The visions William sees of his dead daughter Emily (Adison LaPenna) are haunting and impossible to look away from. Tessa Thompson delivered possibly her best, most chilling performance to date. It’s a long list of great moments.

The deepening relationship between Bernard and Stubbs was a high point, though. Stubbs was never really a stand-out character in previous seasons, but this year he’s just had great line after great line, all delivered in a fantastically cynical manner by Luke Hemsworth. He’s quickly becoming one of my new favorite characters.

Luke Hemsworth in Westworld Season 3. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO

Unfortunately, Maeve isn’t involved in any of these scenes, which is a shame, because Thandie Newton’s take on this self-aware host is routinely the best part of the show, and I’d love to see her mix it up with the other characters. But she does hold down her own section of the episode. Maeve’s sleuthing around Singapore is very entertaining, and I loved how the show illustrated how her powers might evolve in a real world dominated by automated tech, as well as use the setting to remind us of Maeve’s adventures in Shogun World.

That’s a point the episode drives home when Maeve comes face to face with her old comrade Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) in the episode’s big twist.

Hiroyuki Sanada (Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO)

Okay, let’s talk about that huge reveal: you know those five pearls Dolores took smuggled out of Westworld in the season 2 finale, the ones that fans have been speculating over for months? They aren’t actually the other hosts that we all know and love; they’re all copies of Dolores.

Except for Bernard, of course. He’s still Bernard. Can’t fake that furrowed brow.

Photograph by John P. Johnson:HBO.

If I’m being honest, I’m pretty torn about this twist. Of all the articles I’ve read about the pearls, I can’t recall ever seeing a single one that guessed this outcome, so marks have to be given for Westworld keeping things unpredictable. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel like this isn’t as interesting as it could have been. Westworld had set up the guessing game about these pearls in a way that was almost reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica‘s Final Five Cylons. Now, in one fell swoop, the show has taken the mystery off the table, instead opting to reiterate just how off the rails Dolores is becoming.

That does set up a compelling reason for why Maeve and Dolores might be at odds, something that we know will happen based on the trailer. But it takes away all our speculating fun!

How successful this whole twist ends up being will depend a lot on what happens in the second half of the season. So for now I’m reserving judgment…but the fact that I need to in the first place is a little worrying; it’s not the show’s best revelation. The strange twist was a sticking point in an otherwise flawless episode.

Other Take-Aways

  • Westworld continues to introduce new, almost recognizable tech from the near future. This week’s best tech moment was Caleb digitally sampling different suits. Clothing stores, take note!
  • The near-future-dystopia world-building continued to be disconcerting as hell, as Serac (Vincent Cassel) reveals to Maeve that Paris is no more. Seeing the biohazard signs on the trucks in that flashback as Paris goes up in smoke was super unsettling, not least of all because of events that are happening right now in our world. It’s clear the writers thought through the Issues of Tomorrow; this was filmed months and months ago but it still feels uncomfortably timely.
  • Seeing the Dolores of Season 1 appear in that final scene was so haunting. One of the underlying ideas of this episode seemed to be how far Dolores has come…and how dark her path might be becoming. Yet for all the character’s evolution, Evan Rachel Wood still nails it no matter what stage of Dolores she’s portraying.
  • Speaking of Dolores, the biggest question I walked away from this episode with is how she copied her personality. So far as I can recall, the ability to copy a host’s mind onto another pearl isn’t something that’s been talked about yet. Hopefully the show goes into detail on this next week.
  • At this point in the show, with the reveal of how Dolores has copied her own personality rather than freeing other hosts to help her, I’m starting to wonder if the long-game plan of Westworld is for her to be the true villain of the series by the end. There have been plenty of moments along the way that have shown how Dolores’ darkness was hypocritical and out of step with her seemingly altruistic goal of freeing the hosts. Now that she’s out in the real world causing all sorts of mayhem, her original motives are becoming less and less recognizable as she hones in on a much more human desire: revenge at any cost.

Episode Grade: A-

Next: Westworld: “Genre” is a strange trip that packs an emotional punch

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