“Westworld” Episode Review: “Genre” by Nate Blake

“Genre” was written by Karrie Crouse and Jonathan Nolan and was directed by Anna Foerster. This was a fascinating, bizarre, beautiful and in some ways uneven installment of Westworld that will likely still end up as one of the series’ most memorable and talked about episodes. From a plot standpoint, the big developments included Dolores (as her Martin clone) releasing Rehoboam’s info on each individual directly to their smartphones. Thus, she frees every human from their Incite produced loop, resulting in freedom on one hand, but chaos on the other. The episode also completely changes our understanding of Serac. Though he had the potential to be more of hero in this story, I should have known by now that nothing in this series is quite so binary. The black and white contrast of Serac’s wrist watch seems like a running bit of ironic humor. It’s the one instance of such contrast in a show that deals primarily with humanity and technology washed in grey. Anyway, this week’s developments leave Serac and Maeve as spoilers for Dolores, but not necessarily on the right side of things.

I’m still uncertain as to what Dolores is truly wanting to accomplish here, as I am also now puzzled as to what the writers’ endgame for this season is. By a certain point in season one, it was clear the end game would be the hosts breaking free of their loops. By a certain point in season two, it was clear escaping from the park would serve as that season’s climax. The writers had been setting up the release of the Rehoboam data as the culmination of what would happen in this season, so it was surprising to see it occur with three episodes to go. That said, I like how “Genre” simultaneously delivered on many of my expectations while flipping some of the season’s narrative around.

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I’ve saved the most unique aspect of this episode for last because I have a lot of thoughts about it. Early in the episode, Liam attempts to escape from Dolores and Caleb by injecting the latter with a drug called Genre, which causes someone to have a series of hallucinations. We later learn that there are typically five levels to this drug. Instead of experiencing The Giggs, Tripping Major Ballsack, Over-Falsity of Confidence, Fuck Yeah, Motherfucker and Asleepy-ness (couldn’t resist the reference), each phase Caleb goes through is one of a different film genre.

Early in the drug’s effects, Caleb experiences  perhaps the most intense genre: war. This sequence played out stunningly as “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner blared over a very Nolan-esque care chase; a clear reference to Apocalypse Now. The placement of this sequence is brilliant not just because the hallucination occurs during a key battle in Dolores’ war against incite, but also because it’s early enough in the drug’s effects that much of what is usually on Caleb’s mind, recollection of his own tragic time at war, is still very much present. The deeper into the drug’s effects he drifts, the more his mind jumps to bizarre, often less memory driven imagery. He experiences romance, horror, drama and reality in addition to war. Each of the genres is crafted primarily through music, editing and lighting changes.

It is possible to look at the Genre subplot as just an instance of the show doing something over the top for the sake of being cool. Alex pointed out to me after the episode was over that Caleb experiencing the effects of Genre had very little impact on the plot. Liam never escaped from Caleb and Dolores, and the episode would have unfolded about the same way in terms of plot points had Liam just kicked Caleb in the groin to try to escape. That’s a fair point, but I can think of two reasons why the Genre subplot was needed and effective. First, it resulted in some great character moments and development for Caleb. For example, it has been lurking below the surface a bit in previous episodes that he was attracted to Dolores, and the effects of Genre helped bring that out even if only for a few moments. I also like that the way these scenes pointed to the likelihood that there will not be any sort of love story developing between the two. Rather, Caleb’s attraction to Dolores is just one of many conflicting emotions he will have as her plot continues to unfold and the two are potentially placed in a position to square off.

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Second, showing us the effects of Genre provided a deeper understanding of what technology and chemistry have made capable in this future world. Rehoboam is in many ways a genre drug, but one that crafts a more subtle, consistent genre for each person contained in the future it crafts. So no, from a plot standpoint, Genre isn’t terribly important, but from a thematic standpoint, it enhanced the viewers’ understanding of this world. It was also just a master class in the importance of lighting, sound and editing. So much of how visual genres are crafted relies on those three elements. Many of us have been trained, whether by academia or just avid film viewership, to notice when a comedy is shot with high key lighting or a romance focuses on tight shots of lovers’ faces, but seeing five different genres and their related techniques play out sequentially within the same hour is quite a rare experience.

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Where the episode felt a little off was the structure between what was happening in the present and the exposition about Serac and his brother. I liked where both of the story lines went, but the pacing felt rushed at times and the last 20 minutes in particular were quite jumpy. That said, after this episode ended I just had to sit with it for a while. My expectations were completely upended, but mostly in good ways.

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