Each week, Brian Grubb and Keith Phipps will attempt to unpack the latest episode of the HBO series Westworld, a show about an amusement park populated by lifelike robots that’s also about… other stuff.
Bernard’s Memory Trip
Keith: Brian, there seems to be only one way to start talking about this episode, and that’s by talking about Bernard. It’s a big week for Bernard: He slips out of his programming — sort of — and breaks into Ford’s office. He comes up with a plan to get Ford to reveal where he comes from and what it all means. He sees his beginning in full, both his cornerstone memory (the episode introduce a new term for our Westworld vocabulary) and his actual beginning, waking up like Frankenstein’s monster as Ford looks on. And he learns that Ford looked to his old partner, Arnold, for inspiration in building him and that, just like Arnold, disagreeing with Ford seems to be part of his programming. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again. Or, oops, he won’t, as he ends the episode by committing suicide.
So what’s going on with Bernard? And will we truly never see him again? I don’t have a good answer for the first question. He seems to have flown too close to the sun this episode and suffered a fall because of it. But I suspect he’ll be back. He’s too central to what makes the series work and it’s becoming clear that Ford needs a strong antagonist to spur on his creation. And “dead” has a pretty loose definition for hosts. (Oh, hi, Clementine.)
The more compelling question might be what did we learn about Arnold this week? That it was he, not Ford, who wanted to push beyond mere artificial intelligence to see if he could create actual sentient beings. That his work had an elegance and complexity that Ford’s lacked. (See also some of the Man in Black’s comments this week.) So is Ford the Salieri to Arnold’s Mozart? Or is it more complicated than that? Is Arnold truly unstable? And did Dolores really kill him or is she just speaking metaphorically when they speak? Also, we don’t know who the third person in that picture Ford shows Bernard (BernArnold? BernAndroid?) is, do we?
Brian: So here’s my problem with all of this, and I’m just going to gallop past the thing where Ford was able to bring in a new number two who apparently looked like his old partner and had no Social Security number and no one involved in the process was like “Hmmm” (I’m sure they’ll have an explanation for all of this, but still): We had this big emotional moment where Bernard realized everything Ford had done and was doing, and it culminated with his “suicide,” and none of it did much of anything for me.
That’s not entirely true. It did do a little for me, but that had more to do with Jeffrey Wright putting on an advanced acting seminar than anything stemming from the actual plot. (This is The Night Of all over again, where I thought Naz’s whole arc was rushed and sloppy but was still sucked in by Riz Ahmed’s performance.) Alan touched on it in his review last night, but with all the killing and reincarnating and on-the-fly rule-changing the show does, the stakes just don’t feel as high. Bernard broke down and blew his robot brains out and I’m still something like 70 percent sure he’ll be back again in some capacity. So why should I care?
(Ford has a few problems on his hands here, short-term and long-term. Short: If we assume Bernard doesn’t come back right away, Ford now has to explain the deaths and/or disappearances of a high-ranking Delos executive, two high-ranking coders, and another corporate employee who went to investigate something around the midpoint of the episode, was captured, and then was not mentioned again. Long: If Bernard does comes back and/or Ford replaces Elsie with a host, he has to explain why neither of them are aging. Dude has a lot of balls in the air.)
As far as the Arnold thing, I… I don’t know. I think you’re right to have a million questions about all of this. I sure do. The show has been nodding and winking in this direction for a while now, but now that we know, I’m not exactly sure where we go. I’m very interested in the third guy in that photograph, though.