‘Westworld’ Asks How Much The Robots Really Remember In “The Stray”

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BY: Alan Sepinwall 10.17.16


A review of tonight’s Westworld coming up just as soon as I use my employee discount…

“There aren’t two versions of me. There’s only one. And I think when I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Dolores

Memory has been a very public fascination of Jonathan Nolan’s going back to the short story that inspired Memento, so it’s not surprising that the question of what the hosts remember — and what the Delos staff would like to forget — has been such a key part of Westworld. As Dr. Ford explains to Bernard, he and the park’s co-founder, the mysterious Arnold, understood that the robots were there only to serve the guests, but that they could do them a kindness of keeping the hosts from remembering all the terrible things they experienced in the course of their duties. The problem is, that kindness is starting to fail, and the robots’ recall is in many ways more horrific than if they simply understood what they were the entire time and were programmed to not care.

Elsie, for instance, realizes that all six of the robots that Walter killed during his malfunctioning rampage in the pilot had killed him in previous storylines, and wonders if he wasn’t subconsciously seeking revenge. While running into Teddy at the brothel, Maeve recalls seeing his lifeless body in the lab when she was briefly awake during last week’s episode, and Dolores keeps having PTSD flashbacks to what the Man in Black did to her in the pilot. None of this is meant to be happening, and all of it should be of grave concern to the staff, even if they’re mostly letting it go because they believe the robots to be incapable of harming a guest.

At the same time, a good chunk of the episode is devoted to giving Teddy memories of things he never experienced, as Ford decides it’s long past time to explain why redemption is required before Teddy can marry Dolores. (Never mind that, as Ford admits to Teddy in the lab, this marriage can never happen, because Teddy’s primary function is to be killed by guests looking to prove their toughness against a stalwart gunslinger.) The new backstory involving the dangerous and borderline-mystical Wyatt feels like the kind of grand guignol violence that Ford would dismiss out of hand if Sizemore were to pitch it, but it at least adds more specificity to Teddy’s usual excuses, even as his continued use of “someday” starts to bother Dolores on a level deep down far enough where she can realize he’s been saying it to her forever.

Elsie tries explaining to Stubbs that the programmed backstories help anchor the hosts, but they can also cause trouble, particularly when the glitch of one host — like the star-watching woodcutter — prevents a group of others from working.

Are the glitches the result of Ford’s constant tinkering? Is there somehow some code left over from his late partner Arnold, who was somehow on the phantom receiving end of a conversation with Rebus? Could Arnold be less dead than everyone assumes, or living on in some way through the hosts? Ford at least opens up a bit about the park’s very real backstory, but it’s clear he knows more than he’s willing to tell even Bernard, while Bernard in turn is keeping his own agenda with Dolores a secret from Ford and everyone else. Bernard could easily wipe her programming and start her over from scratch without the recent memories, but he’s too curious about what’s going on with her, and the way she seems to be transcending her programming even when she’s in an environment like the lab, where he theoretically has complete control of her. When we see Bernard in conversation with his ex-wife, she asks if he ever wishes he could forget about their dead son, suggesting there are some advantages to being a Westworld robot. But Bernard doesn’t want to forget, and doesn’t want to let Dr. Ford’s oldest creation forget just yet, either, and that seems destined to cause many more complications as our story continues.

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