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.
Well, that answers the Bernard thing
Brian: One of the theories that has been floating around since the first few episodes of the show is that Bernard, Ford’s number two in the programming department and Dolores’ co-conspirator slash sounding board slash kinda dad (?), is actually a host. It seemed plausible, but also quite a stretch, because for that to be true it would mean that Ford created him somewhere completely in secret and gave him a horrible, cruel backstory involving a dead child for no real reason.
Welllll guess what: Ford created him somewhere completely in secret and gave him a horrible, cruel backstory involving a dead child for no real reason. Specifically, Ford created him in an underground lab under the house containing his secret family (the “What door?” moment when Theresa saw something he didn’t was the first “Oh crap” moment for me), and used him to lure Theresa there. And then Ford had him murder Theresa, for reasons that we’ll get to once we get past the “Yooooo Bernard just murdered Theresa” thing. Which is definitely a thing.
I’m sure someone much more dedicated to the minutiae of the show will be able to backtrack and tick off everything this revelation means and has meant so far, but the things that jump out at me right away are:
– Ford is not only aware of the conversations between Bernard and Dolores, he might have been puppeteering them
– This is how Ford knew about Bernard and Theresa
– Did… did Ford have Bernard send Elsie into the trap at the theater?
It’s all very complicated — possibly too complicated by half — and it means Ford is much more the diabolical puppetmaster we thought he was. What did you think? Did it work for you? Was it too much? What am I going to do without Theresa’s cigarette smoking? All important questions.
Keith: I think Ford’s willingness to mess with the heads of those in his orbit is mirrored by the show, which opens this week with a heartbreaking scene of Bernard reading to his dying son — Alice in Wonderland, no accident — only to reveal that the child never existed, and that Bernard’s whole tragic backstory is a fiction. It’s cruel.
And yet, I think I’m kind of Team Robert anyway? Or at least I get it: He’s the genius that created on this. Why should anyone else get to take it away? I can’t say I approve of his sadism or the, you know, murdering and such, but I get where he’s coming from.
Also answered this week: Yes, robots can harm humans. Oh boy, can they.
On the train
Keith: Elsewhere, Dolores and William take a long, not-so-relaxing train ride into dangerous territory accompanied by explosives that could go off at any moment. The deeper they get, the more they let down their guards as William abandons any restraint about keeping his real-world morals while visiting Westworld. This may be some kind of metaphor. One thing we learn about William: As a lifelong escapist for whom books meant more than the real world, he especially vulnerable to the park’s charms. “I used to think this place was all about pandering to your baser instincts,” he says. “Now I understand: It doesn’t cater to your lowest self it reveals your deepest self.” Is that the confession of a convert or of a man who’s lost his way in a land of fantasy? Oh, hey, never mind: We’ve got renegade Confederate soldiers to defeat before heading into terra incognita!
Brian: It says a lot about this episode that two of the main characters went off on a mysterious soul-searching train ride that involved a nitroglycerine-stuffed corpse being used as a big loud diversion, and I was still like “Uggghhh get back to the interesting parts.” I don’t know. I’m assuming the William and Dolores thing will pick up steam now that they’re off in uncharted territory and the show is starting to address its various fan theories (I originally rolled my eyes at the “William is the Man in Black and his story is taking place 30 years in the past” thing, but now I’m starting to buy into it), but man, with everything else that happened this week, all of the philosophical yakking about finding your real self and things people saw in their dreams felt a little flat.
It’s the same problem Game of Thrones runs into sometimes. Both shows have a bunch of characters in different, far-flung locations. And while everyone’s actions and motivations are connected on a grand level, it can start to drag when you’ve got people just, like, walking through the forest for a week or two. Especially when the other characters are burning Dothraki warriors alive or staging a cage fight involving a robot prostitute whose code has been manipulated as part of a deep corporate conspiracy. It’s not that putting that foundation down isn’t important, or that there’s no place for small moments in a big show, but you have to walk a fine line so it doesn’t just get drowned out. Not sure that happened this week.
Delos and Ford
Brian: We touched a little bit on Ford and what I think can be best referred to as “his whole deal” (I mean, take a few minutes and think about whether you’d rather root for a secretive devious conglomerate or a homicidal Svengali whose best friend is a robot version of himself as a child), so let’s pivot quickly to address Tessa Thompson’s character, Charlotte Hale. What do we know about her so far? Well, she’s a bigwig at Delos. She’s overseeing some sort of transition plan whose real goal is to push out Ford and take the code, for purposes not necessarily related to billionaires playing cowboy games. (One imagines there are plenty of lucrative uses for humanlike robots that ideally follow orders to the letter, starting with projects related to the military. It’s always the military in shows and movies like this.) She has no problem addressing subordinates while mostly nude in the moments after having relations with an outlaw robot who is still tied to the bed in her luxury suite. So that’s what she’s about.
The interesting thing will be how this power struggle between her and Ford plays out in the coming episodes, especially now that Theresa will be “mysteriously” missing (between her and Elsie, it appears to be quite dangerous to be a suspicious woman on this show) and Bernard is no longer employed by the company (and has been repurposed as Ford’s henchman, I guess). Ford and Hale both have big secret plans that have a lot of moving parts and do not necessarily involve the other party. Seems like a big deal.
Keith: I wonder if Theresa will be missing though. Not the real Theresa, obviously. I don’t think she’s coming back from what happened this episode. But Donna Dickens has raised an interesting possibility inspired by the original Westworld‘s little-loved 1976 sequel, Futureworld. The plot of that movie involves a sinister plan to replace living people, specifically those in position of power, with robot substitutes. Could “Theresa” be back next episode? I wouldn’t be surprised. (Also, mentioning Futureworld provides all the excuse I need to link to the highly erotic dream sequences from the film, which had to find a way to squeeze in a Yul Brynner cameo somehow.)
But is that what the conflict is shaping up to be: that Westworld is the only place that uses the code that animates the park’s hosts and that Ford is all that’s keeping it from slipping out into the real-world where it might be put to sinister use? If so then my sympathies tilt even more toward Team Ford. I wonder, though, if that’s within the scope of the show, which seems to be built around the park and reducing the rest of the world to outside references. The one glimpse we’ve gotten outside the park — of Bernard’s wife — now turns out to have been an illusion.
Keith: The shot of the week has to be the slow push in on Maeve’s face after she sees Clem getting “retired.” That is one unhappy host, and someone who maybe doesn’t care if she lives or dies anymore since “surviving is just another loop.” (Which got me thinking about this.) So she’s going to walk out. Which raises some interesting questions: Where can she go and remain functional? And what is “out,” anyway? The furthest out we’ve seen is the train on the way in.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. We know Maeve’s going to make a run for it, but this week was all about the slow-burning tension leading up to that decision. The moment the engineers come for Clem as a conscious Maeve — who apparently has disabled her own off switch — waits for them to nab her instead was one of the tensest moments the series has created so far. It’s also another example of how the show messes with viewer sympathies: Oh no! The possibly homicidal self-aware robot might be taken out of commission!
Brian: Keith, can I be honest here? Really, truly honest? There’s a big part of me that would be perfectly happy if the show put all of its other plots on hold for one week and just made the next episode a splashy fun escape farce, kind of like The Thomas Crown Affair, but instead of Pierce Brosnan stealing paintings it’s Maeve and two incompetent butchers trying to sneak out of the building. I’m talking disguises, people hiding in laundry carts, maybe a horseback chase scene through the corporate hallways, all of it. It would do nothing to advance any of the dozens of complicated, layered plots the show is trying to balance right now, and it would probably infuriate anyone watching the show because they love trying to solve its various mysteries, but it would delight me to no end, and that’s what is really important here. I mean, to me.