‘Westworld’ Discussion: The Ballad Of The Man In Black And The Snake Lady

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 and Dolores, and whatever that’s about

Keith: May as well start at the beginning. This episode begins, shocker, with Dolores waking up. I suspect that by the end of the season it would be pretty easy to make a supercut of Westworld’s opening scene that traces the development of Dolores’ awakening conscious. Here she seems a little more self-aware than before. Sure, Bernard can ask her to “limit your emotional affect” and she’ll dial back the sobbing — what a moment — but her decision to hold on to her grief seems to come from somewhere within. And is that a hint of pride on her face when she discusses modifying some “scripted dialogue about love” to describe her situation.

This scene raised some questions for me, namely, when does it take place? Dolores crashing into Logan and William’s camp last week seemingly shut down the theory about William being the Man in Black in the past, but I’m not clear how this scene fits into the timeline that still finds her waking up in Logan and William’s camp the morning after they meet. Am I missing something? And do you think what’s going on with Dolores and Bernard relates directly to the glitch? Or is his interest in her coincidental?

Brian: The way the glitch is affecting the hosts seems to vary. With Dolores, she’s getting some flashbacks and glimpses of carnage and evil, although I’m beginning to wonder at this point if “glitch” is even the right word for what’s happening to/with her. We’ll get more into to Maeve and ***her whole deal*** in a few, but it’s interesting that she and Dolores are the two hosts going through this change most clearly, and the way they’re doing it couldn’t be more different. Maeve is off trying to figure it out on her own after waking up naked and gutted in an exam room, and Dolores is getting her hand held through the process while wearing her pretty dress and having these flowery conversations with Bernard about her feelings. (Her “feelings.”) There’s probably a societal comment in their somewhere about race and/or sex workers and/or privilege that’s worth unpacking.

Also, this seems like as good a place as any to mention this, but Elsie (Shannon Woodward), the young programmer who works with Bernard, is rocketing up my character rankings, now coming in somewhere between Theresa and Theresa’s cigarettes.

William and Logan, mismatched investors

Brian: William and Logan went off on a bounty hunt this week, which ticked off Logan incredibly because Logan appears to be ticked off pretty much 100 percent of the time he is not drinking alcohol, shooting robots, or having sex with robots. Logan is kind of like the adult sociopath version of a snotty little kid whose parents took him to Disney for a week but are making him spend an afternoon at EPCOT. In this scenario, Maeve’s brothel is Splash Mountain.

The more important part of their story this week was probably our evolving, questioning Dolores getting out of her regular loop to tag along with them, which one imagines will be an important step in her finding the maze that Bernard mentioned to her in their last chat. The same maze that The Man in Black is looking for. Let me throw this out here now just to get it on the record: Is… is Dolores going to kill The Man in Black? He was talking a lot about death and finding a part of the park where dying is an option (shoutout to Arnold), and Dolores a) has repeatedly been abused by him, b) is starting to remember things, and c) has a gun. So…

Also! The thing about Logan and William and their “family” “investing” in the park. That’s something. What it is exactly, who knows? But definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Keith: For sure. We’re starting to get a bit more hints about what life is like outside the park each week. More on all that below, but I don’t think it’s an accident that Logan’s reference to his family arrives the same week we first hear about conflicts between Robert’s vision and the vision of the board. It looks like Westworld vs. The Real World is one of the many conflicts being set up.

Also, is Logan having an effect on William? Does it seem like his commitment to white hat-dom is fading a little bit? I can’t tell. He seems genuinely fond of Dolores but also open to Logan’s logic that she’s just a robot. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

The Man in Black and the Snake Lady

Keith: As if there wasn’t enough going on in this episode already, we also get a lot of action with The Man In Black and Lawrence (who occasionally seems as if he wishes The Man In Black had just let him hang). They hook up with a gang led by a bandit with a body-length snake tattoo. Her name is Armistice, though I’m not sure we officially know that yet. We saw her briefly in the pilot’s bloodiest scene, and she’s played by Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, whom you might recognize from the (pretty good, actually) Dwayne Johnson Hercules movie from a few summers back.

After The Man in Black rescues Armistice’s partner-in-crime Hector (Rodrigo Santoro, who played the ill-fated Paulo on Lost) who shares with him his “Half-native mumbo jumbo” and then ends the episode stabbing Maeve at her request. Like I said: A lot going on this week!

But let’s not gloss over a couple of major developments. We seem to learn this week that The Man In Black is not only well-known in the outside world but the head of some kind of philanthropic foundation that saved the life of another guest’s sister. Not that he wants to talk about it. He’s on his “fucking vacation.” And that vacation involves searching for the “the one story left to tell” in the park. Developing…

Brian: Yeah, the most interesting development in all of this — by far — is the stuff about the Man in Black running some sort of life-saving charitable foundation IRL. Which is saying something, because the other part of it involves a murderous female bandit who possesses the secrets to a mysterious dark game-within-the-game and who has a full-body snake tattoo that wraps around her torso and ends on her face. It takes a lot to leapfrog all that to grab my attention. But here we are, and here’s how it happened.

Let’s look at what we know or think we know about the Man in Black. He a) has been coming to the park for decades; b) is apparently some sort of billionaire; c) has carte blanche within the park, to the point the powers that be will approve last-minute pyro requests; and d) runs some sort of goody-two-shoes foundation as his day job. This is all fascinating. I’m sure there’s more to it that we’ll find out in the coming episodes/seasons, but on paper, I mean, think about it. It’s almost like if Warren Buffett took a month off every year to put on a cowboy hat to murder and violate robots in a billionaire’s sex playground. Picture TMZ breaking that story one day.

Ford and his master plans

Brian: Let me tell you what I like about Ford. He built this whole debaucherous Western theme park, and he answers to no one about anything (apparently), to the degree that he let the board hire a writer to spend months creating a new storyline only to pants the kid in front of everyone by revealing he’d been developing a new storyline all along. And while the rest of the staff lives in apartments inside the corporate headquarters, he appears to lives in luxurious mansion or hotel inside the park that he built for himself and staffed with the robots he created. He’s a maniac. I love him.

He is also, maybe, possibly, a supervillain. It’s hard to tell because I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs and therefore every single thing Anthony Hopkins says feels ominous to me (ANTHONY HOPKINS: Good morning, pleasure to meet you. ME: [flees screaming]), but that conversation he had with Theresa — coupled with the creepy field robots and the malfunctioning robot sommelier — gave me the heebie-jeebies a bit.

There’s also the possibility that he’s just a very dedicated artist who is resisting the influence of big business on his creation, but between revealing that he knows about her and Bernard and dropping a “Don’t get in my way,” this is all feeling like the part in a superhero movie where the bad guy starts to reveal his intentions, right?

Keith: Part of what makes this performance so effective is the way he switches from warmth to threat so easily, and so quickly. Oh, how nice, Theresa recognizes that she’s sitting in the same seat she sat in as a kid. (That’s something else the show gets right, how part of the appeal of a place like Disney World is the way some fixtures remain unchanged from childhood through adulthood.) Then: Oh no, Theresa’s sitting in the same seat she sat in as a kid because Robert knows that’s where she sat as a kid. This is a power play.

Still, my money remains on sensitive artist not supervillain. But, then again, one doesn’t preclude the other. Maybe ”Please don’t get in my way” is a request until it has to be a threat.

You okay, Maeve?

Keith: We touched on Maeve above, but it seems kind of fitting to let her bookend a discussion that kicked off with Dolores slow-dawning self-awareness, just as she does in the episode itself. Maeve remembers one of the park engineers’ hazmat suit well enough to sketch it. In one of the series’ best reveals, she discovers that she’s drawn this image many times over and hidden it in the same place each time, even if she never remembers it. She also spots the same image being carried by a Native American child and learns it’s a totem for God in their belief system and that seeing “the masters who pull your strings” is considered a blessing.

It almost seems like she’s on a path to understanding parallel to Dolores’. She’s just getting their on her own without Bernard’s help.

Brian: So, a few things about Maeve. Three things, I think:

1) The reveal where we see she’s been drawing the mysterious hooded figures — the techs on the corporate level — over and over and over without realizing it had a very Memento feel to it, right? And that’s extra on-point because one of the show’s creators is Jonathan Nolan, who wrote the short story that his brother Christopher eventually turned into the movie. Hmm. Interesting.

2) “Hmm. Interesting” is a good way to end a paragraph when you think you might be onto something, but you’re not sure exactly what, because it makes it look like you’re saying more than you actually are. Here, watch. “Someone ate all the yogurt? Hmm. Interesting.” Doesn’t have anything to do with Maeve, I suppose, but hey. Free tip.

3) Perhaps the weirdest thing in an episode of strange things was when Maeve and her one prostitute had a conversation about how great a customer’s D was. Really think about what happened there. Two robots were talking amongst themselves about a third robot’s penis, not for the benefit of any guest, just as small talk. That means someone had to program that conversation into them. Which means the two of them have had that same conversation thousands of times, probably. Some programmer was like, “Okay, I wanna make the hosts look busy, so they’re not just standing there. Let’s give them something to talk about. But what…?”

It’s this kind of commitment to realism that makes Westworld worth the price, one assumes.