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.
Keith: I guess we may as well start with the element of the show that gives this episode its title and talk about The Stray, the gone-rogue robot that drives a lot of this week’s action. But before that, let me just say that this episode played like the series was finding another gear. It’s not that the pilot and the second episode were slow-paced, exactly, but this one not only revealed new mysteries but new dangers and dumped out a truckload of backstory. A lot happened in this episode, Brian! Can we hope to make sense of it all?
At any rate, let’s talk about the poor stray, who wanders off and falls in a ditch and then things get really bad. But it seems that at least the notion of a stray isn’t that unusual. When Elsie shares it with Bernard it seems like, if not a big deal, at least something they’d seen before. Now, if I worked at an amusement park filled with human-like robots, one of them slipping out of its programming and wandering off would seem like a BFD. Here it seems like a 4 out of 10 on the Delos crisis scale. Did that strike you as odd?
Brian: Yeah, I think maybe a stray isn’t a big deal when things are running smooth, but at a time when glitches are running amok and brand new storylines are about to roll out, you’d think it would raise a red flag or two. And while the biggest development in all of this, long-term, is that one of the robots made a bunch of wood carvings of the constellations, fought back against a human rather than having his head chopped off, and then bashed himself to death with a rock, none of which seems “good” or “ideal” from a programming standpoint (“The only thing stopping hosts from hacking us to pieces is one line of code”), something else fascinated me more…
Those guys in the camp, the hosts the stray wandered off from, were stuck in a loop out there arguing for days about who would collect wood. Days! Going round and round bickering about chores. On second thought, wait. Maybe this isn’t that odd. I’ve been on camping trips that were essentially the same thing.
Keith: Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is at the center of this episode in a couple of ways. First we get a long story about the origins of Westworld (which we’ll talk about in a bit), then we get some hints about what his big, new storyline will be. And it seems kind of crazy. Or, put another way, it brings an element of madness to Westworld we haven’t seen before. Teddy gets an antagonist in the form of Wyatt, a.k.a. “the face of true evil,” a soldier Teddy previously served with in the army who returned from some maneuvers claiming to hear the voice of God. By the time he shows up in the current timeline of the park, he seems to have morphed into a Col. Kurtz-like figure in charge of some oddly attired henchmen.
This is pretty weird stuff. I mean that literally. Where before the West of Westworld seemed pretty straightforward in its recreation of the Old West, Wyatt brings with him elements of old pulp horror stories. (It’s also the element that’s reminded me the most of Lost so far.)
Brian: So I have three questions about this Wyatt development, and a few subquestions within those questions.
QUESTION 1: Is Wyatt tied into the new storyline that Ford has been developing, and if so, do their weird masks and ritualistic-style murders have anything to do with the cross we saw at the end of episode two? Like, is this some sort of cult led by a wild murderous outlaw? And if you were a wild murderous outlaw cult leader whose followers wear creepy outfits and hang people all over trees after killing them, shouldn’t you have a cooler and more mysterious name than Wyatt? I am very disappointed in Ford for this. Although I suppose it’s better than, like, “Kyle.” So it could have been worse.
QUESTION 2: Were Teddy’s bullets just kind of bouncing off those masked men during the ambush? If they were, does that mean they were guests, or has Ford created a group of terrifying robots that roam the hills killing anyone who crosses their path, and who are killable only by guests, if even that?
QUESTION 3: Ford introduced Wyatt into Teddy’s storyline after talking to him about Dolores and how they always talk about running away together. The effect of all of this is that Teddy was elsewhere when Dolores got home and saw the murder scene at her house. Was… was this part of Ford’s plan? Ford is a strange cat, man.
Brian: Here’s what we know about Arnold so far, and I think I have this correct.
- Arnold was Ford’s partner in building Westworld all those years ago
- At some point Arnold became very weird and started communicating only with the hosts
- The hosts, again, are robots
- Arnold died under mysterious circumstances inside the park, in what was described publicly as “an accident,” but was not an accident, according to Ford
- Now, years later, some of the hosts are accessing his old code and referring to him by name while they malfunction
- This doesn’t seem weird or bad or ominous at all, and I don’t know why you’d even imply that.
I’m quite sure we’ll learn more about Arnold and what he may or may not have done with or to the robots that led to his homicide or accidental death, but until we do, based only on this set of facts, this is setting up to be the darkest version of Scooby-Doo I’ve ever seen. Just wait until Teddy and Dolores corner the Man in Black and do the “Let’s see who you really are” thing, then pull off his mask to reveal it’s been Old Man Arnold all along. You heard it here first.
Keith: Here’s what I suspect about Arnold: We’re not going to find out about Arnold for a while. That said, I’m surprised we know as much as we know already, at least in terms of Arnold’s history and the history of the park. Is he being set up as the Devil to Ford’s God? Vice versa? I suspect it’s a little more complicated than that, and that we won’t know what those complications are for a while.
Here’s something interesting though: Ford’s constructing a narrative in which a bad guy named Wyatt loses his mind and develops a surrounding of violent followers. Is this an echo of what happened in the park 30 years ago? Maybe! And we haven’t even gotten into Arnold’s four tiers of artificial intelligence or theories about the bicameral mind and how it applies to robots. That seems like more than we can unpack here, but I suspect it would be a good idea to squirrel that information away and see how it applies to future episodes.
Bernard and Dolores
Brian: Bernard, what are you doooooiiiiing? Every episode we peel back another layer of the onion that is you, and every time we do it reveals more questionable behavior. Sleeping with your boss? Check. Instructing the robots you talk to to keep your discussions secret? Check. Reading Alice in Wonderland to a robot that he is kind of, sort of starting to use as a replacement for the real human child he lost, almost like he’s trying to Pinocchio her to life so he can adopt her and bring her home and love her forever. Bernard. Bernard. You’re going full Arnold on us, my guy.
And — and I can’t believe I’m about to type this next thing — it’s weird that he only talks to Dolores while she’s fully dressed, right? Everyone else does those diagnostics sessions with the robots nude, and if they don’t, Ford gets very intense about correcting them. So, in that context, Bernard leaving her dressed seems to imply some level of care/attachment/shame that is probably not too healthy in a relationship between a scientist and science project. But then again, there’s a 100 percent chance that some of the technicians are humping the robots when no one’s looking, so… Westworld seems like a strange place to work. I guess that’s what I’m saying.
But anyway, to the real important issue: Keith, if you had the power to kick someone you’re talking to into analysis mode, where you could say “Why did you say/do that?” and they’d have to answer you honestly, how often would you use it and do you think it would ruin your life? My answers are “too much” and “beyond repair.”
Keith: I think you’re absolutely correct and that the series is aware of that, and aware that these sorts of defenses and layers we create for ourselves are part of what make us human. We don’t go around completely open to everyone else the same way we don’t go around nude, to find another parallel to what you wrote above. (And, yes, I noticed that, too. Congrats Westword: You’ve made the image of a man talking to a woman who’s fully clothed seem somehow creepier than if she’d been undressed.)
Bernard is shaping up to be the show’s most fascinating human (I think) character just as Dolores is becoming the most fascinating host character. Pairing them makes a lot of sense, and I kind of love that it’s not clear at this point what their relationship is or whether or not we should be rooting for Bernard to succeed in whatever experiment he’s conducting with her.
After the scene at the end in the barn, Dolores appears to be operating both inside and above the system in Westworld, and is basically Neo from The Matrix now.
Brian: Seems like a big deal.
Keith:: I suspect it will be, but maybe not right away. My guess is we’ll be watching this development for a while, unless the show sweeps both Bernard and Dolores away unexpectedly. Could happen! (Probably won’t, though.)