‘Westworld’ Season 1, Episode 7 Recap: This World Is as Doomed as Ever
Looking back at my recaps of Westworld’s first season to date, I find that I am very bad at theories. I’m not great at creating them and I’m not great at debunking them. I pretty much dismissed the “William is the Man in Black” theory right off the bat, but the show itself has left enough wiggle room that it could still be true. While I’m not entirely convinced that’s the way the show is headed, it does seem increasingly likely that the accompanying theory that the show’s narrative exists simultaneously yet invisibly in multiple timelines is true. (Then again, now that I’m saying this, that could negate the whole thing. I’m like the George Costanza of Westworld theories. When I say something could happen, you should assume the opposite will.)
Really the only theory I’ve had right so far through seven episodes of Westworld is the big one that was revealed on tonight’s episode, “Trompe L’Oeil.” (It should go without saying, but major SPOILERS are headed your way now.) The title, according to Wikipedia, refers to “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions,” a direct reference to the twist that concluded tonight’s Westworld: Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), the head of Westworld’s programming division, is actually a host built by Westworld’s director, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). I’ve been insistent throughout the show’s first season that someone from the “human” cast would turn out to be a robot, and while it doesn’t look like I called him out by name in any of my recaps (mostly because my predictions have been consistently awful), I’ve always thought Bernard was the most likely candidate.
For one thing, he’s really the only “human” character on the show to get any measurable contact with the outside world, talking to his “wife” (Gina Torres) on a high-tech FaceTime call and referring repeatedly to his dead son. “Trompe L’Oeil” begins with a “flashback” to Bernard at his son’s bedside, reading him a passage from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (Previously, we’ve seen Bernard reading the same book to Dolores, during one of their mysterious private sessions.) This, like all of Bernard’s humanizing touches, were clever red herrings; Dr. Ford uses Bernard to lure Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) into a trap and then murder her. Theresa was the culprit in the elaborate data smuggling operation that’s been revealed in the last couple episodes; it turns out Ford has held such tight control over Westworld’s core technology that its parent company, Delos, couldn’t remove him from power without first stealing his secrets. Theresa’s role in the scheme cost her her life.
I’m going to explore the full implications of Bernard’s secret in a separate post, so let’s table that for now and move on to the rest of this very solid hour of television. It finally revealed the identity of Tessa Thompson’s character (unless she’s got her own Bernard-esque twist coming on the horizon). She’s Charlotte Hale, a representative of the Delos corporate board which owns and operates the Westworld park. They’re worried about their investment, and the reveries virus that has made the park’s robots unpredictable. In a fascinating scene, Charlotte orders a demonstration of the problem for a group of Westworld executives including Ford, Bernard, and Theresa. Angela Sarafyan’s Clementine, one of Westworld’s prostitute robots, is assaulted, then rebooted, and this time she turns on her host attacker, acting out a sort of revenge for her previous “death.”
Charlotte and the interests she represents want Ford out, although as this episode’s conclusion shows, getting rid of him will be easier said than done. It still boggles my mind that Westworld waited six episodes to introduce this character, who, as played by Tessa Thompson, is fierce and strange and fantastic. (She answers the door of her room at Westworld headquarters butt naked because she’s mid-coitus with a tied-up host.) Better late than never, I suppose, but Charlotte would have been very welcome in some of the earlier episodes which were so heavy on mythology and so light on compelling characters.
And speaking of mythology, Dolores and William returned this week, venturing further into Westworld’s frontier in search of “The Maze.” (The other Maze hunter, the Man in Black, took “Trompe L’Oeil” off.) On the train ride to their destination, Dolores and William also consummated their relationship, just moments after William confessed to Dolores that he was engaged to be married and insisted they could never be together. William is definitely being seduced by the charms of Westworld (“I came here and I get a glimpse for a second of a life where I don’t have to pretend. A life in which I can be truly alive. How can I go back to pretending when I know what this feels like?” he says to Dolores), so if you subscribe to the notion that that seduction is what eventually turns him into the Man in Black, well, you’ve got another piece of the puzzle that fits.
The last major component of this episode was madam host Maeve’s continuing efforts to understand and break free from her world. With her intellect boosted by low-level technician Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam), she now blackmails him into helping her escape, which he insists would be a suicide mission. “Surviving,” she tells him, “is just another loop. I’m getting out of here.” Maeve’s awakening storyline is more and more resembling the one experienced by Ava, the artificial intelligence from Ex Machina, and to me, that’s a very good thing.
Like Maeve, many of the members of Westworld’s ensemble are seekers; they’re looking for truth or freedom or release or job security or a sense of meaning to existence. We all are. That’s what makes Westworld resonate so strongly.
EPISODE RATING: 8/10
-The end of this episode really saw Hopkins lean into his Hannibal Lecter persona, and man it was terrifying in the best way possible. Westworld might be Hopkins’ best work in 20 years.
-This could be Sidse Babett Knudsen’s final appearance on Westworld. But I wonder whether she’s about to get Bernard-ized, and turned into a secret host. What’s easier for Ford: Hiding the mysterious disappearance of one of the park’s most powerful officers, or creating a duplicate who can do his bidding so it seems like nothing’s wrong? While Bernard murdered Theresa in the background, the camera racked focus onto a robot-building machine in the foreground; it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this was the new robot Theresa being “born.”
-During their travels, Dolores and William encounter Native Americans (“The Ghost Nation,” they’re called) who fire arrows at their enemies. How does this work in a theme park where the robots can’t hurt humans? I get that guns could be made to fire blanks; how do you make a non-lethal arrow? Or are the natives programmed never to shoot at a human? Or are these some of the hosts designed by Ford to ignore their non-lethal programming? I’m honestly not sure.