Westworld recap: About that big reveal...
After weeks of buildup, Westworld finally gave us a gigantic, juicy, horrifying reveal
After weeks of buildup, Westworld finally gave us a gigantic, juicy, horrifying reveal: Bernard is a host.
We found out in stages. First, we saw a touching "flashback" of Bernard's son Charlie in the hospital. It opened — as so many of Westworld's scenes do — with a character waking up. "Dad, dad, wake up, wake up," Charlie said. Bernard snapped awake and read from Alice in Wonderland, a text that's been structuring the show from the beginning. "The madman," Charlie said, prompting him to the right place. "Of course," said Bernard. "The hatter. Who says, if I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't."
The Mad Hatter reference rhymes with Ford's terrifying reveal later that he does indeed have a world of his own. "Like I said," Anthony Hopkins' Ford said, in that soft, sinister near-whisper Hopkins has made famous, "I built all of this." (Theresa even accused him of running an "insane little kingdom" in case we missed the madness reference.)
But is Ford's "world of his own" nonsense like the Mad Hatter's? Is Ford's a place where nothing is what it is because everything is what it isn't?
Maybe! I suggested awhile back that Bernard might be a host, and I was feeling a little smug for having called that. In retrospect, I think I arrived at the right conclusion for reasons that were partly wrong. I thought Bernard's semi-secret interviews with Dolores were in fact Bernard's interviews with Dolores. This episode seems to have made that impossible. Those interviews took place in a room that is pretty clearly Ford's secret lab, and we learned in this episode that Bernard has never been there; he couldn't even see the door.
Here's "Bernard" coming down the steps to interview Dolores in Episode 3:
Here's Bernard with Theresa. The same white chair is visible on the right:
That is to say, the "Bernard is Ford's remake of Arnold" theory got some additional evidence tonight. And so did the multiple timelines theory: If Bernard has never been to that room, then those Bernard-Dolores scenes might actually be flashbacks to Arnold's interviews with her when she was achieving consciousness the first time. (It's possible that Bernard's memory was somehow wiped, I guess, but that would make an already complicated set of nested narratives unrewardingly baroque.)
There's more evidence, too. When Ford consulted a notebook containing sketches (presumably Arnold's) last week, we saw a prototype for a mechanical (rather than 3-D printed) Dolores. That sketch looks like a generic version of the prototype Theresa finds in Ford's lab, which has had details added to make it into Dolores (shown to the right):
I mentioned last week that there seems to be an important divide emerging between 3D printed hosts and mechanical hosts; Ford obviously prefers the former (shown in the logo above), and Arnold clearly preferred the latter. So does the Man in Black, whose line to Lawrence about admiring the beautiful mechanical perfection he found after "opening one of you up" years ago seems ominous. If the Man in Black is indeed an older Billy, I'm starting to fear that the host he opened up was Dolores. Billy's fiancee's name is Juliet and "these violent delights have violent ends" is a Romeo and Juliet quote. For now, Billy's love quest seems like an instance of one of the "hundred hopeful storylines" Ford says he and Arnold developed in the park's early days, but let's face it: Tragedy is written all over this story.
But let's get back to that reveal. Bernard wakes up a second time from that dream in his own bed at the Westworld dormitories to gaze at a framed photograph of himself with Charlie. It was a nightmare, and we know (from Elsie) that the hosts are equipped with the concept of nightmares. Bernard's apparent interiority seems to have been just that.
Fast-forwarding to the end: The exceptional writing and acting in the scene between Theresa, Ford, and Bernard — particularly when Theresa shows Bernard the sketch of himself, and Jeffrey Wright delivers an exceptional series of reactions as he processes what this means — makes it easy to overlook an important difference between the Dolores sketch and the Bernard sketch: Bernard's isn't mechanical. He's anatomical. What's more, we don't see a "Bernard prototype" label the way we did with Dolores. The shot is extremely careful to leave out that bottom right corner where the label would be.
This could mean any number of things. The most likely, I think, is that it's Ford's anatomical study of Arnold — that this is an "Arnold anatomy" rather than a "Bernard prototype," with an eye toward "replacing" Arnold and expunging any record of his contributions to the park.
On a longer timescale, it could mean that Ford is on some kind of Pinocchio journey to become a real boy. We know that Robert, the "young" version of Ford, is fully mechanical, spectacularly so, in fact. He's an Arnold creation. We know that insanity was a real issue for Arnold's generation of hosts, the ones that heard voices in their heads to "bootstrap consciousness." And we know, thanks to Bernard, that there's some connection between memory and improvisation: "Out of repetition comes variation, and after countless repetition, these hosts were very ... they were on the verge of some kind of change," he said. This seems like it addresses at least some of Dolores' and Maeve's mysterious glitching. If repetition yields these kinds of breakthroughs, it may be significant that Ford is architecting a massive repetition of his own: a reenactment of whatever happened in that white church, perhaps in hopes of "bootstrapping" himself, or the park, or the whole Mad Hatter kingdom's experiments with consciousness, into some higher form.
The trouble with Westworld is that these sidelines are so interesting they sometimes lead us too far afield of the stories themselves. And those stories are acquiring a raw dramatic power I didn't expect Westworld to achieve. I've been a little underwhelmed by Jimmi Simpson's turn as Billy the Romeo — and if Billy does end up being the Man in Black, I can't imagine how they're going to square Simpson's and Harris' startlingly different performances. But I can't say enough about the acting during the twin reveals: Sidse Babett Knudsen (Theresa) did things with her face in this episode that I didn't think were possible. Hopkins was typically intense, thoughtful, amused, and wry. "I read the theory once that the human intellect was like peacock feathers," he says, "just an extravagant display intended to attract a mate."
And Angela Sarafyan (Clementine) shone in this episode, both when she dreamily nattered about escaping the Mariposa, and when she attempted a seduction after her beating only to transform into a vengeful machine raining down punishment on her abuser. The thing she did with her extraordinary eyes when they turned on Luke Hemsworth (Ashley), the way the lids dropped into a steely fury? Stunning.
RIP, you marvelous ranker of rinds.
And then there's Maeve. Thandie Newton deserves so many props for the shades and layers she's bringing to a character who could all too easily slip into uninteresting sass. So, for that matter, do Leonardo Nam as Felix and Ptolemy Slocum as Sylvester. These are small roles, and what they're doing with them is rich and textured enough to make some fairly thin plotting plausible. (For all Maeve's power, it does seem like they could just have her deactivated at any time.)
I particularly enjoyed the zoom into Maeve's face as Sylvester babbles justifications for why he lobotomized Clementine, while Maeve majestically wears one of their lab coats.
It's the casualness of how it's draped, I think. Maeve does not care. Nakedness only augments her power. In this she bears an unexpected resemblance to Tessa Thompson's Charlotte Hale, who answered the door to Theresa nude, mid-coitus, and only donned a robe as a pointed concession to Theresa's discomfort. And here, I have to praise Rodrigo Santoro (Hector), who has impressed me in every scene he's been in, and whose stint here as Ford's spy — reporting back to him about the "blood sacrifice" requirement — will hopefully get explained further.
This was such a rich episode that I'm dropping a thousand plot points. Dolores had happy consensual sex! And drew something she dreamed! And announced to Billy that she's "not a key, William." We haven't even touched on the gorgeous cinematography around the train heist, the nitroglycerine gambit, or the Confederados being routed by the Ghost Nation. Where is Ford's robot family? Did he kill little Robert because he cut the dog's throat?
But the thing I love most about this show is seeing through a particular character's eyes: specifically, noting how out of tune the player piano seems in Maeve's corrected perspective, and her face as she realizes that the words she's saying to Clementine are words she's said before.
Consciousness comes at a price. As Ford says, "I have come to think of so much of consciousness as a burden, a weight, and we have spared them that. Anxiety, self-loathing, guilt. The hosts are the ones who are free. Free here, under my control."
The Maeve vs. Ford struggle will be epic.
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