(Fair warning: This recap contains Westworld spoilers, and you can’t erase them.)
The penultimate episode of Westworld sought to burn the tent down and massacre as many non-essentials as possible. That includes preconceived notions as well as piston-powered Hosts in uniform. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) at last gives Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) the answers he craves (for what may be the fourth or fifth or final time); Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) time travels throughout her traumas; and we cross over into the Maeve-trix.
Cold storage is the best place to start, considering how much time Ford spends down there. His confrontation with Bernard at first paints the steady handed founder as the devil to Arnold’s disturbed God, and, as usual, Ford has the upper hand even with a pistol pointed at his face. This entire memory sequence is one of the absolute best things the show has done thus far. Directed by Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alum Michelle MacLaren, it traverses the gauzy tragedy of Bernard’s fake real memory and the steely truth of his existence to come out on the other side needing a long, hot shower.
Sublime and moving, it also deeply pessimistic about humanity. Telling your dying son that he’s a lie is one of the more grotesque things you could wish upon someone, even if it’s the truth. Once again, Westworld reminds us that lies are far more comfortable. That a little trauma can be illuminating. Bernard raises the specter of the Problem of Evil, asking how anyone could program a backstory as brutal as his own–something every parent with a dying child has asked of their respective God.
After Bernard’s attempted murder by prostitute fails, Ford exhibits his total control. He has a party to throw.
But is Bernard dead in some final way? Or can he be rebuilt? They have the technology. They have the capability. The question is whether that’s on Ford’s To Do List. Then again, tragic stories work the best.
This all happens (in editing time) as Dolores enters a church where Hosts are experiencing what Ford quips is a “colorful malfunction.” We’re getting a real bird’s eye on this world’s God’s view of religion. It’ll take someone with an untold amount of free time and an Avid Suite to figure out what timeline she’s in as she changes camps, costumes, and consciousness, but Dolores’ trip through the surgical haunted house that forgot to pay its electrical bills yields gold in a look back at ultra-young, CGI Ford, and in the knowledge that all of her previous interactions with Bernard have actually been with Arnold. Or, at least, a figment of her memory named Arnold. Something she keeps trying to get back to.
And now I can’t see the one-on-one Host diagnostics outside the context of a confessional box.
Before her enlightening trip to the precipice, she’s suffering Logan’s (Ben Barnes) revenge alongside William (Jimmi Simpson). Logan’s just been made a major or Hand of the King or something, and he wants to repay that good fortune by cutting into Dolores and forcing William to watch. Could Logan actually be the Man in Black? MIB told Lawrence in “Contrapasso” that he’d cut into a Host years ago to find gears and metal, which is what we see Logan do to Dolores in “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” He demands that she prove to him that she’s a real, live girl. She does (by slicing his cheek, killing some Hosts and escaping), but he sees it as proof that she’s broken. That’s some real bonding shit right there, Westworld.
(On the other hand of the MIB conspiracy front, by the end of it, William has also torn into just about every Host soldier in the camp, leaving cam-anchored legs, robo-blood, and whiskey strewn about the camp. So, who knows.)
Dolores also delivers the rhetorical motif of the entire series, asking why, if the outside world is so damned awesome, people are clamoring to get into the dusty murderhole of Westworld. Why take on the depravity and danger of yesterday? Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
Speaking of MIB (Ed Harris), he’s bonding with Teddy (James Marsden) until the young buck remembers his wholesale slaughter of an innocent village before being promptly gutted by Angela (Talulah Riley), who intimates that Teddy is maybe one more Brahmic revolution away from getting into The Maze. Or getting to The City Swallowed By Sand. In case they aren’t the same thing. Everything seems to draw backward to that church-laden site, whether it’s Teddy murdering everyone or Dolores shooting her way through dancing lessons before turning the gun on herself.
Angela slams MIB’s head against a rock and he wakes up in Jigsaw’s horse trap, cautiously inching toward a knife while trying not to spook the bay whose saddle is connected to the noose around his neck. It turns out this game really can have real stakes: if he’d done that wrong, he’d have been strung up and–depending on how you view the Saw series–the Hosts who did it wouldn’t be morally culpable. Fun!
Luckily he passes the test, just as Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) breaks his fourth wall by stomping into his camp in her dark suede heels. Seeing the modern in the antique was more jarring than a Radiohead piano tune, but we get confirmation that MIB is a serious player on the DELOS board. He also doesn’t seem to care at all about Ford’s narratives, which means the game-inside-the-game-inside-the-game he’s currently entranced by must be one of Arnold’s Easter Eggs.
Is he seeing the whole game, or is it incapable of seeing beyond it? You can imagine him reaching the sunken city, maybe even digging into the confessional box, only to find himself in a place he has key card access to anyway. They tried to tell you that the Maze wasn’t for you, MIB.
Completely unconcerned by mazes or rules, Maeve (Thandie Newton) jukes Bernard out of his cleats before he can shut her down. Just like Neo, she can control machines and spout Us vs Them philosophy with post-genocidal vitriol. It doesn’t seem like she’s going to turn the other cheek any time soon.
Especially when she breaks Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) out of his loop by blasting Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and then bump-and-grinding on Escaton while she lets the tent burn down. She’s such a magnificent bad ass. Television does not deserve her.
Finally, out in the wilderness, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) is set upon by Ghost Nation Hosts who don’t answer to his petty pleas for shutting down their functions. We also learn that Bernard (under Ford’s control, of course) is the unseen figure who attacks Elsie (Shannon Woodward) after she discovers the signal station, but we don’t know her ultimate fate. The editing hints that he killed her, juxtaposed with his murder of Theresa and his asking whether he’s been forced to do something like that before, but you never can tell.
How much will that tangled web get unraveled next week? What will they leave for next season? How many question marks will this show force us to use in our recaps?
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS:
- The big bad of Ford’s narrative is named Wyatt, which has “Why?” right there at the beginning.
- Logan wipes his mouth with the napkin he gagged William with, which is the worst thing he’s done yet.
- If the photo of the woman at Times Square, which sent Dolores’ dad into raving madness, is of William’s fianceé, how did it get to Dolores’ farm?
- “And don’t call me Billy!” is a weak as hell mic drop line.
- Westworld is like a video game where you can’t skip past the cinematics.
- Ford and Bernard’s final conversation brings up the notion of control as protection. Where one ends and the other begins. Ford frames his deception as being for the greater good. To protect Hosts from a predator without understanding or compassion. What a radical act it is, then, to assert one’s own humanity and worth.
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