Before you saddle up, the spoilers in this recap may be more dangerous than previously assumed.
Well, she up and did it.
After swatting a fly and winking toward consciousness, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) broke through her programming and shot a Buford Tannen-looking asshole right through his rapey throat. She fought back, which is a no-no when you’re an enslaved skin-milk robot in Westworld. Now she’s on the lam, and we can all assume that the murder will plunge the park into chaos. Will it also bring up 30-year-old memories for Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins)?
She’s not the only one to kill for the first time, either. William (Jimmi Simpson) “pops his cherry” when a bounty breaks his chains and holds Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) hostage. He turns down Thank You Sex (again! So chivalrous!) but decides that he’s ready for an adventure outside the town, dragging his friend Logan (Ben Barnes) into the wild country. For all his big talk, Logan seems like he’s never actually left the brothel bedrooms during all his trips to the park, but he confirms one strange thing about Westworld: heading into the desert to search for a dangerous killer looks a lot like heading into the desert to sit quietly by a fire. The MMORPG feel of the park seems like it could get dull really quick if you don’t know the first thing about tracking. They need to offer guests a Fast Travel option.
Meanwhile, Elsie (Shannon Woodward) may have found one key to the mystery of their glitchy, milk-pouring, eye-bashing Host named Walter from the first episode: he spared some Hosts, but the six Hosts he killed had all killed him in previous storylines. Is that a coincidence? Is it acting on revenge, or is Elsie reading human nature into a machine?
She also hypothesizes that the Host isn’t just rambling during his killing spree; he’s talking to someone unseen who he calls Arnold. A voice in his head?
This is the key to the entire episode–a story threaded together with questions about our own consciences (if not our consciousness).Walter hears Arnold’s voice in his head, Dr. Ford describes the bicameral mind theory (put forth by Julian Jaynes) that suggests a primitive human’s mind would talk to itself as a major step toward “bootstrapping” consciousness, and the new villain Wyatt’s (Sorin Brouwers) backstory marks him as a zealot who can hear the voice of God.
That story, as Teddy (James Marsden) describes it, also mirrors the reality-questioning nature of the park (and, you know, real life) itself. As Silicon Valley denizens are trying to prove you and I are living in a simulation, Wyatt (who is a fictional character created by fictional characters) believes he’s already dead and living in Hell. Turns out he might be onto something there.
Ford’s explanation of the bicameral mind comes courtesy of telling Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) who Arnold is. Turns out Ford had a partner who became obsessed with bringing the Hosts into consciousness, which is a problem when you want them to be the delightful playthings of sadistic, paying customers. When you sprinkle in awareness, you lose control. Now the malfunctioning puppets are hearing his voice in their heads- a remnant of a larger version of the voice-control the park still uses. The mystery of who’s been whispering things to Dolores has been solved, but is “Arnold” just a passive ghost of old code coming back to haunt everyone or a living thing itself?
It’s a little surprising to find out, but Ford isn’t the mad scientist he first seemed to be. Bernard, on the other hand, is chasing down Dolores’ mind not only because of curiosity, but because of self-interest. He can’t let go of the memory of a dead son. As he speaks with his wife about his pain being the only part of his son that he has left, we get Wright at his best, offering us a gentler view of the icy, animatronic Bernard.
Finally we get to see the next possibility for the invention. If you can build a brand new human, why can’t you build one you’ve lost?
The allure of playing God is a powerful one. Bernard opened “The Stray” making Dolores read from Alice in Wonderland in an effort to push the boundaries of her mind. He clearly wanted her to recognize that she’s changed, toying with the sleeping viper of a robot that can think for itself. He ends it, apparently ready to stop pursuing cognition, realizing his obsessive mistake, but something in Dolores’ responses makes him second guess her reformatting. He sends her back into the park as is where she finally pulls a trigger.
After getting scolded by Bernard for digging too deep into the glitch that started the whole series, Elsie teams with Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) to hunt down a stray Host who has left his scenario (and left his wagon trail buddies without any wood for their campfire). In a perfect bit exposing the human inability to think of all possible emergency outcomes, Stubbs remarks that weapons privileges have to be doled out sparingly just hours before the hulking stray they’ve been hunting picks up a mini-boulder big enough to bash a head in. Maybe it’s time to expand the Westworld definition of “weapon.” Luckily, it bashes its own head into mush in one of the more surreal images of the show thus far.
The whole sequence was a fun march through exposition, but it also gave us another mysterious symbol: the Orion carvings. Did their stray also follow the commands of the disembodied Arnold voice? Do the Hosts have their own maze?
Speaking of which, we don’t catch up with The Man in Black this week, so we’ll have to assume he’s still riding his horse to where the snake lays its eggs. Like you do.
Finally, Teddy is the connective tissue between most of the stories this week. He’s got a human sidekick named Marti (Bojana Novakovic) who accompanies him on the highly dangerous new Wyatt adventure. Ford reprograms him to give his backstory some specifics as part of the new fiction he began building last week at the church. Teddy also proves his limitations to Dolores, who has reservations about running away with a man incapable of seeing anything past the sunset.
That conversion was a brilliant showcase of the tension between the show’s genre-entrenched writing and its need to keep a modern audience entertained. Westworld does an excellent job of driving the line between cheeseball and compelling, considering the park experience is written by a hack (whom we thankfully didn’t have to see this week). Almost every line of dialogue between Teddy and Dolores is hammy, but the overall scene serves an incredible purpose of showing us Dolores in the middle of her awakening. She’s aware enough to want to leave, but not aware enough to realize Teddy’s true nature. When he defaults to “someday,” it may have loosened the last shackle tethering her to the park, or it may have sparked the urge to save him by giving him the awareness she’s attaining.
Dolores is a fascinating figure even before considering her incipient sentience. It’s way too common to use women in Westerns as victims, but Dolores is programmed and, in fact, exists specifically to be an object of sexualized violence. She exists so that guests who have the inclination can murder her father and gunfighter boyfriend, and then use her however they want. Her purpose in “life” is to be brutalized–just as many female characters in genre work are. Her existence and awakening are statements on the Women in Refrigerators trope–or an outright rebuke of it.
Her pulling the trigger on her greasy would-be attacker (after needing Teddy’s rescue earlier) signals that she’s gained some agency. Dr. Ford and the others behind the scenes had better watch out.
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS:
- How do they make Hosts smell? The posse all guards their noses (including the human) when they roll up on that Se7en-cribbing almost-corpse.
- Elsie and Stubbs have to create an algorithm for where their stray may have gone. Do these things not have GPS chips in them?
- Where are all the prostitutes for the straight women?
- Are cell phones not allowed in the park at all? This is a weird future where no one is constantly taking selfies with the robot they just shot to death.
Load your six-shooter and let us know what you thought in the comments section.