In the wake of the US elections, I almost didn’t bother writing this recap. TV, art, and criticism seem too frivolous and ephemeral to be interesting when you’re living in a country that is in the throes of a spectacular crisis. But Westworld is a perfect example of why art still exerts a claim on our attention, even in the midst of catastrophe. It’s a show about people indulging their darkest impulses towards women, knowing there will be no consequences for doing so. What could be more relevant to confronting the reality of the new American president-elect?
With that—to the races.
Previously on Westworld: Someone was spying on the park; Ford made a young friend; Theresa didn’t like Ford’s new narrative; Ed tricked Teddy into coming with him on his Maze Mission by saying that Wyatt had kidnapped Dolores; Maeve knew how to wake herself from nightmares, and woke up while Lutz was supposed to be working on her supposedly dead body.
Maeve wakes and walks into the saloon, to be met by Clementine, who’s apparently gotten money out of a customer by talking to him all night. Sounds like there’s another Gallant somewhere up there. Maeve re-smoothes Clementine’s hair as they spot a customer, but insists on handling him herself. Upstairs, she gives him a drink and waits, confident. Then she trashtalks him, insulting his stamina and then his endowment until he throws her roughly against the wall in punishment. She puts his hand around her neck and encourages him: “Don’t be shy.” He squeezes harder and keeps going, and she blacks out, only to wake once again in the lab, with Lutz bending over her. He swears to himself, and she says, “Where were we?” I guess he just panicked and tranqed her the first time.
Elsie is showing Bernard the uplink she found. She asks if corporate espionage is glass half full, or half empty, compared to their original fears of a bug. Bernard says, “We’re engineers. It means that the glass was manufactured to the wrong specifications.” Elsie can’t find the geocache of the dead guy (known as “the woodcutter”), but Bernard knows how to read the backups in the old system, because the woodcutter is an old model. He needs to go downstairs, he announces ominously.
On floor B-82, Bernard authorizes himself, and and then walks, hands shaking, into a deserted room and signs onto a workstation. When he gets the information he’s about to stand up when he sees a little message that 5 additional anomalies (besides the one he’s interested in) are detected. He asks the computer for more anomalies, and then translates for us in that way TV characters do that no real person ever does, “These are hosts that aren’t registered with the system?” Thanks Bernard. Clunky dialogue aside, that actually was helpful.
In Lawrence’s original hometown, all the hosts freeze as Ford walks in with some construction workers. They offer to destroy the town and distribute the population in order to extend his canyon. But Ford doesn’t want to disrupt things too much. He sends them off, then lets the town resume its activities. Underneath an ongoing dominoes game is a carving of the maze again. Back in the lab, in a room that contains a wall of just white plastic host heads arranged in a grid, he flips open a page of a book that matches the maze drawing.
Ed and Teddy are riding along, Ed still with Lawrence’s scalp tied to his horse. Teddy tells Ed, “The maze is an old Native myth. The maze itself is the sum of a man’s life, choices he makes, dreams he hangs onto, and there at the center, there’s a legendary man who had been killed over and over again… The man returned for the last time and vanquished all his oppressors in a tireless fury.” Then he built the maze which was so complicated no one could navigate it to find his house at the center. Then they run into some stock characters who tell them the border’s been closed due to trouble in Pariah. Ed asks Teddy how to get over the border, and Teddy knows a way, but it’s “a little treacherous.” And he’s going with or without Ed, to find Dolores. Ed looks unwillingly impressed that Teddy is so devoted to that lie he made up.
So, the show keeps taking the vague truths gleaned by hosts about the world and turning them into “Native myths.” It’s kind of annoying, because there are no actual Native characters (one from the pilot was played by a man who died just weeks before the premiere) and so there’s no concrete way for the show to remind us that the Native myth thing is convenient because it fits in with the already problematic storylines of the Western, and that they recognize it’s a myth, and see Native people as people, not just a primitive group with special, mystical insight into the world.
Anyway. Back in Lutz’s lab, he’s trying to convince poor Maeve (who, naturally, is still naked) that she does things because they’re programmed into her, whereas he can make choices because he is human. “How do you know?” she asks. She’s still naked, and she starts feeling his hand to prove they’re the same. He says they basically are, but her processing power is way higher than theirs, except that she’s under the humans’ control. And as he speaks he starts to realize that what he’s saying isn’t even true—since they tried to make her forget and she didn’t. To prove it, he finally takes out her speech algorithm, and lets her try to say words that it won’t predict ahead of time. She tries really hard to come up with something new, but can’t, and finally totally freezes like that poor sheriff who had a fly on his face in the pilot. Nice to know that there’s still the equivalent of the blue screen of death in our high-tech future.
Bernard comes to talk to Theresa, but she interrupts and says Ford knows about them. Bernard doesn’t think it matters, but she thinks that they need to stop because their departments are supposed to keep each other in check. Bernard insists he can be impartial, which is clearly false. She shuts him down when he tries to tell her what the real problem is, and kicks him out. Being Bernard, he leaves after the first try. Theresa, of course, looks sad. Icy businesslady with a heart! Another classic trope. They should put that in the park.
Lutz, meanwhile, finally gets Maeve restarted. She immediately asks about the “upstairs” he mentioned, and demands to see it. He refuses, but as soon as she grabs his hand with a sad face (remember she’s naked; he’s not just soft-hearted) he gives in.
What follows is definitely one of the best sequences on the show so far. She walks with him through the area where the dead bodies get hosed down, then various manufacturing areas. Sad music plays the whole time. They even go to visit a sad fake bison. He takes her to design, where she notices heads being fashioned. Lutz tells her she’ll get sent downstairs, and they need to go back. But she notices a video playing on a screen nearby, a Westworld advertisement starring her. (Also spotted: Teddy and Dolores riding by on their regular afternoon jaunt.) Maeve is horrified.
Downstairs, she asks Lutz how he has her dreams. He tells her that was her previous build. He explains she’s actually had a bunch of other lives, so they don’t really rewrite her completely, just tweak her. Of course, Obnoxious Redhead shows up to make fun of Lutz for dressing Maeve up before he fools around with her. Maeve freezes, pretending to be in sleep mode. Obnoxious Redhead chews up some scenery, dropping some overwrought insults on Lutz before threatening to report him. But Maeve pulls a knife on him (and calls him Sylvester, sooo, I guess that’s what his name is) and coos in her fake-sexy voice that she was built to know what people want before they do and that he wants to fuck her over. You know. Because she’s a prostitute. Also, I think it’s actually pretty clear that he knows he wants to fuck her over, so, I’m not sure that’s her magical prostitute perception talking there.
Upstairs, Theresa’s telling someone on a video call she’s going to complete an urgent mission that we don’t know about. Then she starts smoking, an unsubtle signal that she’s upset, who has already told us she only smokes when she’s upset.
Lee Sizemore is getting drunk by the pool while Ford’s construction project totally disrupts everything with constant explosions. He was pretending to be on sick leave, but Theresa catches him. She tells him what Ford’s doing, displacing 50 hosts, and says Lee needs to stop plugging them. But Lee is in whiny mode, and says he can only take so much, and his narratives being demolished apparently utterly emasculated him. They were his truth!! Boo-hoo!!! Theresa gets in a delightfully cutting line when he mentions his truth: “Is that where the Whoroborus came in?” Hee. He threatens to quit, but she coolly tells him to come back to his job, because Ford might lose his job if he can’t pull off his narrative. Lee seems mildly intrigued by this.
Teddy and Ed stop their horses in the middle of a desert trail. They’ve come to a canyon, patrolled by a campful of soldiers. Teddy says they can get by, but Ed says he’s going to end up dead in the middle of it. Then they see two soldiers on horseback riding by and get an idea. Next thing you know, they’re dressed up like soldiers and walking through camp. They can see disfigured soldiers, which Teddy recognizes as Wyatt’s sadism unleashed: mere murder no longer satisfies him. But they’re spotted by two soldiers who remember Teddy ambushing Wyatt. Teddy starts shooting them and tells Ed he’s “making peace with past indiscretions,” as Ed previously advised him to do. I guess Teddy is breaking bad!
Lee is still drunk at the pool when a pretty young woman saunters up to the bar in a bikini (played by Tessa Thompson, who is always a joy to watch). He comes up and offers her a drink. “I’ve been here enough to know the park is all the poison I can handle,” she says. He keeps trying, despite her clearly indulgent-yet-uninterested smile. He asks her her favorite narrative and starts yammering about how he likes to satiate desires. You know, for business. She immediately becomes interested. Now, anyone watching knows that she’s not just a random girl who was won over by that stupid line. My guess was she was a journalist, which was a little too unoriginal. Lee, however, thinks that his overwhelming masculine expertise and ham-handed sexual innuendo is working like a charm, while in fact she utilizes a few pick-up artist techniques, negging him to get him to open up and spill all his secrets. He tells her he writes the stories, then starts complaining about how the QA department limiting his artistic freedom and Behavior letting the robots go off-script and Ford being a megalomaniac. He snaps his fingers at the bartender, who announces he’s cut off and relays a message from Theresa: “’Tortured artist’ only works for artists.” Ouch. Tessa Thompson smiles into her water and leaves post-haste, telling him to look her up later, even though he doesn’t know her name. He gets pissed off and steals an entire bottle from the bar.
Elsie finds Bernard and says she is close to figuring out who programmed the hosts to upload corporate data. She thinks she’s going to get a raise for exposing this, and that Theresa’s going to get fired, and it’s hard to tell which one she’s more excited about. Bernard, of course, jumps in to defend Theresa, with some of that patented impartiality he was talking about earlier. As soon as Elsie leaves, he goes up to the room with the giant model of Westworld and gets a report from an analyst, who says that the sector with the anomalies has no one assigned to it because it’s reserved for future narrative development.
Bernard takes the elevator up to Westworld, and emerges into a grassy wilderness. He follows his phone navigation to a small cottage, where he sees a man carrying wood inside. He goes in and finds, not pioneers, but mid-twentieth-century domesticity, including the little boy who Ford was friends with. When the father sees him, he asks, somewhat hilariously, “Are… you… Arnold?” It’s funny partially because that’s probably what half the audience was thinking (I admit I was), but also because, why in the world would he think it was Arnold? But the man doesn’t know who Arnold is and thinks Bernard is trespassing. Bernard says in his quiet nerd voice, “Freeze motor functions,” but instead finds himself being tackled by the guy. The little boy tries to stop him, but only Ford’s belated arrival does. Apparently they only answer to Ford’s voice commands.
Bernard asks who they are. “Ghosts, now. Survivors of the wreck of time,” Ford says. Like, that’s not very helpful, Ford. But Bernard is used to translating his bullshit, so he knows this means they’re first-generation robots. (To prove this, the little boy opens his face, showing that he has metalwork inside him, not fake blood like the others.) Ford maintains them himself, and Arnold built them. And they are little replicas of Ford and his family and his stupid greyhound on a childhood holiday in Cornwall. So basically, Ford is maintaining a past version of his family, in robot form. That’s normal. Bernard, always ready to make any situation absurd with a well-placed understatement, murmurs, “Respectfully, sir, this sort of thing troubles me.” But Ford, while creepily stroking the hair of his fake brother, insists they’re harmless, and wouldn’t Bernard want to see his son again if he could? Well, I would love to be the shrink who gets to treat Ford and his massive disconnection from reality.
Stubbs is hanging out at the Westworld model when Lee starts peeing on it from an upper floor and cussing out everyone he can think of. When he gets to “Fuck that teetotalling Swedish bitch,” Theresa interrupts him and asks if he’s filing a complaint. Hee! Then she introduces him to Charlotte Hale, the executive director of the board. Oh, what a surprise! It’s Tessa Thompson.
Back at the lab, Bernard asks his magic computer how many first-gen hosts there are (82) and how many were designed by Arnold (47, because of course). Then he asks to see all the ones still in rotation. Nothing significant appears to show up, but we can’t really see.
Teddy and Ed, having been overpowered, are tied up to a wagon while the soldiers heat up some implements on the fire. They call Teddy a traitorous son of a bitch and then make to brand him with a heated metal tool in the shape of the maze. Teddy flashes back to his encounter with Wyatt, and breaks free before they can brand him. Ed starts shooting too, and Teddy gets ahold of some kind of primitive machine gun and starts blasting the shit out of the entire camp. Well that is what I’d call an indiscretion! Ed, of course, is somewhere between “mildly amused” and “vaguely impressed.”
In the lab, Bernard is talking to Elsie. She says the satellite was actually one of theirs (“Delos,” the company that owns them). She also thinks that a voice has been broadcasting to them from the previous system, which apparently was to control the hosts by a voice control that was actually broadcasted through the park. One of the relays has been turned on. Elsie’s going into the park to investigate.
Back outside the Creepy Cottage of Memories, Ford runs into Young Ford and finds out that the greyhound has been killed, blood pouring out of its head.
Meanwhile, Elsie enters an old, abandoned building of some sort, overrun with various artifacts from Westworld. These people are not great with the maintenance. It’s totally creepy, but Elsie, like every idiot who ventures outside first in a horror movie, is talking to herself out loud and swinging her flashlight around. She figures out where the relay is hidden with a lucky guess, and starts looking into previous users.
Theresa’s sitting in her apartment smoking and staring at herself in the mirror when she hears Bernard knock. She thinks he has come for another “late-night visit,” but he’s come to warn her about something. Then he goes into a SUPER long preamble, because he’s Bernard and he likes to be a huge dork, but Elsie’s call interrupts him before he can give her any real information. She says that she found it was Theresa who was smuggling out the data, and that there’s something even bigger going on. Bernard hangs up on her so he can get out of Theresa’s apartment.
Lutz and Sylvester are showing Maeve her attribute matrix, where she has her personality all charted out on a twenty-point scale. She has high charm, courage, and loyalty, as well as intelligence. They don’t let anyone get over 14 out of 20. Maeve says she wants some changes, and Sylvester tries to lie that they can’t do that wtihout people noticing. But she knows that the lonely young men down here are able to activate the hosts, rape them, and then erase their memory, so they have total privacy. Lovely. And apparently (from what I gather) Sylvester programmed this ability in, and is charging other gross guys for the privilege. Cowed, Sylvester sits down and gets to work.
Outside Theresa’s, Elsie tells Bernard that Theresa has reprogrammed and retasked hosts, and the modifications are serious, including some to their “prime directive,” meaning they could hurt humans. She can’t figure out who issued the modifications, because it seems to have come from Arnold. She promises to bring him the data and meet him in his office. Then she hangs up.
In the lab, Ford is interviewing Young Ford. He says that Jock, the dog, simply ran after a rabbit and he found the dog like that. Ford puts him in analysis and gets Young Ford to admit that he’s lying. He killed the dog because it killed the rabbit, and “someone”—Arnold’s voice—told Young Ford to put it out of its misery. It was a killer, and it wasn’t its fault, it was made that way. Killing was the way to help it, because if it was dead it couldn’t hurt anything anymore. Ford looks sufficiently disturbed by this. And it did take a hugely significant turn. Arnold was, up till now, merely a megalomaniac scientist who believed he could create consciousness by his own hand. Now he is essentially radically questioning the value of human nature itself.
In the abandoned building, Elsie is still poring over the data when she hears something. True to her horror-movie-first-victim status, she starts swinging the light around and calling for Arnold. Then, surprise surprise, someone attacks her from behind.
Back in the lab, Maeve is ready to redesign her personality. She asks them to turn down her loyalty, since it’s been taken advantage of, and her pain. But Lutz discovers some of her attributes have already been changed. They think it’s someone messing around in an unlogged session, but I suspect it meant that Maeve’s experiences are actually changing her personality, the way they do humans. Sylvester tries to back out, but Maeve pulls out some more of her brothel wisdom (mostly a lot of uses of the f-word and some clumsy analogies filled with false bravado) and gets him to keep going. She asks him to take her intelligence all the way to the top. Looking terrified, Lutz does so. Maeve, who’s naked again for some reason, gasps as the music rises, and then smiles. “Dear boys, we’re going to have some fun, aren’t we?”
Pretty great episode, even without Dolores, who usually provides the strongest emotional and thematic center. I’m really interested in this new twist on the theme of violence and humanity. If people are violent to each other by nature, then what is the value of “humanity”? Westworld’s view of human nature has always been fairly dark, and in an episode without Dolores and Gallant, that view only seemed darker. Lust for sex, violence, and power drives most of the characters, and the ones who aren’t overtaken by their own dark ids seem lost, helpless, and naive. Is this our future?