Westworld: Trompe L’oeil

“It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

In my review of “The Stray” I said that “If Westworld upends our expectations in the next few episodes, we will look back at ‘The Stray’ as the moment when it should have been clear…the moment at which we began to understand just how deep and how complex it can be.” Do I get a prize?

Can it be a kitten?

In “The Stray,” Dr. Ford talked about the ease of implanting backstories in the hosts; it was the same episode in which we saw Bernard’s backstory. Content mirrored form. That led to my wacky theorizing, but also shows how subtle this show can be. Once this season wraps up, probably in advance of the just-announced second season, I look forward to rewatching it with full knowledge of all that is still yet to come.

Even watching this episode with knowledge that Bernard is a host (I had limited TV access and read reviews before I watched this episode), I was still struck by the grace of the reveal. We were reminded of the phrase “It doesn’t look like anything to me” earlier, as a sort of patch the hosts could use when faced with something that could, as Dr. Ford later explained, hurt them. So when Theresa showed Bernard the sketch of his prototype, the dramatic reveal was uttered in the dulcet avuncular tones of Jeffrey Wright: “It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

Sidse Babette Knudsen is to be commended, too: the subtle way her face changed as she looked at the sketch—before we even see it—is incredible. Watch the episode again. Watch her face communicate shock in an understated way. Shock, then more shock, compounded with fear, when she realizes she is in an unknown location with a host who, like all hosts, might be able to kill her.

And he does. Bernard follows Dr. Ford’s command—a line from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech—and beats his former lover to death. Wow.

That’s not all that happened, though. Dolores and Billy’s relationship got even sweeter. Their conversation was a fascinating glimpse into the complexity in which Billy finds himself, as though he’s just on the cusp of choosing to forget the reality of the situation. My favorite part, thought, was the way the camera tastefully panned away from their lovemaking to avoid any sense of exploitation. That pan indicates we’re supposed to see their relationship as love, not creepy robot sex. It’s something to respect, not something to drool over.

That tastefulness contrasts with the following scene, in which a host beats up Clementine, and then Clementine beats him up. Meant as a demonstration of the bugginess of the hosts’ code, it was also a horrifying demonstration of violence. Violence bad enough to cause most of the observers to flinch and turn away, even though they knew, or thought they knew, that Clementine should be able to be repaired and reset, thanks to her programming.

But thanks to that programming—the reverie programming—she couldn’t, and had to be exterminated. We are on Clementine’s side in that scene, wincing in pain as she is hurt, cheering her for fighting back (that we don’t see the other host’s face makes it easy to pick Clementine as our favorite; it’s hard to root for a robot you can barely see and haven’t met). That scene is meant to make us, if we didn’t already, distrust both Charlotte the board member and the techs who support her mission of destruction.

Which is somehow different from Dr. Ford’s, and yet slightly less frightening.

Reveries:

• There’s a beautiful, subtle joke in the fact that the Man in Black described Hector’s appeal as having a “focused-group” feel a few episodes ago—and Charlotte the board member decided to use him as a sex puppet.

• Speaking of Charlotte, her interest in the code and data of Westworld—not the stories, not the hosts—reminds me of the way that Big Data is turning most of us, or at least our data, into products to be sold to corporations.

• This week, the player piano played the Westworld theme song with a jaunty flair.

• And Maeve shut it down, because she can pierce the veil of illusion now. The scene where the techs entered the brothel and only Maeve knew they were there was like a horror movie in which only the kids can see the ghosts.

• Lawrence: “Vaya con Dios, motherfuckers.” And then he blows up a horse to defeat the Confederados. I like Lawrence.

• I also really like the Gatling gun.

• If this episode didn’t convince you to take a roadtrip through the American Southwest, then nothing will. Some of those landscapes were incredibly gorgeous.

• Dolores: “I don’t want to be in a story. All I want is to not look forward or back.”

• Maeve: “At first I thought you and the others were gods. Now I know you are just men. And I know men. You think I’m scared of death? I’ve died a million times. I’m fucking great at it. How many times have you died?”

Four out of four blood sacrifices.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

15 comments:

Patryk said...

The 7th episode feels like the best place to plant a twist in a 10 episode series. :) I have to say that I was on board of your Bernard being a host theory and I was looking for clues since The Stray. Now the only question is, did Bernard betray Elsie unknowingly and Ford has her or was that someone else who grabbed her (the board presumably).

Henrik Bennetter said...

Wut? My comment disappeared.

Wanted to thankyou for the review. As I've said before: No episode of (series) is complete without a Doux Review (in Doux time)!

I also had something to bring up that I've thought about.

Many times on the show we've seen (many) hosts naked. What struck me with this latest episode is Thandie Newtons Maeve lying on the lab-slab naked - with full grown (albeit trimmed) pubic hair.

So...why no armpit hair? It seems to me that none of the FEMALE hosts have armpit hair - which would be historically wrong.
And wouldn't a place like WW go for full authenticity in such a matter?
Everything else seems to accurate and it's all in the little details...right?

I've tried to find something, anything, on the matter online but have been unsuccesful. Anybody heard anything or have an opinion on the matter?

I actually tweeted @WestworldHBO about this - it'll be interesting to see if I get an answer.

Paul Reed said...

I can't believe I'm about to chip in on a discussion about bushes, especially before breakfast, but here goes. I have two thoughts on the matter. Firstly, it's simply a question of logistics. Since the nudity in Westworld is fairly commonplace, a merkin covers a multitude of sins from a filmmaker's perspective. Without going into too much detail, you shave that shit off and there's stuff to see; you whack a merkin on there, you just see hair, and don't have to worry about showing anything you shouldn't. Thus, the director has more more freedom over the sort of shots he/she has at his/her disposal. Plus, if your lady-junk is covered by hair, I don't think it's classed as full-frontal nudity, and thus the show's MPAA rating will be lower.

Secondly, despite Westworld taking place in the past, its punters are from the pseudo-present, and modern-day tastes--rightly or wrongly--seem more tolerant of crotch hair than armpit hair. So since sex is the main business of a brothel, appealing to the modern punter would likely take precedent over realism.

I'm off to eat my cornflakes....

Sam Smith said...

well, we've seen that Maeve's brothel takes women as well, plus the hosts only seem to be racist or sexist towards other hosts.

Henrik Bennetter said...

Excellent and valid points Paul.

Hope there were no hairs in your cereal.

Billie Doux said...

Lol, guys. :)

TheShadowKnows said...

Westworld (the park) seems to be based on Western movies and other fictional depictions of the "Wild West", rather than the reality. It probably goes without saying that Western dime novels, movies, etc. were (and usually still are) grotesquely unhistorical. To the extent that women's armpits are visible, I'm sure they're shaved in the typical Hollywood movie set in the "Wild West" (or any other period, for that matter). Smallpox vaccination scars used to be pretty common in Hollywood's ancient Rome, too.

All of which is to say that the women having shaved armpits is more of a bug than a feature IMO.

TheShadowKnows said...

I meant "feature than a bug" of course. :p

Mark Greig said...

Bernard being a host explains why he can never wear his glasses properly. It must be a glitch in his programming.

Josie Kafka said...

Jeffrey Wright addresses that criticism in this interview: http://www.avclub.com/article/jeffrey-wright-breaks-down-westworlds-latest-surpr-245490

AVC: You mentioned these subtle hints that people could have caught on to. One thing people were using as a clue was where your glasses were placed, that he seems not to be looking through them.

JW: Those theories come from people too young to understand how reading glasses work.

Patryk said...

I wonder if the William's adventure is actually a flashback to the 1st time the MiB was in the park theory will also turn out to be true.

Josie Kafka said...

Patryk, I've done some reading on that, and I'm starting to come around to the idea that it's a possibility. These two articles were pretty convincing:

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/11/westworld-theories-multiple-timelines-who-is-the-man-in-black-who-is-arnold-who-is-wyatt

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/11/westworld-man-in-black-william-same-person-shirt-knife-multiple-timelines

Patryk said...

Thanks Josie, those are great reads indeed.

To be honest the logo clue is all I need. I know how real life companies love their rebranding from time to time and no company would make a logo mistake. So William's story must be in the past. I think we even see the train station he arrived at in episode 1 all abandoned when they travel to the cold storage facility.

For me the 2 flags were when the MiB drained Lawrence to revive Teddy and Lawrence immediately turned up in Pariah as el Lazo. Even the techs won't be that quick in relocating a host. The 2nd being when Bernard had a chat with Dolores when the timeline suggested she was camping in the middle of nowhere with Logan and William. They have multiple elevators in the part sure but it would make a secret snatch and grab much more difficult.

Josie Kafka said...

I was pretty quick to dismiss the logo thing, but then one of those articles shows that the official Westworld Twitter account mentions that they're important, so I felt silly for not thinking about them more.

Along with what you mentioned, I'm drawn to the way that--as those articles discuss--we sometimes see Dolores alone in a place, then accompanied by William (and Logan, sometimes). That's got to mean something.

Part of me hopes it's not true, though, or at least not true in exactly the way the internet has theorized, because I'd love to be surprised.

Sam Smith said...

There's always the possibility that logan is the MIB. It explains why the MIB is pretty evil, and why the he recalls the hosts being mechanical. I think we've seen enough blood plus the nitro-glycerine transfusions to be sure that the hosts are now flesh and blood, but Logan has been to the park before. or they could be faking us out entirely. That bernard twist was a little too easy to figure out, they might be lulling us into a false sense of security.