Westworld: The Well-Tempered Clavier

“A little trauma can be illuminating.”

This hallucinatory penultimate episode, directed by Michelle MacLaren, confirmed yet another fan theory while developing the theme of identity and memory for not just the hosts, but also the humans.

Like William, who has finally learned how to play the game. Both he and Logan have disintegrated so much since they arrived: two weeks ago, William abandoned Logan to a gang of Confederados who tortured him. This week, Logan tied up his prospective brother-in-law. Neither of them are acting like reasonable, kind humans, perhaps because this park is meant to reveal who people really are: base jerks who find any excuse for violence.

William’s excuse is Dolores, and he certainly enjoyed his violence this week (because he doesn’t realize, as we do, that two men fighting over Dolores is just two men pursuing the same tired narrative.) After pretending to agree with Logan (just to get untied), William slaughtered all of the Confederados. He did it so Logan would have no backup. So he could pursue Dolores without interferences.

But he also did it, I think, out of the same malicious curiosity that leads small children to burn ants: what will happen? What does it mean that I can make it happen? If William is the Man in Black—and I think we’re safe assuming he is—this might be the birth of his fixation on their bodies in both their early, mechanical forms and their later flesh-and-blood iterations.

Maeve, too, has learned to play the game. Her scene with Hector was wonderful (those two have so much sexual charisma), and I loved that the safe was empty. Of course it was empty! Like the frequent shoot-outs that lead to its capture, the safe is a metaphor for the hollowness of violent narratives. In easier stories, we are meant to want to watch people pursuing a McGuffin; we want the violence more than the McGuffin. It’s all sizzle, no steak. Like Westworld the park, it’s violent delight without consequences. But Westworld the show adds human complexity to elevate its scenes: Maeve and Hector having sex while a fire rages around them is a beautiful image, but it’s one with significant meaning.

Maeve’s scene with Bernard showcased just how incredible these actors are. Her little gestures as she feigns analysis mode and sleep mode were lovely, but her power to act as Bernard’s narrator were the most shocking, especially to him. Did Bernard wipe knowledge of his own hostness out, along with his memories of Theresa?

Probably, since Bernard is like a palimpsest: he has a stable personality—it’s Arnold—but he is constantly being overwritten, erased, and rewritten. His struggle with Dr. Ford to regain some measure of control, to simply access his own memories and know his own identity, was an exercise in cruelty, and the best I can hope about the end of that series of dialogues is that Bernard didn’t really kill himself, which is a sad hope. Then again, I suppose he could just be rebuilt, since Bernard is Arnold 2.0, Arnold with added memories, Arnold with new experiences, but still Arnold.

Or not? The internet seems so excited by this reveal—that “Bernard is Arnold!”—but I feel like I need to protest: no, he isn’t. He is a new being, Bernard, whose basic personality is inspired by Arnold’s. One’s identity can be situated in a variety of places: the body, memory, temporal existence, cultural discourse, and social structures. Bernard is different from Arnold in each of those respects, but especially in the way that he can fully live his memories, experiencing them as vibrantly as the present.

Which is what Dolores does, and which is why her scenes were the most hallucinatory. Throughout this episode, more blatantly than previous episodes, she slipped in and out of the various stages of her development: before the park’s opening, her adventures with William, her conversations with Arnold. Her clothes, her stomach wound (or lack thereof), and the places she interacted with all helped keep most of the timelines straight (although I’m still confused about whether the dead bodies we saw in the underground lab in the park’s earliest days were human, and if the hosts killed them). But that's part of the point: the timelines are not clear to Dolores. Each of them is alive to her in a way our memories are not alive to us.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, MacLaren described her process of exploring Dolores's journey through her own memory: “It's challenging in that you're jumping through her memory and you're making those transitions, and you're trying to make sure people can follow and understand as she's realizing where she is, what's going on, who she is, and who can see what in that moment. There's a moment in the scene when a young Robert Ford walks past Dolores. He doesn't acknowledge her, because for him, she's not there. There are these little things that transpire that we needed to transitionally make sure people could follow along at any given moment.”

I think that’s an important thing to remember, and an important thing to pay attention to on a rewatch: “He doesn't acknowledge her, because for him, she's not there.” What we see is not always reliable. The camera typically acts as a narrator. Here, though, the narrator is both unreliable and limited to character p.o.v. in an exciting and unusual way.

But we do know a few things: the town of Escalante, where the hosts were trained, is no longer under sand. Dolores, in her present-day self, remembers what took place there. She thinks William has come for her, but the Man in Black walks in instead.

Oh, and Hemsworth is missing.

It should be an epic season finale.

Reveries:

• Dolores: “If it’s such a wonderful place out there, why are you all clamoring to get in here?” I wonder if this is a hint that we’ll start to see the outside world in the next season. (Because I can’t imagine how this show could continue to be set just in the park.)

• I don’t have a lot to say about Teddy this week—may he rest, yet again, in peace—because I’m still not clear on which of his memories are accurate and how Dolores and Wyatt fit into those memories.

• The scene of the early hosts talking to themselves in church because the bicameral mind instructions were making them slightly crazy was fascinating. It ties in with the language Maeve uses with Hector—going to hell, gods—and which she took from the information he gave her about the kachina dolls the “natives” use to indicate the techies in their space suits.

• Even Hector began to remember things this week.

• Oh, so Charlotte really does think Theresa died smuggling information out of the park for Team Corporate Takeover? Like the Man in Black, I am not overwhelmed with the caring.

• In the same interview, MacLaren said that, after one attempt with a stuntman, Ed Harris did all of the noose/horse stuff himself.

Three out of four limbless Confederados

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?)

6 comments:

Henrik Bennetter said...

Out of curiosity: have you seen the movie and sequel Futureworld?

I saw them recently, it'd be fun to hear your take on them.

The first one, Westworld, is really quite bad. Futureworld is better, albeit a bit goofy and with a major plot hole.

Josie Kafka said...

I've thought about watching them, but so far have resisted. I'm enjoying the show so much, and I think the parts of the show that I'm enjoying aren't necessarily a part of the movies. But maybe, at some point, I will.

Patryk said...

I love how every single thoery that was backed up with multiple clues turns out to be true restoring my faith in paying attention to discrepancies and not dismissing them as plot holes. (which has to happen to enjoy most TV shows sadly)

I'm guessing the Wyatt storyline is based on the rampage 36 years ago when Dolores killed (or thinks she killed) Arnold. The description Teddy gives of that experience seems to hint that it's the same thing Maeve is now doing to the hosts, commands they can't resist. So her awakening can also be guided by Ford and part of the plan. We keep seeing the flashbacks to above ground carnage but I think it all happened downstairs or else there would be no reason for Dolores to remember tons of bodies down there.

The question that remains is what's the Wyatt storylines ultimate purpose. Since the root of truth in it seems to be host on human fatal violence plus the connection to the labyrynth where death is supposed to be real I would assume the storylines purpose is to assasinate someone. The board's representative? Old William? All humans? Whoever is ment to die, the host being printed in Ford's basement would be his/hers replacement. All in all I guess Ford feels he's out of time and he needs to make a big play to keep the park his own playground forever.

It will be a long wait for the last episode.

WhyMe said...

Great review Josie, I always enjoy your writing.

Mark Greig said...

I don't know why but I just loved that Maeve pronounced Bernard as Bernerd.

Henrik Bennetter said...

Mark! Me too! And I just thought of, maybe, why!

Bern-Ard - almost like Bern-Arnold! Right?

Bernerd = you're your own person.

Know what I mean?