Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A thrilling Westworld starts to show its hand

Illustration for article titled A thrilling Westworld starts to show its hand

The downside to stalling until a big reveal is the stall, of course; and the longer we wait, the stronger that reveal has to be to satisfy us. There’s also the slight problem of people guessing things ahead of time, a game which many of you apparently delight in, so much so that people have gotten in the habit of tweeting theories at me under the bizarre misapprehension that this is something I want to read. The truth is, at the magic show, I’m the kid who wants to believe, and when it comes to story twists, while my brain will make some effort to pull things together, I’m not very good at guessing games—and I much prefer it that way. Someone suggested tonight’s bomb-drop twist a few weeks back, right after the first part of Bernard’s true nature was revealed. I’m not sure I ever would have guessed that Bernard was modeled after Arnold on my own, but thanks to the Internet, I had the work done for me long before the writers decided it was time to take the plunge.

Thankfully, it’s a solid twist even if you’re prepared for it (I have greater reservations about the Man In Black/William theory, which had even more foreshadowing tonight), and while I wasn’t surprised, I was delighted to finally get a stronger sense of the relationship between Ford and his long dead partner. That Ford is a monster is not really debatable at this point, but monsters are always more compelling if there’s more to them than murder and blood. A Ford who fought his partner and wanted the park entirely to himself is one thing, but a Ford who was so let down by losing his rival that he’d build a copy to work with him—that’s someone worth watching. As the show finally starts showing its cards, it means getting to see the relationships that have been hiding right out in the open, and those relationships are, in their way, just as thrilling as the fireworks they set off.

On the downside, it’s disappointing to have Ford so quickly and thoroughly best Bernard at his own game, leaving his creation apparently for dead in the Westworld cold storage facility. I would be surprised if Bernard didn’t return in some capacity down the line (in fact, I’ll consider it a huge mistake, given how much Jeffrey Wright has brought to the show), but we’re still robbed of seeing Ford and Bernard work together while we know the exact parameters of what they mean to one another. That’s the drawback of the way this kind of mystery show is designed; because so much of what’s going on is hidden from us in the interest of these stunning other-shoe-drop moments, motives and connections are shallow at best. There’s history here, critical history, but because the narrative needs to withhold large chunks of it to keep us in the dark, it’s damnably difficult to care about any of this on more than a “what the fuck is going on?” level.

Which is probably why some people feel compelled to send me tweets, and why others spend hours theorizing in the comment section. (God bless you, really.) Because apart from the mystery, it’s nearly impossible to get a handle on any of this. As more pieces become clear, a shape is starting to form. Ford is a very not nice guy, and while we still don’t know exactly what his greater narrative plans are (presumably we’ve been seeing some of those plans unfold over the course of the season without realizing it, most likely with the Man In Black), it’s probably going to amount to something important. Dolores is caught in some kind of a loop but she’s close to finding a way out of it, maybe with the Man In Black running an assist. The corporate intrigue thread could go somewhere, but we’ve never seen anyone living outside the park, which makes it harder to care what goes on out there. It’s all theoretical, which would be less of a concern if the same couldn’t be said for nearly everything on the show.

Maeve’s quest to lead a robot rebellion is the most direct and simple objective we’ve seen yet, and watching her manipulate Bernard and Hector into helping her managed to maintain a level of momentum to her storyline which will be useful going into next week’s finale. It’s possible this is all part of Ford’s plotting, and my biggest fear next week is that this whole season will turn into a closed loop, in much the same way Bernard’s struggles to find himself ended tonight. If Maeve unleashes an army of machines only for Ford to give that little smile he gives and shrug—in other words, if all of this build-up turns out to be for nothing more than another rug-pulling twist—it’ll feel like a cheat.

But that’s for next week to worry about. “The Well-Tempered Clavier” spends most of its running time building suspense, first in Bernard’s efforts to plumb the depths of his own brain and meet the real Arnold; then in Dolores’s suffering at the hands of Logan, and William’s efforts to save her; then in the Man In Black’s on-going hunt for Wyatt and the maze and whatever self-realization he’s looking for. The fact that all of these threads manage to deliver something engaging is a step forward for the show after some late season sluggishness, and even being able to figure out what was coming didn’t entirely rob the episode’s big scenes of their power.


The Man In Black’s scenes mostly existed to make that final meet-up between him and Dolores at the church possible, but it was still useful to see just how much Ford has messed with poor Teddy’s mind (he thought he’d been shooting soldiers for Wyatt, but apparently he was killing townsfolk while wearing a sheriff’s badge—interesting imagery, but again, not all that useful until we have the big picture). More importantly, we also see the Man interacting with Charlotte in a way that almost counts as a fourth wall break; watching Ed Harris complain about being interrupted in the middle of his story helped to rob the character of some of his mystique (in a good way), and finding out he’s on the board at Delos, and that he’s responsible for keeping the park afloat in the years before the company stepped in, was useful backstory.

It’s useful partly because it seems to suggest yet again that the Man and William are one and the same (Logan pulling up Dolores’s stomach to show the machine parts inside was a tip-off; at the very least, they’re working on different timelines); and useful as well in that it reminds us that the Man In Black, for all his arrogance and shenanigans, isn’t a god or anything like it. He clearly has some part to play in everything that’s going on, but he has his limitations, which means he has his vulnerabilities. What the show needs more than anything is something unexpected to happen in the present—not just a twist, but a sudden shift in direction or intent that forces characters to behave in unexpected ways. Until then, we’re just going through motions until everyone is on the same page.


The real showpiece here, though, is Bernard’s trip down his own rabbit hole, as he orders Ford to grant him access to all the memories Ford has been keeping locked away in his brain. It’s a terrific conceit, and I’ll admit to being a little disappointed that the episode didn’t do more with it; much of the time we spend in Bernard’s head is given over to flashing back to scenes from earlier episodes, and while this is definitely a show that can use an occasional refresher course, it was hard not feel a bit cheated at so much re-hashing.

Still, the scenes that were new were keepers—Bernard freaking out over Maeve’s suicide (she killed herself in a desperate attempt to avoid having the memories of her daughter’s death erased) was clever, but the real power here came from his efforts to get past his imaginary son’s death, in effect removing the cornerstone of his own personality in order to gain access to his very first memory. The sequence could’ve benefited from more time spent, but it still works well, as does the ultimate discovery that Ford built Bernard because he missed (or needed) his partner back. It suggests something at once pitiable and awful about the man who would be God; he’s human because he recreates something out of loss, but he’s also human because that recreation gave him a chance to replicate an old relationship without ever having to worry about not getting the last word.


Such is the case here: despite his best effort, Bernard is thoroughly outclassed by his creator, who once again dances away from danger with nary a scratch. Like the Man In Black, who murders his way through a world where nothing can touch him, Ford’s power comes from a system that’s essentially designed to protect him—but the Man In Black has taken a few kicks of late (the noose over the tree branch was nice touch), and chances are, Ford himself will have to suffer some sort of consequence sooner or later. Hopefully it’s soon. All powerful villains are entertaining enough, but they make for dull stories in the long run, and not just because there’s little pleasure in watching likable characters come close to winning only to suffer horribly yet again. A great story is one in which all major players are allowed the full measure of experience; and without suffering, how can we know if Ford is really alive?

Stray observations

  • William going kill crazy in the soldier camp doesn’t precisely confirm that he’s the Man In Black, but it’s getting harder and harder to argue otherwise.
  • Another clue: isn’t the photo that Logan shows William of his future wife the same photo that broke Dolores’s dad earlier in the season?
  • Dolores killed Arnold. More than any other character on the show, I suspect Dolores’s arc will be much more interesting in retrospect.
  • Security guy Ashley goes looking for Elsie in the park, gets ambushed by the Ghost Nation. They ignore his voice commands, but we don’t see what happens after he gets tackled.
  • I’m impressed at how many ways the writers have found for Maeve to kill herself and get taken out of the park. “Fuckng in flames” is a new one on me.