No show is perfect. Every episode can’t be masterfully crafted. Even Mad Men laid an egg from time to time and ‘The Stray’ is Westworld’s first egg.
Now, in terms of eggs, it wasn’t so bad. There were some good scenes, world building, and character development. But you know that old saying about how the bad outweighs the good? Well, the bad in last night’s episode tipped over the good.
It was nice to see the plot solidifying. Ford worked on his new narrative, installing new back stories in characters like Teddy, who showed that he’s more than just target practice. William kills a man holding Clementine hostage and decides to do more than watch Logan have sex with androids. Elsie continues her sleuthing about Abernathy, but is sent out with Stubbs to track down a stray host.
Compared to Bernard’s, these plots had less weak moments, but even they had their eyeroll moments. Stubbs is too underdeveloped for all the screen time he’s received, so his and Elsie’s bickering felt like a bad romcom pairing waiting to happen. Teddy’s backstory was so hackneyed that I wondered if it was meant to be. As for William, well I’ll get to that later.
Bernard’s storyline was definitely the most troublesome of the episode. Naturally, we see more scenes of him speaking in private to Dolores because the creators want the reason for his meetings with her to be the Big Mystery. To me, it’s the Big Boring. It worked in the first episode because the questions he asked in voiceover are used when checking every host so Dolores’ interview at the end of the pilot was a cliffhanger. In the second episode I thought their meetings were also flashbacks. Bernard’s clothes when he meets with her are different — almost a little dated — when looked at next to the layered suits he wears when working. But this episode tried to give meaning to the chats. Bernard had a son (of course he does) who he used to read Alice in Wonderland to (of course he did). He and his wife are estranged (of course they are and OF COURSE his wife is played by Gina Torres, who deserves to be typecast as something better than the aggrieved and dignified wife) because their son died tragically young (of course). So now Bernard is looking for meaning in conversations with an android. It’s not enough that he’s having a secret affair with Theresa, who is essentially the number two of the park? Jeffrey Wright is acting his butt off, but the show runners aren’t giving him or the viewers good enough material.
In reviewing Westworld, one of the hardest things for me to do so far has been to narrow what I want to talk about. Just like visitors arriving for the first time, I’m always overwhelmed with narrative choices. So I want to focus on what stands out to me most from this episode.
First is Elsie, who has quickly become a favorite. What I like most about her is how she’s the balance of Ford and Bernard. Ford has no illusions about what the hosts are. When an employee covers a host with a towel, heyanks it off and cuts the machine’s face to literally de-humanize it. Bernard’s compassion for the hosts is limited. He’s too entranced by their individual mimicry to understand how they interact with each other or the visitors. He approaches them as a scientist, never bothering to step outside the lab.
Elsie has empathy for the hosts and maintains limits. Like Ford, she knows what they are; unlike him, she treats them with respect. Like Bernard, she is curious about why they do certain behaviors; unlike him, she observes them in the park — the place they spend the most amount of time. She wants to improve the hosts’ performance, but her concern is why they do what they do.
It’s a wonderfully acted performance from Shannon Woodward. Going by the previews, she’ll have more to do as the season progresses.
The other part I want to touch on are the storylines for William and Dolores. While they were separated for much of the episode, it’s still important to talk about them together.
I must admit that, at the end of the episode, I was afraid that I guessed wrong. That William wasn’t the Man in Black and we weren’t looking at two storylines. And, to be honest, it felt like a big let down. After sleeping on it, though, I’m back to believing my original hypothesis. And, to believe William is the Man in Black, all you have to do is look at what they emphasized in Dolores and Teddy’s storylines.
The focus for episode three’s world building story loops. Elsie and Stubbs, while tracking the stray host, come across the narrative scene he lives within. All of these hosts are stuck in a loop — unable to build a fire because the missing host was the only one allowed to use an ax. At this point, we know that there are numerous variables to allowing Dolores and Teddy to run their narrative. If they don’t see each other, then Dolores paints by the creek. If she’s home before last light, then her family isn’t murdered and she isn’t raped in the barn.
But with Teddy getting his own backstory now, the narrative at the end of the episode has changed. Dolores is on her own, but still coming home after last light. When she arrives to the house she sees her father murdered and the men walking towards her. Then her memories start flashing through her mind. As she’s dragged into the barn, she remembers the night with the Man in Black. Suddenly, she has a gun. Was it planted there — the same way the gun in the yard was planted — or did she take it off her attacker? Next she makes it out of the barn only to be shot in the stomach. Or is she? Finally, she rides off on a horse with bullets whizzing by her. When she collapses in William’s camp, though, she’s on foot.
What is happening?
Well, I have a long answer and short one. I’ll use the short one here.
Westworld narratives are built for variables. If you want C to happen, then A and B have to happen. If you want D, then skip B, etc, etc. Some nights Dolores is raped in the barn. Some nights she makes it out to get shot. And on others she avoids getting shot and rides off into the night for help. What we saw last night was that sequence of events happening now (after Teddy’s new narrative) and in the past (when she collapses into William’s arms).
I hope I’m right, but I also have to prepare myself for being wrong. The show runners have built a game for the viewer and I’m having fun playing.
- Visitors spend $40K a day to go to Westworld. A. DAY.
- Kudos to the visual effects department for integrating a thirty years younger Anthony Hopkins. I wonder if they used footage of him in The Elephant Man to create Young Dr. Ford.
- And if you think you’ve seen Rebus, the creep who tries to rape Dolores before, then you’ve probably played Grand Theft Auto V. Steven Ogg played Trevor Phillips in the video game and was able to make a complete and utter psychopath the best character in the game.