Beware of spoilery spoilers as we ponder the proceedings of Westworld season 1, episode 3, ‘The Stray’.
"Dear, dear, how queer everything is today… I wonder if I've changed in the night?"
There’s nothing like a crisp, clear metaphor slapping you round the face like a fresh salmon. It works perfectly, of course, as Alice’s whimsical lines from her Adventures in Wonderland are delicately spoken by a seemingly unassuming Dolores.
“If I’m not the same… who in the world am I?”
Bernard gives her a specific passage to read, and quizzes her on the meaning. “Change,” she says, confidently, aware that it is a common theme in the stories he gets her to read. He’s teasing out the sentience, beckoning her to fully realise that she is undergoing a transformation.
A butterfly? Probably not so much.
William saves the day… sort of
Congratulations William, you saved the lady in distress even though you were shot right in the chest like a sucker.
Last week’s newcomer gets his first real taste of the Westworld adrenalin surge, as he saves Clementine from a certainly unpleasant encounter with a nasty outlaw. As the bluntly engineered narrative requires, she throws herself at her bulletproof hero in sexually charged gratitude, but he declines once again.
A troubled William points out to Logan that she was clearly terrified, but he’s enthusiastically cold in his response.
“That’s why they exist man; so you get to feel this.”
The search for the stray
One of the little lemmings has gone rogue, which sets up the mini-buddy movie of Elsie and Stubbs, one a nerd, the other a jock. “You know, if you wanted to play cowboy you could have just used your employee discount,” she says, after he checks his gun cartridge.
He points out that the only thing protecting them from the hosts hacking everyone to pieces is “one line of your code”. Too true.
A scene where they come across some hosts who are stuck in a loop is a nice touch, with none of them able to break free due to the programming. They are doomed to bicker around a campfire until a higher power decides to steps in.
Once they find the stray, things get funky. Elsie’s character is reduced to that of a terrified damsel (not an alien concept for the park’s own male-driven narratives), but the stray, so close to dropping a rock on her head, turns on himself, battering in his own skull instead.
The questions continue to pile up like decommissioned hosts. Why was he so close to killing her? Did he choose to end his own life instead? Did someone or something step in, or was it just his conflicting code?
Also, he carves the constellation Orion into things. Possibly because it is named after ‘the hunter’ in Greek mythology, and that has some significance, or possibly because he enjoys arts and crafts when he’s not bludgeoning himself to death.
Bleakest. Love story. Ever.
Teddy, Teddy, Teddy. Even when you get some more backstory, extra dialogue and the chance to be free with the woman you love, you still must be murdered horribly.
Dolores and Teddy’s interactions this week were so good, with both characters desperate to escape their respective prisons, but whilst one is gradually proving capable of such an act, the other is simply following instruction.
Teddy’s good guy is designed to perpetually offer Dolores a way out, but for now he’s “got some reckonin’ to do”. He promises it will be “someday”, but Dolores knows what that means, and asks why it’s never now. Watching her question her reality, and its inherent logistical cracks, makes for compelling viewing.
Evan Rachel Wood is on great form here; her expression draws a subtle drop as soon as she knows Teddy’s response is going to be the same as always. It’s also a hinted look of resignation, as if she never truly believed it would, or could, be any different.
“You’ve died at least a thousand times”
Ford seems to take some devilish delight in telling real-world Teddy the truth about his place in the park. There’s relish in the explanation that his lack of backstory is because “we never actually bothered to give you one, just a formless guilt you will never atone for”.
Hopkins has such exceptional delivery of his harsher lines, rooted in the pragmatism of plain truths, but the intriguing thing is that he is still right. Teddy’s life, emotions, drive and fate are all constructed and designed to serve a specific purpose, and as far as Ford is prepared to believe, this will not change.
The news that this hole of a backstory will be filled as part of a new narrative is not something that should brighten the outlook for any Teddy fans.
He gets a nemesis, Wyatt, who has apparently heard “the voice of God”, and his hunt for the man sees him savaged by a hooded, bulletproof mob. The mystery deepens, as does the murky nature of Ford.
If you need someone to deliver a clump of exposition smoothly and convincingly, find Anthony Hopkins and pay him the cash.
Abernathy and Walter have been hearing the voice of a man called Arnold, and Bernard takes this curious occurrence to Ford. “With due respect, sir,” he says in his distinctly velvety tone, “I’m not sure you’ve told me the entire truth about this situation.”
Join the queue, Bernard.
Ford explains that Arnold was his partner, and that they lived in the park for three years with a group of engineers, refining the hosts before any guests had ever set foot there.
We are treated to a brief flashback, complete with a very young Hopkins, beautifully rendered with some seamless CGI. Yet more evidence of the serious work, effort and money that goes into every aspect of a show with real ambition to impress and captivate audiences. A rank bit of CGI, just like that single piece of horrendous dialogue, is all it takes to get jolted out of the fiction, but such grievances are delightfully absent in this show.
"He wanted to create... consciousness"
Ford goes on to explain the stark contrast between his own hopes and ideas for the park, and those of Arnold. His former, and apparently deceased, partner, was much more interested in the possibilities for developing artificial conscience into something real and truly self-aware, whilst Ford’s cynical views on the subject are evidence by his cold attitude towards them.
He talks about Arnold’s pyramid representing the creation of a conscience, with an intriguingly vacant section at the top because “we never got there”. He dismissively details Arnold’s idea that letting a robot hear its programming as an inner monologue might see such a voice take over, and adds that the approach was abandoned.
Ford asserts to Bernard that problems would arise from a specific group of robots hearing the voices, who believe the words to be those of the gods.
“Lunatics,” replies Bernard.
Westworld continues for UK viewers on Sky Atlantic, Tuesday 25th October, at 9pm.
Some general musings
The pianola should have played a rendition of ‘Bulletproof’ by La Roux.
Hooray for Gina Torres, appearing briefly as Bernard’s wife. Firefly, we miss you.
Ramin Djawadi’s score is wonderfully eerie at times, like when Ford explains that Arnold died “here, in the park”, with only the vaguest explanation as to what happened. Erm, foul play?
Dolores can shoot guns now. This is good.
WTF moment: Hooded mob destroys Teddy.
Performance of the week: It has to be Hopkins, with his cold, pragmatic creator telling Teddy and the rest that robots are nothing but mindless minions.