Last week’s episode Contrapasso opened on a scene in the cemetery outside of Pariah and the camera fixed on a cross with a bell hanging off of it. We then cut to Dolores who is staring off into space apparently hearing the voice of a supposedly dead Arnold directing her to find him. This scene stuck with me for some reason that I didn’t understand right away. Although this is kind of my hobby I am very slow to pick up on symbolism the first time around but my mind will keep returning to a thing until I finally decode it. It was the bell that I kept going back to and then I remembered why it was not a decoration. Back in the olden days people weren’t so good at determining whether or not someone had entirely given up the ghost or were simply in a vegetative state indeterminable from death without modern technology so every now and then they would bury these people and hear odd sounds coming out of the ground for a few days afterwards. Supposedly some investigation revealed that, on occasion, an apparently dead person was not so much, so to avoid undue nightmare fuel for all involved a string would be ran from the coffin up to the tombstone with a bell attached to it just in case said occupant wakes up on the wrong side of the lawn. This is largely apocryphal and was not widely practiced but as a narrative device it’s pretty clever. Arnold, from beyond the grave, is ringing that bell through Dolores to raise him from the dead.
The Adversary continues to lend credence to the apparently obvious theory that the other park founder is somehow still alive, hiding somewhere, possibly still coding. I don’t know, to be completely honest I felt a little frustrated by the episode as a whole. Where last week we finally saw some forward progress as far as character development and story, that abruptly came to a halt with this latest offering. Dolores and William were completely absent. The Man in Black and Teddy Flood got into some shenanigans. Elsie discovers who is smuggling data out of the park but is captured by False Jeopardy. And Mauve is now more or less fully autonomous with the foolish assistance of Felix and The Bully From Every 80s Movie Ever. She’s the real star of this episode somehow commanding the room and discovering her agency while in her birthday suit. I mean that has a compliment to Thandie Newton, although she clearly has an existential crisis or two to handle you wouldn’t think for a moment that she isn’t in complete control of the situation despite being as naked as a jaybird.
But the problem with an episode called The Adversary is that there wasn’t one, at least not one that was apparent. Teddy explaining the Native American myth to MiB was interesting but it felt like framing the same mystery we are already pondering in a different way. Like. We get it. There is a frickin’ maze. Not sure what’s at the center of it, but Arnold is involved. Over six episodes now it’s clear that, when it comes to the showrunners for Westworld, the watchword is ‘restraint’. But that also means that we still don’t exactly know what the stakes are or what the point of the story is beyond the Hosts being manipulated into sentience and a mysterious new storyline. It’s also important that I reference a certain fan theory that is gaining traction without actually sharing it. I wish I hadn’t read it because of certain obvious implications for some main characters but the less happening away from that theory the more it feels like it might be true. Which is fueling my frustration for the show because that theory is seeming more solid by the week and is actually pretty clever, however I’ll take a dumber show if it means it’s false. I know that’s a little cryptic but take it from someone on the other side, you’re better off not knowing. Anyway.
This episode also marks the first time I genuinely laughed at something that was supposed to be funny after six hours of glacial, contemplative science fiction. Lee Sizemore did not miss a beat while swapping out margaritas during his rant to Theresa and it caught me off-guard for a moment. There is so little levity in the show that it felt out of place but I forgive it because of how badly it’s needed. If we’re going to be concerned at all for the human characters at some point it would be nice to actually like one or two of them. With Felix we’re almost there, I just need a little more from the guy and if they are trying at all with Elsie they are way off the mark. The next closest character is probably Bernard but that’s only because Jeffrey Wright has a sort of milquetoast sweetness to him. But he’s also clearly up to something himself when Elsie walks into his office and asks what he’s up to. “You know. Business as usual,” is his response. No one in the history of bullshitting has ever failed to sell that line so completely, and his poker face leaves something to be desired.
Speaking of Bernard, his encounter with the first generation Ford family of bots was one of the more unsettling encounters so far. I’ve had a feeling since we first encountered Mini-Me that the kid was somehow a young version of Robert Ford himself but it wasn’t hard to guess that considering they dress almost identically. There are a lot of really strange implications going on in this scene, particularly how long Ford waits to stop his Dad-Bot from attacking Bernard. There’s no way of knowing how long he was standing there or how far it might have gone if he hadn’t been but it occurred to me that he let it go just far enough to scare the other man, he clearly wasn’t in a rush to save him. Second, who gives someone a replicated robot version of their family as a gift? Third, who keeps a replicated robot version of their family and teaches it to be more alcoholic-y. As someone who adamantly chastised an employee for have the gall to cover a nude Host, it’s a little hypocritical to then spend your spare time having intimate personal conversations with a robot version of yourself. Up until now Ford has occasionally come across as eccentric but this encounter with him is the first real indication that the man is severely unbalanced.
Speaking of crazy, young Robert does two things that should have had old Robert hitting the panic button. I’m not sure why it didn’t stand out as a stronger scene but it has significant bearing on the direction of Westworld. The robot boy killed his dog and then lied about it. More to the point, he did it because Arnold told him to in order to stop the dog from doing any more harm after it killed a rabbit. This is the first real insight into the supposedly dead former founder’s motives or reasoning and it’s no accident who he acted through. Arnold is sending a message to Robert directly: your toys are now my toys and I don’t like the way you’ve been treating them. If he’s willing to kill a robot dog for simply following its nature how would he feel about a human being doing the same? Particularly if that nature is into sexual assault and murder? Probably not good.
Kudos to the showrunners for including a little Easter Egg in the form of what was clearly Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger in the background of the basement office that Bernard visits. It was brief, they did not linger out of sentimentality but I dug it, nonetheless. It also says volumes about the park itself that there exists this floor with flickering lights and dated technology, still powered but mostly abandoned and forgotten, they are not clearly not very good at keeping their basement clean, metaphorically or otherwise. Who knows what else has been forgotten down there. Also, the true horror is that there are clearly no OSHA guidelines in this nightmarish future. The horror…. Anyway, I’m feel like my whinging about the pace of Westworld because it’s one of the few shows that I actively follow week to week, rather than let finish and watch in one or two big pushes. My attention span is kaput, Netflix and the rest have ruined me for traditional television watching habits, I want the whole show and I want it now and although I’m willing to complain now I’ll bet dollars to pesos that when the first season wraps up the whole thing will play out like a great film. But until then.
Bonus: The episode opened with a player piano cover of one of my favorite songs ever. If somehow the show fails to reach its lofty goals at the very least we’ll always have the music.