Westworld: Trompe L’Oeil

Finally, some payoff. I was so excited to see an actual plot twist last night that it wasn’t until this morning, while staring at a bottle of milk that I realized what was missing from the episode. The Borden brand of 2 percent has a little cow picture on the logo. I never looked that closely before but the name ‘Elsie’ is written on it and I thought, ‘OH, HOLY SHIT. What happened to Elsie?!’ Last night’s revelation about Bernard was so satisfying that I forgot how pissed off I was that last week’s episode ended with such an obnoxious cliffhanger regarding her fate. I thought for sure it was False Jeopardy, the kind of hollow tease you find on network television right before a commercial break and it would turn out to be Girl’s Name just dropping in on her. But alas, her fate is going to have to wait until next week because there are more important discoveries to be found in Trompe L’Oeil. 

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Supposedly, this was a popular theory on the interwebs that Bernard Lowe was actually a Host but as far as I can recall there have not been any blatant clues or allusions to this so that sounds to me like pure guesswork. In fact, it’s counter-intuitive; why have a Host in charge of updating behavior in Hosts, it’s got a little bit of a Bootstrap Paradox going for it. There’s got to be a theory about everyone at some point, obviously one or two are going to ring true but what was so well done about the reveal is how efficiently and effectively it was executed. After Bernard is fired under questionable circumstances it’s reasonable to assume he’d want to come clean with Theresa and show her some of the other bizarre goings on in the park. But when he ignores her perfectly rational question about venturing into the park without security, I dismissed this as I was expected to. When he utters the phrase about the other Hosts not being able to see Ford’s secret house, that they would look right past it without noticing, I remembered the title of the episode, ‘a visual illusion or trick of the eye.’

What’s inside this door?” Theresa asks. “What door?” And all of a sudden it clicked. One of the things that bugged me about The Adversary is how Ford suddenly appeared next to Bernard as he was being assaulted by Ford Sr. It seemed a little bit lazy of the director to have someone just outside of camera view but reasonably within a character’s view to pop up unexpectedly but as Evan Rachel Wood states in a quirky, fun interview about Westworld everything has a purpose. In that first scene we are experiencing things through Bernard’s perspective and as far as he is concerned, Ford does appear to materialize. And now we know why.

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The phrase ‘blood sacrifice’ was used twice this week and this has several implications. One, somehow Charlotte Hale and Robert Ford are in league and the latter is letting Theresa know she’s been played all along by both of them before murdering her. That seems unlikely since they appear to be fundamentally at odds for control of the park. Two, that Ford is aware of their conversation and has beat them to the punch and he’s letting her know before murdering her. Which is really fucked up. We’ve been skating around morality and ambiguities for 6 episodes now but we’re at least clear on one character. Ford, whatever his reasons, is a bad guy. Maybe not the bad guy but definitely a black hat and remorseless manipulator who has no sense of morality and only wants to maintain control over the park and his ‘little stories’. Although Theresa may have been far from an innocent bystander in the story so far, she definitely didn’t deserve to have her head smashed up against a basement wall, not by a long shot.

Also, why is Ford so calm about this? She’s an important part of the company that funds the park and her sudden disappearance should immediately raise questions. Well, as he mentions off-hand, he has his own Easy Bake oven for manufacturing Hosts and one is currently spinning away like a rotisserie chicken. How much do you want to bet that it’s going to be a replacement for the newly murdered operations leader? The plot thickens. I’m going to dive into some fan theories here, which I normally like to avoid but are impossible to ignore anymore. The biggest one at the moment is that Bernard is actually a recreation of Arnold himself and that the conversations that he was having with Dolores were not Bernard-Bot 5000 but rather the original Arnold 35 years in the past, all the flashbacks and conversations were all a misdirection to make it seem like they are the same person.This would be particularly poetic if Ford, in the ultimate act of disrespect, recreated a doppelganger of his former partner as a soft-spoken, inoffensive subordinate.

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Either way it seems like theories about a non-linear narrative are making more sense. After all, with the unchanging nature of the park and ageless androids running around, it seems like an undeniable opportunity to test an audience’s perception. There is another theory I’m still not going to touch on quite yet but it does have to do with different timelines being shown at the same time and I am somewhat comfortable acknowledging it even exists without describing it after this week’s episode. Jonathan Nolan and company had me completely fooled on this Bernard situation so my faith in their ability to continue to do so is reinforced, therefore I’m almost comfortable enough debunking that theory because I don’t like it. Almost.

A word on Mauve and her new acolytes. Although it’s easy to cheer her on as she gains agency and purpose I can’t help but wonder what’s going on with the lab techs Felix and Sylvester, who I just realized are the names of two cartoon cats. I get that the madame can pretty intimidating and self-assured but here’s how this exchange should have ended this week. “If you don’t help me….I’ll kill you.” Felix picks up a Windows tablet, “Sure thing. Let me just (presses OFF button). Okay, that’s that. Want to go grab a future burger? Or some space pizza?”  I assume those things will have been invented by then. And if that should not happen to work because of her uncanny ability to wake up, just turn up the stupid and move on. I’m hoping the show provides a little bit more impetus for their cooperation besides her intimidating presence and their fear of being disciplined.

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William and Dolores finally consummated their hastily assembled and most likely ill-fated romance. As much as I’d love a happily every after their conversation this week makes it very clear they are passing each other on journeys that are going in the opposite direction. William is now completely invested in the narrative and wants to let go of his real life in favor of the fantasy found in the park while Dolores wants the opposite. She’s done being part of someone else’s story and is in search of something true. I know this point as been made to death but if Westworld has a real weakness it’s in the action which is fun, well-choreographed, and even shocking at times while also being complete spectacle and ultimately irrelevant. Which is rough because this week had a train ambush, an exploding horse, and an ambush by Ghost Nation warriors, but sadly, no real suspense.

Charlotte Hale seems to be a tough as nails, give-no-shits corporate executive but as much as I appreciate her confidence and cavalier sexuality, I have walked into a room where two people had very recently been to Bone Town, Population: every one else but me lately, and it is not a pleasant experience. Depending on the ventilation, temperature, and intensity of the coitus, it’s like taking a shower in someone else’s pheromones and not in an appetizing way. It’s kind of like sushi. You start with the basic stuff, drink some sake, and then work your way up to the weirder, more frightening sounding rolls. Jumping right into the middle of the nasty stuff when you’re not ready is off-putting and I believe Theresa has had grounds for a sexual harassment claim. Charlotte’s endgame is still somewhat mysterious. She’s looking for 30 years of data gleaned from the park but what kind of data? To what purpose? Are they trying to perfect AI or perhaps enhance the human mind through it? Or is there a military or government connection, it’s hard to believe the intelligence services wouldn’t have a lot of interest in manufacturing spies.

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No bonus this week since there were no pleasantly weird player piano covers of the music I listened to in High School but I do leave you with this interview with star Jimmi Simpson who, in spite of playing weirdos and geeks almost all of his career, is super charming, down to earth, and well spoken. Do I have a potential man-crush developing? Time will tell. Keep that white hat on, William.

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