I had almost convinced myself that the "plot" of Westworld wasn't that important. That it was both semi-impossible to figure out what the twists and turns were and, more importantly, that doing so was a distraction from what the show was actually about: The characters' journeys of self-discovery, the nature of narrative and exploring what it means to be a person. Then the latest episode changed my mind.
Image: John P. Johnson/HBO
"The Adversary" was a much more straightforward episode than we've ever had in Westworld. It was confined almost entirely to the control centre of the park, and it didn't contain a single scene with Dolores and Billy. Instead, it revealed a ton of very interesting information about the "real" world.
The show confirmed that the boy Ford (Anthony Hopkins) talked to early on in the season is a copy of Ford. I was wrong because I thought Ford created it himself, but it's revealed Arnold built Ford's family, based on Ford's one happy childhood memory, as an exceedingly creepy gift. Ford adds that Arnold's versions were idealistic, so he's tweaked the family, over time, to better match their real-life counterparts.
Image: John P. Johnson/HBO
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) discovered that the first generation hosts still have old circuitry that lets them be tracked by one of the original systems. And the original system is better at logging anomalies than the current one, which might have been designed to hide them. Bernard finds Ford's weird fake family -- hosts that are off the network but in the park undetected -- that way.
So did Arnold make a version of himself and hide it in the park?
If he did, what we found out about the maze from Teddy (James Marsden) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) may give us the answer.
The two of them continued on their little adventure, getting captured while trying to sneak past a military outpost. While there, Teddy is recognised for being a part of Wyatt's massacre and he and the Man in Black are captured. Teddy has a flashback which shows him killing a bunch of people with Wyatt, so, yeah, the guys are right about that. And then, because Westworld is still basically a video game, Teddy kills the whole military camp.
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The important takeaway from their adventure is that Teddy finally explains the maze: It's a legend about a man who died over and over until he broke free and killed all of his "oppressors". Then he retired to the centre of the maze. Now we just get to wonder who that is; the obvious answer is Arnold… or some form of him.
Even if he's not at the centre of the maze, Arnold is still the centre of everything happening in Westworld. When Elsie investigates the relay that's been used to upload data from the hosts implanted with those information-gathering devices she discovered in the previous episode, she discovers that head of quality assurance Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) has been implanting them. But she also learns that someone, using Arnold's old access, has been messing with the hosts and Westworld's storylines for quite some time -- changes that would require an Arnold-level of expertise to manage. And then Elsie gets captured and/or murdered by an unknown assailant, who I actually hope is Arnold, so we can get some answers from him.
Maybe even more disturbingly, when Ford see his child-version host kill a robot dog that had killed a rabbit, mini-Ford explains that Arnold told him to -- to keep the dog from being a killer. If this is a sign of what Arnold has planned, it does not bode well for the park's murder-happy guests.
However, the best scene of the night was Maeve (Thandie Newton) being taken upstairs to see all her fellow hosts getting hosed down, built and programmed. It was surreal and you felt her trying to understand how to understand what she was by seeing how she was made. Maeve also sees one of her past "lives", which she has been dreaming in this one, as part of the advertisement for the park. Her life isn't just made up by someone else, it's made up for entertainment.
She watches the show's logo come to life up there
Maeve is a badarse the whole time, even when her brain shuts down as it sees the program that controls her thoughts and speech map it out in front of her. She taunts the shitty tech, manipulates the more empathetic one. She gets answers when no one else seems to be able to. She embraces what she is. And when she learns that her personality, emotions and skills are just numbers in Westworld's computers, she decides to change them for her personal benefit -- including upping her "bulk apperception" above the 14 level limit.
And yet, there's the niggling fact that Maeve only became aware of the truth because someone else had already changed her stats. Someone -- presumably the person using Arnold's access codes -- increased her levels of paranoia and self-preservation, and that's how she both managed to notice the cracks in her reality, and also decide to do something about it. Her achievement is due to someone modifying her personality. So is it really a victory?
Even though Westworld gave us more answers than usual, it still left us with plenty of questions. And not a single one involved who Billy might turn out to be or what scenes might take place decades in the past. But by avoiding the timeline BS, it gave us its most straightforward and linear episode yet -- and it was even more compelling for it.
- Writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) returned, bitching about all his lovely stories that Ford's ruined. Also, in the world's most obvious twist, he's emasculated by Theresa while hitting on a woman who turns out to be -- gasp -- sent by Delos to shake up the park's management.
- When Teddy's captured, the soldiers try to brand him with an iron in the shape of the maze. Just so the Man in Black knows he's still on right path, I guess.
- There were two hints which seem to support the "Bernard is a host" theory. 1) Elsie saying he's been here "forever", and 2) when Bernard didn't tell Theresa about Ford's pet hosts. He always presents a reason for keeping Ford's secrets, but if he's programmed to protect Ford from harm -- like Teddy protected him from physical harm -- then he also wouldn't rat him out.
- Ford's always been obsessed with making the hosts as realistic as possible, and it's definitely that work which has turned them from basic machines to complex people. But we also saw him throw a fit about how the hosts aren't real and shouldn't be treated as real in a previous episode. I cannot tell if he realises what he's made or if he's blind to them being anything but his puppets.
- Westworld continues to crib from every genre known to man to signal to viewers how they should be responding. Maeve's earlier scenes were tinged with alien abduction symbolism, which dovetails nicely with the paranoid conspiracy theory plot she's in. The park, as everyone has noted, is video game-like. Elsie going alone to an abandoned theatre was straight up horror, down to being grabbed from behind. Bernard's visit down to the lower levels of the park, with the water and the flashing lights, seemed very Hammer horror/Frankenstein. Which makes sense, if you see Arnold and Ford as people playing god by creating life they have no control over.
Weekly Hint That Will Break Your Brain:
This week's theory that's sending the internet into a tailspin is that the actor playing Ford's robot father:
Looks a lot like Arnold in the photo Ford showed Bernard in episode three:
We all assumed the younger one is Ford, because otherwise he's aged really well. But if this is accurate, was Arnold Ford's dad? That definitely would explain why Arnold's version of his family was so idealised. And also, possibly, who took Elsie. Plus, it would make sense, narratively, for this whole thing to have started as a family business.
There's also the possibility that Bernard isn't seeing the photo properly because he is a host. If he's the Arnold copy, the photo wouldn't show him as himself. We know that photos that disrupt the hosts' belief in their world don't appear weird to them.
On the one hand, it's seeming likely that there's something off about Arnold and Ford's dad.
On the other hand, what the hell.