‘Westworld’ Recap 1×09: We’re Only Human

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard and Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford.

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard and Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford. John P. Johnson/HBO

Vinnie: Holy wow, Drew, what in the name of Jeffrey Wright’s Bare Ass just happened on Westworld? I mean, technically, I know what happened. I watched the episode. Unless I only think I watched the episode…? How do I know my memories are, like, my memories, you know? Is this a loop? Am I doing a loop? No, no, I definitely watched “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” I remember it as clearly as I remember my dead son Charlie. Boy, do I miss my dead son Charlie…

Drew: Ugh, Vinnie, your cornerstone is the WORST. And um, just asking for a friend, but WTF is a cornerstone? Have we ever discussed that before? Is it just like, a made-up trauma programmed into a host’s backstory? That idea that Maeve and Bernard and Dolores all share, that “this pain…is the only thing I have left of them?” Is a cornerstone the same as a totem? Does a host on its way to becoming self-aware have to confront the fact that the loss of an important family member never really happened? Is it imperative to confront said cornerstone by going into your fifth dream state to announce “YOU’RE A LIE, CHARLIE” to the memory of your dead son?

Why doesn’t Teddy have a cornerstone? Is the cornerstone the same as a back-door code? Is it the same as a Judas Goat?

This, and other questions, will be plaguing me for the next six days, until Westworld’s finale once and for all proves that the Nolans, as brilliant as they are, don’t really care about the fine details of how corporate espionage works as much as the aesthetics of a robo-uprising. Then I can finally rest easy…well, after shouting at my screen “YOU’RE A LIE! YOU’RE A BEAUTIFUL LIE!” before using the receiver to bash in my own head.

ANYWHOOZLE!

Vinnie: …do I entirely understand what happened in “The Well-Tempered Clavier”? Uhhhhhnope, but, hey,  as that vaguely sexy but also very scary blonde robot told Teddy, “maybe in the next life!” *knife stab*

So, in lieu of any in-depth analysis, as they say, here is me yelling some things that happened in this episode of HBO’s Westworld. First up: Bernard is Arnold! Or, Arnold was Arnold, but Arnold chose an insane Bilbo Baggins-looking young Anthony Hopkins as his creative partner, who then had him murdered and replaced with a robot clone named Bernard. Before I get into…any of that nonsense, I have to point out my absolute favorite aspect of all this. Weeks, possibly months ago the internet, as the internet does, noticed that “Bernard Lowe” is an anagram for “Arnold Weber,” even though we never even knew Arnold’s last name. Wellllllll, guess what?

screen shot 2016 11 28 at 9 23 19 am Westworld Recap 1x09: Were Only Human

God, first Reddit pretty much elects our President, and now they’re basically writing our prestige HBO dramas.

Drew: Ugh, my ONLY theory about Westworld that I was 100 percent convinced of was that Ashley Stubbs had abducted Elsie to protect her. And now, while it looks like he might be the one to save her, I’ve been proving as wrong as a news pundit stuck on its post-election loop.

Vinnie: What’s truly amazing about this B = A twist–about this entire episode, really–is just how satisfying it felt, despite the fact you could see it coming from a mile away (Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson may as well get a staff writer credit). It was just so elegantly done, stretched out over the course of the entire hour, cutting seamlessly back and forth between Robert Ford and Bernard’s literal trip down memory lane, and Dolores’ mind-jaunt across two (possibly three) timelines. That’s the weird, annoying, addictive thing about Westworld; it’s this post-Lost, not-quite-Lindelofian type thing that pretty much lives and dies on audience participation. Westworld was literally hatched from an Easter Egg. It’s way less show than it is jigsaw puzzle; it’s all a game, which, shit, I guess was the point from the start. It’s beautifully frustrating, like a robot prostitute that won’t follow its prime directive (which, spoilers, is sex stuff with humans).

Drew: Uh, any robot’s–whether prostitute or ninja warrior (OR POSSIBLY BOTH?)–prime directive is to NOT KILL PEOPLE. Come on Vinnie, read your Isaac Asimov!

Vinnie: I’ve read plenty!

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Drew: Also, I am going ahead and STRONGLY disagree. Because think about it: Lost lived–and died–by keeping its audience in the dark about the mysteries of the island. It was so caught up with being able to hold onto that element of surprise (Flash-forwards! Everyone’s dead? Is Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia one of the Others?) that it became lost–so to speak–in its own convoluted machinations.

Westworld is the opposite: here’s a show where people caught on immediately to at least one, if not more, of the major twists: W = MiB; A = B; 3 timelines = the entire Radiohead catalogue. But instead of trying to obfuscate these twists to make for a greater payout, Westworld never sacrificed the adventure and romance at the heart of the show. Even if you played these stories chronologically, I’m convinced you wouldn’t have the problems of Memento. Instead, as your girl Joanna Robinson said, Westworld is a lot more like The Prestige:

“(The reveal at the end of The Prestige)… both changes your entire understanding of what you just watched and invites an immediate re-watch to puzzle over the timeline. I argue we’re seeing something very similar here.”

Yes, there are Easter Eggs, and yes, there is a puzzle-like aspect to the experience of watching Westworld. But it’s not “way less a show” just because of its Jigsaw-ian elements (I’m assuming you’re referring to Ed Harris’ resemblance to Tobin Bell), it’s MORE of a show. It’s better than most TV, because the reveals of the narrative enhance our experience of watching it, and demands several viewings.

Omg.

Omg. HBO/Lionsgate

Vinnie: Back on track! Some more key things we learned: Dolores killed Arnold, presumably at the behest of Robert Ford. We know that for sure, because Dolores straight up says it. Everything else surrounding Dolores is…complicated. We first find her captured, along with William, by Logan and his Confederate buds. Logan, being Logan, slices Dolores’ stomach open to reveal moving, robotic parts, which should be a sign that we’re 30 years in the past, when the Hosts were less natural. But, upon her escape, Dolores begins to bug out mentally between timelines, switching between the original “Blue Dress Dolores” and “Wearing Pants Dolores” (Pantalores, for short).

Now, here’s what WAS the accepted order of things, at least in my head: Dolores in a Blue Dress is early-Westworld Dolores. Hosts-still-being-built-Dolores. Conversing-with-Arnold-and-NOT-Bernard Dolores. By the time she reaches the buried Church, the “City Swallowed by Sand”, that Westworld (and that Dolores) has been destroyed. Arnold’s laboratory, hidden beneath the church, has been torn apart and left in disarray. Arnold has been dead for years, replaced with Bernard. Two timelines, built so neatly, until Dolores, WEARING PANTS DOLORES, comes face to face with this:

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So…what? Is William NOT the Man in Black? Or has Dolores been chilling under that Church for 30 years?

Drew: I think we’re actually doing that 3-timeline thing that Robinson wrote about almost a month ago, because seriously, she’s either a genius or has watched The Prestige one too many times. One timeline is when the park opened, one timeline is with William, and one is the current timeline with MiB (as well the Teresa Cullens/Maeve is woke/Bernard and Ford go on a trip down memory lane, Wyatt is a thing). The idea being that now Dolores is retracing her steps that she took with William all those years ago, except that now, instead of the city being buried, Ford has reopened it for business. Her conversation with Bernard/Arnold is a ghost vision, and when she comes back up, she sees the MiB.

We do know that sooner or later in the original timeline, she will die wearing that pantaloon outfit and end up as a body floating down the river, which she saw on the waterfront when she’s with William.

I think the clothing is more symbolic than anything. Dolores in a dress = Dolores as an innocent prairie girl, daughter of a cow farmer. (Side-note: I’m really hoping that Judas cow parable she hammered home so hard in those first couple eps will come full circle in the finale.) Dolores in pantaloons = Dolores with some amount of self-awareness/free will. When she first encounters both the MiB AND William, she’s wearing the former. At the end of both storylines, she’s wearing the garb of someone who imagines that she’s no longer than damsel.

Another way this makes a perfect kind of metaphorical (if not literal) sense: she began those first few years in the park with Bernard wearing a dress, and, as we’re seeing, ended up wearing pantaloons. (Possibly when she went on a shooting rampage with Teddy? Who knows!) Wearing pants and a holster is a sign that she’s becoming a woke-ass woman.

Vinnie: Something else that is important, PRESUMABLY: The photo that Logan hands William, of William’s fiance, is the same photo that Dolores’ old father dug up. The photo that pretty much jump-started this entire show:

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Drew: That’s the moment that clinched it for me, that William was the Man in Black. I know, I’m late to the game! But not only does that prove that Dolores’ dalliance with William ends not with a happy ending but with her forgetting it ever happened, but that “Billy” would most certainly turn into the type of guy who drives an IRL woman to kill herself just because he hates her brother SOOOO much.

BTW, how creepy is it that Logan just has a really old, crumpled photo of his sister just hanging out in his COSTUME? That’s the one thing he smuggles into the park? Yiker-doodles, someone call David Benioff, I think Game of Thrones is missing some expanded universe Lannisters.

Vinnie: So the Man in Black–who may or may not be William at this point *shruggy shoulders emoji x1000*–is also a Westworld board member. This reveal was actually kind of hilarious, wasn’t it? The Man in Black goes through this whole tense, life-or-death scenario with a noose tied to a horse and then Charlotte Hale casually saunters in wearing heels like this was Jurassic World or something. I love, love any opportunity this show takes to point out that, essentially, the Man in Black is an old man taking the balloon popping game at Six Flags WAY too seriously.

Drew: Right? And here’s the thing: Okay, so William takes over control of Logan’s family’s company, presumably because he marries Logan’s sister. Logan may or may not actually die in the park (as MiB referenced to Ford that he was there the last time someone died, and it wasn’t Arnold.) So then….what? William keeps going to the park for the rest of his life? Or wait, he doesn’t do that, but then after his wife dies and his kid hates him, he starts dipping his toes in with some brutal sadism with Maeve? It’s still not adding up for me: if MiB is William, wouldn’t whatever cornerstone trauma he experienced at Westworld make the whole fantasy world repellant to him? I get why he had to come back to try to get to the center of the maze, if we accept that he thinks the maze will lead him to a version of Dolores who has free will (the way Bernard did, for a half second, before Ford made him shoot himself in the ole’ host noggin). (Which, real quick: Does that mean there’s no more Bernard? Or can he be rebuilt?) But MiB clearly knows from that first episode every single nook and cranny of this place. I just don’t buy that William would be able to stomach, let alone invest, in this alternate reality which went from a fantasy to a hellish dystopian landscape during his VERY FIRST visit.

Thandie Newton as Maeve and Rodrigo Santoro as Hector.

Thandie Newton as Maeve and Rodrigo Santoro as Hector. John P. Johnson/HBO

Vinnie: You know this was the Westworld-iest of Westworlds when you have to get this far down the recap to read about Maeve fire-seducing Hector the Outlaw into joining her robot uprising. This was great (mostly because Thandie Newton is great), but also a little confusing. Maeve’s storyline–probably more than any other, which is saying a lot–requires you ignore logic and just bask in the coolness. But wasn’t the point of Maeve having the ability to control other Hosts so she could recruit an army? But now she wants to do it the old fashion way, with the old “empty safe, horrible death by fire-sex” trick? Also, Hector has a whole crew. Take the whole crew, Maeve! The one girl has tattoos on her face. Take the girl with the tattoos on her face, Maeve!

Drew: Yeah, and I feel like the Hector storyline lost a lot in the rewrites. Like, when was it ever established that Tattoo Face girl TURNS on Hector? Was that always the loop? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but oh wellsies-well. It doesn’t look like anything to me. My biggest criticism of that scene is that they weren’t fire-boning to a jaunty polka version of “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Vinnie: In other news, the Hemsworth brother that is not Thor and has never participated in a Hunger Games was captured by robot Native Americans, something you just have to assume wouldn’t have happened if he was Thor or had competed in a Hunger Games.  

Drew: Yeah, so this is another little niggling detail that’s been lost in the grand narrative of this show: how the voice commands work, why they sometimes work only for Ford and not for other people, which hosts are able to transcend the voice commands (first generation robots built by Arnold, any robot who got woke but didn’t get programmed with a backdoor code), etc., It seems like a silly detail, but enough of these small gaps in logic and you’ll end up in an Inception-sized plot hole.

Vinnie: Seriously though, how heartbreaking was that final scene, where Ford used his back-door code, because there’s ALWAYS a back-door code, to order Bernard to shoot himself? Just top-notch stuff, especially from Jeffrey Wright, who was somehow both robotic and legitimately crushed like only a human can be. Jeez, just the way he said “Robert.” Oh, man. Talk about a *knife stab* right to the heart.

And, man, Ford’s response: “Never place your trust in us. We’re only human.” Which is not only perfect, not only sums up Westworld’s entire thesis, but also, I assume, is this show’s writing staff speaking directly to the audience.

Drew: Dude, the writers on this show are going to be SO MAD when they realize all those years writing dialogue for Sir Anthony Hopkins were false memories; they’d actually been writing lines for Michael Caine up until a year ago.

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