‘Westworld’ Season 1, Episode 9 Recap: A Little Trauma Can Be Illuminating
Or a little trauma can be deceptive. Tonight’s episode of Westworld, “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” named after a famous composition by Johann Sebastian Bach, showed both. For some characters, trauma opens their eyes to the reality they’ve deliberately avoided. For others, trauma blocks them from discovering the truth.
A good example of the former is William (Jimmi Simpson), who has spent most of this season helping a robot “host” named Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) find a hidden maze inside Westworld that she believes will set her free. On tonight’s episode, William’s co-worker and frenemy Logan (Ben Barnes) stabbed Dolores with a knife and ripped her stomach open, revealing her mechanical inner workings. After witnessing Dolores’ true nature, William seems to reconcile with Logan (“This has been some real bonding s---! We’re gonna be brothers Billy!”), but the next morning Logan wakes up surrounded by dozens of dead hosts, all apparently slaughtered by William. “You don’t call the shots anymore,” he tells Logan. “I’m gonna go find Dolores. You’re gonna help me.” The goody two-shoes who believed these robots were alive and deserved to be freed from their imprisonment seems completely gone.
(William also might be the past version of the Man in Black (Ed Harris)? They seem to have the same knife. But they still don’t have the same mole. So I’m still not quite sure about this most-discussed Westworld theory.)
At the other end of the spectrum is poor Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), who is actually the man (or robot) who says the line about how trauma is illuminating. In fact, the opposite is true in his case. His trauma, the death of his son, is a fabrication of his creator, Westworld boss Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Throughout “The Well-Tempered Clavier” this moment referred to as his “cornerstone memory,” the organizing principle that defines Bernard’s entire persona. But that’s not quite right, either. Eventually, after forcing Ford to access his true past at gunpoint, Bernard discovers that while he is a robot, he’s based on a real person: Arnold, Ford’s mysterious former partner who died decades earlier.
Earlier in the season, when Bernard first discovered Arnold (or maybe discovered him this time), Ford told him the story of their partnership and the origins of the Westworld park. He also showed him this photograph:
Westworld has already established that hosts like Bernard can’t see things that violate their understanding of their reality, and while there have been clues for a while that Bernard might turn out to be a host version of Arnold, this photo seemed to rule out that possibility. Either that or it was a “massive cheat” — because previously when a host looked a photograph that didn’t make sense to them, we (the viewer) still saw what they couldn’t see. On tonight’s episode when Bernard looks at the photo, it looks like this:
So when Bernard looked at the photo the first time, he didn’t see himself in the photo because that would have revealed his true nature. But as clever as the framing and the staging of these two scenes were, I’m still not sure how this isn’t a cheat. When Dolores and her father looked at that photo of the woman in Times Square earlier in the season, we saw what they couldn’t; we saw it outside their perspective. When Bernard previously looked at the photo of Arnold, we only saw it from his perspective. The only reason I can think of for not shooting this the same way both times was to preserve this secret so it could be unveiled in “shocking” fashion later. If you’ve got a good in-story justification for erasing Bernard out of the full photo the first time it was seen onscreen, feel free to tell me in the comments below.
(Actually, here’s one: Maybe Arnold’s not in the photo in Ford’s office? The version of the photograph with Arnold in it is seen in the past. It’s possible Ford wiped Arnold out of the picture using future Photoshop the way he seems to have wiped him out a lot of the park’s history. Regardless, until we get some kind of confirmation one way or the other, this still feels like a cheat to me.)
“The Well-Tempered Clavier” also confirmed a few other crucial components of this first season of Westworld. Despite what Stephen Williams said last week about that scene, Bernard almost certainly killed Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) when she discovered the data smuggling operation inside the park. And Dolores’ journey with William is definitely set in the past, because the hosts in those scenes, Dolores included, are shown to possess mechanical inner-workings, while the modern hosts are apparently indistinguishable from human beings thanks to advances in technology.
Dolores also remembers that she was the one who killed Arnold way back in the park’s earliest days. At the end of tonight’s episode, Dolores realizes that her trip to the Maze is a memory, and shortly after she reaches her destination, the Man in Black shows up, answering my question from last week about what Dolores is doing in the present: She’s retracing her steps on this journey. Still, it’s never really clear which scenes are full-on flashbacks and which are memories. Someone with more time on their hands than me will presumably make a video essay explaining exactly which scenes go where and, more importantly, when.
Meanwhile, Maeve continues her march toward freedom, or maybe just burning Westworld to the ground, by reminding Bernard of his true nature, sending him off on his confrontation with Ford, and then recruiting notorious robot outlaw Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) to help her in her cause. After Maeve tell Hector she wants him “to break into hell with me and rob the Gods blind,” they set fire to his camp and have sex while the whole place burns to the ground. The symbolism here was not subtle.
But then Westworld has rarely been subtle this season, even about its plot twists, some of which have been predictable for a month or more. Still, I will give Westworld this much credit: I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen on next week’s season finale, or who will be left standing for Season 2.
EPISODE RATING: 7/10
-Jeffrey Wright did his finest acting of the season in this episode. The way he shows Bernard crumbling under the weight of his discoveries is magnificent. If this was Wright’s last episode, it was a damn good way to go out.
-The pacing and character balance seemed a little off on this episode; the series has so many different threads and some aren’t being woven in with the rest. Teddy Flood (James Marsden) and the Man in Black didn’t show up in this episode for 30 minutes, and after an important scene with Westworld executive Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) where we learn the Man is a member of the Westworld board and Charlotte is essentially attempting a corporate coup to eliminate Ford, Harris is basically gone for the rest of the episode until he pops up at the church with Dolores. At the start of the season, Dolores and the Man in Black seemed like the focal points. Increasingly, they feel like afterthoughts to Ford and Maeve in their quests to achieve true control over their respective destinies.
-One of the more interesting mythological tidbits dropped in this episode was Ford implying that basically all animal life on Earth has been wiped out in Westworld’s future. (“We destroyed and subjugated our world and when we eventually ran out of creatures to dominate we built this beautiful place.”) That does suggest one reason people go to Westworld: Where else can you see a horse or a dog or a pig? But that also raises new questions. In a world with no animals, what do these people eat? In one scene in this episode, Logan makes a big deal about some delicious “squab.” Was that, like, a robot squab? Or soylent squab?
-Tonight’s best line, from Hopkins: “Never place your trust in us. We’re only human.”
-I’ve thought about this a lot all season and after Logan woke up surrounded by the bloody remains dismembered robots I’ve finally decided: Westworld looks like a really crappy place to take a vacation.