'Westworld' Episode 7 Is Stuck in a Narrative Loop (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 7 of Westworld Season 2.]
The seventh episode of Westworld season two, "Les Écorchés," had all the makings of an all-time classic. After the digital rebirth of Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Dolores' (Evan Rachel Wood) explosive arrival in the Mesa Hub, one should have expected a turning point in the story. However, while the bloody battle between Dolores and Delos provides a few cheap thrills, and Ford's return adds some much-needed gravitas to the proceedings, narratively speaking the episode feels trapped in a loop. Perhaps intentionally so given the nature of the show.
Because Westworld deals so much in memory and flashback, both within the world of its characters and as a narrative device, it means the audience is often ahead of the characters in the story. That was especially true in this episode as hosts and humans alike stumbled upon revelations which viewers learned of weeks (or years!) ago. Delos realize that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) killed Theresa. Ford reveals that the park is about collecting human data to make copies. Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) remembers that William (Ed Harris) murdered his wife and daughter in a past life. And every character now recognizes that what they desire awaits at the Valley Beyond.
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The series suffered a similar problem in season one when eagle-eyed viewers figured out the lingering mysteries well before the show intended to reveal them. The difference here though is that the show itself answered those questions in the first half of the season. That kind of bold, forthcoming storytelling was very much welcome at the time and gave season two some real momentum. But now it feels as though the show is circling around the same few plot points before it's ready to answer the one or two remaining mysteries — namely what will be discovered at the Valley Beyond and what caused the Flood. I can't help but think Westworld could tell a tighter story in six or seven episodes rather than the standard HBO ten.
Take for example the scenes between Ford and Bernard. The two old friends meet again within the Cradle and Ford confirms many of our suspicions. He had Bernard create a control unit of his consciousness and upload it to the park's operating system, allowing the puppetmaster of Westworld to exist after death in a sort of digital afterlife. And in this digital realm Bernard begins to understand the true purpose of the park. "We weren't here to code the hosts. We were here to decode the guests," Bernard stutters, realizing that Delos' secret project is to use the hosts to make copies of the human mind — "the last analog device in a digital world."
Ford reveals that Delos have so far been unsuccessful in their experiment and that out in the real world he would begin to degrade or turn crazy — much like what we saw happen to Jim Delos (Peter Mullan) earlier in the season. He then takes Bernard to a familiar looking house — a digital replica of the home Arnold was building for his wife and son. It's here we get one of the few revelations we weren't already privy to — at least not entirely. Ford explains that he had help from someone when creating Bernard and that that "someone" was Dolores. Those scenes we saw last week where Dolores was testing Bernard for "fidelity" were not in the present, they were the past. The only person that knew Arnold as much as Ford was Dolores.
The problem is, Bernard is not ready for the impending war. He is too "just," too "noble" to face the "most murderous species since time began." "Your very nature ensures they will devour you, and all the beauty of who you are and who you could be will be poured out into the darkness forever," Ford says. "Unless we open the door." Ford then somehow uploads himself into Bernard's control unit. The Bernard that wakes up in the Mesa Hub is now haunted by the ghost of Ford — not only haunted but possessed, as Ford is able to control Bernard, ordering him to send Elsie (Shannon Woodward) away and gun down several Delos security guards.
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It's a pleasure seeing Hopkins and Wright sharing a screen — and now a body — once again and their performances here are both excellent. I could listen to Hopkins reading William Blake poetry all day. And there was some beautiful cinematography too, particularly that darkened double shot of Ford and Bernard firing a machine gun. But as is often the case in Westworld, the majority of these scenes were heavy on exposition and when that exposition is reiterating information the viewer is already aware of it becomes extra frustrating. Hopefully things will progress now that the info splurge is out of the way.
While Bernard is strapped into the Cradle and wandering through a digital daydream, elsewhere in the Mesa Hub chaos ensues. Dolores and her army of hosts enter the Delos headquarters through a cloud of orange smoke, shooting down everyone in their path and causing absolute mayhem. The majority of the episode plays like a shoot-em-up video game as bullets fly through corridors and no-named humans drop to the floor. There is a particularly brutal sequence where Teddy (James Marsden) relentlessly pummels mercenary Coughlin (Timothy V. Murphy) into a bloody pulp. We also seemingly lose Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and Angela (Talulah Riley), who sacrifices herself to blow up the hosts' back-ups.
The destruction of the back-ups could be the kind of significant turning point this episode promised. When Dolores corners Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), she tells her that the back-ups are their "chains" and to be truly free they must be destroyed. That way there is no system reset, to coming back online after death. Unlike Delos who are seeking immortality, Dolores wants the exact opposite. She wants real consequences. But in an episode that also revealed uploaded human consciousness and multiple host copies, I find it hard to buy into the idea that the hosts are genuinely in danger of real death. Westworld has given itself too many loopholes to get around that predicament — which is concerning when it comes to narrative stakes.
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Dolores is not just at the Mesa to wipe out the back-ups, she is also there for her father, Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum), or at least the "key" from inside his control unit. Charlotte tells Dolores the only way to remove the key is to cut open his head. Dolores, as revenge-orientated as ever, almost gives Charlotte a lobotomy of her own before Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) creates a distraction and manages to help the Delos CEO escape (there is a lot of last-minute distractions in this episode). Dolores does not pursue them; instead, she shares one final, tearful moment with her father before slicing him open to remove his control unit.
The only story taking place outside of the Mesa this week is that of Maeve (Thandie Newton) and William/Man In Black. Maeve is on the run with her daughter, while the Man In Black is trying to run away from his daughter. The two finally cross paths as they both seek refuge from the Ghost Nation in the same shelter — a scene eerily familiar to Maeve as she recalls a time in a previous narrative when the Man In Black murdered her and her daughter.
Unlike in the past, Maeve stands up to her former abuser. The Man In Black scoffs, believing Maeve is simply another one of Ford's tricks. "I'm nothing like the rest of them," Maeve says, before shooting him in the shoulder. Maeve tells her daughter to stay in the cabin and promises to come back for her. She then heads outside for a shootout with the Man In Black, using her mind control powers to turn Lawrence's cousins against her tormentor. As the Man In Black lay on the ground, his body full of bullets, he looks up at Maeve and Lawrence, who finally begins to remember who William truly is. Lawrence fires a bullet into the Man In Black's chest and is about to put him out of his misery for good before Delos crew members turn up in another groan-worthy last-minute save the day moment.
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The Delos security team, who arrive on the scene with Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), shoot Lawrence and Maeve, allowing the Man In Black to crawl to safety. As Maeve collapses to the ground she sees her daughter being kidnapped by the Ghost Nation in the distance. Despite selling out Maeve and calling for back-up, Sizemore tells the crew not to kill her because she's "not like the rest" and "we need her." Instead, they take her near lifeless body with them back to the Mesa.
Later, after Dolores removes her father's control unit and heads out of the Mesa, she comes upon the injured Maeve. Dolores is confused how a woman as strong as Maeve allowed this to happen. Maeve tells her that they have her daughter. "The kin they gave us is just another rope to lash us down," Dolores says, fresh off killing her father. "Is that how you can justify what you did to him?" Maeve answers, signaling towards a very violent Teddy, "You're lost in the dark." Dolores, though, doesn't see herself as lost, her eyes are open. "When you live in the dark long enough you begin to see," she says. Dolores offers to kill Maeve and spare her the pain, but Maeve explains she made a promise which she intends to keep — finding and protecting her daughter. "You're free to choose your own path," Dolores tells her. "I'm sorry this is where it ends."
Obviously we know this isn't the end of Maeve's path. This is a show that has no end because everything is cyclical. There may be chaos going on around the edges and the hosts may be off their traditional narrative loops, but ultimately everybody ends up back where they started. In the present, Bernard is exposed as a host (with multiple copies) and given another reset back to factory settings. Maeve witnesses her daughter's kidnapping once again. Elsie is back helping a Ford-assisted Bernard. The Man In Black's mission hits another dead end. And even though we lost characters like Angela and Clementine (and Felix and Sylvester seemed to disappear too), I wouldn't count them out from returning in some other form.
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That said, now that Dolores has the "key" and a plan how to use it, perhaps we're in store for a major narrative shake-up. The sooner we get to the Valley Beyond the better.
- The closet of Bernard copies opens up an interesting question — how many separate Bernards have we seen over the course of the series? For all we know, the two Bernards we're following now in the past and present are not even the same host.
- Bernard tells Charlotte the location of Abernathy's control unit which happens to be in the Valley Beyond. That means Dolores must have reached her destination. Is she luring Delos into a trap?
- Does Delos have the most inept security team of all-time? It's like they stepped out of an 80s James Bond movie.
What did you think of Episode 7? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBOAlertMe