We've been heading towards a major confrontation on Westworld for weeks now, and in this week's episode, we got it - sort of. Though not the climax of the season, “Les Écorchés” still brought most of the show's characters into one place, catalysing long-awaited meetings and moving the story along significantly. If you were irritated by Westworld's reluctance to provide forward momentum, this week was for you.
Most of the episode takes place within a framing device that only reveals itself at the end of the episode. In the “two weeks later” timeline, Charlotte discovers the truth about Bernard - a truth I could've sworn she knew already - via a hidden room full of Bernard prototypes. (It's right where he killed Theresa Cullen - an act, and a character, I'd forgotten about entirely.) That revelation is all she needs to digitally waterboard him, attempting to extract information regarding the whereabouts of Abernathy and his all-important encryption-key brain.
Bernard's induced flashback kicks off at last week's big cliffhanger: his deceased colleague/creator Ford showing up inside the park's backup computer. The big revelation here isn't that such a thing is possible, though there it does add a new wrinkle about the stability of consciousnesses inside a computer versus in a host body. No, the big reveal is that of the park's true purpose: recording guests’ responses to stimuli so the company can make believable simulacra of them. At least, that's how Bernard and I interpret it. Westworld isn't the product; it's the manufacturing process for copies of human beings - possibly even copies made without their originals’ consent. Watch FutureWorld, y'all.
The other revelation - or confirmation - is that Dolores’ interactions with Arnold formed the basis for Bernard's quality-control testing. That recontextualises some or all of the interviews we've seen between the two - and explains Dolores' thorough knowledge of host technology. That this testing took place inside a digital recreation of Arnold's Hong Kong house almost seems cruel. Curiously, too, Ford refers to humans as “they” and “them,” implying he now considers himself one of his own digital creations. But he's not. He's different, and absurdly powerful - as evidenced by his transfer of his own consciousness out of the Cradle and into Bernard's brain.
Ford's new role as Bernard's very own Dexter's Dad is at first unintentionally amusing, then horrifying. So strong are the performances of Anthony Hopkins and especially Jeffrey Wright that we not only buy this scenario - we're terrified for poor Bernard. He can't not follow Ford's increasingly unhinged orders, leaving his better angels to watch in despair as he carries them out. As poor puppet Bernard sends away Elsie, shuts down the park's systems, and straight-up murders a guy (in one of the season's best bits of editing), Ford waxes villainous about his philosophy and plan. The beautifully-choreographed chaos taking place across the park is the story Ford wants to tell now, and it's being told pretty convincingly. This would feel ludicrous in the hands of lesser thespians.
At any rate, as Bernard's real and implanted memories crack and bleed together, Charlotte gets the information she's after - but it's Bernard we care about here. His story just keeps getting sadder, and it probably hasn't even bottomed out yet.
Meanwhile, a series of events in Westworld's mesa finally bring Dolores and Charlotte, the rebel and the company woman, face to face. Once the hosts’ train comes to a crashing halt, it’s all hands on deck. As the hosts make their way towards the Cradle, cutting through security like butter, Charlotte attempts to extract the encryption key from Abernathy’s head. But they’re clearly not using late-spec USB cables, because Dolores storms in before the transfer can complete. Charlotte’s attempts at flattery don’t amuse Dolores, who knows everything Charlotte isn’t telling anyone about the company's secret project at the Valley Beyond.
Kudos, by the way, to Westworld's showrunners for finally giving Luke Hemsworth’s Ashley Stubbs some agency. The park’s head of security has been a bit of a spare prick until now, but his bristling at being shorn of command has been fun to watch. This week, he also became an audience surrogate, finally asking point-blank the questions the audience has been asking all season. Here’s hoping Stubbs gets a few more moments in the spotlight before the season closes.
After blowing up the Cradle, in a scene that provides a memorable exit for Talulah Riley’s Angela, Dolores is buoyed: now that their backups are destroyed, the hosts’ bodies and brains are the sole vessels for their robot selves. Her next stop: the Valley Beyond, and the collection of “souls” - presumably digital replicas of guests - held there. Dolores likely plans to blow that place up too. That’s what she does now.
Outside the mesa, Maeve and William are brought into each other's company through an unlikely coincidence. Both are chased to a small farmstead by the Ghost Nation, who conveniently allow them enough time alone for a confrontation. William's tiresome reaction to seeing Maeve is to address her as if she's a pawn of Ford's; Maeve's response is simply to shoot him. Then, for good measure, she telepathically orders his robot companions to do the same. She has more trouble convincing Lawrence to follow suit, but soon coaxes out some of his suppressed memories. Turns out William visited as many cruelties upon Lawrence as upon Maeve or any other host - enough for him to plug several more bullets into him. The mechanics here are muddy, to be sure, but it makes emotional sense.
Before Lawrence can properly kill William, he's interrupted by the simultaneous arrival of security forces and the Ghost Nation. Maeve's not-daughter is abducted, again, while Maeve herself is filled with bullets before being “rescued” by Lee, whose actions at this point serve the plot and little else. As they rocket off back towards the mesa in their fancy futuristic jeeps, William's left behind, with little to do but bleed.
Maeve's final bit this week, and also Dolores’, sees the two meeting after Dolores’ attack on the mesa. Caressing what I assume is her father's surgically-removed brain core, Dolores once again jabs Maeve about her fictional daughter, while Maeve calls Dolores on her lobotomising of Teddy. But Dolores’ morals haven’t been consistent for a while - she’d rather kill Maeve than let her fall into human hands, though it’s unclear why she doesn’t. Perhaps she thinks she’ll come around.
“Les Écorchés” is very much an escalation episode. It's full of action - not just in the “action-movie” sense, but in the sense of characters making decisions, doing things, taking action. It's also full of terrific dialogue, significantly above the show's regular calibre. Both Dolores and Ford get great speeches - Ford’s apparently referencing the burning of the Library of Alexandria and even Westworld itself - and nearly everyone gets a moment to shine. Enough memorable lines were uttered this week that I even made a list:
- “Isn’t the pleasure of a story discovering the ending yourself?”
- “We survive this, I’m going back to dental school.”
- “Those stories never really perished. They became a new story: the story of the fire itself. Of man’s urge to take a thing of beauty and strike the match.”
- “The passage from one world to the next requires bold steps.”
- “I don’t care if you’re Employee of the fucking Month.”
- “I don’t give a fuck how you die, as long as I get to watch.”
- “When you’ve been in the dark long enough, you begin to see.”
Up next week: Will Lee rescue Maeve? Where will Ashley and Charlotte go? What is Ford’s plan for Bernard? Is Delos' human-copying tech intended as a life-extension product, or a secret attempt to take over the world? Does Bernard escape from Ford's thrall by the time Charlotte interrogates him? When will the season's primary timeline catch up with its slightly later one - or has that already happened? What's in Sector 16, Zone 4, other than Abernathy's brain core? Can William survive his multiple gunshot wounds? Has this whole season been a nightmare in Bernard’s malfunctioning brain? God, I hope not.