A Gun in a Haystack
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Westworld settles into its narrative build with its quietest episode yet, delivering an hour that is largely content with contemplation. Westworld, as I noted last week, is nothing if not extremely well-plotted. “The Original” invited the audience into Westworld itself through the eyes of the hosts, laying out the horrors they face in no uncertain terms but also questioning the presence or absence of their humanity. “Chestnut” shifted the focus to two individuals visiting the park, crucially introducing us to a human visitor who wasn’t a complete jackass and shifting the focus towards another host who crucially had been given a programmed managerial role. “The Stray,” having introduced a good chunk of the introductory elements required for a solid narrative foundation, delves into the backstories of several characters while its most titular aspect provides an exciting, if a frankly negligible side story. Even that negligible side story, which ends in a particularly gory fashion, has enough heft to it in how it develops the human characters involved, so it doesn’t feel like a complete waste even if it oddly disjointed from the rest of the episode. The camaraderie, or lack thereof, on display between Elsie and Ashley is representative of an episode largely concerned with the relationships between its characters, which is a much more difficult job to pull off considering that half of the characters can be reprogrammed to be entirely different individuals, past and otherwise in one line of dialogue. That’s where the past remembrances are key to holding the emotional heft of the characters, those glimpses into whom they used to be adding an extraordinary pathos into their current predicaments. Every time one of the blasts from the past bubbles to the surface of a host’s awakening consciousness, it plays like a Hitchcockian thriller. The audience lies in wait, intrigued by each new glimpse and waiting to see how all of the snippets of the past come together.
In the case of Teddy, however, there was simply no past to speak of. He was a stray of a sort, wandering off into the lonely echelons of his constant heartbreak. Dr. Ford gives him one with as cavalier an attitude as one expects out of a harmless conversation about frozen yogurt. Teddy no longer is the man who travels with Dolores to the old homestead. Instead his new backstory includes memories from the army and an old colleague from that army named Wyatt. Wyatt, Dr. Ford calmly explains, is a real rogue and rascal who is now terrorizing the countryside. It’s up to Teddy to stop this man from his past. Dr. Ford himself seems to be on a new character trajectory or one that at the very least seems to clash with his earlier attitude towards the hosts. In the pilot it seemed that Dr. Ford was interested in creating a new species formed on the basis of evolution, which in and of itself he categorized as being the primary example of capitalizing on mistakes. But he seemed understanding towards the hosts, an understanding that was augmented in an episode where most of the humans were acting like complete assholes. Here Dr. Ford seemed to be much harsher, noting without a doubt that the hosts weren’t human and the efforts of some of the caretakers to treat them as such were utterly misguided. Dr. Ford is no doubt a fairly complex individual and Anthony Hopkins effortlessly makes each of his words carry weight of multiple tones, but after it seemed a bit easier to understand what he wanted from his hosts, the questions is upended once more. It’s murky but so far it hasn’t crossed the border into maudlin territory. Let’s hope it stays that way. But if Dr. Ford himself is becoming a murkier figure once more, Bernard’s motivations are no less opaque. He opens the episode on a conversation with a notably clothed Dolores, having her read a passage from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s a passage, Dolores notes aptly, that is about change.
Westworld, like any good story, is arguably about change, the alterations that our world is constantly transformed through. William takes his first shot and kills his first host, dragging off Logan onto a quest. Dolores, who literally could not pull the trigger of a gun at the beginning of the episode, fires and kills her soon to be rapist after he appears for a brief moment as the Gunslinger with a gun. She escapes and ends up collapsing at the campsite William and Logan had just constructed, the two of them considerably likely to see this as an event that is meant to be part of a new storyline and little more. The most intriguing hint, tying in with the idea of change and being a stray, is the story of Arnold. Elsie discovers that a host named Walter was talking to Arnold, a man or host who didn’t seem to exist. Walter was, as Elsie notes with some trepidation, killing off hosts who had killed him in previous storylines, as if he were holding some sort of grudge against them. Arnold, as Dr. Ford notes with the aforementioned cavalier, frozen yogurt attitude, was the man with whom he had started the Westworld endeavor in the first place. Now deceased, Arnold had tried to create consciousness within the hosts using internal dialogues. How that occurred, what Arnold’s thought process was like, and to what extent he succeeded in his endeavors remains to be seen. But just that little hint upends the paradigm of power within Westworld enough to shift the entirety of creation away from Dr. Ford and towards a deceased individual whose shadow suddenly seems so utterly engulfing. The weakest aspect of the episode was oddly directly related to its title, a side plot relating to a host that had literally gone astray feeling like a disjointed endeavor, even though the moment when the host commits suicide was just as jarring as the script intended. The screen shifts but the question lingers of how long it would be until such rocks become a weapon against the humans so sure of their creations.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Mind waiting on that drink a little bit?” I’m appreciating the varieties of sexualities on display in Westworld.
+“What if I don’t want to stay here?”
+“Formless guilt you’ll never atone for…”
+“A fiction, like all great stories, based in the truth.”
+“When the legend becomes fact, you print the legend.”
+“The Bicameral Mind, Primitive man believed his thoughts to be divine from God…”
+I like how more of the humans are acting like decent people
+“You mustn’t make Arnold’s mistake.”
+“This pain… that’s all I have left of him.”
Episode Title: The Stray
Written by: Lisa Joy & Daniel T. Thomsen
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Image Courtesy: Film Book