Westworld 1.09: “The Well-Tempered Clavier” Review

My Old Friend

A Television Review by Akash Singh


The Well-Tempered Clavier refers to the series of preludes and fugues composed by none other than Johann Sebastian Bach in the 1720s. While “clavier” is French for a keyboard instrument (usually referring to a harpsichord), the “well-tempered” part of the title refers to a methodology through which a harpsichord could be specifically tuned to play minor and major keys without causing the instrument itself to tune out. The music the instrument is playing, if it holds to Bach’s aforementioned composition, would be largely composed of fugues. Fugues in music are based on a repetition of notes and with each repetition, there is a slight variation that is borne. On the first page of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” there is a drawing of a fugue in the form of loops that accumulate the slightest of changes to eventually give birth to something thoroughly distinct. Maeve is thoroughly on that pathway and it seems as of this episode that Dolores is making her way there as well. To continue the thematic motif of music, the player piano is a dominant visual motif throughout the series so far. The opening credits arguably find the most unique depiction of the instrument, the simmering morbidity of Ramin Djawadi’s score illuminating the 3-D printed hand rising above the keys. The piano player is an apt metaphor for the hosts themselves, who function as if they were playing the piano with an understanding that they are responsible for the choices they make in their independent lives, unaware of the fine tuning built into the backs of their minds. Maeve is arguably the closest analogue to the well-tempered clavier, in part able to break apart that programming built into the player piano and begin to the write the music to her own story if you will.

The episode opens on Maeve being asked by Bernard to explain her slashing of the new Clementine’s throat. She sidesteps the issue quite nicely, immediately keying in on Bernard’s intense grief and suffering. Noting the keen sense of irony prevalent in their discussion, Maeve manages to halt Bernard’s motor functions in the same way Dr. Ford is able to. The hosts, she argues, were stronger and smarter and half an existence was like having sex in that half is actually worse than nothing at all. She orders him to return her to the park without any additional changes and after he does so, to go and find the truth for himself. The truths Bernard becomes aware of are keenly pieced together from the memories the show has displayed in the past but as one would expect, the most piercing memories come from the revelations we only saw pieces of or the ones that are entirely new. There is something significantly psychotic about the most horrifying, traumatizing backstories some of the hosts are imbued with, trauma that seems thoroughly cruel to give to a character on a page, let alone to give a host that, if not fully conscious, is still breathing and able to process what that pain feels like. Bernard finally brings that cruelty to light, wondering out loud what could ever possess someone to make them inflict the cruelty of a child’s death on a parent’s psyche. The psychopathic Ford simply notes that pain and suffering is what allows a consciousness to come forth, for the humanity to be lifted out programming and become something more emotionally palpable. He believes in inflicting the pain but keeping a fine limitation on how much consciousness that suffering could spark.

Ford’s villainy, as is all but assured as of the episode where he had Bernard murder Theresa, is further illuminated in how complex it is. Anthony Hopkins can carry any scene effortlessly but even his acting prowess couldn’t entirely salvage a character narrative built on him simply killing Arnold to gain dominion over Westworld. To what degree Ford is understanding of his psychopathic nature is left untreated but he is able to at least acknowledge that he has a need like most humans for some companionship. In a shocking but unsurprising reveal that Dolores was the one to kill Arnold, it is still unknown exactly how Arnold met his end. But there was a certain degree of closeness that Ford felt for Arnold, whether it was in the bonds of brotherhood, friendship, and or romantic. So Ford wanted his partner back but true to his nature, he wanted his partner back without the “obstruction” of Arnold’s desires that conflicted with his own. It’s a fallacy so human it renders Ford ironically the most human he has seemed so far. His backdoor programming could have shut down Bernard’s queries much, much earlier but instead he allows for Bernard to climb through all of his memories and realize that he was built in the exact image of Arnold (#Bernarnold), down to the signature glasses that hang on the tip of his nose. Bernard wonders why he would do such a thing, to allow him to go down that extensive rabbit-hole and discover his origins and his creator. Ford notes simply that he wished that Bernard would, even after learning the truth, want to work with him again. Bernard’s clever directive to a lobotomized Clementine to kill Ford only served to prove to Ford that that bit of hope and camaraderie he had was an indulgence in human weakness. So he orders Bernard to shoot himself through the temple, walking through the sea of frigid bodies in the storage room with what might be a tinge of regret.

As the identity of Arnold has been unveiled, “The Well-Tempered Clavier” offers up the most significant evidence in favor of William and Dolores’s journey being in the past outside of the logo changes and the weaponry that has had the Interwebs abuzz with anticipation. It’s a logical step should the show make that fairly certain assertion factual in the finale and one that fits in neatly with the show’s macabre aura and the ideas of human beings being stuck in their own loops. William becomes the most interesting he’s ever been, indulging himself in the dark side after Logan brutally makes it known to him that inside Dolores there was nothing but bolts and wires. His version of the dark side, however, is a considerable stone’s throw away from Logan’s general douchebaggery. It’s a massacre around Logan, including a fairly unnecessary act of decapitations that make it look like William was auditioning to be in the next installment of a serial killer film franchise. Logan at last begins to have a modicum of understanding that perhaps he had simply pushed William too far, too fast (that seems to be a relationship that is going to be difficult to recover). Dolores in the present finds the fabled church at last, walking in the present and seeing the door open to reveal the Man in Black walking in with that rowdy swagger of his. My concern with Dolores in regards to the two timeframes was that the agency she was garnering in the past would be lost in the present, but her constantly going forward by retracing her steps removes a bit of that worry. Regardless of that specific theory, it seems that Dolores is about to get some answers of the own and perhaps those answers will lead her down the path of tempering her own clavier.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+“It it’s such a wonderful place out there, why are you all clamoring to get in here?”

+“You broke into my mind.”

+“A little trauma can be illuminating.”

+Logan’s sister is the woman in the picture Peter Abernathy found in the pilot

+Hector and the empty safe

+“Have you ever considered golf?”

+Kudos to Emmy-winner Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alum Michelle MacLaren for her incredible direction this episode



Episode Title: The Well-Tempered Clavier

Written by: Dan Dietz & Katherine Lingenfelter

Directed by: Michelle MacLaren

Source: iDigital Times

Image Courtesy: HBO


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