Who saw that coming!?
Well, actually….everyone. Everyone did. We all did. And yet, the expected—with a shade of surprise—made for one of the best episodes of Westworld’s uneven first season. The highs (everything Thandie Newton) are so high. The lows (nope, still don’t care about the Man in Black) beg for the fast-forward button.
And yet, with one episode to go before the first season finale of Westworld, we’re treated to an episode that fired off more juicy one-liners than Teddy in a Wyatt-centered flashback, and the big reveal: Hey, Arnold!
No, fall TV’s most mysterious character does not have a football-shaped head but, it turns out, is actually in the image of Jeffrey Wright, who until now had only played programmer-host Bernard. It was one thing to learn earlier this season that Bernard was not human, but a host all along, created by Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Robert Ford to do his bidding. Now we learn that he is the notorious Arnold.
Though we’ve never seen Arnold—we’ve been told that he’s dead; the truth, apparently—we knew that he co-created Westworld with Dr. Ford, and it’s his programming that pushed the envelope as far as how sentient the hosts could be. It’s a mission that is repeatedly hinted as responsible for his demise.
Arnold’s brilliant coding haunts the park likes a ghost, guiding other hosts like Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) on their respective journeys towards awareness. But what, exactly, happened to him, not to mention who, exactly, he was, remained a mystery.
Triggered by an encounter with Maeve, who reminds him of his limited, manipulated existence as a host, Bernard confronts Dr. Ford. Threatening Ford with a gun wielded by last week’s sacrificial lamb host Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), Bernard demands answers, which he attains after having Ford guide him on a spiritual journey of sorts through his memories as a host, all the way back to his first one.
We’re treated, then, to Dr. Ford’s Frankenstein moment of sorts: the birth of Bernard. He was built in Arnold’s image, and he was programmed to be just as smart in order to, in effect, continue Arnold’s work.
It’s an amazing twist. A twist so amazing that many viewers guessed it after one episode. OK, maybe after three. But still.
Yep, one of the first and loudest fan theories about what the hell was going on in Westworld—not much happened the first half of this season; fans had nothing else to do but pontificate—was that Bernard wasn’t actually human. Theorists even covered their bases, guessing that the emotional backstory given to Bernard—that his son had died as a child—was similar to the “cornerstone” backstories given to hosts in the parks, centering them on a narrative.
“A child’s death…only a monster would force that on someone,” Bernard tells Ford. Arnold seemed to believe that the tragic backstories worked the best, Ford says—that they made the hosts more convincing. It mirrored Arnold’s own pain from loss, making even Bernard’s backstory an homage.
It’s all…just as we predicted.
Can a show technically be brilliant when the third-act twist is predicted after the first episode? Maybe not. Or maybe that’s the fun of it. Creative brilliance may not always mean tricking or surprising us, but giving us the satisfaction of putting it all together. Based on the sheer number of fan theories, fans like to figure things out.
Being right must be gratifying. But also, being blindsided by Sunday night’s information might have been nice, too.
To that regard, there actually was one twist that blew this writer’s hair back: Dolores is the one who killed Arnold. Who would have guessed!?
While all this narratively convenient plot-unfurling is happening, with Bernard taking his trip down robot memory lane, we’re jerked back to the rather insufferable Dolores subplot. The episodes-long fun of assessing just how sentient she’s become, and curiosity over what’s waiting when she reaches the church that’s been at the center of her visions, had long died down by the time we catch up with her stumbling through some sort of timeline-hopping dreamscape.
Finally, though, there’s some payoff. She finds the church and enters a confession booth that ends up being an elevator, and takes it down to an underground laboratory that alternates between a dystopian version riddled with the carnage of murdered scientists and one from the past, in which a young Dr. Ford is storming around looking for Arnold.
She comes face to face with Arnold. “You’re dead,” she says. “You’re just a memory. I killed you.”
Thus solves the mystery of how Arnold died. Dolores of all people killed him, which is shocking since Dolores is the park’s oldest host. It also means that Dolores’s ability to break park rules isn’t limited to firing guns. She also, apparently, had the ability to kill at least one human, at one point. We also should wonder why she wasn’t discontinued after the murder. Dr. Ford must have a reason to keep her in rotation.
That reason, presumably, concerns the Man in Black. Oh yes, there’s more. It turns out that, after weeks of complaining about the stagnancy of this show, a lot of other shit happened this episode.
We learn more about the Man in Black and his quest on this maze, a godforsaken centerpiece of this TV show that I couldn’t care less about but, presumably, is tied to the more interesting parts and thus we must suffer through it.
It turns out that he is actually on the park’s board, and is Dr. Ford’s biggest supporter on it. We learn this when executive Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) tracks him down in the park to ask for his help in finally ousting Ford, but he refuses and marches off until, finally, he encounters Dolores, who has resurfaced from the underground laboratory.
It seems that they’ve simultaneously reached the center of the maze. What happens next is a question for the finale.
Yep, after eight episodes things are finally happening. In fact, it’s been 1,100 words and we haven’t even mentioned the episode’s best scenes, which, as they always do, centered around Maeve.
While the rest of the characters are saddled with hokey Western dialogue, Maeve’s lines boast all the camp but a dash of Shakespearean bite to help the cause. “You’re going to clear me for immediate return to the park,” she tells Bernard when taken in for questioning. “I’ve got a date with a homicidal bandit and I’m late enough as it is.”
As part of her resolve to get herself out of the park, she enlists Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector as an accomplice. Her weapon of coercion: the truth that he’s a host with no control over his fate, and that aforementioned operatic wordplay. “The proposition: I want you to break into hell with me and rob the gods blind,” she says. Who could resist?
And how? “Getting to hell is easy,” she adds. “The rest is where it gets hard.”
She then knocks over a lamp and the two fuck themselves to death as the fire burns around them in one of the hottest (literally) love scenes HBO has aired.
Maeve is the best.
In fact, it’s Maeve’s best line this episode that sums up our relationship with this series heading into the finale: “Next time you go looking for the truth, get the whole thing,” she tells Bernard. “It’s like a good fuck: Half is worse than none at all.”
Mystery and confusion can be rewarding on a TV drama, particularly in the age of Peak TV and binge-watching. But more often than not, it’s been a recipe for boredom on Westworld. It’s only the past two episodes, when secrets are being revealed after far too much needless exposition and at a breakneck pace, do I find myself invested, and even then only in certain storylines.
One of them ended with a bang on Sunday night, with Dr. Ford commanding Bernard, his host creation, to commit suicide by shooting himself so that he can complete his work on this ambiguous “new narrative” without Bernard’s increasingly sentient meddling.
With no idea what that narrative entails or, more, what the corporation’s alternative purpose is for the coding and intellectual property being developed in the hosts, we still only have half the truth. To echo Maeve’s warning, unless we get good answers next Sunday, there will be the wrath of viewers who were only brought halfway to completion.