Westworld‘s “The Stray” Review: Who in the World am I?

doloresthestray

***Spoilers ahead for Westworld through Season 1, Episode 3. Spoilers***

Directed by Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones, Hannibal, The Descent), this week’s “The Stray” took us deep down the rabbit hole. Curiouser and curiouser, like Dolores’ Alice (blue dress and all), the audience explores identity: we wonder who has been changed in the night. Is Bernard Lowe real; is that Host or Guest; what strange things have gone on between Dr. Ford and his partner, Arnold? From William’s first morality adjustment to Hosts who can’t be shot dead and others who kill themselves, the Westworld gods must be crazy.

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Right alongside Teddy, we were given a new narrative, introduced to different characters, and received quite a bit of interesting backstory. Despite the apparent (well worth discussing) male-slanted cowboy fantasy, “The Stray” addressed William’s non-gendered reticence: the question of how quickly a guest might transform from having no violent desires to willfully shooting Hosts was well-answered. “You popped your cherry.” Though Dr. Ford gruffly (and incorrectly, I predict) reminded an employee who’d covered a naked Host, “It doesn’t feel a solitary thing we haven’t told it to,” certain humans — including viewers — can’t help assigning emotions to their fellow people, “real” or not. (An aside: I wonder if there are Westworld psychologists studying the human response.) William isn’t the only one having difficulty processing his own emotions toward the Hosts, and it now appears that, rather than the possible virus creator, Bernard has merely been fascinated by Dolores’ variant behavior. Speaking of: though I’d suspected Dr. Ford of being the Gepetto-ish father, it’s actually Bernard Lowe who lost a child. During a very strange video conversation (“…for a split second, I forget where I am, when I am”) with his wife, Lauren (Gina Torres), she asks Bernard if he’d rather not remember their son — which again begs the question: could Bernard be a Host? — “These talks, I don’t know if they help, Bernard. Do you ever wish you could forget?” It was an odd vignette, maybe inserted just to fuel the who-is-who fodder.

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In this resort, secrets are everywhere and everyone has them. Bernard hides his conversations with Dolores and asks her to do the same; he’s keeping everything from Theresa Cullen — for an operations manager, she really has little clue what’s happening — she, in turn, knows whatever motives management and the shareholders harbor. Dolores appears to be hiding her increasing intelligence and her level of self-awareness, and Dr. Ford, with a little help from the board, has concealed a partner’s entire existence. We learn about Westworld’s co-creator, Arnold, a man Ford claims died in the park. Arnold didn’t just want to make lifelike androids: he wanted to “create consciousness.” Ford gives Bernard a little early Westworld history lesson, including Arnold’s leanings toward bicameralism, Julian Jaynes’ psychological hypothesis that brain hemispheres are functionally separate: one side acts on logic, without any real evaluation of why, and the other side hears the voice of its creator — commands, if you will — which causes the action. Toward the very end of this episode, Dolores (apparently) plays out this bicameralistic behavior when she hears a voice say, “Kill him,” and shoots her attacker, whom she envisions as the Man in Black. Additionally, after rediscovering the weapon she’d unburied and hidden in her drawer, Dolores sees herself in the mirror and hears in her head, “Do you remember?” while experiencing a flashback of the Man in Black dragging her to the barn. Another of Dolores’ glitchy observations makes itself known: she is somehow able to shoot her attacker — after we’d seen she didn’t have the capability to fire Teddy’s gun (“Some hands weren’t meant to pull a trigger”), and Ashley mentions to Elsie that “weapons privileges are (and have to be) doled out very carefully”. This means that Dolores has, perhaps through sheer will, managed to overwrite her system settings.

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Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics come into play when Elsie and Ashley finally find the stray Woodcutter (Tait Fletcher), although they clearly don’t apply in reverse: Stubbs puts the Host into sleep mode, but, as he’s attempting to saw off its head (interesting that he advises Elsie she may want to look away), the Woodcutter wakes. Seemingly, this Host will follow Directive Number 1: A robot may not injure a human being; he did throw Ashley off himself … but did the Woodcutter simultaneously experience a(n internal) command to kill? Because, instead of following through with what you’d think would happen — attacking Elsie — the Woodcutter smashes its own head repeatedly and commits Hosticide.

Did Ford have something to do with Arnold’s death? Was Arnold perhaps killed by Host hands, his bicameral creation given an order by a certain Lecterish fellow … murdered? Was Arnold too successful in his endeavors, so Ford felt like he had to shut down his partner because of the dangerous path Arnold was creating? And did Arnold create a backdoor — a Trojan Horse — virus: the one Westworld is now dealing with, Bernard is studying, and the one allowing for Dolores’ awakening? Bernard queries Ford, “What if we treated the system rather than the disease?” and, with that word — disease — he confirms for me that there is, in fact, a “computer virus” which may have been started by and/or is being passed with those nifty Shakespeare quotes Ford is so fond of. “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar)

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Teddy’s new Ford-created narrative had him interacting with a very cool female Guest (and expert shooter), Marti (Bojana Novakovic) — there goes that male-slanting cowboy fantasy out the proverbial window — part of his group hunting super-villain Wyatt (Sorin Brouwers) and his painted, masked, bulletproof death posse. Poor Teddy is killed again and we’re left to wonder if his destiny will ever change. As yet, he’s (apparently) not been infected; forever subject to the “somedays” that really mean “never,” and an endless cycle of meaningless repetition. Marsden’s subtle performance as unaware Host to Woods’ awakening is a beautiful thing to behold.

Only a brief shot of Maeve brings up a very curious happening: when, before he leaves Sweetwater, she spies Teddy, Maeve experiences a flash of Teddy’s face in the glass room where, last week (after again being killed), he awaited repairs. This flash is NOT part of any narrative Maeve has experienced; it is an actual free-formed and traumatic memory. Likewise, Elsie sends a note to Bernard that the titular Stray, the Woodcutter, may have had an unprogrammed idea on its own;

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Elsie also described other aberrant Host behaviors in Walter, who recently killed six of nine hosts in a shootout. When she pulled Walter’s log, it turned out those six he’d wiped out had — in previous narratives — killed Walter. “It’s like he’s holding a grudge.”

“Was I the same when I got up this morning?” Dolores’ Lowe-instigated Alice in Wonderland questions are for Hosts, Guests, and audience alike. We must consistently question what is actually known. Week to week, we find ourselves increasingly unsure of who is real; “If you can’t tell, does it matter?” As we stand on the precipice of similar real-world technology, the twisted game Nolan, Joy, and Abrams play with us is a cruel reflection of the questions we should already be asking ourselves. “[But if I’m not the same,] the next question is: ‘Who in the world am I?'”

Deep Thoughts:

THEORY: Some people seem to think the Man in Black could be Arnold. I reject this theory, and find it much more likely — as I’ve been saying since the beginning — that the Man in Black is, in fact, a Host. Now that we know about Arnold, I wonder if the Man in Black could be Arnold’s Trojan Horse. What if everyone, including the park employees, thinks he’s just an incredibly wealthy guest playing the long game, but MIB is actually, on Arnold’s command (so to speak), trying to work to the deeper levels to “free” the Hosts (in the preview for next week, Bernard references the maze and that, if Dolores can find it, maybe she can be free). He’s now appeared in place of other characters to Maeve and Dolores; that’s happening for a reason.

How cool was that young Hopkins shot?

younghopkins

When Hannibal worlds collide: Anthony Hopkins starred as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs,; Gina Torres played Bella Crawford (Jack’s wife) on Hannibal, the series, and Neil Marshall directed an episode, “The Great Red Dragon.”

What the heck is that strange noise before Wyatt’s masked men attack? It’s bestial and supernatural-sounding.

William to Logan: “All you’ve done since we’ve been in the park is f*ck and drink. I want a little adventure.” That particular line may resonate with the “William is the Man in Black” theorists, but I really dislike this idea. It’s too easy; simplistic; and I want any mysteries to be lasting; more difficult to suss out. Television writers know the depth of obsessive viewers and, as Mr. Robot‘s Sam Esmail has mentioned, people don’t want tricks. William is really the Man in Black feels like an easy trick …

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I really dislike what they’re doing with Theresa Cullen; she’s fairly one-dimensional and, thus far, rather pointless, other than as barely seen menacing figure.

On the other hand, I love the Crichton crossover. The shots of lanterns in the dark reminded of when, in Jurassic Park, Nedry is making his escape with the vials of embryos, he’s attacked by the Dilophosaurus, and drops the containers. Life finds a way.

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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  • HasenKlub

    Ok, I might need to play catch up here. To what exactly are you referring with the theory that William could be the MIB?

    • Someone on reddit posited that we’re seeing William and MIB in different timelines, and it made the rounds on the intewebs.

      • HasenKlub

        Ah, gotcha. That could be interesting.

  • Valhallaback Girl

    I wholeheartedly ascribe to the postulation that the MIB is a Arnold’s Trojan Host. But I have to wonder, what would be the end goal of scalping other Hosts in order to set them free? Is it, in a way, performing some sort of a lobotomy?

    Also, I desperately want Dr. Ford’s office.

    • The needs of the many, and all that? If MIB is a Host programmed by Arnold, he wouldn’t necessarily know the why, himself, or even if he knew the end goal, there weren’t necessarily “Don’t harm another host” rules put in place.

  • Wigamer

    Bernard feels so much like a bot to me. The juxtaposition of Teddy’s “new” backstory with the conversation about how backstories ground the hosts, mixed with the stuff about Bernard’s son and wife all seemed connected.

    • I’ve been conflicted about him, kind of wavering back and forth and much more suspicious of Ford. But, there was something so strange about that video call and the things Bernard and Lauren were saying to each other.

      The writers/actors are damned good at creating suspicion around quite a few of the people who are established humans.