Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched “Westworld” episode 7, titled “Trompe L’Oeil.”
Sunday night’s episode of “Westworld” is, to use a technical term, a humdinger. The seventh chapter in the show’s first season, “Trompe L’Oeil” wraps with a revelation that some fans speculated about but few could honestly say they saw coming — that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is in fact a robot host created by Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The episode ends with Bernard, at Ford’s order, killing Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen). It also features a big moment for actress Angela Sarafyan, whose Clementine earlier in the episode is rigged to attack and kill another host as part of a conspiracy against Ford by Theresa and the park’s corporate overlords.
When did you first tell Jeffrey Wright that Bernard was actually a host?
Jonathan Nolan: We told him after the pilot, before episode 2 — not because that was the way we were going with the story, but because we wanted him to be able to play the role as immersively as possible. But we had reasons that I can’t get into that dictated we be clear with him about some aspects of his performance. With our actors, for the most part, we try to leave them in the dark as much as possible. With Jeffrey, we had the conversation relatively early.
Scenes such as in the second episode when he’s Skyping with his wife, talking about his dead son — did you want it to be able to inform his performance there?
Lisa Joy: We wanted him to believe, as his character believes, in the humanity and loss of what he’s experiencing, or what he thinks he’s experiencing. I think he did an amazing job of balancing that, and essentially playing this character, who’s totally convinced of his reality, for the most part, then every so often you’d see a little slip here and there that indicates he might be a host and he doesn’t know it yet.
We’ve seen several scenes of Bernard and Ford one-on-one with no one else around. Why does Ford spend so much time talking to Bernard as if he were not a host?
Nolan: I think we’ve established that the key to the hosts, part of the key of them remaining in character is that they’re not confronted with the existential crisis of the fact that they are not who they think they are. I think that Ford, Tony Hopkins’ character in the show, is a cypher. We’ve written him, Tony’s played him beautifully in that direction throughout. We don’t know what’s motivating him. We don’t know what his ultimate goal is. We do know that as he’s spent more and more time in the park and become more and more withdrawn, he’s become more and more self-selecting with his company. And he’s also apparently built himself a right-hand man. None of that works if he doesn’t treat Bernard with a measure of humanity.
Ford talks about Arnold descending to this state where he was more comfortable with the company of hosts than with the company of people. We now see that with Ford. It turns out he’s had very few scenes with anyone who’s not a host.
Joy: I think it’s the trap of these creations and having the kind of power that Ford wields. It’s always threatening to lose your own perspective on things. So while the hosts are having a hard time figuring out who they are and what they want, I think it can sometimes lead to conflict within the humans too. From the very beginning, Ford had this track record of talking to robots. He’s talking to Old Bill when we started this series. You just get this sense that there’s no one else he can trust, so he’s kind of talking to echoes of himself. He’s become this kind of Platonic Pygmalion and Galatea. You create your creatures, and you might not start to fall in romantic love with them, but you love them, and you need them in order to express yourself.
Nolan: I think there’s a connection to make to the hand wringing in this moment in the world, particularly around the election, and have people silo’d themselves with social media. Has everybody basically created their own echo chamber composed of people who are like-minded?
This show spends a lot of time investigating humanity’s worst impulses. Now that we’ve elected someone who brags about sexual assault and writes off large swathes of people as rapists and murderers, do you feel like the show is becoming more timely?
Nolan: I know at various moments, everyone across all sides of the political spectrum tried to draw inferences and ideas out of “The Dark Knight.” Everybody tried to claim it for its own. There was article after article about how it was an apologia for George Bush. It’s all nonsense. For me, at least, one of the beauties of writing in genre is the ability to escape from the world a little bit. Right now escape is extremely attractive. I think working on a series that regards humanity from the perspective of someone who is not human and has some dark observations about what is wrong with us does feel like a timely thing to be working on right now.
Evan Rachel Wood said that when you originally met with her, your ambition for the show was to make it the greatest television show ever. What do you have to do to clear that bar?
Joy: Well, we already have an amazing cast, so we’ve got that going for us. They’ve fulfilled their end of the bargain.
Nolan: I don’t actually remember that particular piece braggadocio. I do remember trying to articulate to Evan, and we may well have said something like that, but trying to articulate for Evan the sheer ambition of the show. I’d certainly say we aspire to make the most ambitious show we can possibly imagine.
The show took some criticism early on, which you responded to, about the level and portrayal of violence against women. There’s a really challenging scene in this episode with Clementine, and then at the end we see Bernard killing Theresa, presumably. How did you approach those scenes and attempt to thread the needle in terms of what’s appropriate and what’s not?
Joy: We went into it wanting to give primacy to the story and linger in the violence. Although I have to say, when Clementine turns the tables on her assailant, I do kind of relish that violence. I don’t know if that’s hypocritical of me, but I did enjoy the comeuppance. For me it’s about telling the story of Clementine’s character. They’ve chosen Clementine specifically because she was created to seem so vulnerable and loving, and if you could make even the most vulnerable and loving creature seem ferocious and deadly, it would jeopardize the entire management of the park. The truth about Clementine is that to be gentle and loving all the time is denying the truth about something that is within her, which this rigged experiment unleashed.
What have you heard from HBO about a second season?
Nolan: We’ve had the writers in for several weeks now. So we’re pushing ahead. Conversations continue. The network seems very excited with the direction of the show and very excited with where we want to take it.