Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched “Westworld” episode 7 titled “Trompe L’Oeil.”
“Where were we?” That’s what Bernard asks his doomed son Charlie in what appears to be the first leg of “Westworld” Season 1’s last lap — a flashback in which father reads to son from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which, you’ll recall, is what Bernard read to Dolores from earlier this season. “The madman,” Charlie answers. And if you thought of Ford in that moment, as you likely did, take that as proof that “Westworld” is now an armed and fully operational battle station. Argue with some of the details, or with the show’s underpinning philosophy, but don’t argue that this isn’t a well-made show. It is.
As should be any show with Jeffrey Wright in it. Wright’s Bernard has, since the beginning, felt like the most authentic character in “Westworld” — due in large part to Jeffrey Wright being very good at acting. That, of course, makes the twist ending of “Trompe L’Oeil” all the more impactful.
But let’s start at the beginning. Flashback dream over, Bernard goes to work, where he questions Hector and worries about Elsie, whom he hasn’t heard from since she ventured into the park and possibly got herself kidnapped by Arnold. Worrying about Elsie is difficult, because she is an annoying person to watch on TV. But Bernard doesn’t have to watch her on TV, so I guess I get it.
Later, Bernard encounters Theresa, whom he knows has been smuggling data out of the park. It turns out that data has been getting funneled to the Delos, the company that finances Westworld and now wants Ford out of the operation. Bernard doesn’t know that, but Theresa does — which makes it funny when Hale explains the plan to her in great detail. Classic bad-guy monologuing, but fine. The dynamic between Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa and Tessa Thompson as Hale is weird and interesting enough to sustain it.
Hale’s call for a “blood sacrifice” as part of the plan’s execution yields Clementine, whose name is now worth mentioning after an impressive performance by Angela Sarafyan. It’s clear that things are not going to go well for her in this episode after she reveals her tender heart in conversation with Maeve. “Westworld” does not abide tender hearts, especially robot ones. The moment Clementine appears at the presentation with Hale, Theresa, Ford, Bernard, and Stubbs is that moment when your stomach likely started turning.
The scene that follows is difficult to watch. You could argue that it is further evidence of a problematic attitude toward violence against women baked into the show, but there are more compelling moments to cite for that purpose. Clementine flips from victim to assailant quickly. But it’s obvious that she’s going to pay a price for being drafted into Hale and Theresa’s plan.
Sensing trouble for Clementine, Maeve has apparently got herself killed once again. (One of the episode’s best moments is when Felix pleads with Maeve to stop getting herself killed so often and Maeve blows him off.) She arrives in Basement City just in time to watch Sylvester lobotomize Clementine. This does not make her happy. When Maeve tells Felix and Sylvester that they’re going to help her escape, it’s our first hint that the series may show us the world outside Westworld before the season ends.
Back in the park, William and Dolores are busy consummating their romance the way all romances should be consummated — on an armored train barreling through hostile territory. This was probably the least compelling episode for William or Dolores of any that either has played a significant role in thus far. But it did give us some insight into William. So far, Jimmi Simpson’s William has read as a still-waters-run-deep sort of guy. Now we’re getting hints as to just how deep — not to mention dark. “I used to think this place was all about pandering to your baser instincts,” William tells Dolores. “Now I understand. It doesn’t cater to your basest self. It reveals your deepest self. It shows you who you really are.” It’s telling that William says this having just cheated on his fiancé with a robot and abandoned his soon-to-be brother-in-law to be beaten and captured.
But while most “Westworld” episodes have kept a balance between park and office, “Trompe L’Oeil” skews hard office — thanks largely to the 14 final minutes in which Bernard tells Theresa that he knows she’s smuggling information out of the park and suspects Ford has become unhinged. He then takes her to the faux Ford family home, where it’s revealed that Bernard is a host and Ford orders Bernard to kill Theresa — which Bernard does.
First, let’s put aside that Bernard-as-host has been a point of fan speculation since the show’s beginning. Any human on the show is a potential host. This was a surprising reveal, though one that was set up exceptionally well. (The first strong signal was “What door?”) It exposes Ford as a bona fide mad scientist, not the pragmatic counterpoint to his former partner Arnold that he has positioned himself as. With Bernard’s nature discovered, it is now retroactively true that Ford spends almost no time with anyone who is not a host — the same thing he threw shade at Arnold for.
Whatever Ford is planning, it looks like it’s going to be madman-level stuff.
Some other thoughts:
• Ford is building a host there in his secret lab. Possibly a doppelganger Theresa? Why else would he need to build a host in secret?
• Maeve-Sylvester-Felix continues to be the show’s strongest character combo. Felix imploring Sylvester to try to talk to Maeve about why he lobotomized Clementine was a high point.
• Anthony Hopkins’ face at the end of the rigged demo was primo Anthony Hopkins face.
• Elsie was not the only character riding pine this week. MiB and Teddy were also out of the action. Expect plenty of the latter two next week, but it seems feasible that we may not see Elsie again until the season finale.
• I can’t say enough about that opening scene. Wright waking from a nap and asking “Where were we?” speaks to the experience of watching a show with a complicated serialized narrative like “Westworld.” For example: I spent most of the William and Dolores scenes not able to remember why they were on that train with Lawrence.
• “Confederados” is a great word and the writers obviously know it.
• Finally, this tweet from Jeffrey Wright is pretty great: