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The Robots Are Winning on 'Westworld'

Episode seven dropped a shattering reveal about what's real and what – or who – is not.

by Lincoln Michel
17 November 2016, 1:30am

All photos by Joe Johnson/courtesy of HBO

Warning: Spoilers to episode seven ahead.

This post originally appeared on VICE US

For all of Westworld's blazing gun battles and violent misdeeds, it's been easy to think that none of it matters. For most of the show, the human characters have only inched slowly forward in their conspiracies or quests, while the life-altering experiences have happened to robots who simply get rebooted in the morning. But after this episode, Westworld's plot is kicking into gear and the stakes are rising. Not only do we get the death of someone without a reset button, but the other mysteries are starting to come into focus.

This week's bloody episode is titled "Trompe L'Oeil," French for "deceive the eye" and a term used in visual art for creating optical illusions that a painting seem three dimensional. The entire park of Westworld is a trompe l'oeil, deceiving its rich guests into believing an amusement park filled with robots is a living place. But the guests aren't the only ones being tricked in Westworld, and the viewers are finally learning what's real and what—or who—isn't.

Train Dreams

While William (Jimmi Simpson) started out as the good guy in the (literal) white hat, Lawrence (Clifton Collins, Jr.) notes that "maybe you got more of an appetite for this than you think" as they head to the war front. Back in my episode-three recap, I speculated that William might be the Man in Black, and while this episode doesn't 100-percent confirm that, it seems pretty likely at this point. Which means the show has been using their ageless robot characters to confuse us about the timelines.

The Man in Black talks about his long history with Dolores, and if this theory proves true, presumably he's meaning here. William is already a true fanboy of the park—he's desperate to "find out what it means"—and even though he tells Dolores that he's got a gal back home, well, what happens in the park stays in the park.

The train is stopped by the drunken Confederados. One exploding, nitroglycerin-filled corpse later, they are being chased through the woods only to be saved by the screaming "Ghost Nation" warriors. The huge trail of bodies makes you wonder how exactly the economics of the park work—after all, William is the only paying guest amidst the slaughter—but that's of course not really the point.

Lawrence leaves Dolores and William as they overlook a gigantic valley that will lead them to the "unclaimed territories." What's out there? No one knows, because "ain't nothing ever come back from there." But if my hunch is right, something out there will change William for good, and by that I mean toward evil.

Breaking Out

Maeve (Thandie Newton) has quickly become the most compelling character on the show, and while she doesn't get too much screen time this week, every scene she does have counts. When everyone in her brothel freezes, she learns that she has become immune to the park's controls. The park workers grab her bestie Clementine, and Maeve engineers another death to find her. Felix strolls her upstairs just in time to watch Sylvester lobotomize Clem. Maeve surely knows she'll get her own nose drill soon, so she decides it's time to get out of the park all together. It's a suicide mission, Sylvester snivels, but death doesn't scare her. "I've done it a million times. I'm fucking great at it."

"It Doesn't Look Like Anything to Me."

The big Bernard reveal doesn't happen till the end, but we know something is up at the start as Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to his dying son. "If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't." Ah, well, someone has made the place, Bernard, and you're fake-living in it.

In the present time, Bernard double-checks that the robots still can't understand their own reality while Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) gets instructions from a nude Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) to help her fire Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The board doesn't give a shit about the park or its stories—what they crave is data. The park has "35 years of raw information," but the catch is that Ford can erase it all with the flip of a finger.

The women devise a plan to pull Ford and Bernard in over some "worrisome findings" that involves two robots alternating beating each other up while a small team watches. The whole thing is quite obviously faked—Bernard confirms the sloppy staging moments later—and somehow ends with Bernard being fired instead of Ford, while Anthony Hopkins does his best creepy stare contest. It does, however, teach us another fact about the park: The robots can be programmed to appear as human to other robots.

Come at the King, You Best Not Miss

While the staged fight doesn't get Ford fired, it does clue him into the threat. Not only is management gunning for him, but they plan to lobotomize his creations and "rebuild the hosts from the ground up."

Bernard takes Theresa to the house filled with the Ford family bots, but is confused when she walks through a door he can't see. Dread mounts as he follows her downstairs to find an outdated but still functioning robot 3D printer at work. Ford has been making his own robots off the grid. They could be anyone, but we learn one of them is Bernard: When Theresa holds up his blueprints, he can't see them. "Doesn't look like anything to me."

For a while, Westworld has wavered on whether Ford is a brilliant artist, a mad crank, or an evil genius. Well, it appears he's a bit of all three as he strides in and philosophizes about how much he controls. His robots are freer than humans, he believes, because they are free from anxiety, self-loathing, and guilt (how this jives with Bernard's guilt over his dead son is confusing). But as energized as he is philosophizing, he seems almost bored as Bernard takes Theresa out of the picture.

BerArnold?

The twists this week invite plenty of speculation. First off, after these revelations, it seems any "human" character could be a secret Ford robot, and Ford could secretly bring anyone back. Perhaps a Theresa-bot could help smooth things out with the board? But I think it also points to a theory I've had for a while (reviewers have not been giving any additional episodes, so this is pure speculation): Bernard is Arnold.

Everything about Arnold has been kept a mystery, and Bernard clearly has a larger role to play. If Arnold made robots of Ford's family, perhaps Ford repaid him by turning him into a robot himself. If Bernard is Arnold, and William is the Man in Black, then it brings up another question: Is Bernard sometimes human? I mean, are some of the scenes we've seen—say the ones where Bernard secretly interrogates Dolores—taking place in the past? If so, there may be many more surprises to come.

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