The latest episode of 'Westworld' featured intensity, mystery, and menace—with a dash of skull-crushery.
Warning: Spoilers for episode three ahead.
There's nothing more fundamental to existence than change. We grow, we die. Everything that was cool becomes corny. You buy a new iPhone and suddenly your old charger won't work. And yet, change is also what we want and never seem to get, stuck as most of us are in our habits and routines. "I guess people like to read about what they want most and experience least," Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) says in the third episode episode, winking at the audience that tunes in each week to watch spectacular violence, adventure, and romance from the lazy comfort of their couches or beds.
But change is absolutely the theme of HBO's Westworld's third episode, "The Stray." This week, we see how recent events are disrupting the show's world as well as get new information that alters our perceptions of what has and will happen. Things are changing and getting stranger.
Alice's Adventures in Horrorland
We open with another creepy basement therapy session between Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard. He makes her read a passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland . "How queer everything is today," Alice says. Later, Dolores notes that this book is like every other one on her Robot Self-Actualization 101 Reading List: "It's about change."
But Dolores isn't falling into a wonderland—she's living in a land of horrors where she's the prey of monsters both human and programmed. What will happen when she falls down the hole into understanding her own reality?
One of the joys of Westworld is the way we get to see scenes play out multiple times with new twists thrown in. Back at home with her new fatherbot, Dolores finds the gun she dug up last episode, and it triggers memories of the Man in Black (Ed Harris) dragging her into the barn. This time, we see he pulls out a gigantic knife. Perhaps he didn't rape her but mutilated her like the croupier in his crazed maze hunt?
Back at HQ, Bernard gives her the red pill/blue pill option from The Matrix : Would she rather know the horrible truth of her reality or stay blissful and ignorant? She says she wants to stay in her loop, but she can't. She has changed. At the start of the episode, her programming wouldn't let her fire a gun, but by the end, she's murdered a would-be rapist robot and fled into the woods.
Teddy Gets a New Past
While Dolores changes, Teddy (James Marsden) requires some reprogramming, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) needles Teddy about his role in life, and Teddy, booted in safe mode, vacillates between his corny programmed dialogue and his robotic self-analysis. (The actors are really having fun in these scenes, and it translates to the screen.)
When Teddy starts talking about his dark past, Ford pipes in: "Ah yes, your mysterious backstory... we never bothered to give you one. Just a formless guilt you'll never atone for." Then he uploads a new one about a "villain called Wyatt."
Back in the park, Teddy and the sheriff go off to hunt down Wyatt. We see some of the gory backstory, and Teddy's ominous descriptions of how Wyatt has gone crazy and makes his men wear the faces of the dead. (You have to admire how the show uses every cinematic trick to make us care about a storyline and characters that they literally told us are fictions created only moments ago.)
The posse finds a truly grisly scene of half-dead bodies strapped to trees, then all hell breaks loose. "I told you we should have done the riverboat thing!" one frightened guest yips.
Dr. Ford's own backstory gets a rewrite this episode. After Elsie (Shannon Woodward) notices that the malfunctioning robots have been speaking to an invisible person named Arnold, Bernard confronts him, and Ford admits that he didn't create the park alone. He had a partner named Arnold. While Ford wanted completely controllable robots, Arnold wanted to create actual consciousness. He thought he could "bootstrap" it by having the robots think of their code as the voice of God. It didn't work—or did it?
Caught in a Loop
I've said before that Westworld could use a bit of humor, and we're finally getting some this episode, including a great scene where a group of robots exchange insults and quips with one another around an unlit campfire. They freeze up, and we learn they are stuck in a loop because the woodcutter robot glitched out and fled into the woods. No one else was programmed to chop.
Elsie and Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) find mysterious woodcarvings, each of which has some kind of constellation carved into them. They discover the missing woodcutter stuck in a crevice, like a Roomba trapped beneath a piece of furniture. He smacks back-and-forth against the rock walls, then scrambles up the rope and smashes his head in with a boulder. Ouch.
William (Jimmi Simpson) also changes, finally enjoying the pleasures of the park. He strolls around with a smile and gets mixed up in a classic Western showdown. He kills the killer, but not before he—and we—learn that the robots actually can shoot humans. While the Man in Black didn't flinch at any of the dozens of shots fired at him, William is knocked down with a big ol' bruise on his shoulder.
Do the guns in Westworld contain bullets, paintballs, and blanks, and switch what gets fired based on who the gun is pointed at? The actual rules of Westworld don't seem clear yet, and the bruise makes me wonder how the human guests are protected from other humans attacking and assaulting them with knifes or fists. Perhaps we'll learn soon.
William has a taste for the park now and convinces Logan (Ben Barnes) to go on a side quest with him. Logan is a little upset that they are paying "40K a day to jerk off, alone, in the woods, playing white hat," and then Dolores—veering entirely from her normal programming—runs into their campfire, collapsing.
Crazy Fan Theory Time
Part of the joy of TV in the post- Lost era is predicting what crazy twists we'll see. One interesting theory I've heard is that the storylines are not taking place at the same time. What if William and Logan are adventuring decades before (or after?) the Man in Black? Could William even be the Man in Black, long before he turns into a maze-hunting monster? If so, that might explain the inconsistencies with the guns...
The newly introduced Arnold also invites theorizing about existing storylines. Did Arnold create the mysterious maze? Did he program the robots to unlock their consciousness when the right Shakespeare quote was uttered?
When Elsie and Ashley are hunting the woodcutter, they joke a little about their programming. I'm not sure if those two are robots, but I am sure that you don't have a show about robots that are indistinguishable from humans without having a few of the supposed human characters turn out to be androids. Hell, maybe they all are. Robot labor comes cheap in Westworld, so why not have the robots program and service the other robots?
Follow Lincoln Michel on Twitter.