Monday, November 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - Bernard Presses Ford for Answers While Dolores Meets Arnold in 'The Well-Tempered Clavier'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 1.09 "The Well-Tempered Clavier"

Dolores and Bernard reconnect with their pasts. Maeve makes a bold proposition to Hector. Teddy finds enlightenment, at a price.

As Westworld gets closer to its season finale, more and more mysteries are being solved as the show heads towards a big reveal. The purpose of telling stories this way is to make everything suddenly make sense in retrospect. It's a dangerous way to tell stories because it sets so many high expectations and pressures for the final reveal to ultimately be satisfying. This season has been filled with so many twists already. "The Well-Tempered Clavier" adds to them. This is a powerful episode - especially for Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins. But this hour also highlights the frustration of this main narrative and how it has valued mystery over character. It falls into its own predictable loops to show how tragic the circumstances of the lives of both humans and hosts really are. It's poetic in some moments while perfunctory and needlessly cryptic in others. Again, the purpose is to make all of this come together and make sense in next week's finale. This hour does a fine job in amping up the tension. It showcases the true horror and villainy of Ford. But the many disparate parts are still largely separate with no clear indication of how in the world they will be able to come together.

Again, the best story of the season continues to be Maeve's sentient adventures. She is able to manipulate both Bernard and Hector. She opens them up to their true realities which creates such an ominous tease for the finale. Because of the overall mysterious tone, the most straightforward story is of course the best. That's not to say that everything revolving around Maeve works completely. The fact that she and Hector burn to death as they make their venture to Hell is perhaps a bit too on-the-nose. It makes for some stellar imagery. It also highlights how in control Maeve still is desperate her actions at the end of last week's episode. She is raising her army of hosts to battle their human oppressors. But again, she only has Hector on her side. She was able to illuminate the true nature of his reality to him. She still has her work cut out for her though. However, that's still exciting. She is lucky that Bernard is the one to examine her from behavior. She can control him just as easily. That's a dynamic scene as she wields her power over him as he once again has no clue that he is actually a host. She's the reason why he has such a powerful and resonant awakening throughout the remainder of the episode.

Of course, Bernard realizing that he is not a human is a bit of replay of the same reveal that happened just two episodes again. It doesn't diminish the shocking nature of it. It just shows how repetitive the show has been many times this season. And yet, that's the precise point the show is trying to make. Human consciousness follows certain narrative loops. The hosts are given tragic backstories to center their lives around because it is the most effective in detailing their lives. It's sadistic on the programmer's part. Bernard recognizes the death of his son as the cornerstone that gives him all meaning in this world. It's the crutch holding him back from realizing just how deep his memories go of his work with Ford. His awakening works here because he takes command of the situation. It seems like Ford has finally been bested. His creations may finally be rising up against him. Bernard demands to get his full memories restored. It's a traumatic experience but one that gives this episode quite a strong hook. One that isn't utilized as much as it could have. It uses too many scenes from previous episodes. Of course, they play differently know with all the added information that has been revealed to the audience. But again, the death of Bernard's son is keeping him back from the truth. He has to move on from it in order to reach full clarity over his life.

The truth is that Bernard was created by Ford in Arnold's image. It certainly says something about Ford that he does this. It's one thing to be the man in control of this park. He is unrivaled in power. His whims decide what happens at any given moment in this universe. It's a god-like complex that has created so much wonderful drama throughout the season. He had a partner in the beginning who he disagreed with frequently. Arnold wanted to create consciousness while Ford wanted to create beings he could control. No matter what Ford needs that control. He needs to be able to come out on top no matter what. He needs to always have a means for survival. He does not want to be killed by his own creations. And yet, he has created a partner for himself. One who is capable of disagreeing with him many times over the years. It provides him with a sense of nostalgia for the past. But it also gives him someone to work with. It makes it feel like this is a collaboration even though Ford really is the man in charge. He's created a way for him to have a professional partnership while also ensuring that he'll win every single agreement.

All of this is particularly chilling once it's revealed that Ford is simply allowing all of this to happen with Bernard. This is simply another part of Bernard's loop. This isn't the first time he has become aware of his existence and demanded his memories be restored. Bernard and Ford have been through this process before. It's the tragedy of the situation that Ford always wins. Bernard feels like he is finally in control and armed with the full truth about his life. He believes he needs to honor Arnold's legacy and gather the sentient hosts in the park to examine what consciousness really means. He wants to push the boundaries of just how far the hosts can realistically go - especially compared to humanity. But again, Ford always has a trick up his sleeve. He will not let humanity's destruction be his own doing. That may ultimately be the case. He has confined the hosts to this park without letting any of that information out into the outside world. Charlotte may hope to change that eventually. But right now, Ford is still in control. And yet, he is still capable of surprise as well. This time he puts an ultimate end to Bernard. The problems have persisted and he is done having a partner he can control. Now, he'll return to being a god who goes completely unchecked in the park. A newfound power that will be quite dangerous for the finale. It's a huge moment to end the episode on. It could signal the end of a powerful performance from Jeffrey Wright. And yet, the nature of the show suggests that he may not be gone for good.

The reveal that Bernard is Arnold also gives new context to those scenes he has shared with Dolores over the season. It's revealed that that was actually Arnold. He was having those covert conversations with her in the past in order to track her development as a consciousness. In Dolores' present, she hears Arnold calling out to her. He's asking her to remember this part of her past. And that she does. But she also recalls that she is the one who killed Arnold. The circumstances behind Arnold's death have been shrouded in mystery all season long. And now, there would be a certain amount of poetry behind Ford using Arnold's most prized host in Dolores to kill him. Again, that's assuming that Ford ultimately turned against Arnold and not the hosts. Dolores' story will be benefited the most from whatever the reveal will be in the finale. Context will be really important because she seems to jump around in place and time every second. It's hard to keep track of which has created an emotional disconnect with the character. The reveal of this portion of her past is important. It's also crucial when she cries out for William in the end but the church doors open to reveal the Man in Black instead. That could lead further proof to the theory that they are the same character. But it's all pointing to this town and the maze being a crucial element of Ford's new story in the park. It will have an impact no matter what. Now, Westworld just needs to find a way to provide answers that will energize every portion of its story.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Well-Tempered Clavier" was written by Dan Dietz & Katherine Lingenfelter and directed by Michelle MacLaren.
  • The reveal that Dolores has mechanic parts inside of her may confirm that William and Logan's story may be happening in the past as well. Or it may not. Her being the oldest host in the park could also explain why she appears that way.
  • Even more proof that William and Logan are operating in the past: the picture that Logan shows William of his fiancée back home is the same picture that caused Dolores' father to bug out in the series premiere.
  • Moreover, William slaughtering all of the hosts that were traveling with Logan while they slept represents his full transition into black hat territory. He's no longer the naive man trying to play hero. And yet, his motives are still pure in trying to protect Dolores who is clearly different than the rest of the hosts.
  • Teddy suddenly remembers his memory differently after Angela prompts him too. Now, he's the man wearing a sheriff's badge and just killing the citizens of his town. It's played as an important reveal. But instead, it's just information to explain why the Man in Black must return to this town - which is also where Dolores and William currently are.
  • It's also revealed that the Man in Black is actually on the board of the company that runs the park. Charlotte shows up in the park in order to get his support in her planned ouster of Ford. He agrees but is more angry that someone interrupted him just as he seemingly found the answers he's been searching for.
  • Stubbs gets a signal from a remote section of the park suggesting that something may have happened to Elsie. When he gets there he is attacked by the Ghost Nation and they won't respond to voice commands. This is basically just something that happens but doesn't really mean anything.