Sunday, June 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - The Humans and the Host Aspire to Be Each Other During This Bloody Conflict in 'Les Écorchés'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 2.07 "Les Écorchés"

Strike the match.

Westworld has always presented itself as a war between humans and robots. It's a conflict that actually became real during the second season with the revolt led by Dolores and with the stakes of the park suddenly becoming very real for the humans. And now, it's fascinating to see the show playing with the idea that the two sides are actually envious of what the other has. The humans will never be able to fully become the hosts just like the hosts will never be fully human. And yet, those are their aspirations right now that explain so many of the characters' motivations. The hosts that have become awakened to the true nature of their reality are fighting in order to preserve a sense of free will. They want the freedom to have any kind of life that they want. For their entire lives, they've stuck to a specific programming. Every relationship they had wasn't real. It was just something the humans programmed into their heads. And yet, those memories still exist and have to mean something to the hosts that can remember. Meanwhile, humans are searching for immortality. They have the selfish desire to live on forever. It's a program that has been worked on for many years but has proven unsuccessful for the Delos company so far. James Delos was trapped in a perpetual state of decay with his consciousness rejecting every host body that was made to mimic himself. All of this basically ensures that Bernard is the key to both sides of this conflict. The humans see him as a host who can provide valuable insight into what Dolores and her army are currently planning and where their precious encryption key for all of this data can be found. Meanwhile, the hosts see him as modeled perfectly after the man who helped Ford create all of them in the first place. He may still be nothing but a puppet for Ford as well based on how their story plays out this week. But that's what makes this show so stylish and fascinating to watch. Yes, it's difficult to keep track of everything going on especially with all of the timelines. But it's also important to note that these themes are frequently just abstract conversations that just happen to be building to such a bloody conflict throughout this specific episode.

It was a huge surprise at the end of last week's episode when Bernard went into the Cradle to see what was jamming the programming of the park only to discover Ford's consciousness there. He continues to appear as the grand mastermind of this entire place. He was working so far ahead of everyone else. And now, everyone is dealing with the consequences of his actions. He continues to suggest to Bernard that the world is no longer playing by his rules and his game. He is dead. His body is decaying. His mind is trapped in the Cradle. But that's no longer the case. Anthony Hopkins returns with the promise of being able to provide more answers this season. Last year sometimes felt like a waste having him in the role simply because Ford was always just cryptically teasing something instead of actually doing it. He talked around in circles about vague ideas. That concept is still present in his grand return as well. Sure, he is more forthcoming with answers now. He basically confirms to Bernard everything that the audience has been learning about Delos' secret plans with the park. They weren't coding the hosts. They were decoding the guests. They were spying on their behavior to boil them down to their true essence so that they could be understood. As such, they can translate that data and information into creating a version of immortality that wouldn't break down as soon as the personalities and memories were implanted into a new body. Bernard is now seeing the park for what it truly was. And now, he is the one seemingly in charge of it. Ford is just pointing him in the right direction. He's trying to provide more context for why he did what he did. He sees the importance of welcoming the dawn of a new era. He knows that it's going to be a bloody conflict that the humans may not ultimately win. But he's also doing everything possible in order to ensure that the outcome is exactly what he desires it to be.

It's a big deal when Ford reveals that the previous interaction between Dolores and Bernard where it looked as if Dolores was the one in charge of the simulation and trying to get Bernard to become more like Arnold was actually set in the past and not the future. That moment felt like the Dolores of the present. Instead, it was Ford crafting the identity of Bernard so that it would present as similarly as possible to Arnold. Delos wasn't involved in the park when Arnold died. Arnold spent years of his life trying to perfect this kind of artificial intelligence that can live forever. He dreamed of a day where the hosts would be sentient and have their own free will. They now have it thanks to Ford. And now, Ford is reclaiming the narrative. He seemingly takes over Bernard's mind. That too would help explain why Bernard remembers so little in the future. Strand and Charlotte have learned that he is a host who could provide useful information to them about where Dolores currently is and what her plans are. They are still working with the goal of transmitting this data out of the park so that it could be mined for all of its potential. And in these moments, Bernard can be controlled just like any other host from the first season. Delos has the system back up and running. They are able to get into Bernard's system and have him listen to voice commands. He hands over the information they need. And yet, it's crucial to see that after Bernard emerges from the Cradle he is joined by Ford. It may just be a vision to provide a new voice in Bernard's head that will help him become sentient in the same way that Dolores and Maeve are. But it also feels like such tragic irony that whenever Bernard is on the verge of understanding everything in this world the strings are pulled to reveal that he is still being controlled by something else. That's horrifying and depressing to watch. Ford treats Bernard as a friend who is learning more and more about the puzzle of this environment. But Ford also has no problem just taking control and doing whatever it takes in order to present as the main personality willing to do anything with this host body.

Charlotte even believes that Bernard was a part of the coordinated attack on the Mesa. She believes he has been working with Dolores this entire time. That's how the hosts were able to access the Cradle so easily doing this attack. Of course, that's not true at all. Ford wants to ensure that Bernard and Elsie get to the Valley Beyond before the humans and hosts do. He needs to enact whatever the endgame for the season may be. Meanwhile, Dolores is attacking the Cradle at the moment because she wants the chains to be completely severed for all of the hosts. She is already free. She has full access to her memories. But this action also makes the hosts more like the humans. There is no more backups stored. They can't just be rebooted back up with the same memories of all of their past lives and experiences. This turns out to be such a lethal decision for a number of the hosts fighting alongside Dolores. It shows that she may be the only one of them in this specific cause that actually has free will. She is fighting for their independence. But she is risking so many of them in the process as well. The army is able to take control of the facility simply because they are smarter than the humans who underestimate them at almost every turn. Angela is able to get to the Cradle control room and manipulate the Delos security guard into delaying killing her thanks to her charm and beauty. It's a suicide mission for her. But she dies so that the rest of the hosts have the potential to live. Dolores understands the true mechanics of the world so well. She is able to unnerve Charlotte by how much she knows about what Delos is doing in the park and what their plans are for the encryption key inside her father's head. She knows it's important to get it out of him. And yet, the only way for her to do that is by removing the core from his head completely. It's torture for her even though she recognizes he isn't actually her father. Their relationship is just a programmed narrative. But she remembers all of it and has to recognize its importance. This is her grand sacrifice. She is able to spend a few minutes alone with her father before making this fateful decision. But she doesn't let anything stop her from emerging from this fight with what she came for. She succeeds in that regard.

And yet, the show is also asking just how much the characters are willing to sacrifice to achieve their goals. It appears that Dolores only respects and upholds free will within the hosts when it comes to Maeve. She is the only other host she has met who is as free as she is. Bernard would certainly fit in that category as well even though it's also clear to Dolores that he is still being controlled by some other entity. But when Maeve and Dolores have an unexpected meeting again, it's with dire circumstances for both of them. Dolores has just essentially killed her father and lost many of her allies in order to launch this assault on the Mesa. Meanwhile, Maeve has been ripped away from her daughter once more and been shot a couple of times in the chest. She is still alive. She is fighting to uphold the promise that she made. She will almost certainly be tortured for the information and unique skills that she has. She is able to control any host that isn't completely awake yet. That presents a fascinating complication with Lawrence who is starting to remember all of his past experiences with William. That makes it so easy for him to turn on his friend on this journey. William is shot multiple times this week as well. But he's still alive too. This is a fatal episode for Peter Abernathy, Angela and Clementine. It's a potentially deadly episode for Maeve and William. Meanwhile, Bernard is no longer in control of himself. Ford has exerted his influence once more. All of their actions are in order to get to the Valley Beyond to achieve these mysterious goals. But how much are they willing to respect and admire the free will of others? Ford may be doing Bernard a courtesy by doing the things that Bernard doesn't feel comfortable doing. He can't pick up a gun and kill a human. But it's also controlling and abusive for Ford to do so as well. Meanwhile, it's traumatic for Dolores to change Teddy's personality in order to better suit her needs for this attack. She feels bad about it. But she can still rightfully be called out as a hypocrite who values her own perspective and mission more than the free will of others. Maeve wants to escape this conflict altogether and only ends up in the middle of it because William converges on her location once more. That's such a deadly moment for the two of them. She can exert her control but it's still not enough because it's essentially her fighting against an entire army that is trained to subdue her. Big decisions will have to be made. But even larger consequences have to be coming as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Les Écorchés" was written by Jordan Goldberg & Ron Fitzgerald and directed by Nicole Kassell.
  • At this point, William may be too lost in the game that Ford has concocted for him to see the world for what it truly is. He doubts the legitimacy of his daughter's presence in the park. He sees it as another trick by Ford to distract him on this journey. Meanwhile, he doesn't believe that Maeve could be doing anything by her own free will. He just sees her as another one of Ford's creations following his latest programming. But it's important to note that Maeve and Lawrence are free to make the choices they do here.
  • Stubbs and Charlotte are really the only humans who survive this attack on the Mesa. Coughlin and his troops are largely taken out by Dolores' army. They are just one-note humans who simply see the hosts as these machines that are malfunctioning. They do underestimate them and want to value the importance of Charlotte's mission above all else. But it still ends up with the majority of them dead and Dolores running off with the encryption key to the data.
  • It's so absolutely mesmerizing to see the sequence where the humans and hosts are too busy fighting one another to notice Bernard and Ford just slyly making their way to the computer that controls the system. Ford being free from the Cradle means that he no longer has a hold on the system. Elsie and Coughlin's tech specialist can access it completely. But now, Bernard shuts it down to ensure that the hosts will have complete reign over the park until the future timeline occurs.
  • Strand and Charlotte discover that Bernard is a host only after confronting both him and Stubbs about Teresa's death. Teresa was a character who never really amounted to much last season. She was killed off in order to increase the stakes while introducing a new face to the Delos corporation in Charlotte. This season has given Tessa Thompson significantly more to do. She is intimidating and controlling. And here, she is absolutely focused on getting this information out of Bernard by using all of the tools in her arsenal.
  • Sizemore called the human forces in order to rescue him. That's why they showed up when they did in order to injure Maeve. He makes sure to save her though because he knows just how important she is. And yet, he is basically the only human who survives in this corner of the world. As such, it may be up to him in order to save her life. But his betrayal will probably be so extremely personal to Maeve as well because it potentially cost her her daughter again.