Thursday, June 7, 2018

Westworld, Season Two, Episode Seven: Les Écorchés

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If you've ever had any doubt that Bernard is there to represent the audience, this episode should lay that to rest. Bernard is discovering what has happened just as we are and almost everything we see is from his perspective.  We are Bernard and Bernard is us. At times, Westworld is difficult to follow because it's constantly shifting through timelines dropping little clues with one hand and moving away from them with the other.  More than any other episode to date, Les Écorchés has been the most transparent and the most revealing. 

We begin with Bernard sleeping on a couch with a picture of Arnold's son cradled in his hand. Ashley has determined that Delos is not interested in saving any survivors and that the two of them must get to a satellite phone to call for help. They don't get very far before they are confronted by Charlotte Hale and marched to the location of where Theresa Cullen was killed. Ashley is quickly deemed the most likely suspect for killing Theresa but as we already know, Ashley is not the guilty party. It was Bernard who killed Theresa on Ford's command. It isn't until a gun is put to Ashley's head that Bernard decides to speak up.  To make matters worse, Hale's attention is drawn to a door and when everyone walks through it they find several hosts who look like Bernard. So yeah, the literal skeletons in the closet is a bit too on the nose but now everyone is in the know about exactly who and what Bernard is. Now that the secret is out however, Hale has a new lead on where to find the info that was hidden inside of Abernathy. 

In the past, Bernard is still inside the cradle and it's finally time to have a long awaited conversation with Ford. Bernard remembers uploading Ford, who explains that he lives inside the cradle now and would only degrade if placed into a host.  We learn that the mission of the park was never perfecting the tech but in breaking down, recreating and understanding the human brain, which Ford calls the last analog item in a digital world. Ford believes that in the host he has created something new and innocent and has no intention of allowing humanity to corrupt it with its violence and evil. Bernard is absolutely astounded with the revelation. Ford believes that Bernard does not have the stamina to do what needs to be done to survive and so he decides to take away Bernard's free will.  Outside of the cradle, Delores has begun her assault on the headquarters and Elise is anxious for Bernard to get out of the machine so that they can escape.

The security force sent to deal with the hosts are absolutely overly confident and it isn't until they find the remains of the previous team that they discover how much trouble they are in. The security force doesn't have time to register the danger before they are shot dead by hosts who have dressed up as the security force.  Delores has two aims inside of headquarters: find Abernathy to get the information out of his head and to destroy their backups which she believes will lead to true freedom for the hosts. Delores comes face to with Charlotte Hale at last and it's almost everything I hoped it would be. Delores is enraged with what has been done to Abernathy and for her part, Charlotte is absolutely dismissive of Delores's ability to use the information stored inside of Abernathy. Charlotte really hasn't quite dialed into exactly what she is dealing with because she's so results driven. It's only when Delores places her up against a wall and threatens to give her just a measure of what she's been forced to go through that things suddenly start to feel real for Hale. Fortunately for Hale, with the help of a gun going off somewhere in HQ and Ashley who creates a distraction, both she and Ashley are able to escape. Delores may be thwarted for now but at least she finally has access to Abernathy. The two share a very emotional goodbye, even though Delores is well aware that it has been written into her programming to care for Abernathy before she takes what she needs from him.

Elsewhere in Westworld, Maeve has taken refuge in an abandoned building to hide with her daughter when who should show up but William and of course Lawrence.  The arrival of William instantly triggers Maeve because she like Delores has been the subject of Williams cruelty for decades.  When William enters the building, Maeve instantly demands that he leave but he doesn't take her demand seriously because he knows that Ford has been driving his current experience in the park. It's only when Maeve takes out her gun and shoots William in the shoulder that he realises that he needs to take her seriously as a threat. William races outside to try and find cover and after pausing to promise her daughter that she will come back for her, Maeve follows William outside. Once outside, Maeve uses her powers to cause the hosts to turn on William much to his surprise.  Maeve is playing for keeps and still William doesn't quite understand that this isn't Fords doing because he continually pleads with Ford, claiming that this isn't how Ford wants him to die. Delores advances but is forced to stop when Lawrence arrives and points a gun at her head, demanding that she stop attacking William. Maeve tries to use her mind power on Lawrence but it doesn't work. I just knew that the writers wouldn't be consistent with Maeve's abilities and I'm already frustrated by it. Maeve then tells Lawrence that he should think back about his past interactions, positive that anything involving William and a host would not be good for the host.  As Lawrence picks through his memories, he remembers William killing his wife. William tries to insist that he saved Lawrence's wife but as we know, that's the first time he ever did anything kind for Lawrence. It's a reminder of Ford's warning to William that one good act could not erase the harm that he's done. Now in full possession of his memories, Lawrence no longer sees William as a hero and turns the gun on him, only to be shot by the rescue forces that Lee called for.  Maeve is shot as well and before she can be permanently killed, Lee intervenes saying that Maeve isn't like the rest. As Maeve is taken to a vehicle, she watches as her daughter leaves the security of her hiding place only to be scooped up by Akecheta and the Ghost Nation warriors. Maeve screams out but its to no avail, she's powerless to help her daughter.

It's left to Angela to destroy the cradle and this seems a rather fitting choice given that she's the one who introduces William to hosts, as well as welcomes people to Westworld in the first place. Angela is who she is to the end, seducing a soldier, even though she is injured, encouraging him to drop his guard so that she can get close to him. Look, I know that Delos probably didn't spend a lot of money on their hired security force given that they probably didn't see this coming but what kind of security just lowers his gun and lets a threat close to him because of a hard on?

When they arrive back at HQ, they don't have long before they come under attack. Lee pauses over Maeve's prone body but decides to flee and hide instead.  We are treated to a second encounter between Maeve and Delores, who believes that Maeve should end her own life to stop the trauma and her misery but Maeve is determined to keep fighting because she made a promise to her daughter. Even though Delores just has her tearful goodbye with Abernathy, she is completely pragmatic about what the hosts mean to each other and how these emotions came into being. Delores declares it all a lie but Maeve will not be moved and so Delores leaves her a loaded gun and to her own fate.  What neither woman realises is that Lee has been listening to the entire interaction.

With the danger escalating at HQ, Bernard emerges from the cradle.  Elsie immediately begins questioning him about what he learned but Bernard has Ford in his head whispering in his ear to send Elsie on her way.  Bernard struggles at first but complies. Now that Delores has managed to successfully blow up the cradle the final task is to shut down what is left of Westworld to give the hosts free range.  Bernard is reluctant because all he can see around him his violence and bloodshed but Ford is insistent so he complies.  When Bernard is confronted by soldiers, Ford orders him to pick up a gun and shoot but that is a step to far for Bernard and so Ford takes over and forces Bernard to act, releasing a primal scream as the soldiers fall in a hail of bullets. Ford has once again turned Bernard into a murderer.

In the present day after flitting through his memories thanks to waterboarding by Hale, Bernard admits that he knows where the info formerly inside Abernathy is now. If it hasn't been corrupted it will work as a failsafe for Delos. What I cannot help but wonder if Bernard gave up that information freely because Ford is gone from his system, or if he fought his way free from Ford to be able to give that information to Hale.

What we learned this episode is that Delores was indeed looking for fidelity in Bernard and this was important because he had to be created from memories and since hers were far more accurate than any human, Ford used Delores to test Bernard. It's only when Bernard was able to fool Delores into believing that he was Arnold that Ford considered his work done. The dark side of this of course is that the technology provides a sort of immortality to humans. Ford wants to give the earth to his creations believing humanity to be violent to continue to rule. Essentially, Ford is a nihilist.

After some thought about Lawrence and Maeve, the only thing I can come up with which would explain why she couldn't influence him is because Lawrence has become sentient and is far outside of the loop that Westworld created for him.  Could it be that once a Host is woke, Maeve loses her power over them and the most rely on wisdom and coercion to get her point across?  I hope that if this is the case that Westworld makes it clear because having a super powered Maeve who can only access her powers in a willy nilly fashion makes no sense. 

We know that Westworld is leading up to something because William, Delores as well as Bernard with his Ford rider are headed to the Valley Beyond. Clearly, this is the last stage of Ford's plan but so far we can only speculate what's there. We know that Delores called it a weapon and the Ford referred to it as a door which could be opened. Given the dead hosts we saw earlier in the season which Bernard claimed to be responsible for, something tells me that the plan didn't quite work out. I do however believe that the hosts all being wiped clean is an indicator that something unexpected happened. Could they all have been transfered into a new digital world beyond Delos's control?

Westworld actually pulled off something difficult. Normally when a major character is put at risk, I can't take it seriously because some characters are unkillable - think Rick on The Walking Dead before Andrew Lincoln announced he was leaving. For a moment I actually believed that we might be witnessing the end of the MIB. Of course, William though wounded, lives on to fight another day. I don't think that they will be able to pull this trick again. I do however think it was cathartic to watch Maeve and to a lesser extent Lawrence attempt to hold him accountable for what he has done.

Delores's conflict with what to do with Abernathy added some depth to her character.  Delores was forced to choose between saving her father who she clearly loves and getting the information she needs to free herself from the control of the humans she has come to despise. We know that there's some part of Delores who may miss the old Teddy but she's fine with having him as a warrior by her side in battle, so it's not hard to believe when she decides to sacrifice Abernathy, who tells her that he is who he is because of her. What Delores doesn't realise is that by making the decision to end Abernathy for good, she's not different from the humans who have tortured hosts for their own violent delights for decades. Delores becomes what she hates in that moment because she is so consumed with her end goal.

Perhaps the most disturbing reveal of this episode is why the Hosts are on a such a tight loop. As it turns out, the hosts are the control and the guests are the vairable, thus allowing  Delos  to learn from how the guests react. This entire project has been about decoding the guests or breaking down the last analog thing in a digital world. The goal it seems was never to live on in the body of a guest but to live on through technology while ceding the physical world to the hosts. This is why Ford decided to hide out inside the cradle rather than trying to put his consciousness inside a host which would cause him to degrade.  The revelation that Bernard was built from the memories of Delores and Ford explains why he is able to function unlike William's father in-law. This of course leads to a problem because as we know, Ford escaped being destroyed when Angela blew up the cradle because he leaped into Bernard's body. What does Ford's new residence mean for the transference of human consciousness?