Westworld Review: The Stray

Videos by OutKick

Imagine there are two versions of yourself, one that feels these things, and one that’s safe. Which would you rather be? – Bernard Lowe

Things are becoming very complicated inside of Westworld, and outside of it as well, aren’t they? Hosts are starting to gain awareness, guests are attempting to break the game, and those in control of both groups are attempting to push varying agendas. In just under an hour, the third episode went in several different directions, requiring a few rewinds to make sure what I thought I saw, what I believed I heard, was indeed what I experienced.

And, it was the best episode of the three. Are you hooked yet?

The quote I used above is relevant because it’s basically asking whether ignorance is bliss. Would you rather walk around blind inside The Matrix, or take the red pill and be truly free? Freedom is always spoken of as the perfect ideal, and is in fact what we fought for in the Revolutionary War. But, with freedom (or power, as it were) comes great responsibility. It’s hard to turn the water off once the flow begins. Knowledge craves more knowledge, the answers to more questions, and the ability to affect lasting change or a better life. Usually, knowing is half the battle, but I can’t help but wonder how I’d answer Bernard’s question if I were Dolores.

Bernard Lowe sees something in her that goes beyond host and programmer. I mean nothing nefarious or disgusting by that statement, although Dr. Ford might find the idea of father and daughter repugnant. We learn during the episode that Lowe lost his own child, Charlie, which might inform upon some of his actions, and why he seems willing to give up whatever positives might come with his job in order to help this young woman. He can’t help but want to assist her, even as he sees what awakening her to her surroundings could mean for all involved. Giving her books about change? Precarious.

Jeffrey Wright’s acting shines through here, as he conveys emotion through expression, accomplishing as much with a furrowed brow as with a shout. No one thus far has impressed me more than Evan Rachel Wood, because she’s repeatedly been asked to flip between robot and conscious, and now the show needs her to push both at the same time. When she’s disappointed with Teddy for referring to “someday,” which she knows means never, her mood is driven by what she’s learned from Bernard, and the bits of memory that haven’t been erased from her past interactions in the park.

She’s having flashes of being thrown onto a hay bale, potentially on the verge of a rape or torture session from the Man in Black, who appears, closes the door, wields a knife, and says, “Why don’t we reacquaint ourselves, Dolores. Start at the beginning.” She knows something he needs, or he’s abused her at some point in the past. Or, it’s a false memory, intentionally triggered to lead to the response with the gun that saves her “life,” or at least allows her to escape from the douchebags who wanted to gang rape her in town. Yeah, there are some real lowlifes spending 40K a day to live out their perverse hopes and dreams.

Ford’s story about having a partner at first felt like one tale, but morphed into something altogether different. He spoke of how his business associates scrubbed this man from the records. His name was Arnold, and he was all about creation. He was unconcerned with the appearance of intellect. He wanted to create real, lasting consciousness. Originally, when Ford mentioned creation, I thought of Steve Wozniak, whose passion was inside the circuitry, which eventually made him expendable in the universe of Steve Jobs, who was about everything else.

But Wozniak never would have cared about creating consciousness, because he wanted the machine to be the star. In a world where something real had been created, the box in which it lived wouldn’t have mattered all that much anymore. I do see Ford with a similar God complex to Jobs, and both men seem to walk and move as if nothing could touch them, even though just as Jobs found out, there’s always a board somewhere who can vote you out, or diminish your authority.

In any event, this voice of Arnold is a problem for Westworld as a business. Hosts have heard the voice of the creator, a problem he never fully understood. When something that’s at best half-alive hears one overwhelming voice booming in its head, it’s sometimes hard to separate that from the voice of the gods. At least, I assume it is, as I haven’t heard Arnold’s voice in my skull. Come to think of it, looking at the state of society and watching this election, finding out I was a host might be quite a gift.

Arnold imagined a pyramid of memory, improvisation, self-interest, and the top level, which he never reached before his death inside the park. Ford tells Bernard, “He saw something that wasn’t there. We called it an accident, but I knew Arnold, and he was very, very careful.” Okay, thanks doc, appreciate it. That’s not frightening at all. Eventually, I have no doubt we won’t just find out how he died, we’ll actually see it via a flashback, and it’s going to make somebody (we know who) look horrendous as a human being.

Meanwhile, out in the park, Elsie and Stubbs are busy trying to locate a missing stray, which gives the episode its name. They find a “camp” that’s on loop, where someone isn’t there that needed to return in order to keep the narrative moving properly. Inside the tent is a rock, upon which is carved the Orion constellation. Elsie immediately doesn’t like this at all, and Shannon Woodward, playing a role with all the charm of an Auschwitz defendant, does an excellent job showing her uneasiness. “He wasn’t programmed to give a shit about stars,” she says, and after vectoring, she hears something behind a boulder.

She finds the stray, seemingly trapped 128 Hours style, bleeding between the rocks. Stubbs comes to help, climbs down to sever the host’s head in order to free him (notice I’m not referring to the A.I. as “it”), which backfires. As he knocks Stubbs back, climbing out presumably to kill Elsie, or at least attack her, she frantically taps away at a screen, attempting to regain control of the stray, or put it in sleep mode. The first try clearly didn’t work, but just as he’s ready to strike, holding a large rock above his head, looking down upon a prone Elsie, he instead begins smashing it into his own skull, leading to a lot of blood and the equivalent of death.

It was a tough stretch for Elsie, who also sees video of a host killing six others, all who happened to have killed Walter in previous storylines. This man, Rebus, is acting like he’s on a revenge quest, holding a grudge against those who wronged someone he used to know, and can no longer find. Bernard and Elsie are seeing their fair share of strange things, that’s for sure. I’m half expecting Eleven to appear from behind a bush.

I went back and watched the scene with the stray, and I’ll admit I’m still not sure if it was her screen, or his own choice, that led to his end. Perhaps that’s the point, that we’re never going to be certain that what we’re seeing it real, and even if so, HOW real it is. Either way, it was powerful, and was another example of the forces behind Westworld learning that their park is officially losing its sanity. As ugly as some of the guests have been to these people, ultimately the real captors are those inside the corporate and design headquarters. I wouldn’t want to be one of those individuals if the self-awareness grew much farther than it already has, and actually might not want to be one anyway. None of these people seem happy in their lives.

They have far less emotion as a unit than those they’ve created. Stubbs jokes about backstory, Elsie is a behavior engineer, Bernard has to program closed-ended narratives, and then there’s Ford, who says none of the hosts are real. His words to Bernard, trying to shut Lowe’s idea of a life for Teddy and Dolores in the coldest way imaginable, gave Hopkins a chance to get as close to a non-cannibal Lechter as we’ve seen thus far. “It will never happen. His job is to keep her in the park, to make sure she’s there for the guests.” He then says Teddy has no origin story, but he’s willing to change it.

Again, Robert Ford is playing god, and he gets off on it. His Teddy story sends James Marsden’s character off on a fictional quest to find a man named Wyatt, a man he once knew and called friend in Escalante. Wyatt was his sergeant, and at some point disappeared, returning with strange ideas about the land not belonging to the old or the new, only to him.

“He’s not a man, but he’s not a devil either. A devil can’t be killed, and that’s exactly what I aim to do with Wyatt.” It takes him up in the hills with the sheriff and a few increasingly terrified guests who bail when it becomes too much for them. It also takes Teddy away from Dolores BEFORE she goes back home for the night, leaving her to find her dead father and watch her mother get murdered. But, once she’s shot, she escapes, and then with the hidden gun in the hay, she gets away, only to run into William and Logan, who are on their own boring quest.

Teddy also tells Dolores he’ll come back for her “someday soon,” and again Evan Rachel Wood’s eyes drop on that specific word, reminding us this woman is no longer the automaton she once was, thanks to Bernard and Abernathy. It’s a good callback to use “someday” again, but with no explanation. Either you remembered it from the first time, or it was a small piece that you missed. I appreciate that, and it’s no doubt going to lead to many of you telling me things I overlooked. You guys always do, and I love you for it.

As she stumbles up to the two guests and falls into William’s arms, nearly dead, the episode ends. What that particular moment is leading to, I have no idea, but this is the first time these two have encountered something like this, and in fact, is the first time virtually any guest has dealt with a host off whatever track it’s (she’s) supposed to be on at the time. Or, we think it is. That may change the game, if the pair realizes what’s happening, or even if it leads to them asking questions.

Theories are starting to emerge that William and the Man in Black are the same person, but at different times of life, or that the Man in Black is actually a host that has found a glitch to avoid even temporary pain, and he’s looking for the interior workings of the game to find the people that did this to him. All of it is fascinating, especially the idea that we’re seeing scenes at different times, and that chronology might not always mean what we think it means.

It’s still a little too soon for me to subscribe to any of this, but I’m willing to say that the vast majority of the high rollers looking for their jollies inside Westworld come out worse people. They’re more dangerous, because the mask is off. They know how far they’re willing to go, and who they really are.

The lack of consequence, the ability to do whatever one wishes, up to and including murder, sexual assault, and god knows what else…none of that can lead to positive development for those engaging in questionable activity. This was definitely the busiest episode of the three that have aired to this point, but it was a fast hour, an engaging hour, and though Westworld can be a lot to take, I’m still greatly enjoying it. There’s just so much here to do, so many people to meet, so many different stories to tell, almost as if we’re actually guests in Westworld, but third parties without interaction capabilities.

We’re also able to tour behind the scenes though, which makes us more knowledgeable than everybody, even Robert Ford.

I’m @JMartOutkick. If you need me, I’m at the bar inside the Marioosa Saloon and Hotel.

Written by Jason Martin