This Westworld review contains spoilers.
Westworld Episode 6
It really is incredible how much detail and major plot development that Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are able to squeeze into every hour of Westworld. When one has to boil it down to a review, it becomes daunting to even know where to begin. However, after tonight’s episode “The Adversary,” the one thing that I am forced to return to again and again in my head is Thandie Newton and her brava performance as Maeve. Indeed, more than any hour to date, this evening was a showcase for her ability to dominate all scenes.
There is the obvious fearlessness in simply adhering to the physical requirements of Maeve’s scenes, which frequently meant frank close-ups of nudity, suggesting an almost clinical objectification of her body. Yet, this episode is also, paradoxically, the strongest repudiation of the culturist reading about Westworld being an excuse for exploitation and subjugation of its female performers. To be sure, Ms. Newton was required to be nude for most of her scenes, and in her first sequence where she was clothed, she provoked a hulking, stinky guest, with presumably very small hands, to first try to rape her and then strangle her to death. But it all serves a strangely subversive reappropriation of these lazy TV tropes. Maeve—and by extension the TV series as a whole—wants to be abused and to die, because she has figured out the game’s clichés and is using them to break it.
Last week, it was easy to deduce that Maeve was getting herself killed so as to visit the real-world underneath the Oater fantasy, but tonight made it explicit. Maeve is going downstairs to manipulate Felix with great ease, and eventually Sylvester with expected intimidation. In the fantasy of the Westworld park, she is a doll meant to be abused and forgotten like so many peripheral TV characters, but in “reality,” she is fiercely independent and sharper than the men who try to control her, even with their supposedly immutable scripts.
Of course, the episode challenges her independence as being just another affectation from her programming. Felix reluctantly points out to Maeve that she is made, not born, and that all her thoughts were put there, even almost malfunctioning her by revealing how her mind works. However, and by his own admission, there is little difference between birth and creation this far into the future, and even if her “mind” is the product of programming, does it mean she is any less alive or conscious than these two men? Perhaps, most disturbingly for the future safety of the guests, Felix also notes that her processor operates at rate far faster than the human brain. And by the end of the episode, they have turned her standards of perception up to 20, making her effectively as smart as a rocket scientist.
But before even that final chill, the real tremendous moment of the night came when Maeve pressured Felix to let her walk around upstairs and see the inside mechanics of her world. This is where Newton really shined and likely earned herself a frontrunner status at the Emmys next year. Without words, Newton is able to express her dismay and heartbreak—even if her character has no literal heart—at the realization that her world is a lie and all she holds dear is a cruel illusion. She, quite intentionally, appears to be a slave in chains witnessing the degradation of her people at the market. This cultural reading is intentional, just as much the dress she has forced Felix to place on her while still being treated as his subservient pet by all passerbys.
Still, there is a certain beauty in these silent moments too, at the sight of robotic buffalo and deer being taught to walk. But for Maeve, it is just a twisting of the knife every bit as bitter as the sight of the milky skeleton from which she is made.
This sequence is also a showcase for Ramin Djawadi, who writes a beautiful orchestral piece that seems to both toast and mourn the artificiality of this faux-19th century utopia. Perhaps because for Maeve, it means purely hell. This is best underscored when she realizes the “dreams” she has of a daughter (one who is robbed from her when they’re scalped by Natives) is the product of an actual past life. Like realizing reincarnation is real, she now knows she really did live the life of a happy settler instead of a world weary courtesan… and it existed only to be stolen from her day after day until even the memories of it were likewise supplanted. Until now.
With all this said, it’s easy to see why she forces Felix and Sylvester to lower her loyalty number—which might be bad for Felix since she did seem to mildly enjoy his company—while increasing her intelligence to the extreme. She might still be under their technical control for now, but she is far beyond even Felix’s seemingly high and underrated intelligence. We’re about to have some fun, indeed, in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere in the park, emotional melancholy was replaced by cold, cerebral horror. This is most clear in the scenes involving Robert Ford, who until tonight acted as if he had never encountered an event he hadn’t orchestrated like he was the Hand of God himself. It began early when he decided not to destroy the quaintly charming Mexican village that undoubtedly will be used as a backdrop in many episodes to come. However, he also noticed that his hosts—robots he insists are simply tools without any true sentient thoughts of their own—are now all drawing images of the Maze. This understandably worries him, because as we later see, the Maze is still in his documents from ages ago, probably a final project by Arnold before his death (the Man in Black has said as much).
First of all, this is the first of several elements tonight that further discredits the fan theory that William and the Man in Black are the same character in different time periods, since William and Dolores ran across the same cryptic symbol last week when they boarded Lawrence’s train (and Dolores recognized it). However, in the immediate, it shakes Ford to his core. And it is only the beginning of the chills he will encounter this evening.
Similarly, the Man in Black and Teddy further dig into the mythology around Arnold and the Maze. There scenes tonight mostly were to give the hour some action thrills, and admittedly I quite enjoyed seeing Ed Harris and James Marsden shoot their way through a Union command in the desert. The Gatling gun massacre also demonstrates that Teddy’s new backstory with the enigmatic Wyatt makes him much darker than the previous blank-slated, squeaky clean matinee idol hero we saw in the earliest episodes.
But the real bit of progress in these scenes was that Teddy revealed the hosts (at least these days) consider the Maze to be an old Native American legend about a man who lives in the center and cannot die. Apparently, having suffered a thousand deaths, he eventually rose up and “vanquished his oppressors” while building a house only he knows the location of in this land (i.e. the park).
So if we want to get truly lost deep in the woods of fan theories, here’s a real crazy idea I just invented: what if Ford himself is the ultimate sentient host? After all, he seems to have a psychic connection with all the other robots in the park, which would make a lot more sense if he himself is also synthetic, and thus able to connect into the others’ software. It also would explain his hidden house with his “family” that Bernard stumbled into later in the episode (which we’ll get to in a moment). Again, Teddy said the Man in the Maze built a hidden home for himself.
Perhaps the reason Ford is protecting the Maze is because it is his origin? He was a host who died countless times until he rose up, killed Arnold and made himself the supposed Walt Disney of Westworld.
… Yeah, I don’t think it’s probably right either. However, the way Teddy describes the Man in the Maze makes obvious allusions to a supreme being who sounds an awful lot like a fellow robot. And if he were Arnold… it just makes too much sense, doesn’t it?
Anyway, we do find the house when Bernard stumbles upon it in a very intriguing way. Almost in a preemptive move to protect Theresa (one wonders if she’d do the same for him?), he follows Elsie’s breadcrumbs and goes down deep into the facilities the park has forgotten about. Hardcore fans will notice that this scene gets extra Michael Crichton-y since there is a knowing wink behind Arnold while goes into the farthest reaches of the basement, here in the literal silhouetted shape of Yul Brynner’s gunslinger from the 1973 Westworld movie.
Further, by studying where the stray went, Bernard comes to realize that they’re so busy paying attention to the robots they know are in the park that they’re not monitoring, at all, for hosts who might not have been upgraded to modern specifications. This shock that there are five unaccounted hosts wandering around off-site is straight out of Jurassic Park (the book, not the movie). In the novel, John Hammond’s island was already doomed before Dennis Nedry’s corporate espionage destroyed the fences since Ian Malcolm was able to figure out that Jurassic Park’s control room was also only paying attention to the dinosaurs it knew were in the park; they were oblivious to the fact that the dinosaurs were breeding and that for months, baby raptors and compys were growing into adulthood without any supervision. It turned out that there were 60 unaccounted for dinosaurs, most of them being carnivores, running about. It was all a matter of time before chaos ensued. We explore these literary similarities further here, and so too now does it seem like “life” (even if the artificial variety) is finding a way on the Westworld TV series.
To be fair, when Bernard goes to the house, he discovers that at least Robert Ford knows of its existence. These robots are, unsurprisingly, replicas of Ford’s childhood, including a brother who died before reaching adulthood. Likely everyone knew the boy was Robert as a child, but it is telling that Ford made the duplicate of his father a violent alcoholic, apparently like the real-thing. He is quizzically sentimental like that (which leads into my other theory that I’ll get back into in a moment).
Also, these scenes offer the other definite repudiation of William/the Man in Black being one in the same. Arnold reveals that these older models do not have flesh and blood under them, but the “million beautiful pieces” that Harris waxed nostalgic of last week. We now have visual confirmation of what they were—Ford even seems to agree with Harris that they have “lost their grace” the more human they’ve become. They also do not look anything like the robots William shot bloody holes into last week.
The other big takeaway of the sequence is that baby robo-Robert killed the replica of his beloved dog (which curiously did not look like a greyhound). Older Robert gets his youthful doppelganger to admit that he murdered the pup because he received an order from Arnold. There appears to be a literal ghost in the machine…
Speaking of which, we got some ominous clues about what is going on thanks to the courageous (and last?) acts of Elsie. First, she comes to Bernard and reveals that, indeed, the stray was a product of corporate espionage. She also further informs my theory that not only is Bernard really a robot himself, but he is also a duplicate of Arnold. As with the drunken father, we know that Ford is the sentimental type who likes observing his memories, warts and all, as they really were. And after Arnold’s death, making a replica of him to keep an eye on the park seems only prudent.
This is then aided by the scene where Elsie remarks that Bernard has “been here forever.” And before any commenters mention the mysterious photo of a man who looks quite a bit like the Wyatt host standing next to a young Ford in episode 3, consider that if Bernard were a duplicate of Arnold, that Ford would obviously not show him a picture of the man. Additionally, a commenter named Jordan Rouse pointed out to me last week a very stunning fact: the name Bernard Lowe also functions as an anagram for “Arnold Weber.” Perhaps that overlap is why everyone in Westworld simply calls this long lost genius “Arnold,” as opposed to by his last name or both names, such as Robert Ford, himself.
In any case, Elsie takes her investigation to revelatory heights when she discovers two signals being secretly broadcast in the park. The first is the saboteur turning out to be Theresa! This explains why Theresa “missed” this hole in their security (which Bernard, rather compromisingly, tried to defend Theresa from failing at doing). It also leads me to suspect that it isn’t corporate espionage at all. I’m not sure what Theresa is up to, but I doubt she is helping a competitor like Wayne Knight did in Jurassic Park.
However, it also confirms my suspicion from last week that the stray having a wire in his arm was misdirection, separate from the larger problem that is leading Dolores and Maeve to become truly self-aware. Indeed, on top of Theresa’s inexplicable machinations, there is someone fiddling with the hosts’ programming… and it appears to be the handiwork of Arnold.
The fact that the show came straight out and said it is Arnold seemingly back from the dead orchestrating his plan, and that Elsie even whispers Arnold before she is attacked(!) by a shadowy figure, makes it seem all too convenient to actually be Arnold. But I’ll go ahead and speculate that it really is Arnold… or rather his programmed subconscious as the “Man in the Maze.” While Bernard might be a replica of his body, tailored to Ford’s liking, Arnold programmed his consciousness to be a literal ghost in the machine, and he is now reclaiming control of his park. Think that Johnny Depp movie, Transcendence, except, you know, not sucking.
Also, I suspect Elsie is still alive. If they were really killing her off, we would have seen it. I expect in the next week or two, Bernard or Ford will find her… maybe in the Maze itself?
For it will be there that “Arnold,” or some version of his consciousness, lives on as Ford’s greatest adversary.
But, in lieu of simply praising this week for one canny creative choice after another, “The Adversary” did have some notable blemishes. And all of them involved Lee Sizemore.
To be completely honest, I had hoped the character was written out of the series since we hadn’t seen him since the second episode. While I am not entirely sure if the fault lies with the writing or Simon Quarterman’s performance, Sizemore is an irritating and one-note caricature masquerading as a character. From the cartoonish way he boorishly hits on Tessa Thompson’s introduction in a bikini—when she obviously is from corporate—to then literally pissing on the control room map, Lee Sizemore feels like a creature from a different, less-good TV series. Given the fierce professionalism of characters like Theresa, Bernard, and Elsie (at least two of whom would have the clout to terminate Sizemore), he should’ve been fired on the spot for acting as if he were in an ‘80s John Landis comedy. Also, the standard cliché of him bad-mouthing the boss while in the presence of a beautiful woman, who is actually his superior, just feels rote and beneath the quality of the rest of the episode.
In fact, these scenes are in complete, jarring contrast to the subtlety with which Maeve wandered the halls tonight. Unfavorably so.
Hence, while the episode as a whole was quite powerful, it is stained just enough to cost it that fifth star. Nonetheless, “The Adversary” was high-quality television as a whole, and there is undoubtedly plenty of fun (and answers) to be had in the first season’s final four episodes to come.