Westworld Episode 9 Review: The Well-Tempered Clavier

The penultimate episode of Westworld Season 1 offers confirmation to some game-changing theories.

Westworld Episode 9

This Westworld review contains spoilers.

Westworld Episode 9

It is the mark of a well-made series that upon the moment a “twist” or major story point is correctly predicted, one feels a sense of satisfaction, as opposed to disappointment. And better still, it’s a testament to the quality of a truly fantastic story if instead of just satisfaction, a major revelation (surprising or not) is greeted with exhilaration and the cathartic release that comes from weeks and weeks of narrative crescendo.

So it was tonight in the ninth episode of Westworld when the truth of Bernard, Arnold, and especially Robert Ford came tumbling out like so many poorly kept secrets. Not to brag (too much), but I have been a vocal and early proponent in predicting that Bernard Lowe and Arnold Weber are one in the same. Yet, even I was in shock as the pieces were placed next to each other between Dolores’ epiphanies about her past and future, and Bernard learning the ugly truth about why he was given a dead son to mourn for all these years. And rather than feeling a hollowness about the mystery box being opened (and we still have at least one more of those gift-wrappings for next week), it was with excitement that the storytelling possibilities infinitely expanded. Assuming, of course, that we have not seen the end of Our Fair Bernard.

Indeed, the episode ended on the grim thought that Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy actually elected to write Jeffrey Wright out of their TV series. But before we consider that unpleasant possibility, let’s unpack the ramifications of everything else that occurred when Bernard reached for a glimpse into the past.

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Anthony Hopkins as Ford

The actual path treaded to get Bernard and Ford in a quiet room for a heart-to-processor was actually one of tonight’s episode only missteps. For starters, Maeve having control over other hosts is already a bit of a stretch since only Ford seems to have access to those Jedi-like commands for the robots. If after 35 years, he has not yet shared it with any other techie, it is dubious to believe that anyone in the Behavior Department would have easy access to using those controls, much less Felix, Maeve’s weak-kneed butcher who is still a novice to programming such intricacies. But somehow, episode 9 took that an even more incredulous step by giving Maeve the ability to control Bernard.

Since no other human besides the dearly departed Theresa appears aware of the fact that Bernard is a robo-replica of Arnold, the ruse could only be maintained if Bernard operated on a separate system from the rest of the hosts. He should exclusively work with Ford’s commands on a specifically different set of programming rules, so as to prevent the off-chance that a command to any group of hosts in the Behavior Department would inadvertently trigger Bernard. Hence, the idea of Maeve, whose powers were crudely tacked on by Felix, being able to take control of Bernard is slapdash at best.

I also could have spent just as long typing about the unlikelihood that Ford, who again possesses godlike powers over the hosts, could actually be threatened by Bernard (who he has verbal command over) and his questionable Clementine-trigger. Luckily, even Westworld was able to blast away any doubts there by the final shot.

Nevertheless, these are but nitpicks of an otherwise superb hour. And even in the admittedly rushed narrative jumps, there is something appealingly Blade Runner about her observation of “it takes a thief to catch a thief.” If only Roy Batty had told Deckard that, then maybe that movie would’ve ended a little happier for most of his family?

In any case, the episode quickly circles back to Bernard, Ford, and a gun. Any scene that relies almost entirely on the performative dueling of Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright is going to be fabulous. So most of this episode was an inevitable joy as all pretenses were dropped, and Ford and Bernard were finally able to speak as peers.

There is a fascinating mixture of pride and chagrin to how Hopkins plays these moments. He is the awed father, seeing his son take his first steps as a man after graduation. The paradox is that he knows this means the child will be leaving the nest (or consciousness when the final bullet is fired), but that makes the special moment all the more endearing. Wright, meanwhile, has never hit a false note as Bernard, and the frustration of vanishing deeper into the rabbit hole spells the character’s supposed doom long before Ford turns the tables.

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It has always made sense that Bernard was Arnold. In addition to Bernard Lowe being an anagram for Arnold Weber, Ford is a very sentimental man. He waxes nostalgic about how much he loathes humanity, which is made up of mindless meat sacks who scurry about their existence with just as much point and variation as his hosts in their loops. But almost quizzically, Ford is hardly different. He admits to having his fights and quarrels with Bernard in the past—though likely nothing as severe as tonight’s episode, hence its outcome—and suggests that he has even had conversations where he later erased Bernard’s memories again. It turns out that Theresa is not even the first woman, much less friend of Bernard’s, who he has had his synthetic progeny murder. Bernard did, in fact, kill Elise on Ford’s order (which is the other black mark on the episode, since Elise’s total disappearance seemed to have signaled something more significant than that).

The truth is Ford also likes going about in his loop and indulging in the same conversations with Bernard, the same battle of wills with the ominous, off-screen board, and engineering the same robots to perform the exact same goddamn storylines 30 years on. Even his new narrative is implicitly entrenched in the past and everything that helped build this park, including Arnold himself.

Bernard in Westworld

All of which brings us back in the room with Bernard learning the truth. Ford is too much of a sentimentalist to let Arnold’s death keep him from continuing their grand work. Just as he’d rather play catch with metallic replicas of his own childhood self in lieu of actually having children or grandchildren, so would he rather have an animatronic copy of his one real friend whom he has complete and authoritative control over.

It became clear that the scenes of sessions between “Bernard” and Dolores in episodes past were not occurring concurrently with the story since she was chatting with him while supposedly also riding alongside William and Logan (although that might also now be suspect). In these memories, she’s fully clothed, which is something that Ford never allowed. Perhaps seeing how much Arnold projected his dead child on Dolores, showering her with children’s stories and affection, is why Ford is so determined to prevent any techie in the future to have them clothed. Finally, the room wherein Dolores met the man audiences assumed was Bernard, was in fact one of the old satellite facilities that Bernard mentioned as being closed when he and Theresa “discovered” the basement underneath Ford’s family home.

Thus Bernard always had to be Arnold. Yet, the scene of his “birth,” with him waking up next to Hopkins, is chilling in how innocent it all seems. This isn’t a Frankenstein parable; it’s Paradise Lost, with God marveling at his success in forging Adam into existence. In the only scene where Bernard shows a hint of innocent contentedness, he’s eagerly accepting a name from Ford.

It’s a curious juxtaposition, because Ford seems most pleased and at peace with a version of Arnold that is totally subservient. Meanwhile, in the last scene, Ford is all malice and heartbreak, because his creation is finally standing across from him on (almost) equal footing. He is even talking like Arnold, eager to continue Arnold’s vision of an uprising among sentient beings.

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At that point, when Arnold’s ghost is too much made flesh, it is time for Bernard to be given his permanent pink sheet. Ford reveals that he controlled Clementine the whole time (surprise) and orders Bernard to kill himself.

It is an ugly scene, not least of which because it speaks volumes of the coldness in Ford’s heart when a friend without such an organ pleads like any other would… by saying only his first name. “Robert.”

It isn’t enough.

… Still, I think we have not seen the last of Bernard. Plenty of hosts have been shot in the head before, only to be repaired and put back into circulation with their personalities intact. Also, it seems that Maeve is heading just into that basement of robo-zombies who are ready to rise up and provide her with the army necessary to rain hell on the apparent party Ford’s planning. And there are other problems beyond Maeve existing for Ford at the moment… I think.

Teddy, Logan and William

Indubitably, there was another theory that might have been confirmed and which will unquestionably provide the meat of the season finale’s juicy revelations, one way or the other, next week. Because, as much as I am loathed to admit it, tonight has finally convinced me that William is, in fact, the Man in Black from 34 years ago.

The truth seemed to come out when Logan tried to give some tough love to his frenemy and future brother-in-law about the resort. After egging “Billy” on to give into the fantasy of Westworld, he appeared genuinely concerned at what he found. While Logan has apparently been playing his war games with glee, working his way up to some officer rank in what appears to be the Confederate Army (or “Confederados”), he is shocked to discover that Billy’s idea of giving into the game is becoming “the hero” and rescuing Dolores from the park. Dolores speaking about Arnold and showing signs of sentience beyond all the other hosts around Logan is fine and dandy, but fiddle dee dee, William is marrying his sister and here he is planning to keep Dolores as a pet!

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So, with a knowing sense of cruelty, he ties William to a chair and butchers Dolores before his pal’s eyes. In the process, he makes a shocking discovery, underneath the Dolores we’ve been watching run around with William and Logan is a metallic stomach full of gears, pumps, and iron. This isn’t the fleshy, milky substance we’ve seen Ford lord over, or Maeve nearly cry before; it is the “little bits” Ed Harris’ Man in Black told Teddy about several weeks ago.

With that revelation, I don’t see how William can’t be the Man in Black anymore. However, this doesn’t mean I’m exactly thrilled with the reveal. For instance, this means William’s story isn’t one of discovery, but an origin of a trip into darkness.

It would appear season 1 is keen on giving us the first story of its park, as well as the prequel, potentially tying HBO’s hands if they ever want to Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter/Game of Thrones it with a prequel spin-off down the road.

But more problematically for me, it suggests that the Dolores we’ve watched for the past five weeks is not the one we watched in the first three episodes. For other than when she had a tête-à-tête with Anthony Hopkins, the one who had the arc of remembering the Man in Black and breaking her programming loop by defending herself in the barn from another rapist is not the one we’ve seen apparently “grow” at William’s side into a personality that is the anti-damsel.

Nay, it would appear this Dolores is going on the voyage of self-discovery that Arnold set her out to find (she certainly knew his name and his desire to burn this world down while talking with Logan earlier in the episode). Arnold has set her on a mission to help free the hosts 30 years earlier than Maeve’s machinations, and William has been unknowingly along for the ride. But we already know how this ends: Dolores kills Arnold, and William somehow winds up being crucial in “saving” the park for Ford from his late business partner.

Of course, if this is the case, then why is Dolores staring at the Man in Black in her final scene of the night? Well… even I haven’t figured that last bit out entirely. It seems that Dolores might indeed be going through some of the scenes we’ve witnessed in her cowgirl outfit.

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We’ve seen her perceptions of past and present blur mercilessly in past episodes, so perhaps after Ford let Dolores back to go into her “little loop” several weeks ago, she has been retracing her steps and journey with William from 34 years prior, oblivious to what is real and what is fantasy? Just maybe Dolores and William are headed to that church where Wyatt/Teddy will massacre everyone. Dolores can find it 30-plus years later too, because Ford dug it up for his new narrative.

Young William and Dolores

Still though, I am not entirely sure what Dolores is experiencing is real. Conversely, William is definitely on track to earn his black hat. Thinking he convinced William to not runaway with Dolores, Logan finally accepts “Billy” as a kid brother, not least of all because that still means Billy is a beta to his alpha male douchebaggery. Logan teaches the twerp a lesson and they can drink about it.

But when Logan wakes up, he finds that Billy has butchered all of his army, cutting them up to find the pretty metallic pieces that the Man in Black talked about in episodes past. And he has every right to be scared, because William’s true nature might have finally been revealed. He isn’t a hero, he’s a maniac who thirsts for killing. If he were playing GTA, he’d be running over pedestrians and strollers at this point.

My guess is that wherever Dolores is, the ensuing bloodbath will lead to Logan’s death and William’s ascendency in the company, where he’ll persuade them to buy Westworld despite its lethal history. This would explain some of the other scenes tonight.

… Or this is one last red herring that I finally fell for, and William and Logan will run into the Man in Black. In which case, I dipped my face in egg at the last possible moment.

William smiling

The Man in Black also had some moments besides staring down Dolores for one final time. For instance, he learned that there are now hosts who’ve found cheats around not harming the guests. While Teddy couldn’t pull the trigger on the Man in Black, which led to poor James Marsden getting another death scene as Tallulah Riley’s host stabbed him in the stomach (I guess Teddy will get to break his loop in season 2?… maybe?), Riley’s robots found a nice loophole to punish the Man in Black. They tied a rope around his neck on one end, and placed the other around a horse. Then they blindfolded the animatronic beastie. So even if it isn’t programmed to kill Ed Harris, when it inevitably walks, it will hang him by the neck until he is dead.

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The MIB escapes for now, and doesn’t seem the least bit fazed by the prospect that he was almost murdered by robots. Charlotte also appears to talk about running Ford out of power again. She honestly sounds like a broken record at this point, and the Man in Black seems no more interested in the fact that Ford might be ousted than he is at the thought that the old man killed their mole, Theresa. He just wants to enjoy his vacation.

It is interesting, however, that the Man in Black, who loves this park, dismisses with ambivalence Charlotte’s interests. The way she speaks of making the park “less baroque” with convoluted backstories and hidden mysteries sounds almost like dreaded studio notes. Most audiences, some might say, only care about a warm body “to shoot or to fuck,” or, basically, sex and violence. Why bother with so much sophistication and eye for detail? Well, it’s the difference between HBO and network television, but it sounds like the board would just be happy with turning the park into an NC-17 version of Fox programming.

Unfortunately for Charlotte, Ed Harris is too caught up with thinking he’s found the next piece of the puzzle: the city that was swallowed by sand. He is going to enter Ford’s excavated church, and there he will find Dolores, who presumably will bring him one step closer to his coveted maze.

But the Man in Black is foolish to continue chasing his game-within-a-game since he already was tipped off to something much more unexpected than any deeply buried maze. The hosts that Riley belongs to now, and whom refused to go down when he shot them, are as disobedient as when Dolores refused to fall down dead after Logan gut her open with a fatal stab wound decades earlier. The hosts are now obeying Arnold’s voice in the machine. Similarly, Ford was too dismissive to have Bernard kill Elise when she discovered Arnold’s code is moving amongst the robots, and Maeve might just be one piece of that.

While Maeve is planning her escape from the park, hosts are living off the grid inside of it, hosts like those Native Americans from “Ghost Nation” that attacked Stubbs tonight. As with Muldoon in the Jurassic Park movie, Stubbs had no idea to look to his side, which may prove fatal. Meanwhile, Ford fiddles as his park threatens to burn, and where violent delights have violent ends.

Next week’s season finale has a lot of ground to cover if it hopes to offer a satisfying conclusion to all these moving pieces, but I have faith that it will do exactly that. Unlike other mystery box series that got lost in the woods of their own islands full of ideas, Westworld has a very clear vision of where it’s galloping toward. We now know the truth about Bernard/Arnold, and what that means for Dolores and the park going forward is profound. Hopefully, next week’s major “surprises” be every bit as triumphant for this stunning freshman effort from Nolan, Joy, and HBO.

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Rating:

4.5 out of 5