This article contains major spoilers for the Westworld Season 2 premiere.
He wakes up on a beach and remembers… nothing. That is one of the many tantalizing puzzles unwrapped in the opening minutes of Westworld Season 2. In fact, much of tonight’s premiere was about teasing just where Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard fits in the multiple timelines established in the opening sequences. And each of them has fascinating implications.
Consider that as the episode begins, we’re actually nowhere near the end of season 1, but still set in the distant past where Arnold Weber, the man Bernard is based on, is having a vaguely menacing chat with Dolores; we then cut to what’s supposedly 11 days after the end of last season, with Karl Strand revealing he’s come to save guests on Delos’ property while quickly showing Bernard the body of his now long deceased and rotting friend, Robert Ford (so it’s more than believable a few weeks have gone by since Dolores put a bullet in that head); and finally, we’re shown to a series of events somewhere in between the exact moment Ford died and the one where Bernard opened his eyes.
For inside Bernard’s memories of those turbulent days after that gunshot was fired is the key to not only what led up to the episode’s final moments of a sea littered with dead hosts, but also to the whole of season 2, which we saw glimpses of as Bernard struggled (and failed) to remember a damn thing… including events we see for much of the rest of the episode involving him and Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale exploring the non-ethics of data-mining.
So why the competing timelines, and why is Bernard so crucial to both of them?
Well, if we’re allowed to speculate for a moment, it isn’t just that Bernard might have killed all the hosts seen drifting in the ocean at the end of the episode; it’s that he knows the secrets that they died to protect… and so do the humans watching him. This is because between the two timelines—the one with Karl Strand and Ashley Stubbs (Timeline A), and then the one with Charlotte Hale (Timeline B)—only in one of them do the humans already know Bernard is a robot.
Indeed, both timelines lean into the irony of humans obliviously relying on an android for their survival. After all, when season 1 ended, merely Dolores, Maeve, Clementine, and Robert Ford knew that Bernard was a robot, and of those, the only non-synthetic had his brains blown out. So witnessing humans turn to Bernard for help, even calling him “the boss” on the beach is slyly amusing. Yet while Charlotte in Timeline B definitely believes Bernard is a fellow Homo sapien trying to make it out of this nightmare alive, the humans in Timeline A are quietly observant of the fact that Bernard is a robot, and probably cooperating in an elaborate charade for his benefit.
This is apparent even from the way that Stubbs—who inexplicably is not being held hostage these days by the Ghost Nation—shows deference for Bernard. If you recall in season 1, Stubbs was there when Charlotte Hale terminated Bernard. He was the one who had to even stop Clementine from going completely postal in a scenario manufactured by Charlotte and Theresa to get Bernard fired and Ford retired. While we know it was a sham, Stubbs seemed oblivious, and might have major reasons to distrust Bernard after the head of the Behavior department failed to prevent a robo-revolution.
Yet here we are, with Stubbs paying homage and bringing Bernard to Strand. While the new Delos security head is annoyed with Bernard’s amnesia, he also hardly seems that surprised by it, shrugging off that Bernard doesn’t recall how he wound up on the beach. The entire sojourn to Ford’s rotting corpse even seems done for Bernard’s benefit, as Karl immediately turns to Bernard and asks him if this is at all familiar.
The reason for this elaborate charade is because when Bernard maybe killed those other hosts, he also intentionally must have wiped his memory so that no one could know whatever it was he chose to hide. So when Strand finally arrives on what is apparently an island, he has come with some major questions that need answering.
The whole scenario reminds me a lot of the beginning of the original Blade Runner. Depending who you ask, the film is either about Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard learning what is like to be human from robots, or it’s a film about a robot who doesn’t know he is a tool. Director Ridley Scott subscribes to the latter theory, suggesting the movie’s protagonist is an oblivious fool who has human “superiors” that go through the motions so that Deckard will take a dirty job they don’t want. He’ll complete his loop.
This is what the humans are also doing with Bernard in Timeline A, which I would argue is intertextually confirmed in Timeline B in a scene that suggests Westworld showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have Ridley Scott on the brain. For in the scene where Charlotte Hale reveals to Bernard that they’ve been data-mining their guests, she also learns that Delos will not come and save them until they retrieve the “package,” who is in fact the host Peter Abernathy.
Why the information stored on Abernathy is so important is not entirely clear at the moment, however this scene is straight out of Ridley Scott’s Alien where Ripley learns from a sterile and cold text message on a computer screen that her spaceship’s company and employer will not help her unless the package, in this case the titular Star-Beast, is secured for otherwise nefarious purposes.
Within this confluence of Ridley Scott sci-fi influences is confirmation, at least in my mind, that Bernard is playing a Deckard-like role in Timeline A. And what he does in Timeline B is the secret that Strand seeks from the robot. Consider Strand is part of the company that told Charlotte just 11 days ago that they will not save her unless she secures the Peter Abernathy host. Hence Strand’s crocodile tears for “hundreds of guests” two weeks afterward ringing false. He’s here to find out whatever Bernard did… and perhaps hid along with the corpses of all those hosts.
If Bernard really did kill them, he might have had a very good reason, and season 2 will be about him being forced to remember what he’d otherwise like to forget.
At least that’s one theory.