The following contains spoilers for Westworld season 3 episode 2.
A show like Westworld, where human-like AI known as “hosts” dominate the landscape, always threatens to degenerate into a game of “spot the robot.” For the most part Westworld has exhibited remarkable restraint in unveiling its human characters as secret robots, with only Bernard of the main cast crossing over into the robotic realm in season 1.
Still, there was another, more natural target for robotic theorizing. It always seemed likely that the head of Westworld QA’s security force Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) was a host as well. Part of that can be chalked up to the actor’s uncannily chiseled appeared (and occasional struggles with a rugged American accent) while an even bigger part can be attributed to the character’s singular and machine-like focus on his job.
Sure enough, at the end of season 2 Stubbs let Dolores escape from the park and in doing so heavily implied that he was a host just like her. While Stubbs does not come out and say he’s a host, series producer Lisa Joy confirmed that he was in a post-season 2 interview with The Wrap, saying: “Doesn’t it make sense if you are Ford and designing a park and you have a whole master plan about helping robots that you would keep one Host hiding in plain sight as a fail-safe?”
Now Westworld season 3 has finally canonically revealed Stubbs’ host nature and shed some more light and what his core drive is and how it’s set to change.
Season 3, episode 2 “The Winter Line” catches up with Bernard as he arrives back at Westworld. Bernard makes his way through the barren park and eventually arrives at the Sector 17 Cottage that Robert Ford used to house his own little host family and preserve some of his happiest memories. Upon arriving in the basement that serves as a Remote Diagnostic Facility, Bernard sees several bespectacled copies of himself. More importantly than that, however, he sees Stubbs with a gun in his hand and a bullet wound on the back of his neck.
Suddenly Stubbs springs to life and immediately wants to know why Bernard is back here. Bernard asks how he’s still alive, to which Stubbs responds “How the fuck do you think?”
While I took an unfair shot at Hemsworth’s American accent earlier, he must be credited with a superb performance here as a machine coming back online. Even more impressive than that, he’s a machine coming back online that must immediately confront the fact that his only goal in life failed. For as he tells Bernard, he truly only had one job.
“It’s my job to protect every host in the park. I guess you could say I was made redundant,” he says.
Stubbs was supposed to make sure Bernard and all the other hosts got out of Westworld safely and then kill himself. He did all of that and yet here he stands, “alive” and in front Bernard…in Westworld.
In this reveal, Stubbs becomes one of the more fascinating hosts that Westworld has to offer. So much of the series has been about artificial intelligence finding the center of their own respective mazes and therefore achieving sentience. Stubbs is not like that kind of host. While he is remarkably coherent, convincing, and fully aware of his situation, Stubbs is still slavishly beholden to a task handed down to him by his creator.
Instead of being terrified of that, Stubbs has embraced it. He embraces it because his coding requires him to, of course, but even if he had the choice, he seems pretty content with his suicidal lot in life.
“No offense, Bernard, but I wasn’t wired up to ponder the big questions. I had a job to do and my job was over,” he says. “At least it was until you came back to the one place you’re not supposed to be. It makes me wonder if free will might not be somewhat overrated.”
Bernard’s return is something of a mixed blessing. For while it means his initial mission has technically failed, it also means he has a shot at succeeding once again. Bernard exploits this by asking Stubbs to accompany him on a dangerous mission to search for Maeve.
That mission will eventually take Bernard and Stubbs to Park 4, where Stubbs must protect Bernard while he downloads some information from the Delos’ servers. Here we can see just how in his element Stubbs is. He takes down no fewer than seven men armed with nothing but a stolen gun and later a battle axe.
Through it all, it’s truly striking how little about Stubbs has changed after the confirmation of his robotic nature. Kicking ass and taking names is the kind of thing we expected from him when he was presumed to be a human being and it’s no different here. Even his personality and sense of humor is unchanged. If anything, Stubbs somehow seems more lively and more…human. It’s another subtle example of one Westworld’s darkest themes: that humanity and our “loops” are more simple and robotic than we care to realize.
In the end, it’s even a little sad that Stubbs isn’t allowed to “retire” as he so sincerely wants to do. After he casually tells Bernard that he’ll kill himself once he gets him back to the boat, Bernard freezes Stubbs’ motor functions and accesses his code. His new core directive will be to protect Bernard Lowe at all costs.
“If you wanted my help, you could have just asked for it,” Stubbs says upon waking.
The fascinating thing about Stubbs and his programming is that it’s unclear if that was a joke or note. Stubbs is ultimately the result of his coding just like the rest of us. It’s just uncanny how much he seems to embrace it.