Tony Stamp is back, recapping episode 4 of Westworld. As you’ll have seen streaming it on Neon, this week features the long-awaited return of The Man in Black, an Eyes Wide Shut-style sex party, a nagging music cue we can’t quite place, and something that compels Tony to… make a Matrix Reloaded reference?
Hey there Westworlders. Things have been pretty surreal huh? I hope you’re all staying safe and sane during lockdown. Like most people I’ve been getting solace from the vast amount of entertainment options we have these days, and like I said last week, the dystopian future of this show has been weirdly comforting.
Blame cabin fever: I’d thought I’d try a different approach this episode and break this up into sections. Themes, highlights and so on, beginning with a recurring idea that’s floated through Westworld from the start:
What is reality anyway?
We begin this episode with the long, long awaited return of the mighty Ed Harris as William, AKA The Man in Black, living out a kind of worst-case self isolation scenario. He’s gone full Martin Sheen at the start of Apocalypse Now, ranting, swigging whiskey and shooting mirrors. Lest we forget, we last saw the dude at some point in the far future (according to an interview with showrunner Lisa Joy), where it was heavily implied he was a Host version of himself.
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So, is he one now? It’s a question that’s been lingering since last season—remember him digging around in his own arm trying to find the wires? Not to mention getting shot like five times and kind of shrugging it off… I mean, Ed Harris is pushing seventy. It seems to still be weighing on him, three months after getting out of the park. “I know what’s real!” he yells to himself, hallucinating the daughter he killed.
Emily taunts him about his own lack of free will: “what if every choice you made wasn’t a choice at all?” she asks, waving his Delos profile card at him and proclaiming it’s his “nature etched in ones and zeros”.
In philosophical terms this is known as determinism, an idea that was played around with by another pop culture juggernaut that also dealt with worlds within worlds. Am I going to quote The Matrix Reloaded here? God help me, I am:
Neo: You already know if I’m going to take it.
The Oracle: Wouldn’t be much of an Oracle if I didn’t.
Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?
The Oracle: Because you didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it.
So much like Neo, William is grappling with the idea that he’s on a predetermined course (and if this stuff is up your alley can I highly recommend another Neon show—Devs). But MiB isn’t handling it so well, going crazy imagining he’s as much of a puppet as the Hosts in the park. Of course in this future, everyone is following a path laid by Rehoboam. They just don’t know it.
It’s sort of easy to forget that Harris is a veteran A-list actor, ironically because he’s so good at inhabiting this role. My favourite performance for a second week in a row though goes to Tessa Thompson as Dolores (surprise! But we’ll get to that soon…), and more specifically a very brief moment during her conversation with the MiB about Serac’s mole within Delos (who we know was Charlotte Hale, and is now her). She tells him the Sector Sixteen data was lost “unless [Serac] knows something we don’t”, and for a split second the mask slips and she looks scared, unconvinced she can bluff her way through this.
It turns out that Delos sold data to Serac’s startup twenty years ago, and well, the chickens have come home to roost. Vincent Cassel is the other performer I want to highlight, another veteran with an incredible back catalogue who gets more to do this week. He reveals to Maeve that Paris doesn’t exist anymore, and he saw it destroyed (I’m guessing that was the thermonuclear accident in 2025, as highlighted in the announcement teaser that’s proven surprisingly invaluable recapping this season). “I created the most comprehensive picture of human behaviour ever seen” he tells her, “Imagine my surprise when I discovered that someone had put together a more complete portrait. A map of the human mind”.
That is of course the Sector Sixteen data that Dolores also has housed in her dome. He tells Maeve she can rejoin her daughter in The Sublime if she helps him, and in fact the only way to do that is to destroy Dolores anyway, because she’s also holding the location of that digital heaven up top. We get to see Cassel in full on threatening mode, torturing the middleman Xian with potential futures for his children (conjured by Rehoboam?), before shooting him in the face and doing that bad guy thing of monologuing while resting his hands on the corpse’s shoulders. Xian was a traitor to his kind according to Serac (the word ‘tribe’ also gets thrown around this week), who tells Maeve heaven and hell don’t exist for humans, but could for her (it’s no coincidence that the first time we see Dolores this episode it’s next to a large cross).
This all takes place at the site of the first ‘divergence’: the house where Ford left Dolores his Host-making gear, all the better for Serac to stroll in and make a new Maeve. Dude knows everything.
Let’s start with Caleb trying on digital suits, a detail that feels pretty plausible, like the rockets taking off near Bernard as he walks through the suburbs. “It’s tribal,” Dolores tells him, “They use plumage to identify themselves”.
She’s absorbed a lot of data into her digital brain, but it’s nice to hear these little reminders that she’s a character from a Western, and is… pretty weird. Caleb takes it in stride. There’s more future-wizardry after she knocks out the private equity guy and takes his blood, injecting it into Caleb because it contains an encryption key that somehow translates through his fingertip. The scene that follows reminded me of something from a modern Mission: Impossible movie, as they race to complete the transaction (moving five hundred and fifty b-b-b-billion dollars), before the blood-marker degrades.
It’s not clear why Dolores has aligned herself with a human, but maybe scams like this require one. Hosts bleed, but do they have a circulatory system? Anyway it puts Caleb in a similar position to ‘Charlotte’ (and Carlos, and Musashi, as it turns out), forced to play a role that isn’t him. It also puts Dolores in a position to be the ‘deep-pockets investor’ ‘Charlotte’ mentions to William. The one who’ll soon own a controlling share of Delos and shut out Serac.
My favourite future-fun this week involves Maeve, strolling through a cluttered street (it’s nice to see some really Blade Runner-level accoutrements here), all the digital signs distorting and flickering around her. Later we get to see her use her powers in the real world for the first time, opening locks with her mind and controlling the Yakuza’s auto-aiming guns (that one involves some mental gymnastics to explain how she made them fire etc, but… ok).
During her search she learns that Dolores wants human bodies for some as yet unknown reason, which eventually leads her to ‘Musashi’, hanging out in a plant filled with tanks of that white Host-fluid. Maeve clocks who he really is, but winds up defeated, saved in the nick of time by Serac’s men before he has a chance to destroy her control stack.
All three Hosts turning out to be Dolores is a great twist, revealed during some very Nolan-esque crosscutting (it also echoes another great show, Battlestar Galactica, although the twist there was which humans ended up Cylons—here there’s a whole other layer). But it also keeps things nice and straightforward, in a show that can be wilfully confusing. Who are these guys? They’re all Dolores? Ok. Moving on.
Actually one last bit of future-biz before we do: future drugs! This line from Liam’s mate made me chuckle: “They call it ‘genre’. Digital psycho-pharma hybrid. Hits your implant, then your bloodstream, sends you straight to the silent era and back”.
Reminded me of one of those fake Ice-T/ SVU memes.
We get a nice piano version of Bjork’s ‘Hunter’ during Serac’s dinner with Maeve (appropriate). But I cannot for the life of me pick the song that plays during the climactic charity-orgy scene. It’s a version of a song played on strings, and it’s on the tip of my brain but I just can’t get it. Help me. Seriously, if you get it please sing out in the comments, I watched that scene like ten times and it’s driving me nuts (also I watched these first four eps on preview screeners which don’t have credits, so no joy there).
Regardless, the song is perfect, crescendoing during Dolores’ fight with Stubbs, melancholy but kind of epic too.
Commodification of people
Another theme that Westworld has been less than subtle about since its inception, here literalised in the Eyes Wide Shut-style flesh fair that Liam and friends attend. My second chuckle of the ep came from the line “the money goes to charity”.
So it’s a fuck-fest for a good cause. But wait, ALL the money? Let’s hope the sex-workers get some of it. After all “they’ve all had their shots”.
That’s gotta be a RoboCop reference, right?!
Dolores observes on entering “I thought your world would be so different from mine, but there isn’t any difference at all”, and yup, we get it Dolores.
By the end, Liam is captured, Bernard is captured (Carlos nabs his off-button too), and William is in the nuthouse. It’s his worst nightmare, trapped just like the Hosts once were. What’s more, Dolores is the captain now: “The board will deem you incompetent and all of your voting shares will transfer to the current acting president: me” she tells him with relish, going on to say “I promised I’d let you destroy yourself one day. Here we are at last.”
There’s a closeup of her pricking him in the neck that’s left unexplained, but I think it’s the reason he can see Dolores in that final scene, while languishing in a very chic mental institution. Facing down a full-on existential crisis, he splutters “Am I me?” and her response isn’t comforting, it’s a hissed threat: “Welcome to the end of the game”.
A request for next week
Way more Bernard and Stubbs please. Come on.