Westworld's secret history gets revealed in "The Stray"

Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Westworld episode "The Stray," written by executive producer Lisa Joy and Daniel T. Thomsen and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones).

In short:  Last week, in "Chestnut," we got to see the perspective of clients (William and Logan) entering Westworld in a more exposition-heavy reworking (and reinforcement) of the pilot's themes and ideas. This week, we go deeper into Dolores' (Evan Rachel Wood) process of awakening as she continues her series of secret talks with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and "remembers" more of her wiped experiences as her storyline starts to drift from her usual narrative.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) gets a flash of her traumatic awakening in operations when she sees Teddy (James Marsden) and remembers him in cleanup. It's confirmation that she's not the only lady Host holding onto her memories.

From there, we get a clearer idea that first-time guest William (Jimmi Simpson) continues to have a moral compass when he saves the life of the prostitute who keeps trying to tempt him, and again declines her advances. Instead he chooses to go on a bounty hunt, and continually gross Logan (Ben Barnes) reluctantly agrees to follow.

On the operations side of Westworld, Elsie (Shannon Woodward) identifies a pattern with one of the recent murdering Hosts -- that he killed six specific Hosts who had killed him in previous storylines. Stubbs from security (Luke Hemsworth) takes her into the park to look into the glitches occurring, which leads them to surprising results.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is continuing working on his new storyline, to the dismay of the shareholders and Theresa. Bernard is asked to speak with him. In a chat inside Ford's inner sanctum, which even features a creepy Host piano player, Dr. Ford  finally gives up the goods to Bernard (and us) about the history of Westworld. He reveals that the park venture was started with a partner, Arnold, who was scrubbed from the park's history. Rather dispassionately, Ford recounts that Arnold was deeply obsessed with the idea of creating consciousness in the Hosts. wanting to see if they would evolve into something more. That path was clearly not Ford's as it becomes crystal clear in the story that he only sees the Hosts as creations that are not real. They are meant to serve their guests in their paid quests for power, and as such, there is no place for feelings of empathy, humility, or sympathy towards the artificial humans. They parted ways when Ford was adamant about programming Hosts to forget all of their memories. Per the tale, Arnold died in the park and with him, supposedly, the notion of evolution in the Hosts.

Highlights

I'm not a viewer that needs exposition spelled out for me to get a concept, but so far the dense amount of characters to service in a myriad of storylines over the first two episodes was keeping me from being utterly engaged in Dolores, or Bernard, or Maeve. The first two hours were very much about the audience understanding the mechanics and rules of the world, which are complex, so plot was weighing down my ability to connect.

Gratefully, "The Stray" finally allows us some time to breathe with certain characters so we can really observe them and get important context on their motivations.  To me, it was the best episode yet because now I'm caring about several of the people running around in this world. I've always been curious, but just now, I'm starting to care.

In particular, Dolores' fascinating talks with Bernard not only provide a window into his curiosity about what he's observing organically changing about her, but it also lets us finally understand a little of how Dolores is processing everything. Bernard grilling her about why she asks him the questions she does, ends up being very revealing in letting us know how Dolores is working outside her script. Their episode bookending conversations were quiet, spooky and akin to a two-person play at times.

I also loved the conversation between Ford and Bernard. Anthony Hopkins can read a phone book and make it interesting, but give him great exposition like this and I'm in heaven. Plus, finding out that there's someone even weirder than Ford behind the park, and that he's devolved into an urban legend provides an unexpected twist on the already dark business of selling fantasies to the wealthy. Zealots may be cliché when it comes to stories about technology playing God, but Westworld needed its bogey man of science to amp up exactly what's going to be at stake if the Hosts all start coming into their own minds.

Lowlights

I wish William and Logan were written with more nuance. Granted, surprises may await with their personalities in future episodes, but the black and white nature of their values make it hard to buy William would spend lunch with an ass like Logan, much less vacation with him. The show tends to paint some characters with a less than subtle brush, yet trusts us to follow concepts of sentience, existential awareness, the value of life, etc...I'd like a little more creativity in presenting humanity types that capture more complexity.

When the stray smashes its head in with a rock - gross. Check, please.

Things to Ponder...

It's a little on the nose to give Dolores a copy of Alice in Wonderland. What character, seemingly out of time or place, doesn't get slapped with Carroll's symbolism for audiences to chase around like a White Rabbit? So actually, what I thought was most interesting about that scene was trying to decipher in Wood's performance exactly how much Dolores was holding back from Bernard. Is she telling him everything? I don't think so.

Speaking of holding back, wasn't there was a particularly winsome air about Dolores when she couldn't get Teddy to run away with her?

Bernard lost a child and that's deeply affecting his interactions with Dolores. Is it just transference? In losing a soul so important to him, is there redemption for him helping Dolores find hers? Also, it was lovely to see Gina Torres as Bernard's equally grieving ex. Torres is the sci-fi queen, so I'm glad the Nolan's cast her (and hopefully we see more of her).

So, what was Arnold saying inside the minds of his Host children? Could there be dormant code rattling around inside every Host just waiting for the right triggers of sentience to take them to the promised land of consciousness? And did Arnold predict his impasse with Ford would ultimately scuttle his work, so he created a brilliant Plan B to keep him alive on another plane of existence?

Could Wyatt be another incarnation of Arnold? Or is Wyatt Ford's narrative punishment for any Host that he catches glitching/evolving? Teddy did meet the awful end of an axe.

Turns out the naked Hosts in the operations labs aren't just an excuse to see Marsden's butt cheeks behind glass. Ford doesn't see Hosts as human in the slightest and he's bent on making sure his employees feel the same. Oops, Bernard didn't get the memo.

Dolores is now off book in her own story when she runs after seeing the Man in Black glitch and pulls the trigger. How far will she be allowed to go in finding herself before she becomes a stray in the system, too?

What did you think of Westworld? What did you catch this week that might unlock more mysteries?

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