I’m glad Alice in Wonderland was raised early in this episode, because I’m sure I counted close to six impossible backstories before breakfast.
Teddy aka Bicylops is programmed to seek reckoning with a new old enemy, a wayward ax-man gets a little too into rock, Delores finds a new squeeze, Barnard had a son and Ford had a business partner who died/killed himself/was destroyed by his own robots in an ironic twist of fate, I’m not sure which.
Yes, it was a long fall down the rabbit hole to into Backstory Land, a thrilling kingdom filled with orphaned boys tripping into wells full of bats, Nordic princesses having to hide magical snow-making powers and psychos who dress up as their dead mothers to murder.
Backstories, you see, are how the West was won in the first place. Never mind thousands of years of indigenous cultures living in harmony with nature, the 19th century American expansionist and fortune-seeking Dream was such a better backstory, don’t you see?
S1 E3: The Stray
Barnard is still having his secret chats with Delores, as part of some sort of top-level experimentation to see if he can make her remember things. It’s like Groundhog Day except Delores doesn’t know she’s Bill Murray.
We discover he’s been reading to her, various things on the theme of change, and today it’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. That’s somewhat creepily suitable given Lewis Carroll wrote it in the first place to impress a sweet young blonde girl.
Barnard has her read a passage about whether she’s changed one day to the next, but Delores hasn’t done subtext in British canonical literature at uni so she’s a bit slow on the uptake. Barnard tries to analyse her responses to him, which include discussing his - GASP - son. There’s our first backstory bump of the episode.
Barnard returns to the lab to find No-Nonsense Engineer Woman doing further digging into some of the tech issues plaguing (less Bubonic, more electronic) some of the hosts. She discovers Walter, that leering milk-drinking dude who got iced at the end of Ep1, killed six other hosts that had killed him in previous storylines. “It’s like he was holding a grudge,” she says.
Barnard is concerned, but also slightly freaked out that this very sarcastic woman seems to be getting the drop on some key information before him - including the fact that both Walter and Delores’ first Daddy, Abernathy, both referred to some dude named Arnold, a sign that it’s a flaw in a deeper level of code.
To borrow from The Book of Mormon… they’re making things up again, Arnold.
Before No Nonsense Engineer Woman can demonstrate her superior diagnosis skills, she’s called away to deal with a stray robot and enjoy SO MUCH SEXUAL TENSION with The Other Hemsworth. More on that later.
Barnard decides to probe Ford on the Arnold issue. Which Arnold could it be? Schwarzenegger? Schoenberg? Palmer? Rimmer? The one from Happy Days?
Turns out back when Westworld began, Ford had a business partner. Disappointingly his name wasn’t “Holden” (check out the Netflix series Mindhunter if you want to laugh every time the lead character of “Holden Ford” is mentioned) , but “Arnold”.
Arnold was madder genius of the two, the one who really believed he could create consciousness. Ford explained this by using a pyramid drawing and a theory called the “bicameral mind”, but it essentially the science behind it boils down to a maxim often recommended to me as a way of overcoming crippling self-doubt: “Fake it ‘til you make it!”
Sadly Arnold’s quest for consciousness didn’t end with some peyote-inspired in-game tripping, but in death, and erasure from park history.
Now surely this is too convenient to be true. Surely Arnold cannot *actually* be dead. That would be too simple.
Crazy Theory #1: Ford IS Arnold. They looked vaguely similar in the photograph; maybe he killed off the real Ford then disguised himself as the “sensible one” in order to continue his work with consciousness unquestioned.
Crazy Theory #2: Ed Harris is Arnold. He keeps saying he’s been coming to the park for 30 years, which is about how long it’s been operational. Maybe the maze he’s looking for is some sort of problem with the source code he’s got to figure out. Or he’s trapped in there and has to get out.
Crazy Theory #3: UFOs kidnapped Arnold, in cahoots with the CIA and the reverse vampires. WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS HERE, PEOPLE.
Ford points out that Arnold’s key mistake was not understanding that the park wasn’t going to be a place of delight and discovery for its customers, but a stinking sexhole of grief. “The least we could do,” Ford opines, “is make them forget”.
As Barnard leaves with this never-before-heard information about the founding of Westworld, Ford cautions him to not make the same mistakes. The hosts aren’t real, he says, don’t f*** up and think you can make them think. Barnard is on guard - does Ford know about his off-the-record chit-chats with Delores? No, it’s his the fact that Barnard was hit hard by the death of his son, whom he names as “Charlie”, and we thank him for the exposition.
Yes, it turns out Barnard had a boy, seen in flashback being read to and dead too. Harsh, I know, but Barnard had hinted at it earlier when he told Delores his son was nowhere she would understand, which come to think of was a bit weird. Perhaps the robots are programmed to believe in God and heaven and so forth, whereas Barnard knows he IS God and the only heaven he’s found is in the arms of Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman.
And even that becomes a “Huh?” when we see Barnard video-conferencing with his son’s mother. It’s not clear if they’re still in a relationship; it is clear how much they’re both affected by their loss.
Also, can we just mention that Barnard’s wife/ex is Gina Torres, whom many people would know as that kick-ass chick from Firefly (never saw it), but whom I know of course from a variety of roles in Xena: Warrior Princess, including Cleopatra.
I’ll be keen to find out more about Barnard’s complicated personal life, because last week’s beige boning with Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman was replaced this week with her get shirty at him for not informing her of Ford’s last minute story revamp, a move that is consuming precious park resources. Barnard didn’t know, but SDMBW, or “Teresa”, apparently, isn’t having it. She’s so stressed, poor duckie, it’s a pity they couldn’t whip her up some less knotted shoulder muscles in those milky fibre pools.
One of the key story changes Ford is putting in place is giving Biclops the chance to be more than just eye-candy and Delores’ tragically underwritten almost-saviour. Teddy’s a bounty hunter, and we see him with a guest early on in the episode having completed a catch, and tying up a body at the saloon.
That same guest chooses to ride out with him on the Expedition Trail as word gets around that a man that Teddy’s been seeking all along (about four hours since the upgrade anyway) is back.
Teddy gets time to explain everything while leading the guest, her partner, the Sheriff and assorted chess pieces to where Evil Villain Wyatt was last seen. Wyatt was a sergeant in the Union Army who went a bit “I’m the King of the World” wacky while trying to put down a Native American revolt. “He came back with some pretty strange ideas,” he says, repeating Ford’s new story back.
Eventually, the search party comes across some mutilated corpses roped to trees, and the whole thing is revealed to be an ambush. The male guest, frightened by this sudden and deeply disturbing turn of events, beats a hasty retreat back to town, but the female guest wants to stay with Biclops, and by gum I understand, the man has some fine broad shoulders and razor-sharp cheekbones.
Sadly it all goes pear-shaped AGAIN for Teddy, as he is set upon by what we can only assume are Wyatt’s batshit crazy followers, dressed as they are in masks made of human bones. Ahhh, that Ford, what an imagination.
Of course the fallout from this new storyline is as Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman told Barnard - it’s disrupting other events. Teddy’s pursuit of Wyatt means Delores is left undefended during the usual robbery/murder at her family home.
But oh! What mischief is this? After trying and failing to squeeze the trigger during a shooting lesson from Teddy earlier in the day, Delores somehow remembers she has a gun buried in the hay. Haunted by images of Ed Harris (as I am on a daily basis, so I get it girl), she somehow manages to fire off a few rounds and blow the man down.
It seems that even if you are programmed to physically not be able to use a weapon, there are still ways around it.
The importance of this development was reinforced in the sequences featuring No-Nonsense Engineer Woman, The Other Hemsworth, and ALL THAT SEXUAL TENSION.
They buddy up to find a woodchopper who’s gone timberrrrrr somewhere he shouldn’t.
Hot on his trail, they come across the group of woodsy-type woodsmen the axe-man left, stuck in a loop because none of them have digital permission to use an axe, so their rabbit dinner languishes laughably over a spit with no roast.
Our odd couple pair, a lion and a unicorn as so many of these pairings are, trade barbs about each other’s workplace responsibilities. NNEW believes in the higher purpose and delicate art of programming; The Other Hemsworth sleeps with a gun because “The only thing keeping them from hacking us to pieces is one line of your code.”
NNEW realises something is up when she finds wood carvings in the axe-man’s tent, a behaviour he wasn’t programmed to do. TOH points out the symbols on the back of the carving represent the constellation Orion, and that maybe an interest in astrology was part of his backstory.
Things get a lot more strange when NNEW inadvertently stumbles upon the rogue host while answering the call of nature near a rock formation. Turns out Ol’ Choppy fell and got stuck under a boulder, but didn’t have the James Franco know-how to saw himself out of the situation.
Luckily The Other Hemsworth is fit for duty, and repels down into the crevice (phwoar) to begin the complicated process of retrieving the host’s base functioning system for examination - aka, cutting his head off. For crying out loud, Ford, you spend all this time perfecting the bit of a lip or a tip of the hat - maybe spend a day figuring out how to access important brain digi-meats without the need for fieldwork wetwork.
As it happens, Ol’ Choppy isn’t so taken with it either, and he roars to life, clambering over The Other Hemsworth and making like he’s going to do some damage to NNEW. But as she fears for her life and tries to freeze him, he reaches for a large rock, hoists it over his head, then beans himself like a champion. WTF, robo-dude. What part of your backstory did you remember?
Other Questions or Things Worth Commenting Upon
THE PRICE IS RIGHT STUPID
It was a blink and you’ll miss it line as Black Hat dude bemoaned having to be on an adventure with White Hat guy rather than drinking until his penis wears out and rooting until he pukes. Or the other way around, however it works. “$40k a day” is revealed to be the cost of a trip to WestWorld - FORTY GRAND A DAY! Sure this is set in the near future, and possibly inflation has gone mad, but still, that’s enough to buy you a moderately-priced sports utility vehicle for every 24 hours you’re in the tank. Imagine all the sex you could buy with a human sex worker for that.
White Hat has dragged Black Hat into the wild because he got a taste of the bravado life while saving Clementine the wide-eyed prostitute from some random gunslinging loon. Black Hat dude was clearly not impressed given it was a distraction from all the important f***ing and drinking he’s been doing since arriving. It also seems like Black Hat and White Hat aren’t work colleagues as I suspected, but soon-to-be brothers-in-law. 40 grand a day for a buck’s trip and there aren’t even any sashes with “Groom” or cocktail straws shaped like vaginas? Ripped off.
Things get interesting though when Delores turns up, dazed. Has White Hat Guy found a tempting damsel in distress?
THANDIE NEWTON REMEMBERS SHIT
Yes, that was a flashback, or a glimpse into the Wayback Machine, however squidgy robots experience it. My girlbot May is starting to CD-Romember.
FORD’S FAIRLANE BOSSY
Now we know why all the robots have to be nakey when they’re being tested or re-tested in the lab - because if clothes maketh the man, then they might also maketh the worker drone start to think they’re men. Ford rips a towel away from a host, chastising the nice young man working on his appearance for attempting to cover his unmentionables. Ford very much wants them mentioned. At length, hur hur hur. He even takes a scalpel to the host’s face to remind him they’re not real.
Thanks for joining me on this third installment of Go West (Life is Not Peaceful There). Next week, I predict more target practice for Delores, and trying to discover if that lumberjack really was OK.