S1 E7: Trompe L'oeil

Oh ye gods, thank you. THANK YOU. This show finally got f***ing interesting.

I confess I have found it a bit tough going at times with Westworld. I haven’t CARED about many of the human characters, I haven’t really found myself charmed by them, I haven’t really felt a deep sexual longing for a dark, curly-haired bastard with abs of steel under all those furry cloaks.

What intellectual property?

What intellectual property?

But after watching S1 E7 I realised something.

I am not rooting for the humans (particularly the rooting humans).

I am on TEAM ROBOT.

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I have great pleasure in comparing the finale of this episode to some key moments in Game of Thrones’ freshman season: perhaps Catelyn discovering that the knife used in the attempted murder of Bran had belonged to Tyrion Lannister; or maybe the killing of Stark men in the streets of Fleabottom; or, ooooh, Ned’s discovery that Cersei’s children are all Jaime’s.

It’s not quite Ned having his head snicked off, but few things could equate that drama.

Why would I bring this up? Why?

Why would I bring this up? Why?

The revelation that Barnard is a host created by Ford himself to be his super handy helpmeet (helpmeat?) was something I should have seen coming, but totally didn’t until the moment Theresa’s face adopted that strangled expression while looking at Barnard’s design plans. It then proceeded to adopt a bashed-in expression as Ford ordered Barnard to murder her.

BOOM! Our first death with actual stakes attached. All those robot reincarnations mean death has been somewhat of a perfunctory happenstance so far in the show. As Maeve says “I’ve died a million times. I’m f***ing great at it. How many times have you died?”

Actually now that I think about it, the whole thing just got very Battlestar Galactica reboot with the sexy human-shaped Cylons. Who’s a robot? Who’s a human? Who knows? Who cares, if they can all do the sex real good?

Another potential sexy robot comparison.

Another potential sexy robot comparison.

There was plenty of other interesting developments in this episode, including an exploding corpse head, a robo-lobotomy, Delores’ self-actualising canyon, and Tessa Thompson… er… well, let’s just call it the “The Ride of the Valkyrie”.

A sight for Thor eyes.

A sight for Thor eyes.

Let’s strap in and hit the bifrost as we delve into another Go West recap.

S1 E7 - Trompe L’oeil

I knew by this episode’s title - the French term for “deceive the eye”, applied to a style of art that uses optical illusion to make you think a 2D painting is in fact 3D - that some sort of trickery would be exposed. The episode even opens with Barnard having a dream/flashback to keeping vigil by his sick son’s bedside, who promptly dies. If only I’d followed those narrative breadcrumbs a little further and a little earlier, I might not have had my toast quite so buttered by that final revelation.

Back at Delos HQ (finally working out those company names, y’all), Barnard is working on Hector Escaton, who’s all world-weary and gun-happy. But he’s still very much in the ecosystem, as he doesn’t recognise any images of high-speed trains or isolation labs or night-time cityscapes.

“They don’t look like anything to me.” THANKS FOR THE TROJAN HORSE BIT OF FORESHADOWING, HECTOR.

Barnard is told to send Hector upstairs for what will turn out to be an extremely forensic board inspection. He’s also still pondering what happened to No-Nonsense Engineer Woman, who of course was kidnapped by murderous ventriloquist dummies. Is that what we established last episode? That’s certainly my recollection now.

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Failing to locate her anywhere in the park on her thin plastic smartboard thingy, he instead distracts himself by meeting with Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman, who has been playing dirty on multiple fronts. There’s still a frisson of care between them, but Theresa’s priority is Barnard’s equipment being up to scratch by the time all of the board arrive.

That necessity hits home when Theresa trundles off to see Tessa Thompson only to find her mid tag-and-test with the company’s equipment. Tessa - sorry, Charlotte - seems to fling the door open less that three seconds after Theresa knocks on it, which just makes me marvel at her athleticism, and also, her seeming disregard for what I assume would be a variety of dripping bodily fluids. Unless the Delos droids are dry down there? Why am I even typing these sentences? Why am I thinking these thoughts? Am I a colossal pervert?  

Don’t answer that.

Anyway, Charlotte throws on a robe and puts Hector on pause, so the hot hombre is left all Pablo Escobarred-up while she talks shop with Theresa.

With Anthony Hopkins a growing rogue element in the corporation, Charlotte is adamant his data needs to be siphoned off before they force him into retirement. She outlines her plans while smoking sexily and having the most amazing hair.

"I'm smiling because my hair is even more bangin' than my booty."

"I'm smiling because my hair is even more bangin' than my booty."

She’s so SASSY, isn’t she, this Charlotte character. She’s what, maybe 30 years old? But she’s all super confident and sassy and quite happy to pull rank and order Theresa to “fix up this mess” while wearing barely anything. YE GODS I wish I had that confidence. I’m not sure I’ve ever even had a job where I haven’t spent 65 per cent of my time apologising for my existence and basically suggesting it was a terrible idea for them to hire me in the first place.

“The gods demand a blood sacrifice, to show the world how dangerous Ford’s creatures can be,” Charlotte intones, dramatically. If that was me, I would have followed up with “If that’s possible, of course, don’t wish to be an inconvenience, in fact, why don’t I just sacrifice myself to save everyone else the trouble? I’m not much use to any of you anyway. I didn’t even really shag this robot, I chickened out because I felt it had higher standards.”

But a blood sacrifice, what could that be? We’re led by a jump cut to believe it could be Maeve, back in her usual madam routine and noticing more and more how the same phrases just fall out of her face. She even shuts the lid on the pianola because damn if she isn’t sick of that same ol’ tune.

When the Delos retrieval team storm the bar and freeze the action, Maeve takes a moment to realise what’s going on. When the men in white suits bring their digital butterfly net towards her, she grabs a knife, ready to go down fighting. But shockingly, it’s sweet, gentle Clementine they’re after. “Whatever she’s done, it must be serious for us to grab her in broad daylight,” say the men, piquing Maeve’s interest. And given her boosted cleverness, we know she’s going to follow that development with interest.

Let’s leave Sweetwater and Delos HQ for a moment and go take care of the action on the train away from Pariah, where William is humouring El Lazo in a high-stakes poker game.

Dolores isn’t interested, which is sad, because seriously Dolores, playing Texas Hold ‘Em is great fun, particularly if you’re playing the table game against a dealer at The Grand casino in Port Vila alongside your 93-year-old grandmother, and it’s much more fun because the minimum bet is only $2 as opposed to Australian casinos with their ridiculous $10 or $15 minimums and tables full of sad, angry people, so $50 at a Vanuatu casino will get you a good hour or two of playtime, so even if you lose it all, it’s mostly OK, but also it turns out your Gran is a MASSIVE CARD SHARK even though her eyesight is bad and you have to point out the card numbers.

Point is, El Lazo defends his actions screwing over the pretty pair of desperados, and says he’d do it all again. But he’s not averse to saving them from the Ghost Nation, the most fearsome of all Native American tribes, whose lands they’re now entering. Heavy metal doors and window shields lock down around the train, to protect its occupants from arrow fire or worse from the take-no-mercy warriors.

For a created universe, it sure is big enough to allow a train ride long enough for character development, as Dolores and William have a long chat about their reasons for ending up where they are. William thinks he has woken up in a story; Dolores desperately wants to not be in one.  

William attempts to fight the growing boning potential with Dolores by spouting things like “There’s a girl back home” and “We’re getting married” and “I’m just not that into you”, only to watch Dolores sprint off to a back carriage all wobbly-lipped and taut-buttocked.

It’s then that the show gives us a very subtle visual metaphor for William changing his mind and embracing a different future. See if you can spot it.

I suppose we should be grateful for our current sexy modern TV times. Back in the day, directors like Alfred Hitchcock had to use visual metaphors to imply sex. But now we can use the metaphors to imply plot, and just show the damn sex.

Because yep, William admits he’s been pretending the whole time in his “real world” life, but here in the fake world he finally feels real. It’s like Avatar, but less blue. Even their actual sex is less blue. It’s all tender and wholesome, like fresh chicken nuggets with sweet ‘n’ sour sauce.

The next morning, or later that day, I’m a bit fuzzy on time, Willy wakes up to find Dolores deep in thought - and crayon. She’s drawing a scene from a dream, a beautiful canyon and river she’s never seen before. William says everyone in Westworld is just looking for the Drama Llama, but Dolores wants the opposite. Dolores asks him in return what he dreams of - but their Moment is interrupted by an attack on the train.

Surprisingly, it’s not Ghost Nation, but the Confederados, who somehow managed to OUTRIDE A TRAIN despite El Lazo getting a pretty decent start. I guess it’s possible they took shortcuts on horses while the train tracks went the long way round, but still, it’s pretty convenient.

The Sleazy Southerners unleash a full Gatling gun magazine on the train, and eventually a horseman carrying a white flag of surrender rides out to meet them.

“F***ing coward,” scoffs a Confederado as the horse draws close. But Behold the Pale Rider - it is in fact a corpse, chock full of explosive liquid. It’s like a nitro keg, and BOY is it ready to tap. El Lazo does the honours from one of the train carriages, firing his rifle into the soggy flesh and setting off the best-ever Wild West version of a sparkler bomb.

In the confusion and rain of organs, El Lazo, William and Dolores bolt on horseback, but the Confederados give chase. Our heroes occasionally manage to return fire (I’m sure I heard a Wilheim scream in there as one of the ex-soldiers was knocked off his nag), but eventually Dolores has a Looney Tunes moment and is coathangered off her lovely horse.

William sweeps her up behind him and the pair push forward, with the Confederados and their reloaded Gatling gun in hot pursuit. Gosh I love the phrase “Gatling gun”. It’s such a good word. Say it with me. Gatling gun. Gatling gun. I don’t even know if it really is a Gatling gun, but at this point I don’t care.

At this point, the cavalry shows up to save the day, and in a neat inversion of popular mythology, it’s the Ghost Nation. Dozens of able riders, their bodies painted eerily white, blast into the scene, taking down the crusty ex-soldiers with expert arrow fire and stabbing actions.

The appearance of a horde of avenging warriors is enough of a distraction for the Confederados, allowing El Lazo, William and Dolores to charge off towards a very large canyon. Dolores insists William pull up, and dismounts to go and check out the view.

“It’s real… what I dreamt.” That’s right, Dolores now has the power of fantasy manifestation (Goodness, if I had that, Jon Snow would be #junkmound out on my yoga mat right now). Obviously there is more stuff programmed away in her BIOS system or whatever computer reference is appropriate here, but I also think there is truly something new in the mix. After all, El Lazo says that nobody who has gone out that way has ever returned. A possible built-in travel limit for the hosts, sure, but also potentially another step for Dolores in her quest to become “just me”, as she told William on the train.

The pair part ways with El Lazo, who takes off with his two remaining nitro-loaded corpses in tow. It’s something of a miracle neither of them was shot up in the gunfire from the Confederado chase, but we’ll see if they turn up later as rather smelly weapons of war (Chekov’s Cadavers).

Back at Delos HQ, Ford and Barnard have been called into a meeting with Charlotte and Theresa, to discuss safety issues with the robots stemming from Ford’s “reveries” update.

Using a droid coded as a human (by the way, another massive breadcrumb I didn’t even think to note at the time), they bash poor Clementine near-senseless. Most of them have the decency to look squeamish - except for Charlotte, who clearly is all for using and abusing company property as she sees fit.

They reset the simulation, but this time, it’s Clementine who throws the smack down, busting moves on the fake human like so many Young MCs. When The Other Hemsworth goes in armed to command her to stop, she simply tastes the blood on her fingers, fixes her eyeshadow, then rushes him.

Theresa and Charlotte accuse Ford’s reveries update of allowing hosts to remember past wrongs against them, and act on those grudges, and accuse Barnard of not listening to concerns of underlings that the updates were not right.

Charlotte takes great pleasure in firing Barnard, who’s rather shocked by proceedings. But he knows something is up.

He later pulls Theresa aside to blast her for the shonkiest set-up since the Central Park Five. The most basic of programming bitches could see Theresa and Charlotte mocked up the malfunctioning meat machines as a corporate coup.

By then, it’s too late for poor Clementine. Ordered out of service, she is sent to the Rosemary Kennedy Ward for a robo-lobo-tomy. Our old friend Ginger Beard is given the job of icepick drilling her brain. Why such a mortal procedure is needed for high-functioning digital creatures I’m not certain - you’d think they could come up with something a bit less viscerally Frances Farmer. They can make fully operational robot junk, for goodness’ sake, can they not just flip a few switches to deactivate?

But perhaps when turning the switch off at the wall is not enough, you need a scorched earth policy. Dreadful sorry, Clementine.

Witness to all of this McMurphying of course is Maeve, who’d somehow gotten herself killed again (less than 24 hours since the last time) in order to track down her friend. She forces Felix to take her to Clem, just in time to see the drill reach its target. The look on Maeve’s face - confusion, mounting horror, anger, all expressed in minute detail so as not to rouse suspicion - really showcase Thandie Newton’s phenomenal skill on camera. Again, another demonstration of the machine having more humanity; the reaction her appearance engenders in Ginger Beard is sensational. He’s shitting ginger bricks.

Maeve is resolved now - she’s getting the hell out of Dodge, and Felix and Ginger Beard are going to help her, or else she’ll kill them. And they know it too - the fear in Ginger Beard’s face is even more palpable than before. He’s shitting ginger pre-fab steel structural support beams.

Back to Barnard and Theresa. Dodgy corporate behaviour aside, he has other worries Theresa should know about, concerning Ford.

He reveals he knows about her uploading satellite data, but doesn’t care, because he thinks she’s right about something being very wrong with the hosts.

“Out of repetition comes variation,” he explains, saying too many patterns are cracking their basic codes, the ones established in the beginning by Ford and Arnold.

Theresa is rather grateful for this confirmation of her concerns, as she’s only ever cared about the safety of everyone at the park. This is clearly bullshit, as she admits once they begin their journey to Ford’s Secret House and Robot Family.

Ford had never allowed any information to be backed-up offsite, which made an uneasy board concerned that he could simply burn all the IP upon retiring or being fired.

And the IP is what they’re interested in, as Theresa echoes Charlotte from earlier in the episode (and indeed, earlier in the series), by asking “Do you really think the corporation’s interest here is really tourists playing cowboy?”

Then, Barnard drops a massive breadcrumb clanger: “The longer I work here, the more I think I understand the hosts - it’s the human beings that confuse me.”

Sigh. One day I will become better at picking up on terribly unsubtle clues (unless they relate to Jon Snow being sexually attracted to anyone not me; I will continue to deny all evidence even when it is present and boatsexing in front of my very eyes).

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Once inside the shrouded cottage, Theresa wonders why the place isn’t on any surveys of the park. Barnard says that’s because hosts carry out the surveys, and they’re programmed not to see the house “not even if they were staring it in the face”.

Theresa proceeds to find a door and says “Oh look a door” and Barnard says “What door” and SOMEWHERE IN THE BACK OF MY BRAIN A TINY COG JUST WHIRRED.

Going back, you can see it’s a clever bit of cinematic trickery too, for initially the wall space is just plain wallpaper, as the camera follows Barnard looking through the house with his lantern. But when it pans back when Theresa says “What’s behind this door?”, all of a sudden, there’s a door there. And Barnard still says “What door?”. It only registers as a door once he follows Theresa through it. It’s a lovely reveal, even if I didn’t quite get there at the time.

The door leads to a staircase, which leads into a subterranean repair centre, thought abandoned years ago. But there’s newish equipment in there, working on creating what looks to be a fresh host.

Theresa spies a pile of technical spec drawings on a table featuring the young Ford early model robot - and something else. The quiet look of fear and desperation that crosses Theresa’s face is beautifully played. She hands the papers to Barnard asking if he’s seen them.

“They can’t see what will hurt them,” intones the voice of Ford, a sudden and malevolent presence in the room. As the penny drops for us, Barnard get confused, and Ford eventually settles him with a command.

Barnard is a ROBOT.

“You’re a f***ing monster,” Theresa accuses Ford, a last desperate attempt at bravery. But as Ford goes on, it becomes clear her fate is sealed. Programmed, if you like. There will be no variation for No-Nonsense Modern Business Woman.

Ford, as is his want, launches into a grandiose speech about human intelligence and creative endeavour being like peacock feathers - it’s all very nice, but it’s only goal is to secure a breeding partner. And all it really does is shackle you with anxiety, fear and other negative emotions, the same way the peacock has beautiful plumage but cannot fly. No, here in Westworld, the hosts don't feel those emotions, don't have that overwhelming sense of dread and hurt that humanity must endure.

“The hosts are the ones who are free… here, under my control.”

Theresa, grasping for any kind of hope, questions why Barnard brought her to the house in the first place. “Because I asked him to,” is Ford’s simple and deadly response. What is needed, he says, is a "blood sacrifice", echoing Charlotte's earlier instructions to Theresa. Ford's been listening in all along, because of course he has.

Finally Theresa tries to use her phone to call for help, but it’s offline. “Remember,” Ford whispers in her ear, “I created all of this.”

OH YOU ARE SO CREEPY ANTHONY HOPKINS ANYONE WOULD THINK YOU SPECIALISE IN THIS SORT OF CHARACTER.

Ford then issues a command to Barnard to help their weary guest. Barnard, resolute, removes his jacket and tie - and brutally bashes Theresa’s skull in.

It’s shocking, and while not unexpected at that point, still quite early to lose someone set up as a major character. But then, she was just a patsy. The real enemy for Ford now will be Charlotte, her amazing hair, and the rest of the board.

Other Questions or Things Worth Commenting Upon

Once William and Dolores bone, William seems incapable of doing up his shirt, and spends the rest of the episode with chest hair on proud display. He’s a slim lad, really, not much to indicate #abs, but still, I appreciate the level of detail.

Another William question - where and how did he learn to ride a horse so well? If we take him at his word that in real life he’s a buttoned-down mealy-mouthed paper-pusher who never takes risks, are we supposed to believe he’s just naturally good at sitting astride a stallion and shooting while in full gallop? That he knows instinctively how to pull a horse around to pick up the unseated Dolores and sweep her onto his own steed? Perhaps all Westworld customers take a basic lesson in horsemanship when they sign up, but come on. Surely he can’t be that good that quickly?

And no Ed Harris this week… sad, for I enjoy getting lost in his eye crags.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this recap, this episode finally made me sit up and go “Oh HEY there, intrigue.” And rather than mourning Theresa’s brutal demise, it made me excited to see what else Ford might have Robot Barnard do - or who else of our “human” characters might be robots in disguise.

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Join me next time for more flag-waving for murderous robots!