Sun
Oct 16 2016 9:00pm

Westworld 1.03: “The Stray” Episode Review

I guess if you want to gift a robot a thought-provoking piece of literature, then Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a fine choice. “Who in the world am I?” Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) reads aloud from the classic that Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) passes to her in another of their covert meetings. 

But it would seem Dolores has an equally provocative “present” in return when she asks Bernard the whereabouts of his son. He dodges the question by telling her it would be too hard for her to understand, but is intrigued why she would pose the question in the first place. To have a conversation, she needs to ask personal questions, Dolores explicates, and it would appear by his expression that she has pleasantly surprised Westworld’s head of programming with her advanced cognitive abilities.

When Dolores awakes in her bed (probably a good thing he didn’t give her the mathematician’s sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), where the conclusion suggests everything is a dream within a dream), she uncovers the gun she had found buried in the ground and now keeps hidden away in her dresser drawer. Hidden? It would seem not much could be kept squirreled away for long with the amusement park’s Big Brother ability to call up and scan specific locales.

And speaking of unusual behavior, later, when Teddy Flood (James Marsden) sees Dolores crossing the street with groceries, they head off to the countryside where she lets him know that she wants to leave with him. He says he’ll take her away someday. She corners him on his ambiguous answer, wanting to go now.

It seems Bernard’s private lessons are expanding her positronic mind, but how is it that Teddy’s programming would allow him to follow her away from town for this meeting? I understand Dolores because she’s starting to “awaken,” but why would Teddy follow along? What’s the point of them being together if they’re just robots—where did this particular unscripted narrative serve any Westworld guests? 

Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), the behavior analyst working for Bernard, questions Rebus (Steven Ogg), who was the last to interact with Walter (Timothy Lee DePriest), the “milk man” that went into cold storage after tripping a few loose circuits. A replay of the scene shows Walter talking to someone named Arnold, but no one is present, just a bunch of dead bodies on the ground.

Bernard says the hosts are designed to play off aberrant behavior, but Elsie has another more disturbing finding: six of the hosts that Walter killed had previously killed him in other storylines—as if Walter’s holding a lethal grudge. Bernard knows Elsie is onto something but unceremoniously dismisses her to accompany Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) in locating a stray host that has wandered off. How much Bernard knows is obviously an ongoing question at this point because when he tries to alleviate a nervous Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) that the problem with the hosts updates have been resolved, he knows all hell is on the verge of letting go. What is his game?

Major backstory drop when Bernard confronts Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) over the continuing malfunctions and the name Arnold. Ford reveals that Arnold had been scrubbed from Westworld history, even though he was, in fact, the co-founder. Once the machines passed the Turing Test, Arnold was consumed by his search for consciousness in his creations. But, as Ford explains, consciousness is one of the last things hosts should have—the least the creators could do for them is allow them the ability to forget the shit they endure day in and day out.

So, back up, what the hell was that scene just before, where Ford is belittling a tech for protecting a host’s “modesty” with a covering, forcibly reminding them that the hosts are nothing more than machines by taking a scalpel to the host’s cheek. But, no doubt about it, Ford is moving forward on some new project, and in another clandestine moment, he uploads new backstory to host Teddy Flood that finds him tracking an old nemesis named Wyatt who has gone lunatic, killing at random. 

Even though Ford tells Bernard that Arnold has died, perhaps, the good doctor is carrying out his old co-worker’s fulfillment of elevating the machines to full sentient beings. Maybe—or is he keeping an experiment of his in check?

And then there’s that name again … Bob Ford, who, in real life, shot his former friend and mentor Jesse James in the back. Dr. Ford seems genuinely melancholy over what happened to Arnold. Or, is it just for show? 

Elsie and Stubbs accidentally track the stray—a woodcutter (Tait Fletcher) from a looping storyline—to where he’s fallen into a mountain crevice and has been obviously attempting to climb his way out for hours. Elsie puts the host in sleep mode, but when Stubbs rappels down to sever the woodcutter’s head to take back for examination (in a gratuitous scene of decapitation and bloodletting), the robot surges to life, tosses the security chief aside, and uses the rope to scramble to the top, going after Elsie, who’s desperately trying to shut him down. He lifts a huge rock up over his head with Elsie trembling on the ground in front of him, but instead of smashing her, he bashes his own head repeatedly until he’s knocked himself out. How have things gotten to a point where there’s a wandering derelict? 

The education of Dolores Abernathy expands in a huge step in “The Stray,” when returning to her home she finds her father and mother murdered for the umpteenth time, but an anomaly happens when she looks at her father’s face and sees the other host who has played the part previously. When Rebus, who has not yet had his memory banks erased, takes her in the barn to have his way with her, he’s temporarily replaced in her bugging-out mind by the man in black (Ed Harris), who tells her they should reacquaint themselves. Dolores raises the gun she’s been hiding and finally finds the intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger, blasting away Rebus.

Logan (Ben Barnes), who’s content with sexual encounters with the artificial beings, is dismayed when William (Jimmi Simpson) decides to go on a bigger adventure searching for desperadoes after his “cherry is popped” in an Old West showdown where he saved a grateful Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) from a murderous outlaw. Sitting by a fire under the night sky, no signs of exploit, Logan hopes his boredom has come to an end when they hear twigs cracking nearby. Dolores stumbles into their camp, collapsing in William’s arms. Well, you just know the white hat is going to help her.

My concluding cerebral cortex cogitations:

  • The confrontation between Bernard and Ford left me mulling this nugget: what’s the point of having hosts unaware that they are machines entertaining guests in the park? After all, it’s just a walking computer. Is it possible there are people working outside the amusement park in tech and management positions that are themselves robots?
  • Logistics: how is it that Bernard can walk Dolores back and forth for their secret get-togethers without being seen? Same goes for Dr. Ford and his various cloak and dagger maneuvers with other hosts. Maybe it will be explained or best not to ruin the fun by thinking too far into those particulars, 
  • Curiouser and curioser. Alice in Wonderland continues to be widely referenced in films and shows. It’s an awesome book, but how about we find some other wellsprings, creators.

See also: Westworld 1.02: “Chestnut” Episode Review

 


David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.
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2 comments
Karen Terry
1. bblol65
This is a very interesting show and it is a little confusing. Maybe it is confusing because they want to keep you off guard until the real truth is revealed. Why does the man in black gets to do what he wants to without anyone knowing about it?
David Cranmer
2. DavidCranmer
bblol65, In my review of the second episode I touch on the fact that Stubbs the head of security knows what the man in black is up to. Here's a link to that post:
http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/10/westworld-102-qchestnutq-episode-review
And, without a doubt, the shows writers want to keep us guessing right through to the end.
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