[This article discusses plot points in Westworld season 1, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week, Westworld spent a considerable amount of its time with the Man in Black, developing the story around his quest to discover new levels of the “game” he insists is part of the park’s true nature. The question of the true nature of things took precedence throughout the hour, as Westworld continued its fascination with exploring the inscrutabilities of the park itself, its many inhabitants (both real and manufactured), and of course the show’s own narrative. The result, then, is a more complicated, puzzle-like telling of your usual tales of robot uprisings or the ever-popular arrival of the singularity.
That complication takes a new angle in episode 3, ‘The Stray,’ as Westworld redoubles its focus on the park’s oldest Host, Dolores, seemingly for the express purpose of generating new possibilities as to what’s actually going on within the character’s storyline and raising the question of when these events are going on as well. The series has been vague as to certain particulars about the series’ unique setting, encouraging the sort of rampant theorizing currently going on across the internet as to what secrets the narrative continues to hold. Two of the biggest is the where and when the story takes place, and with the events of ‘The Stray’, Westworld appears to add another wrinkle to the latter question by either continuing to nudge the possibility of dual timelines or negating them (or at least the biggest of them) altogether.
As with the two episodes that preceded it, ‘The Stray’ doesn’t push the overarching narrative forward by much, but rather delves further into its exploration of the characters and the many questions surrounding the circumstances that have brought them to this increasingly unsettling place.
Is the Audience Experiencing The Story On Two Timelines?
This theory has been gaining traction since William (Jimmi Simpson) first showed up in the park with his lothario soon-to-be-brother-in-law Logan (Ben Barnes) egging him on to enjoy all the seedier aspects of Westworld, and to embrace his inner black hat, so it might as well be addressed. The theory posits that William is actually the Man in Black 30 years prior to his running around the park questing after scalp maps and maze entrances along the Blood Arroyo, and that the story of Westworld, as the audience is experiencing it, is actually unfolding in two different time periods – basically, pre-black hat William and post-black hat William.
‘The Stray’ does a good job at either confirming or muddying this theory, depending on how you look at it, which is kind of par for the course with Westworld at this point. So far, viewers have seen the Man in Black interact with Dolores on separate occasions. And at the end of episode 3, she wanders into William and Logan’s camp, presumably after fleeing from her farmhouse, following the violent clash with Rebus and his gang (and a guest). That clash was part of Dolores’s prescribed loop, but this time it unfolded differently thanks to Dr. Ford’s narrative tinkering which put Teddy Flood in pursuit of the mysterious Wyatt instead of coming to Dolores’s aid, leaving her to fend for herself.
A question, then, might be: Does Dolores experience flashbacks during her fatal run-in with Rebus or is the show illustrating the way in which the audience is experiencing two separate timelines (a past and a present) unfold as a way of explaining Dolores’s path toward consciousness and the role the Man in Black plays (and has played) on her journey? Given the emphasis the show has placed on the idea of memory and backstory, the latter seems less likely. The flash to the previous Peter Abernathy, the Man in Black in the barn, and the two encounters with the man on the porch that have different outcomes suggests more the importance of the role memory and learned behavior play in self-awareness than a twist that fundamentally alters the structure of the narrative. Dolores’s arrival in William and Logan’s camp also seems to seriously undermine the credibility of the dual timeline theory. While the dual timeline idea seems to be debunked, the events here don’t necessarily refute it completely.
Why Was Dolores Able to Pull the Trigger?
Of all the strange behavior exhibited by the Hosts since the introduction of the language virus or reverie glitch, Dolores’s ability to pull a gun’s trigger and kill her would-be rapist might be one of the most important, as it demonstrates a Host’s ability to defy what is presumably the instructions of her code. In essence, Dolores’s physical inability to pull the trigger of a gun – demonstrated when Teddy takes her out for a little weapons training 101 – is tied to the idea that only some hosts are able to utilize weapons – e.g., the titular Stray who was the only member of his group of Hosts authorized to pick up an axe for the purpose of chopping wood – thereby limiting the potential for weapons-related mishaps, like the ones seen in gun-wielding Hosts of previous episodes.
But there is a tiny detail in Dolores pulling the trigger and killing Rebus that suggests her ability to do so isn’t entirely the result of a push toward greater sentience and autonomy. Again, Dolores experiences a series of sensory flashes, both visual and auditory, showing her the Man in Black on the night he dragged her to the barn, while at the same time a voice can be heard instructing her to “Kill him,” which she does as though obeying a command. Is it possible, then, that Dolores wasn’t actively rebelling against her programming but instead responding to the commands of an authority that supersedes even her base coding? And furthermore, is this an act of rebellion – either by Dolores herself or by the individual responsible for the “Kill him” command – or is Dolores’s new path simply a part of the new narrative Dr. Ford has been working on?
‘The Stray’ makes several pointed references to what the Hosts are able to do when it comes to handling weapons and then demonstrates ways in which they find (or create) workarounds. Dolores’s shooting of Rebus is an obvious example, but so is the Stray using a rock to kill himself. Is this just an overlooked use of a dangerous implement that wasn’t included in the Stray’s coding or was the Stray also answering the call of an authoritative voice? Furthermore, how was Maeve allowed to wield a scalpel in episode 2 against the threat she perceived the two technicians of being?
What’s the Deal With Arnold?
Dr. Ford admits to Bernard that he isn’t the parks sole creator, but that another man, named Arnold, also participated in its inception. Ford offers a limited account of Arnold’s dealing in Westworld, choosing only to offer the now silent partner’s seemingly tragic end as a warning to Bernard to not confuse the parks’ creations with the real thing, saying, “Don’t forget: the hosts are not real. They’re not conscious. You mustn’t make Arnold’s mistake.” Like Bernard, Arnold’s secret desire to see consciousness manifest in the automatons is motivated in part by tragedy.
The acknowledgement of Arnold’s role in the park (and his death in it) by Ford and his name being mentioned again by Elsie, who’s stuck dealing with the Hosts’ behavioral problems – some of which include conversing with an unseen individual named Arnold – is likely to generate an entirely new slew of questions and hypotheses. Obviously, Ford’s unreliability in recounting Arnold’s story is point one, while the voice heard in Dolores’s head is another. It probably won’t take long before some are hypothesizing that Arnold is the Man in Black, or that his consciousness (or unconscious influence in the form of some latent coding) still lingers in the park and was triggered in some way by the reverie glitch. Then again, perhaps the similarities in his backstory with that of Bernard’s – a heavy dose of tragedy mixed with an irrepressible interest in the unconfirmed consciousness of the park’s creations – are meant to suggest what little is known about Bernard – or perhaps what little Bernard knows about himself – is tied in some way to the Bill Finger of Westworld.
What’s Going on With Wyatt and His Followers?
Dr. Ford had a little chat with Teddy about the heroic Host’s newly written backstory and in doing so introduces the violent Wyatt and his followers. Wyatt seems like a character inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, but he’s also something else. As Teddy explains who Wyatt is, he expounds upon Wyatt’s “pretty strange ideas” that the land of Westworld doesn’t “belong to the old natives or the new settlers. That it belonged to something that had yet to come. That it belonged to him.”
With Ford being the presumed author of Wyatt’s story and with Wyatt apparently playing a role in the mysterious new narrative slowly being rolling out, the purpose of that role is immediately called into question. Is Wyatt meant in some way to be a proxy for Dr. Ford? The mystery deepens when Wyatt and his hooded followers attack. The event is preceded by an unnatural sound that immediately feels out of place in any narrative – the park’s or Westworld itself – and is followed up by a group of Hosts (maybe?) who don’t seem to play by any of the rules the series has established so far. When Wyatt’s men swarm Teddy, none of them appear to be struck by his bullets. This isn’t entirely unexplained, as Teddy tells the sheriff that Wyatt’s followers aren’t the usual rabble and that “pain don’t slow ’em. They don’t fear death. Reckon they’ve already died and gone to hell,” but given the show’s repeated demonstration of what happens when bullets strike guests as opposed to the Hosts, there is reason to give pause and wonder whether or not Dr. Ford’s new narrative requires the surreptitious participation of some human players or if he’s gone and thrown the rulebook out the window.
Where is Westworld? (Part II)
When it began, there were questions as to when and where the series was intended to take place. There have been a few hints here and there that it’s a few decades from now or maybe more, as Ford almost offhandedly remarked at some significant advancements in terms of fighting disease and prolonging the life of the very old. Plus there’s the technology on display, all of which adds up to a fairly distant date in time. But the question of where has been less defined.
This could simply be because Westworld is being upfront with its depiction of the American West by actually being located in a massive swath of land in the West. But when Bernard placed a video call to his wife (played by Gina Torres), the quality of the call was a little spotty and he made mention of the difficulty there sometimes can be in getting reception where he is. This could simply be that Westworld doesn’t have the greatest internet or cell service, or it could mean that the park is more isolated than previously thought… as in off-planet isolated. Then again, perhaps the communication to the outside world is simply limited as a means of protecting their proprietary interests.
Westworld continues next Sunday with ‘Dissonance Theory’ @9pm on HBO.
Photos: John P. Johnson/HBO