[SPOILERS for those not caught up on Westworld ahead.]
Arguably, no TV show in recent memory as prompted as much in the way of theorizing amongst its fans as HBO’s Westworld has, just over the course of its first half dozen episodes. That’s largely because Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s sci-fi/western TV show (based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name) is very much interested in exploring the nature of narrative. That interest goes beyond how narratives are constructed for the “hosts” in the theme park setting that is Westworld by those who run the park, to the narrative “loops” that the human characters occupy – and how difficult it can be for anyone (human or “host”) to break free of those loops.
The seventh episode of Westworld season 1, ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ featured one character, in the form of human guest William (Jimmi Simpson), realizing that he’s now on a quest to break free of his own “loop” with his actions in the park – in the process, providing more fuel for fan theories about who William will one day become. Meanwhile, viewers learned that another character, in the form of the sympathetic park employee Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), has less control over his own “loop” than he believed and is, in fact, a “host” himself, created by Westworld mastermind Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
As was noted in our review/breakdown of ‘Trompe L’Oeil’, the reveal about Bernard was “not that much of a shock” – as many a Westworld fan had long suspected that someone being presented as human on the show would turn out to be a “host” in disguise, with Bernard being the most obvious candidate – “but it is heartbreaking.” Nolan, when he was interviewed about the episode by THR, pointed out that the clues about who Bernard truly is were planted as far back as the Westworld pilot:
“What we wanted to explore is the idea in the series that… when you go back and look at the pilot, it’s told almost exclusively from the perspective of the hosts. You imagine with Bernard that you’re getting the [human perspective], but that pilot is really about hosts.”
If the reveal that Westworld‘s most empathetic and relatable human character presented thus far is, in fact, not human wasn’t heartbreaking enough, Ford then proceeded to make Bernard murder Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) – after the latter, whom had been romantically involved with Bernard, and her superior Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) made a power play that resulted in Bernard being fired and threatened Ford’s power-hold over the Westworld park. Joy discussed the scene where Bernard kills Theresa in ‘Trompe L’Oeil’, during her and Nolan’s interview with THR about the episode and its reveals:
“Bernard, as he self-identifies as a human, is a gentle and contemplative and loving soul. That kind of act of violence, especially against someone he cares about as he cares about Theresa, would be anathema to his character… There are two great victims in that scene, and for me, that really enhances the tragedy of it.”
There have, of course, been several hints on Westworld episodes past that pointed to Bernard not being the human that we believed (hoped?) he was – including, the way that Ford frequently reminds Bernard about his deceased son as though he was attempting to drill a backstory into his subordinate’s mind, rather than offering him comfort. Bernard’s similarly stiff and somewhat unnatural conversation with his “wife” (Gina Torres) during a Skype-like discussion also raised suspicions about the character, and Joy told THR that was very much intentional:
“When he goes and calls his wife and they have this conversation… it’s funny, because the script is written in a way to mimic, in different words, in more naturalistic words, a conversation you would have with a grieving ex-wife. They mimic the diagnostics that the hosts are given down below. She asks him if he ever questions the nature of his reality, essentially, if he’s been having dreams. Basically, while part of it is to reinforce Bernard’s sense of his own backstory, part of it is also a way for Ford to check up on him and make sure he’s not reaching.”
As for what comes next for Bernard, well, that’s a good question. Ford, at this stage in the game, is essentially the closest thing Westworld has to a proper antagonist – with his deceased (?) partner “Arnold”, whoever (or whatever) he is now, starting to look more like a force for good than evil in the grand scheme of things. Bernard, up to this point, has been willing to question Ford and his actions, yet always remained loyal to and retained something of a friendship with his mentor/boss. Regardless of how matter control Ford continues to wield over him and/or anything he does to try and wipe Bernard’s memory of killing Theresa away, the pair’s dynamic will be forever changed by the event. As Joy teased THR:
“The twist [involving Bernard] is one thing, but the way that it lands? That’s what sticks.”
Westworld continues next Sunday with ‘Trace Decay’ @9pm on HBO.