This piece contains massive spoilers about Sunday night’s episode of Westworld
HBO’s Westworld had a seismic shake-up Sunday night, impacting several major characters. First, the show’s likable chief programmer Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) was revealed to secretly be a robotic host. Not only that, but Ford then ordered Bernard to violently murder his ex-lover, Delos corporate quality assurance head Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), to halt an attempt to push Ford into retirement. Plus, there was also a shocking scene where host Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) was brutally beaten as part of a demo, and then had her personality drilled out of her. Below showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy give us the lowdown on episode 7, “Trompe L’Oeil.” Also see our interview with Westworld star Jeffrey Wright where he gives his thoughts on the Bernard reveal.
Entertainment Weekly: At what point did you know that Bernard was a host? Was that from the very beginning or evolve along the way?
Jonathan Nolan: Bernard has been a host from the beginning. But we were careful with Jeffrey.
Lisa Joy: We were careful with Jeffrey because we wanted him to be fully lovable and human and believable, but also to understand that underneath he’s playing something else. We let him in pretty early on. He’s such a skilled actor he was able to play a robot thinking he’s a human very well, he’s playing it on a couple different levels at the same time, and absolutely brilliant about it. We didn’t want him to feel like we pulled the rug out from under him. I’m going to be so excited when this episode airs because it’s so tricky for me when doing press to not give away spoilers about Jeffrey’s character.
How did Jeffrey react when you told him?
Joy: He’s such a wonderful, talented man, and we sat him down and we were going through it, “This is all going to happen, and, by the way, you’re a robot.” He just sat there for a second like: “Oh. Ohhh. All right then.” I’ve been such a fan of Jeffrey for so many years and always dreamt of working with him. And when he first came on board I told him, “Jeffrey, I know what you’re capable of, and goddamnit, I’m gong to use all of it.” And that’s our plan.
It’s this double punch reveal because you learn about him and at the same time lose Theresa Cullen in the same scene — and Ford has him commit this act Bernard would never consciously do. You compound the reveal of his nature by having him do something that horrifies us.
Joy: It horrifies us, and it horrifies him. It’s a betrayal of everything that he — as a man he thought he was — believed in. He had real feelings for Theresa. It’s meant to make the sadness and the horror of his manipulation all the more real because it has such costs.
Ford echoes the board rep Charlotte telling Cullen that there needs to be a “blood sacrifice,” which I believe was only said between the two of them. So is the whole place bugged or is there something else I’m missing there?
Joy: What you might be missing is there was a host on the bed behind them when she said that — Hector. Ford has access to that kind of stuff.
Oh, that’s right! Of course. And I take it the reason Ford’s father-host does not respond to other people’s voice commands and is all aggressive to Bernard when he came into the cabin last week because he partly serves the purpose of keeping people away from the secret lab?
Nolan: That’s part of it. That area that they’re operating in is one the hosts are programmed to avoid. And given the scope and scale of the park, it’s one where they won’t come around to, if at all. Technicians are maneuvered away from that area. It’s a bit of a black hole in the park. It’s a place where Ford can go and get away from it all and spend time with his family. That those hosts are not programmed to respond to anyone but Ford speaks again to the insidious level of control that he’s built into the park from the beginning. It’s wheels within wheels. Like we’ve established the techs can control the hosts with voice commands, but it turns out that’s not necessarily the case — it’s only because Ford allows them to.
I also want to ask about Clementine in this episode. The scene where she gets beaten is going to get an strong reaction from viewers, I suspect.
Joy: For me, it’s one of those scenes I find the most emotional this season. Not only because this scene where they have one host abuse her — it’s so harrowing — but weirdly I get more emotional when she starts beating him back, because I’m like, “Kill everyone, Clementine, kill everyone!” And when she’s stopped in her tracks I get so mad. And Angela in this scene, within the plot of this series, they would have to pick somebody [for the rigged demo] you would never see coming. That’s how you sell the idea the hosts are dangerous. She’s the most innocent, the most loving of all of them. She’s like this delicate bunny rabbit. And Angela is like this gentle, kind, etherial creature with an incredible sense of movement and grace. And when you take all the power and intelligence — both in an actor and in her character — and then you unleash it, you get to see a wonderful scene.
Then she’s apparently lobotomized. We’re so used to the hosts coming back to life over and over again. Does this mean Clementine has been “killed off”?
Nolan: It’s a little more complicated than that. They’re physically removing part of her personality. It’s like when the NSA has a hard drive they want to get rid of. They don’t just erase it, they drill holes in it. The mind of the hosts are organized similar to a human mind, with that frontal lobe containing most of the code for her personality. So the person we know as Clementine is largely gone.
We see the train carrying Dolores and William and it’s going on and on and the park is starting to seem impossibly vast. They talk about how the park’s biggest value is in the code but I can’t help but wonder, especially since this is set in the future, wouldn’t the biggest value be in the real estate. Will it make sense to us at some point how large this place is?
Nolan: If you drive across the Western United States — and I don’t think that’s where the park is located — but if you do that … we were pretty rigorous about the scope and scale of it, about size of the park. It’s within 500 square miles. I think Ted Turner owns that much in Mexico. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that a park this size would exist here in America.
Finally, a couple of host-mechanics questions I’ve wondering about, that seem like they might be increasingly relevant: Can you say how are the hosts powered? Like do they need to recharge? Do they eat?
Nolan: Their construction and their power source is something we’re really going to get into during season 2. So we’d like to keep that mysterious. They’re closer to biological than they are to mechanical, but they don’t suffer brain death the same way we do. They’re largely indistinguishable from a human beings, but their brains don’t require oxygen — which opens up interesting possibilities. Their brains are not as fragile as ours. On one hand, their cognition is controllable and malleable, but on a structural level they can’t be killed in the same way you and I can. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a host. Season 2 we’ll be exploring more the nuts and bolts of what they are— as the hosts themselves are trying to understand.