Westworld recap: Some thoughts on Dolores' shocking move
Westworld unveiled its long-awaited new park Shogun World in Sunday’s episode which played like a mini samurai movie featuring Thandie Newton seamlessly delivering dialogue in Japanese. But the biggest surprise wasn’t what happened in the feudal Japan theme park but rather what went down in the Wild West when Dolores totally brain-violated her loving boyfriend Teddy. We start with…
Westworld backstage: We get a brief bit with Bernard “Unreliable Narrator” Lowe with the QA team examining piles of dead hosts. This is after they found the lake full of drowned host bodies (so they weren’t just pretending to be dead after all — eliminating one popular fan theory).
We’re told about one-third of the hosts are “virgin” — like they never held data at all. And the host backups have all been destroyed. Hmm. We figure Dolores is up to something here, but we don’t know what yet. The QA guy is all: “How did all these disparate threads come together to create this nightmare? If we figure out, we’ll know how this story turns.” That’s a pretty on point comment, to say the least. Bernard just stares at the dead Teddy body again, which should fuel yet another fan theory out there…
Shogun World: Maeve and Co. are captured by a ronin named Musashi (played by veteran actor Hiroyuki Sanada who you’ve seen in everything from The Last Samurai to The Wolverine to Life). They’re brought to a town that’s set up suspiciously like Sweetwater. Lee explains that this place is basically a feudal Japan bizarro version of Westworld — the town, the storylines and even the hosts are doppelgangers for ones we already know. So Musashi the Ronin is Hector the bandit. Akane (Rinko Kikuchi) the geisha is Maeve the madam. Akane’s favorite employee, the young and doomed Sakura, is the young and doomed Clementine. And of course, we get a version of “Paint it Black” (played on, I think, a koto?), echoing the same song used during the Westworld pilot (and, yes, a version of the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M” later on).
“You try writing 300 stories in three weeks!” explains Lee.
The recycling works on a few levels: It’s a meta-commentary on TV trope recycling, a clever way of creating a connection between the familiar hosts and the residents of this new environment, and a way of adding another sci-fi techno wrinkle. I’ve often wondered why there was only one of each host. Wouldn’t popular characters like Dolores and Maeve have replacements since they’re constantly being damaged and repaired? Back-ups and clones? The show’s writers actually considered doing that, but ultimately decided to do this more unique cross-park “double-bot” concept instead.
(Another behind the scenes fun fact: The Westworld production team build the Japanese town set back to back with the Sweetwater set. So buildings on the right side of the street, if you walk into them and then go out the “back door,” you pop out the other side into Sweetwater. Given the level of immersive 360-degree detail of both sets, walking back and forth between them is incredibly trippy).
Anyway: The Shogun demands Akene turn over the young Sakura. Akene is supposed to comply. But since all the hosts are free to make their own decisions, Akene kills the Shogun’s messenger, putting the group in danger. Bet you didn’t think you’d spend half this episode reading, huh?
That night: Ninja attack! (And yes, for the stickler, ninjas are not from the exact same time period as some other historical elements in the episode. The idea is that Shogun World, like Westworld, combines iconic elements from different years into one theme park).
Maeve discovers she can halt the ninjas not just by using voice commands, but by using something unspoken. Her “new voice” is tapping into the host wifi “mesh network.” She can get hosts to do anything (as long as she’s speaking to them in their “native” language which is apparently Japanese rather than, say, C++). Maeve is now playing on the game on God-mode.
Maeve’s group joins with Akane to rescue Sakura from the Shogun. Along the way sneaky Lee steals a walkie-talkie from a dead QA person. It seems spectacularly dumb to try and hide anything from Maeve, particularly an electronics gadget that sends out radio signals. I mean, she’s sensing ninjas sneaking up behind her and making them kill each other with her mind, how tough would it be for her to pick up that a walkie-talkie is nearby?
The group head to the Shogun’s camp. They find him glitching he’s has cut the ears off all his men to keep Maeve from saying any voice commands to them. This seems like a really short-sighted leadership strategy. He commands Akane and Sakura to dance for him, but first kills Sakura because he’s just that type of person.
What follows is a very cool and stylish sequence of bloody mayhem as Akane kills the Shogun, and saws off his head. While Maeve uses her Jedi powers to get the Shogun’s earless men to kill each other. Too bad she didn’t just do this before Sakura was killed. We hope this means Akane is joining Maeve’s adventure full time.
Westworld Park: Dolores and Teddy return to Sweetwater. We learn her master plan involves taking the train to The Mesa — which is the park’s big command hub and living quarters that we’ve seen many times before. Dolores’ father is being held there and they’re planning what seems like a rescue mission.
Teddy has some time with Dolores. He’s still hoping to settle down with her somewhere and raise tiny robo-kids. She tells him a prophetic anecdote about her dad’s herd was infected by a disease. Teddy says he would opt for a humane solution while Dolores recalls her father making a more brutal move that ultimately saved the herd.
That night that have sex. It looks anything but mechanical.
After, she takes Teddy into the town’s supply store. While she’s talking to him she casually picks a can off the ground and puts it on the bar. This little move, unremarked upon, is my favorite thing in this lavish episode. Dropping a can in the street of Sweetwater was scripted as part of Dolores’ mating ritual. We’ve seen her do it so many times and various men pick it up and start chatting. Now she’s had sex with Teddy and picks up her own damn can — she doesn’t need him or anybody else to do it for her.
She brings him into a back room where there’s a rotting fly covered animal carcass — like the diseased herd in her anecdote. “This is what I don’t want you to become … if we’re gonna survive, some of us will have to burn,” she says.
She has Teddy held while a tech guy gets out a controller pad. She jacks up his Aggression, Bulk Apperception and Hostility and while decreasing his Compassion to zero. (Cut to a debate on ABC’s The View: “Sure, women say they want a nice guy, but do they really?”).
Of course, Dolores could have done this to Teddy in his sleep. She didn’t have to make it into such a traumatizing show. But there’s a reason for it being staged like this, I think, which we’ll get to in a moment.
This is a really interesting twist and I suspect a controversial one. Terminator Dolores has generated a lot of conversation this season about whether she’s still a sympathetic heroine. In a way, the criticism comes across like an annoying no-win reversal of the season one criticism of Dolores. The character was initially bashed for being a passive victim; now she’s getting bashed for being the opposite. It’s like those sliders on the data pad that are invariably set to one extreme or another and never in the middle.
But in a show that controversially opened with Dolores being dragged into a barn by the Man in Black, Dolores bringing Teddy into this back room, ordering him held and having his personality changed is staged like a similar violation, but mental instead of physical. Against Teddy’s will, she’s changing the very things that make him who he is. Doing this doesn’t just change Teddy, it also changes her — it’s making Dolores into the type of person she’s fighting against, the sort who would reprogram a “hero” host to suit their own needs rather than granting them agency.
Maeve, of course, is making hosts act against their own will in this episode too, but those involved are rather anonymous “bad” guys.
At this point in the story, it’s unclear if there is much moral difference left between Dolores and the humans who were running Westworld.
Still, all that said … I can’t wait to meet Evil Killbot Teddy next week.