Bernard? No, no, no. Bernard!

By James Hibberd
November 14, 2016 at 03:21 PM EST
John P. Johnson/HBO
S1 E7
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“What door?” — that was the line where I lost it.

Bernard Lowe, inside Dr. Ford’s creepy robo-family vacation getaway house, doesn’t see a door noticed by his ex-lover Theresa Cullen. Hosts are programmed to ignore certain information. This was the first direct indication in tonight’s hour that Bernard — the most humane of our backstage characters — is not human. And this revelation was only one of the dramatic events of Westworld episode 7, ““Trompe L’Oeil,” which took us down Ford’s rabbit hole into his secret mad scientist laboratory, plus had a brutal series of events for Clementine that will change her forever. I have plenty of thoughts about the Bernard reveal, the abuse of Clementine, that Dolores-William hook-up, plus several new theories as to What’s Going On.

But we start with Bernard waking up, just like we’ve seen his fellow hosts Dolores and Maeve do so many times on this show. He’s in a flashback — which we’ll later learn is an implanted memory — visiting his dying son. He’s reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to him, just like he does with Dolores, his spiritually adopted daughter. “If I had a world of my own … everything would be what it isn’t,” he reads. His son passes and Bernard wakes in his Westworld bed. He’s another host haunted by one of Ford’s cruelly effective tragic backstories.

We next see Bernard at work asking Hector in a bored voice the exact same question he should be asking himself: “And finally, have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” He runs through a few tests with Hector, making sure that scenes of modern life “don’t look like anything” to Hector, reminding us of that programmed host reply, setting up what comes later.

It seems Hector has been ordered up to provide some room service sex to corporate board member Charlotte, who has also summoned Cullen for a meeting. Cullen sits in an ultra-professional poise as the younger Charlotte condescendingly tells her, “I like you — well, not personally, but I like you for this job,” and gives us some exposition about what’s going on here: The board wants to push out Ford, the value of the park is all in the code, they’ve been smuggling data out as a back-up in case Ford tries to nuke their intellectual property on his way out the door. They don’t know what Ford’s mysterious new narrative is, and Delos also has an equally mysterious “little research project” the park is being used for that’s their true priority.

“The gods require a blood sacrifice,” Charlotte says. “We need to demonstrate just how dangerous Ford’s creations can be.”

As she says this, Cullen alarmingly glances behind her. She thinks that Hector might be sneaking up to kill her. In retrospect this is ironic because what she doesn’t realize (and it took the showrunners explaining for me to realize in this week’s post-episode Q&A) is that Ford eavesdropped on this conversation via the sex-paused Hector — that’s why Ford makes that reference to “blood sacrifice” later. So Cullen comes across in this scene like she’s being paranoid thinking Hector might be coming to throttle her. But it turns out Hector really was a threat (just not in the way she suspected) and later a host does kill her (just not the one she expected).

NEXT: Clementine’s tech-crunch

In the park, newly woke Limitless Maeve returns to her saloon with a fresh purpose. She goes to the player piano and shuts it down with a slam — sorry cowpoke tourists, no more Radiohead and Soundgarden cover songs for you!

Maeve goes to the bar and Clementine starts spooling out her backstory. Maeve is realizing her familiar hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold tale is every bit as false as her own memories, and she looks at Clementine with something like pity. Suddenly everybody in the saloon freezes and Maeve pretends to freeze, too (so I guess she’s not only smarter and less loyal now, but the commands no longer work on her either).

The techs snatch Clementine to bring her backstage for a demonstration. There, Cullen and Charlotte have gathered along with Bernard and Ford. What follows is a tad confusing because Cullen and Charlotte have secretly tweaked Clementine’s code to crudely demonstrate that the hosts are extremely dangerous due to Ford’s latest update. Except the hosts really are becoming dangerous — probably due to the mysterious “Arnold” signal influence and not Ford’s update — they’re just not dangerous in such an obvious way like we’re seeing here (at least, not yet). It’s like back in 1993 when Dateline infamously sought to demonstrate that a line of GM trucks were unsafe by rigging a truck to explode during a filmed crash. The trucks may have had a real safety issue, but the demo video was bulls—. (Not helping with said confusion: That our female characters’ names are Clementine, Cullen, and Charlotte; c’mon Westworld, let’s vary these character names a bit, this ain’t Westeros!).

The demonstration is brutal. Clementine is loaded with her pre-update code, she goes to automatically flirt with another host, a burly guy we haven’t seen before who we’re told has been “coded to read as a human” to Clementine (we didn’t know this could be done, but it makes sense — Bernard must be coded to register as a human too). The burly host shocks us by beating the hell out of her.

This is like an empathy test for the demo’s witnesses, who stand and watch the scripted violence, mirroring the TV audience. Charlotte clearly doesn’t give a damn. Ford looks tense and slightly amused. Cullen is unnerved. Bernard is bothered by everything about this.

And how about us? Is this a Voight-Kampff-like exam for us, as well? Some viewers will be very pissed at Westworld for this scene. They will ask: Was showing this necessary?

Then we get the reversal: Charlotte gets the latest update to her code, and suddenly goes all Krav Maga on the other host until he’s dead. Stubbs goes into her cage. He holds his pistol in a fancy “I really know guns” kind-of way, and then shoots Cujo-rabid Clementine.

Cullen and Charlotte blame Bernard for this, and of course it’s not his fault and Bernard isn’t their true target. Charlotte gives him the opportunity to blame Ford instead. She assumes Bernard will take this lifeline because she’s cutthroat and would throw somebody under the bus without hesitation. But Bernard has too much loyalty to Ford. He’s almost certainly programmed to be incapable of betraying his master.

Clementine is taken to be robo-lobotomized with nose-drill, which makes an awful crunching sound. Maeve has snuck upstairs to witness this (which must be important to the story given that it feels like a stretch). As the showrunners explain this week, Sylvester is basically doing the equivalent of drilling a hole in a hard drive so it can’t be read anymore, wiping out her personality. I assume Cullen is watching to make sure this happens because the drilling is also covering Delos’ tracks by getting rid of their rigged demo code.

Afterward, Maeve tells the body shop dorks that she wants to escape Westworld. “Everything is made to keep you here,” they explain. I suspect those methods of control will become an important thread later one. Then Maeve gets to deliver this great line: “You think I’m scared of death … I’ve done it a million times. I’m f—king great at it. How many times have you died?”

NEXT: Strangers on a train (a.k.a. we’re now okay with robot sex) 

Elsewhere in the park, Dolores and William are on a train with Lawrence. They start passing heads mounted on spikes. Oh-oh, are they going to King’s Landing? But no, they’re in “Ghost Nation” territory, where there is “nothing but slaughter.”

Dolores says she never wants to go back and longs to escape. William says he’s falling in love with the park and wants to stay here. They’re both going through changes but wanting different things — she wants freedom from her scripted existence (“I don’t want to be in a story”), he wants to escape reality into this realm of fantasy (“a life in which I can be truly alive”), just like in the books he read as a kid.

There’s been a fan theory for a while now that William and the Man in Black are somehow the same person. Jeff Jensen and I get into this in some detail this week in our SiriusXM Radio show. It’s fair to say that William keeps edging closer to seeming like a guy who could become the MiB (whose name we still haven’t heard). Think about how he’s changed: William is falling in love with the park, he’s got a connection to Dolores, he’s getting more comfortable with committing violent acts, and he talks of books and stories.

William reveals his backstory to Dolores: that he’s engaged to a woman back home. Soon they’re in each other’s arms anyway.

Here’s what’s unusual about this: We watch Dolores and William have sex, and we’re okay with it because it feels like they’ve earned this; it’s like a traditional romance. But remember the first few episodes? The idea of humans having sex with robots under any circumstance was something we found a bit repulsive and pathetic. Now here we are, just a few hours later, and we’ve been turned around. Westworld has rather quickly rewrote our programming as to how to feel about about bot-sex.

Later, William wakes to find Dolores making an insanely intricate charcoal sketch of this canyon leading to the sea. She thinks this is the way out.

Their train is stopped by some soldiers and there’s some cowboys-and-indians action. William isn’t in any danger here, of course, but Dolores, for the first time, seems like she could be — she won’t die, but we don’t want her to get sent back to Abernathy ranch and reset.

One of the struggles with Westworld is there are plenty of action scenes where the stakes are inherently nonexistent to low as neither the guests nor the hosts can die. I feel like the show is advancing to a point where this is going to change, and it will be a welcome shakeup when all this gunfire and explosions and chases can have life-and-death implications. But as we’re going to discuss in a moment, Westworld is also hinting toward some very interesting places when it comes to what death means on this show.

William and Dolores make it to the canyon and Lawrence says adios, but not before telling them nobody has ever come back from where they’re venturing. We’re going to get to the ocean this season, and I love that I have no idea what we’ll find there.

NEXT: The Terminator 

Bernard takes Cullen to Sector 17 and the Ford family cabin. They go into Ford’s private host-making lab. A new host is being printed.

Cullen finds sketches of early model hosts and sees one for Bernard. I wonder if she initially thinks this means Ford is building a host version of Bernard, not that he’s actually a host himself. Then Bernard delivers the tell-tale confirmation when she shows it to him: “It doesn’t look like anything to me.” Cullen looks nauseated (oh my god I’ve been f—king a robot this whole time) and also existentially horrified for Bernard.

Many fans have suspected Bernard was a host for weeks. So some might see this confirmation as anticlimactic. But I much rather have a twist that’s earned and makes sense then the kind we’re fed so often — a twist that’s shocking, but also feels clumsily invented along the way, a rather unfair betrayal of everything we’ve seen up until that point (The Final Five Cylons Effect). Bernard’s host-dom had been planned from the beginning and there have been a steady drip-drip-drip of clues along the way. “But what about how he was chatting with his wife?” you might fairly ask. I figure if Ford can create totally convincing human androids then he can easily make a video chatbot-wife for Bernard to Skype with to keep him grounded.

Plus, even if you were certain Bernard was a bot, you did not expect what happens next.

Ford just pops into the room, as he tends to do, right as Bernard is realizing his world is a lie. “I can’t be,” Bernard says. I feel some frustration at this moment because I want this to be a bigger realization for Bernard. I want to really see him process his true nature. Instead, Ford quickly hits Bernard’s emotional mute button, which denies us some drama. Maybe we’ll see Bernard’s awakening more completely in a future episode?

Instead, the focus of this scene is on Cullen, as perhaps it should be given what’s about to happen. I haven’t really been noticing Sidse Babett Knudsen’s performance in the show up until now. Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright are terrific in this scene, but you would expect them to be. Knudsen, however, is fantastic as her corporate ice queen composure gradually slips, and cracks, and finally shatters completely. She’s the one mesmerizing us the whole time.

I particularly liked how at one point Cullen thinks she has out-thought Ford, pointing out Bernard isn’t under his control because he brought her to his lab. She says this with such an obvious shaky surge of relief and confidence. Then Ford points out he ordered Bernard to bring her here. Suddenly, Cullen looks really scared for the first time. She realizes there’s only one reason Ford would bring her to an isolated location and expose his secrets to her.

Ford gives Bernard a command to kill Cullen. He takes off his coat and tie, Gus Fring-style. As Cullen cowers and screams, he bashes her head into the wall. Real consequences have arrived on Westworld.

Ever since the show started, we’ve been expecting a host to kill a human, and I love that when it finally happened, Westworld delivered this beat in a manner we totally did not expect — instead of a host rebelling and killing a person, one is unwittingly used as a human’s weapon. We’ve wondered what Dolores will think once she realizes all the things that have happened to her in the park. What will Bernard think if he remembers killing Cullen?

The scene also demonstrates that Ford is a true master villain in a show where we haven’t been entirely sure if anybody is. This isn’t a surprise as Hopkins has played Ford pretty creepily the entire time, but now we know what we’re dealing with. Okay, onto some points and theories.

NEXT: Theories: Who’s Arnold, where’s Elsie, what’s changed 

First: Ford’s printer is making a new host. Could it be a new Theresa Cullen? That’s how Ford might cover his tracks. No corpse, no crime. Which also means Sidse Babett Knudsen is still on the show, only in a very different form. Our interview tonight with Jeffrey Wright, however, suggests this might not be the case.

Second: Clementine. Is she “dead”? The showrunners revel in our Q&A, also coming tonight, that she’s never going to be the same. So I would assume Clementine will return as an entirely new character in the park.

Both “deaths” raise really intriguing possibilities about the nature of killing a character on this show. Fake-out deaths have been a TV fad lately. Occasionally they’re effective (like Jon Snow being brought back on Game of Thrones in a stunning resurrection scene), but more often they’re clumsy (such as when Glenn was seemingly killed off on The Walking Dead after getting swarmed by zombies under a dumpster, then was later revealed to be alive by showing the attack from a different perspective — characters shouldn’t be resurrected by changing camera angles).

But Westworld has now established an environment where post-death returns can be unique. Ford could make a robot version of Cullen. The tech team could bring back Clementine as a different character played by the same actor. One hopes the show doesn’t overuse either tactic, but there’s a built-in way to play with death-stakes that’s logical and fair that other shows can’t do.

In a way, the episode had a third death, as well — Bernard (at least, Bernard as we know him). I feel sad that Westworld’s Team Human lost its most sympathetic member. The story was always on the side of the hosts, and now the writers have double downed on their gamble that the audience will accept robots as protagonists.

And what about the still-missing Elise? This week’s ending makes me hopeful. First, I’m thinking Bernard-bot snatched her. Earlier in the hour Bernard reassures Cullen that her complaint about people in his department undermining her is now solved. I think that’s a reference to Elsie. Since Westworld has just kinda-sorta killed off Cullen and Clementine in this hour, that makes me think they won’t kill Elsie, too.

Now here’s my newly updated theory. I haven’t see any footage and have zero reporting knowledge beyond this episode, so what’s below is pure speculation. But if you like to be surprised, please skip to the end just in case I’m actually correct about something:

In previous weeks I’ve played with the idea that Dolores could be the mysterious Arnold, or that Arnold could be Ford’s younger self. Now I’m thinking its Bernard. My idea is that Arnold died and then Ford built a host in his image to carry on his work in some fashion and to serve as a workplace companion (and spy on his staff), just like he did with his robo-family. It would make sense as Bernard is the one who’s seemingly empowering Dolores and, like Arnold, has strong empathy for the hosts.

But there’s a specific reason for my suspicion in this episode, as well: When Cullen is looking at the host sketches, she sees the young Robert and the Dolores drawings and in the bottom right-hand corner the camera observes that each sketch is labeled with the host’s repsective name — “Robert” and “Dolores.” When Cullen looks at the Bernard sketch, the bottom is kept off camera. Why? It would have made her discovery even more clear — and more symetrical with the previous shots — if it were labeled “Bernard.” I suspect it’s hidden because that name on his sketch might be “Arnold.” Notice we’ve never heard Arnold’s last name. “Bernard Lowe” is an anagram for “Arnold Weber.”

So, my current working theory: William is somehow a younger version of the MiB, perhaps in an alternate timeline, who is being used by Dolores, who in turn is being used by Arnold. Delos wants to use the park’s technology to upload human consciousness into hosts (there was another hint about this from Ford in this episode: “I’ve just been wanting to tell my stories … it’s you people who wanted to play god with your little undertaking”). Bernard is a host version of Arnold, and I’m now thinking that he did not die of an accident, but rather Ford killed him. Arnold is somehow orchestrating the coming robot uprising via Bernard or some other mechanism. Elsie is not dead and will have several f-bombs for when she’s back. Lee Sizemore will be brutally murdered by robots, and we’ll cheer. At some point we’re going to hear an orchestral version of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” And this season is going to have a huge cliffhanger that’s going to leave us all rather impatient while waiting a year for season 2.

More coverage! Our producer Q&A with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about this week’s episode, along with an interview with Jeffrey Wright about his character’s twist. We also have this week’s “Westworld: Analysis Mode” radio show covering episode 7, listen right now below:

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HBO's ambitious science-fiction thriller 'Westworld' is based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film of the same name. The series developed by Jonathan Nolan stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and more top names.
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