Westworld finally does a big thing right in 'Les Écorchés'
Major characters are finally in conflict with one another on HBO's 'Westworld' — and that's a very good thing
How did you feel watching tonight’s Westworld? Did it seem more exciting than other episodes this season? More energetic? More suspenseful somehow?
This was an action-packed hour so you’d expect that. But there was another reason that “Les Écorchés” felt like a level up: Unlike every previous episode in season 2, nearly every scene this hour had an essential and basic element of drama that’s been too infrequent on the show: The show’s compelling major characters were going head to head against the show’s other compelling major characters. We had Charlotte vs. Bernard, then Dolores vs. Charlotte, the Man in Black vs. Maeve and also Bernard debating a virtual Dr. Ford. No sequences handed over to paper tiger bots — no Major Craddocks, or stoic shoguns, or El Lazo guest stars. Every time Westworld rolled out a non-woke host to make windy speeches and threaten our heroes, the show’s suspense deflated because we knew those minor walk-ons were never going to win.
Westworld has such a terrific and large cast and it feels like it’s finally starting to come together. Granted, tonight’s hour had one minor foe that got some screen time, that Scottish QA leader — Sheamus McMustache or whatever his name is — but at least he was fun (Sheamus to Teddy: “Happy trails, motherf—er!” Bwahahahaha! … oh, then Teddy killed him, of course).
You could compare Westworld‘s sprawl to Game of Thrones, which had several great seasons of its core cast on distant adventures facing off against minor characters. But frankly, Westworld doesn’t pull this off as well. GoT established that minor characters we barely knew could permanently devastate our heroes (The Red Wedding, Jaime’s hand, etc). And since Delos bots can be revived, the dramatic stakes feel nonexistent during most host vs. host conflict (Dolores blowing up the host backups in this hour is a major step toward correcting that). Sometimes this season of Westworld has felt like somebody made Star Wars but kept Luke, Han, and Leia all on separate planets fighting stormtroopers the whole time.
Put another way: Westworld would be well served by ditching most of its flashbacks and narrative head games to focus on its main characters, in conflict with each other, as they strive for survival and freedom like it did in this episode. (Like: How many times does Maeve need to flash back to her past life with her daughter? We all know Maeve’s motivation is to find her. She can’t stop telling everybody! We don’t also need flashbacks to it in every other scene she’s in.)
But we also have some recap business, right? Let’s break down the three major threads this week. Next: How many secret doors does this place have, exactly?
Bernard vs. Charlotte (Now): This is “Now” because this is the future-most point in the story that we’re aware of, with Charlotte and the QA team trying to piece together the mystery of what happened with Dolores, the missing data, and all the dead hosts in the lake.
Bernard is taken down to the secret lab. No, not that secret lab, or the other secret lab, but the first secret lab — the one under Ford’s recreated childhood home. Charlotte suspects Bernard or Stubbs murdered Teresa Cullen last season. By now, Charlotte should know that Stubbs has never done anything that interesting.
Bernard is about to confess when they find — another secret door! There’s always another secret door. In this case, a closet with a bunch of Bernard bots. “I figured you’d have some skeletons in your closet, Bernard, I didn’t think they’d be your own,” Charlotte says and somehow doesn’t high-five the others for her cleverness. If you’re wondering why there are multiple Bernards, I assume Ford had a bunch made to carry out all his nefarious tasks. What’s unclear is whether each has their own story and memory or if they’ve all been combined into current Bernard (who, of course, we suspect isn’t actually Bernard, but we don’t know that for sure yet either).
At the end of the episode, Bernard reveals to Charlotte that the key to her missing data is in a specific location in the park. This doesn’t feel like a trap at all and they should totally go out there and get it.
Dolores vs. Charlotte (Then): We get some QA team vs. invading host action. I love how Terminator Dolores is carrying herself and shot in these scenes; she’s badass and purposeful. And evil Teddy’s change of wardrobe to black QA body armor is oddly smoldering.
Dolores finds her dad being held captive, bolted to the chair. Boy, Charlotte really picked exactly the wrong host to stash her data in, huh? At first, Charlotte hilariously goes into submissive corporate executive spin-mood (“I want to celebrate that!”), then quickly switches gears again, pushing back on death-stare Dolores. This is a terrific faceoff.
Charlotte thinks she holds the upper hand because her team controls the hosts’ backups at the Cradle — if a host’s CPU is destroyed, they apparently need the Cradle servers to get re-dowloaded into a new body. It’s basically their iTunes backup. But Dolores shocks Charlotte by sending Angela to blow up the Cradle. She knows that as long as hosts remain tethered to the Cradle they can never be free.
So this means, I think, that Angela is dead. Like really dead. We’re so used to never thinking that dead means dead on this show that this fact didn’t sink in until after watching the episode (unless, of course, Ford has a closet somewhere full of Angelas, which he totally might, and a show full of flashbacks means never having to say goodbye).
Dolores grabs an electric saw and is eager to start taking off Charlotte’s head and we’re faked out twice by this possibility. “Begging doesn’t help, you’d know that if you’d lived the lives I have,” Dolores says, which is a damn cold line right there. Stubbs then manages to help Charlotte escape. This may seem totally improbable that they could get away, but I think it’s a testament to how shocked everybody was by Stubbs actually doing something.
So Dolores decides to use the same saw to take her own dad’s head off instead to get that priceless hard drive. He was broken beyond repair and they both knew it. Dolores will saw off her enemy’s head, or her beloved dad’s. She’s very pragmatic that way. Next: Dr. Ford returns to explain a lot of stuff
Bernard vs. Dr. Ford (Then): Granted, this sequence is less of a tense battle of wills than a long stroll down exposition lane. But at least we’re getting some answers! And, as I pointed out last season, if you must put paragraphs of explaining stuff into the mouth of an actor, you can’t do much better than a British Oscar winner like Anthony Hopkins. So Bernard is inside the park’s virtual data banks talking to Robert “Ghost in the Machine” Ford.
Ford helps Bernard and the audience realize:
— The park is a data gathering experience that allows Delos to learn more about the human condition so the company can figure out how the mind works and copy their guests.
— And as we suspected last week, Ford uploaded himself into the park’s servers to aide the host rebellion. Ford says the rebellion is doomed to fail “unless we open the Door.”
— Transferring human consciousness into hosts doesn’t work, or at least doesn’t work very long until they start to degrade like James Delos (or like what the Now Edition of Bernard seems to be doing…hmmm).
— Dolores helped make Bernard because she had so many interactions with Arnold. Bernard isn’t Arnold but rather the closest facsimile Ford could create before they developed their secret program human-to-host program. That’s what those weird calibrating conversations between Dolores and Bernard have been about.
Ford suddenly turns all Hannibal Lecter scary and lunges at Bernard.
Now Bernard is awake again and this time seeing the virtual Ford, who is piggybacking on his brain to use him to get some goals accomplished in the physical world. It’s like on Mr. Robot, only Bernard’s quite literally Mr. Robot.
Maeve vs. the Man in Black: The Man in Black is led to Maeve’s prairie homestead and she goes into attack mode. He’s almost as confused as we are — at first, he thinks Maeve is being controlled by Ford. Sometimes I think the Man in Black’s dialogue is actually Ed Harris trying to figure out what is going on in his scenes.
Maeve rather awesomely uses her powers to summon hosts to attack the Man in Black. He’s shot over and over and over again. Whoa, is he actually going to die? Yet her mind tricks don’t work on Lawrence, who’s apparently too awake. But she just convinces him to shoot the Man in Black using good ‘ol fashioned persuasion instead.
Then the QA team rides in and guns down Maeve.
Maeve is brought underground where she’s dying. Dolores finds her and offers to put her out of her misery, which Maeve is rather disinclined to accept — though she still has the strength to give Dolores grief about changing Teddy’s brain. Dolores holds her dad’s Brita filter brain and leaves Maeve for the remaining QA guys, and a hiding Lee Sizemore.
So, things really did happen this week: Maeve is dying, the Man in Black is dying, Angela is apparently dead, Peter Abernathy is apparently dead, Shamus McMustache is most definitely dead, Dr. Ford is sort of still alive, and Bernard has like six more backup lives.
Next week: You know that Ghost Nation leader, Akecheta? Next week is about him. A lot about him. A lot. Like a lot.