The balance of power has shifted in Westworld. Sure, the overarching theme of this show has always been the slow awakening of the artificially intelligent (and created) Hosts within a futuristic theme park built for the wealthy, but this episode, more than any before it, sees the slaves start to become the masters. We see it in almost every plotline, with the ironic exception of Dolores, who has previously been positioned as one of the Host stars.
Instead, this episode belongs to Maeve. It all starts with her rushing through a narrative loop as she’s strangled and raped by a new park guest, which inevitably leads to her waking up on the repair table as shy tech-guy Felix is operating on her. “Now then. Where were we?” She asks, much to Felix’s dismay. What follows in Maeve’s plotline is the subtle and utterly mesmerising shift of power from Felix (and his tech partner) to Maeve. First she points out that herself and Felix, despite being genetically different, act and feel the same. Then she leverages his guilt to let her tour ‘the upstairs’ of the Westworld facility with him, and finally she manipulates the pair of techs into giving her some serious personality upgrades. In one episode, the subservient character has ascended, and she’s certainly not the only one.
Her initial exchange with Felix is a delightful example of how Westworld sews conspiracy theories liberally through its narrative. She asks Felix why they’re different, to which he replies that he was born, whereas she was made. But was he really born? Wouldn’t he ask the same question if he was a Host created specifically to operate on the other Hosts in the park? It’s another question in the seemingly endless loop of ‘what it means to be human’ that Westworld cycles us through. And it’s wonderfully played by the show’s creators.
What then follows is one of the most poignant, beautiful moments in TV - certainly in 2016. Felix walks Maeve through the Westworld creation facility, and she sees her entire world being created and crafted from nothing. She strides through in awe, while Felix leads her muttering under his breath about getting caught. It’s such a tense scene, underpinned by a stirring soundtrack, and it feels like a genuine moment of revelation for the show. A Host has peeped behind the curtain… what happens next?
Inevitably, what does happen next is a rush for control. Sylvester, the other tech, finds Maeve wearing a dress on the operating table and begins to berate Felix for showing compassion towards the Host. Maeve wakes up, threatens him with a scalpel, and starts to make demands about her personality make-up. The last act of the episode sees Sylvester boost her intelligence to the maximum. Given how the Hosts have more processing power in them than humans have in their own, feeble brains… well, it certainly seems that Maeve is now thoroughly in control.
Elsewhere, we see the Man in Black attempting to escort Teddy over the border, in his relentless pursuit of the maze. The pair attempt to sneak past a military garrison, but they’re rumbled when Teddy is recognised by one of his old comrades. This episode massively depowers the Man in Black. He’s apprehended with ease (because, hey, the further you venture into Westworld, the more extreme it gets, right?), and he and Teddy are strapped to the wheels of a wagon, and threatened with a cattle brand. And again, there’s a shift in power which is as shocking as it is jubilant. Teddy frees himself from his bonds, goes wild with the branding iron, and ends up gunning down scores of soldiers with a gatling gun. This is meek, mild Teddy. The one who picks up a tin of beans for Dolores in the opening part of his narrative loop. So far we’ve seen Teddy as a victim, but since he was told to question his programming and relive his past, he’s slowly darkened. Now he’s delightfully dangerous, possibly overshadowing the Man in Black himself. It’s going to be fascinating to see how their relationship changes now.
The Advisory has plenty of human plotlines playing out, and even here we see a shift of control from previously powerful players. Bernard and Elsie go in search of the person (or group) broadcasting secrets out of the park, and it turns out this mysterious entity has been changing Host behaviour too. Not good. However, Bernard is dumped by Cullen, losing him an ally on the management side of Westworld - something gets even more awkward with the discovery that it’s Cullen who is linked with the secret broadcasting. Oops. It’s a classic thriller reveal, as Bernard and his former lover are chatting about the park’s problems when he gets the phone call about who is selling the secrets. Tried and tested? Maybe, but brilliant TV nonetheless.
Elsie also falls foul of a trope during her last scene. Of course you don’t get to walk into a creepy abandoned theatre on your own, and walk out unscathed. The episode draws out the suspense masterfully, framing her against all manner of fucked-up dolls and weird props, but it comes as zero surprise that she doesn’t make it out of there intact, with all the secrets of the broadcast. Will she stay alive? Very likely - my money is on one of her co-workers having followed her in.
Sizemore’s narrative is suitably amusing. Ha - he’s the narrative guy, so he’d probably appreciate it. One of the most memorable scenes from a very important episode sees him announcing his return to work by pissing on the Westworld map in the control room. His bravado is short-lived however, when he discovers that the girl from the bar (who he was trying to impress earlier by spilling all kinds of company secrets) is actually a member of Westworld’s board. Awkward turtle.
And finally, there’s Ford. Anthony Hopkins continues to give the rest of the world a stern lesson in how to mother-fucking act, as we discover he’s kept a bunch of the park’s original Hosts as ‘pets’. Bernard finds them in a secluded house in one of the park’s restricted areas, and he discovers that they’re replicants of Ford’s family, created as a gift from the mysterious Arnold. The little boy Ford has been bumping into? That’s him as a child, only this version has OHMYGOD... a face that opens up to reveal a robo-skeleton. It’s all fine. Nothing to see here, and definitely not intensely sinister that Ford is keeping them as a living diorama. Nope. And there’s nothing creepy about the way mini-robo Ford murders his pet dog because Arnold tells him too. Nu-uh. It’s almost as if Ford isn’t really in control of his pets; that the machines are rising up, and taking power back from even the most powerful man in the park; that Westworld is fast becoming one of the most gripping TV shows ever made.