“The Guests enjoy power, they cannot indulge it in the outside world so they come here. As for the Hosts, the least we can do is make them forget,” Anthony Hopkins’ Dr Ford explains in the best scene of episode 3 of Westworld. It’s a statement that resonates throughout The Stray, and also throughout this increasingly superb show.
There’s a natural rhythm to television: the pilot has huge budget, big production values, and a neat concept; the tricky second episode needs to build on any hints and continue the narrative; and the third… well, it’s got to convince people that it won’t go the way of Flash Forward or a Revolution but become a television series with real staying power.
The good news is that after a bit of a dip in pace in episode 2, the third outing for HBO’s Westworld manages to balance the tricky task of maintaining momentum, while hinting at further depth to come. This is an episode of revelations: some small but still meaningful (Westworld costs $40,000 a day to visit, apparently) and some seismic - and it makes for a fascinating episode.
An early, and pretty huge revelation is that mysterious Dr Ford - founder and chief manipulator - is quite possibly not the person hinted at in the opening episodes. The suggestion was that his ‘reveries’ had been at the heart of the Hosts’ sudden self-awareness, but not only do we see Ford doubling down on treating his creations like objects, but we find out that it is Bernard that is seemingly deliberately trying to provoke sentience in Dolores. Ford, on the other hand, reacts furiously at one of his staff covering up a naked Host to protect its modesty and slashes its cheek with a razor to illustrate his point. Lovely...
Meanwhile, in the park, good ol’ ‘white hat’ guest William is getting to grips with having some fun, with a gunfight finally luring him into the action. In a fascinating revelation we learn that humans CAN be hurt - just not seriously; William’s carousing buddy Logan tells his bruised friend that it “wouldn’t be much of a game if they can’t shoot back.” Logan’s all about the game.
Dolores’ time with Bernard is clearly having a major impact on her. She’s remembering old narrative loops and some of the horrors that have been visited upon her and the ones she ‘loves’. She still has the gun we saw her hide in the last episode, but we find out that only certain Hosts are allowed to wield weapons and she cannot pull the trigger. Maeve’s confusion also continues as she remembers the strange basement she found herself in previously, naked, vulnerable and cut open.
My favourite bit of the episode is our glimpse into the history of the park and possibly the biggest revelation of all. Ford had a partner 30 years before called Arnold who just so happens to be the man the malfunctioning Hosts have been talking to. He died in mysterious circumstances as he tried to bring about artificial intelligence in his creations, back when they were still metal skeletons and rubber coverings.
Hopkins as a young man is nicely done by the effects department (although definitely still slipping into the uncanny valley), but it’s the progression of those early robots that is most fascinating. It’s probably worth pausing to give a big thumbs up to the creators of this world. Ford’s office is a slightly creepy wonderland; an old Host is essentially his jukebox, he has faces on the wall (like a certain other HBO TV show...), and bits of robot kicking round (as befits a man who slashes his own creations to make a point).
With Ford clearly clocking that Bernard’s got his very own Arnold-esque sympathies, the programmer calls in Dolores to decide whether to undo his meddling and let her forget. However, the wily old Host does enough to convince him to let her continue with her programming intact when she hints at self-awareness.
Having promised to behave (like a Host), she returns to Westworld just in time to complete her brutal loop, but Dolores starts to challenge her programming culminating with her pulling out a gun. This time she (possibly) breaks programming and pulls the trigger killing another Host.
As the title of the episode would suggest, Delores has both strayed from her programming and her narrative loop, but the other major thread involves another Host stray - a woodcutter that has malfunctioned, breaking the loops of several of his companions.
Behaviour scientist Elsie and security head Stubbs - enacting the most blatant playground hairpulling/love/hate relationship you’ll ever see - are sent on a mission to find out what’s gone wrong, bickering all the way. After finding a number of peculiar wood carvings, the pair finally tracking down the rogue Host stuck in a pit, but he breaks out of his sleep mode while Stubbs attempts to remove his head for analysis.
The woodcutter outmaneuvers Stubbs and menacingly makes his way towards Elsie, picking up a huge rock on his way, but just when you think he’s going to kill a human, he smashes his own head to pieces with the rock. It’s possibly the most grotesque scene we’ve had on Westworld so far, and blatantly confirms something is wrong with the Hosts.
We end up at a campfire with Logan admonishing William for dragging him away on a mission - “40k a day to jerk off alone in the woods playing white hat” - but there’s something coming out of the darkness; it’s Delores, miles from home and traumatised, she faints into the arms of William.
Westworld airs on HBO on Sundays at 9pm in the US, and on Sky Atlantic on Tuesdays at 9pm in the UK. You can also catch up via Sky On demand or via NOWTV.
Westworld extra bits
We find out that Westworld cost $40k a day to visit, but in the original movie DELOS costs “a thousand bucks a day!” Now that’s some inflation. Westworld is, and also was in the 1970s film, a place for the super-rich and privileged.
When we flashback 30 years ago to when the Host were first being made, we see a scientist tinkering with a set of much more rudimentary skeletal hands, which may well be another nod to the movie’s “you can tell the Hosts by their badly made hands” troupe.
It strikes me that Dr Ford is very similar in nature to Dr Richard Hammond of Crichton’s Jurassic Park - not the manipulative, but lovable ageing figure of the film, but the hard-nosed, ageing, asshole of the book.
The director of this brilliant episode is Neil Marshall - the genius behind some of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, such as Blackwater and The Watchers on the Wall.
Dr Ford: “What we do here is complicated - for three years we lived here in the park, refining the Hosts before a single guest set foot in the park. Those early years were glorious, no guests no board meetings just pure creation.”