Well, that was something. Despite Westworld season 2 spinning its wheels in previous weeks, the show finally manages to do away with the riddles in favour of delivering a rip-roaring rollercoaster of an hour filled with twists, turns, and maybe even a shock death or two. While the episode falters a little towards the end, the key action – and crucially, questions – propelled Les Ecorches towards the upper echelon of Westworld offerings.
Note: From here on out there are specific plot spoilers for Westworld season 2, episode 7 – Les Ecorches
Everything great about the episode was presented as a microcosm within the show’s first scene. Here, we revisit something old (in this case, Teresa Cullen’s death at the hands of Bernard in season 1) but, in fear of it becoming redundant to viewers by covering old ground, up pops something intensely new and surprising: the multiple Bernards theory has been confirmed.
From there, the episode barely paused for breath as we got a taste of Bernard reuniting with Ford in the Cradle and ending up possibly being controlled by him, Maeve and The Man in Black having a shootout (!) and Dolores making her steady way towards possible freedom – all while killing her dad in the process.
That last paragraph may seem a little reductive; a series of plot points reeled off one-by-one with no real context, but it’s indicative of how the show has picked up pace since seemingly wasting all of our collective time last week. Sure, it’s a little cheap to save everything for one grand, explosive 60 minutes – but what an hour it was.
Let’s pick up where the show left off last week: the return of Robert Ford. As great as it is to have Anthony Hopkins back, it also allowed Jeffrey Wright to up his game considerably by presenting us with a wholly conflicted Bernard who can’t quite cope with some pressing new revelations. While those revelations – the Great Beyond may or may not be part of Delos’ grand scheme to copy all the Guests – were delivered through excruciatingly clunky exposition, it’s the best example since the Westworld season 1 finale of the show flipping the script in the way that doesn’t try to linger on the thought of being clever for the sake of clever. In fact, it’s glossed over so quickly that you might, as Bernard may have too, have imagined it was all a dream until Ford’s menacing figure pops up in Bernard’s reflection.
So, despite the possibility of multiple Bernards, it’s clear that one of them is being controlled by Ford – for now, at least. It gives us yet another intriguing question that will satisfy even the most jaded of Westworld fans: not who is a Host, but who is controlling them. It’s inarguably the most compelling reveal in quite some time; kudos to showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy for keeping things under wraps.
That core construct was so strong, in fact, that the rest of the episode felt a little saggy around the edges, even if sensationally entertaining and fast-paced. The Man in Black coming face-to-face (again) with Maeve was an incredibly engaging and well-shot series of moments but – speaking of shots – it felt like the show trying to have his cake and eat it with Maeve and William both ending up on the verge of death but both, infuriatingly, looking likely to survive seemingly fatal gunshot wounds.
If they can survive (Maeve, especially, with the Cradle having gone the way of the dodo in a ludicrous seduction scene – come on, man, you’re a trained soldier!), then there is less and less at stake for nearly every character in Westworld. Unless you’re a mercenary, you’re either some sort of bullet sponge or, in the case of Charlotte Hale, undergoing an insane amount of narrative luck occasion after occasion to escape certain death. This episode contains the season’s best moment-to-moment thrills around every corner, but it reduced the narrative peril quite considerably. It felt like the Red Wedding, if Game of Thrones hadn’t the nerve to kill off half of its leading players. It was a little cheap, and that could prove costly later in the show’s lifetime.
However, that’s a minor quibble when it comes to (again) the episode’s biggest drawback: Dolores. Is her storyline engaging? No. Should we care about how Teddy is treated after we know his ultimate fate? Not particularly. In fact, Dolores’ about-face turn to full-on evil by disposing of her dearest daddy (after spending so long looking for him!) is utterly bizarre. Evan Rachel Wood plays the farmer’s daughter-turned-robotic villain ably enough, but it’s reaching levels of pure moustache-twirling melodrama that feels best suited to a T-1000 rather than a multi-faceted character such as Dolores that’s been stripped back so much in this sophomore season. Having said that, the Dolores/Maeve scene was a saving grace, but one that was clouded by a sense that it was a case of the writers throwing the fans a bone by tying themselves into knots by bringing the pair together.
Still, the cogs are clearly in motion for the final stretch of episodes, ones that promise some sort of enthralling ultimate showdown at the Valley Beyond. To get there, the show has had to contort itself through various worlds, pulling several characters together in ludicrous ways while, still, having an obscene fascination with timelines and, yet, remarkably, it works. The episode is pure Westworld, one that, despite its failings, is still a show almost unlike any other; one that has you coming back for the questions, staying for the answers, and not wanting to leave, lest you miss out on one of television’s premiere shows.