Westworld’s ninth episode, “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” seems to hint that, at some point, the show may stop alienating its audience by prioritizing ~mYsTeRy~ over any character development whatsoever. (Don’t get me wrong, the mystery is compelling enough — I just feel dead inside when I watch this show. Which actually may be the point, in which case, DAMNNN U GOT ME HBO.) The (non-fake, non-cowboy) narrative actually moves forward; we learn things as the characters learn them, rather than having things obscured from us solely for the purpose of dragging shit out; and Dolores’s bangs seem, at least temporarily, to be under control.
Thandie Newton kicks it all off with an acting master class, portraying a robot who has become sentient but is still acting like a non-sentient robot in order to convince another semi-sentient robot to join her robot revolution. Please keep up!!
Now we’re back in fake-cowboy land, but it’s fine, because Douche Friend has tied up Forlorn-Looking Rich White Guy and that is finally interesting to me. FLRWG thinks Dolores is conscious and wants DF to help get her out of the park. DF thinks FLRWG has fully lost his mind, even though he himself is currently eating grilled pigeon in the middle of an imaginary robot war. Dolores thinks “out of the park” must suck robot D, because everybody’s clearly so desperate to get into the park. Is Dolores conscious? What is outside of the park? Why is DF such a DF? Why is FLRWG so FL, outside of the fact that he “loves books a lot” and “is a middle manager”? This is all completely unclear and has been since the first episode; this show is extremely frustrating if you try to engage with it on any other level than “intellectual” and ”bemused, but at a remove, so you don’t actually get mad when you never learn anything about anything, ever” (please see above).
Anyway, in a fit of rage, DF pulls Dolores out of her chair, and FLWRG starts screaming (because Dolores loves chairs). Bernard hops into Anthony Hopkins’s office, where the Game of Thrones Hall of Faces goes to hide during the offseason, to steal something.
Bernard confronts Anthony Hopkins, who is an inhumane and unfeeling demon and/or a totally great and chill dude, depending on which news source you’re giving credence to these days. Bernard accuses Anthony Hopkins of killing Arnold, and demands that Anthony let him relive all of his memories so he can find out the TRUTH about Arnold’s death and his own conception. By way of blackmail, Bernard brings back poor, lobotomized Clementine, whom he’s hacked to obey him only, and who’s now pointing a gun at Anthony Hopkins. As extremely bearded philosopher Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which Westworld’s writers likely skimmed in college like all of us liberal-arts students, “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” Whether or not you agree with this theory, we should probably keep it in the back of our minds as we all begin to turn on one another inside the warped hall of mirrors that is the Trump administration, while Donald Trump cackles on high!
What, you say? None of this is remotely embedded in the text of Westworld and I am just using this recap as a vessel for my own panic?
Bernard is deep in his memories now, first remembering the tragic death of his son from boredom due to reading the same passage from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland over and over again. Now he’s remembering Skyping with his wildly disinterested wife. Now he’s remembering doin’ it with Theresa, who is not his wife. Oops. Now he’s remembering killing Theresa. Oops. Now he’s remembering strangling Elsie in front of a full-length mirror. Oops!! But sexy! Anthony Hopkins defends the “uncomfortable decisions” he’s made in the name of approaching the robot-fucking singularity, but Bernard isn’t convinced, and asks to be sent back even further into his memories.
Back at the fake-war front, DF is rambling about FLRWG forgetting the fact that he’s about to marry his sister, then quickly shows him a photo of said sister, grinning in Times Square like only a mad person could. But hark! This is the same photo that Dolores’s OG #daddy found in the dirt and lost his shit over all the way back in the beginning of the show. What’s that you smell? A real, live, fully baked plot development. This basically confirms that FLWRG and DF were swingin’ their dicks all over Westworld long before Dolores’s #daddy started to malfunction and spout menacing Shakespeare. This also explains why Dolores is constantly swapping back and forth between her time with FLRWG and what’s likely the present day, where she’s wandering all over Westworld alone, freaking the fuck out and talking to herself.
By way of proving Dolores’s inhumanity to FLRWG, DF stabs her right in the stomach, exposing everyone — including Dolores herself — to her steampunk insides (composed of the type of raw mechanics that the park no longer uses, again confirming that this timeline is taking place in the past). Dolores says some angry shit to DF about her world not being built for him, makes another reference to Arnold, stabs DF in the cheek, and runs away. Far from all of the trifling white bros, she flashes forward to her solo vision quest, where her stomach is healed and her bangs are sort of starting to curl at the edges again. Hm. Perhaps the park has gotten more humid over time.
The Hot Guy From Love Actually is peeing in the woods. Maeve intercepts him and mocks the size of his penis, which is a highly effective tactic for getting a man to trust you. She explains to him that she knows both his past and his future, which includes zipping his pants, walking back to a campfire surrounded by his ostensible thief pals, and getting shot to death over an empty safe. All of this transpires, minus the death part, and the Hot Guy From Love Actually is instantaneously convinced of Maeve’s cause. The two proceed to have raucous sexual relations in a flaming tent — the first step in any good revolution.
On the fake-war front, FLWRG and DF are “bonding” like real men do: over whiskey, talk of brotherhood and heroism, and the agreed-upon dehumanization of a woman. They hug.
James Marsden has an arrow in his chest. The Whore That Can Lead Us To The Gatekeeper Of The Maze (cute nickname courtesy of the Man in Black) is talking to him about Wyatt, that great and irrepressible star of Anthony Hopkins’s new narrative. James Marsden recalls standing alongside Wyatt as the two shot a bunch of people for no gosh-darn reason, before Wyatt turned on James Marsden himself. TWTCLUTTGOTM is like, “... No, actually, you just killed everyone, including me.” James Marsden is like, “Wait, fuck. I thought I was the oppressed, but I’m the oppressor. Jesus. Ah, fuck.” TWTCLUTTGOTM shoots him in the chest as he mumbles about the “city buried in sand.” The Man in Black is like, “Oh, I’ve been there! Love it, great restaurants.” TWTCLUTTGOTM knocks him out cold.
The Man in Black wakes up tied to a horse and also tied to a tree, and the horse is also tied to the tree, and if the horse moves, he’ll be hung, or something. There’s gotta be a German word for this contraption. He manages to free himself by yanking the knife out of Teddy’s chest, because symbolism. Tessa Thompson approaches, resplendent in suede booties not meant for desert wear. She’s like, “Do I have your permission to oust Ford, you crazy effing rich loser?” The Man in Black — who’s on the board of Westworld and has lots of sway, but apparently not enough sway to get Ford to just be like, “OK, here’s the whole maze thing, please just get a life” — gives the OK, then tells Tessa Thompson to leave him to his ~mYsTeRy~ solving. Is this Westworld’s way of implying that we, too, are sad old rich white men desperate for escape from our dreary lives of depressive wives and withholding children?
Also: I’ve halfheartedly tried to avoid issuing predictions/analyses that are potential spoilers in these recaps (actually, maybe I haven’t — I honestly can’t remember because this show has blown a hole through my limbic system), but the Man in Black is very clearly FLWRG in his equally forlorn-looking, richer, equally white future.
The Wrong Hemsworth is worried about Elsie, which is RICH, considering their exclusively icy interactions. Wonk Hemsworth, my man, I have news for you: Elsie, the only gay character on this show, had to die, or else this show would have had to flesh out her lesbianism beyond a single stolen robot kiss. Sorry. Them’s the breaks. Simulacra Hemsworth goes searching for her in some sketch-ass section of the park, where he’s approached by the Stereotypical Depictions of Native Americans. They do not “freeze all motor functions.” Good-bye, Jan Hemsworth.
DF wakes up, hungover and confused, surrounded by dead robot bodies. He is not amused. FLWRG is like, “Now I know how to play the game. You’re not the boss of me. You’re gonna help me find Dolores. Also, don’t call me Billy.” DON’T CALL ME BILLY! DON’T. CALL. ME. BILLY.
Back in dead-robot storage, Bernard is rifling through his memory bank, because liberation is a praxis, and he must reflect on his world in order to transform it, baby!!! He remembers his son dying of boredom again. He remembers Maeve stabbing herself in the neck out of grief. When he tries to say the word “consciousness” to Anthony Hopkins, he begins to stutter; he recalls various times when he was on the verge of discovering the robots’ burgeoning sentience, but was cut off at the pass by AH. It’s unclear why Anthony is so hell-bent on suppressing (the appearance of?) robot consciousness; perhaps it’s as simple as he’s afraid of losing his stranglehold on the robots, or perhaps he’s just old and bored and likes fucking with people’s heads as a way of feeling powerful. What’s next, Anthony, you gonna accuse the board of being “unfair” and “crooked”?
As Anthony Hopkins orates in his Anthony Hopkins–y way, Dolores is running toward the town buried by sand, which is no longer buried by sand, because we’re in the present day again. Please keep up with the class; thanks. Still in the annals of Bernard’s memory, Anthony Hopkins explains how his dead partner, Arnold, was obsessed with creating consciousness. Early on in the park’s history, Arnold created a “bootstrap” version of the bicameral mind by allowing the robots to hear their own programming as pseudo “thoughts,” which drove all the robots fucking crazy, because of course it did. Can you imagine that shit?! Dolores, now in the past again (pre-FLRWG — I know, I’m trying not to murder this show, too), enters the church and watches all her fellow robots going batshit insane. Unnerved, she enters a confessional, which is, magically, an elevator that takes her down to Arnold’s lab. In the present day, the lab appears to be a trash heap of graphically dead robots and the lighting design from Saw; in the past, it was a totally cool science lab full of hip ’70s scientists trying to crack human consciousness, dude. Dolores wanders down to the little glass box where she and Bernard had their secret, sketchy chats earlier this season.
Back in the OTHER dead-robot storage lab (pray for me), Bernard is asking Anthony Hopkins why he gave him such a cruel backstory. Anthony is like, “Arnold had a sad story, so I gave you a sad story as an homage.” HINT HINT. This show has been inching toward this particular reveal since day one — AND I DO MEAN INCHING — so here we go. Bernard is like, “I must meet my maker, send me back to my ‘birth,’ or whatever, I’m confused about the terminology here.” And send him back Anthony does. In the middle-past (the technical term, to be sure), Bernard forcibly removes himself from his fake-dead-son narrative, and finally wakes up in the way-way past on a slab, Frankenstein’s-monster style. Yung Anthony Hopkins instructs him in the ways of Being A Human, i.e., cleaning one’s glasses thoughtfully and having a name. Yung Hopkins then hands Bernard a photograph and explains that, after a “long absence,” it’s good to have him back as his partner.
It follows, then, that Dolores, also in the way-way past, was having secret meetings with ARNOLD, not Bernard. Flashing back and forth between the way-way past and the present, Dolores realizes that she’s been talking to Arnold in her head during her quixotic quest, asking him for help and guidance to get to this very spot. But, as he explains to her in the way-way past (?), he can’t help her, because he’s dead, BECAUSE SHE KILLED HIM.
OK, allow me go to back on my spoiler-y predictions thing and say here that perhaps Dolores killed Arnold, the other robots, and herself in the way-way past because she realized that the bicameral mind shit was truly fucked and wanted to free them all from the tyranny of “bootstrapped consciousness.” Perhaps Teddy and Wyatt were murdering robots for the same reason, or maybe Anthony Hopkins invented Wyatt as a red herring for Teddy and Dolores, who’ll both eventually realize that they were the mass murderers all along. Perhaps that’s Anthony Hopkins’s diabolical new narrative: the robots realizing finally and permanently that they’re robots, but also realizing that they can’t escape their endless loops, even though they once tried and succeeded. I don’t know, I’m tired, and somehow this episode is not over????
Bernard and Anthony Hopkins are arguing over whether to erase Bernard’s memory of this entire realization. Anthony Hopkins goes off on a tangent about how, in the real world, humans dominated each other and all other species until we had nothing left to dominate and had to create a fake park full of fake species to fake-dominate and, eventually, out of ideas, elected a demagogue to help usher us to our own horrific self-destruction. Bernard tries to get Clementine to kill Anthony Hopkins, but she can’t; she’s still Anthony’s obedient vessel deep down. Instead, Anthony Hopkins instructs Bernard to kill himself, because he ultimately could not live up to his dutifully oppressed destiny.