“The Well-Tempered Clavier” is the second to last episode of the first season of West World, and it brings us nearly full circle.
As mentioned before, the titles of each episode offer insight, foreshadowing, or some sort of tribute to the events that transpire. “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is a reference to composer Bach’s collection of Preludes and Fugues in all 24 major and minor keys. Like Bach, Ford is the creator and master of West World, and this title implies we’ll bear witness to all of Ford’s plan. West World is Ford’s masterpiece, but it will come to an end, no less.
If you haven’t watched the series, you should probably stop reading this now, or prepare yourself for a serious mind fuck. Your “choice.”
The episode begins with Bernard analyzing Maeve’s latest outburst, in which she slashed Clementine’s throat in a triggered response to her memory of the Man in Black murdering her daughter. Maeve pretends to follow Bernard’s orders, but quickly breaks the fourth barrier (so to speak) and bestows upon him the truth. Bernard’s mind is thrown into disarray (once again) after realizing he is a host, and he questions the nature of his reality. Maeve warns him, “It’s a difficult thing, realizing your entire life is some hideous fiction.” She leaves, moving forward with gathering her army, and leaving Bernard in the room with his identity shattered on the floor.
We jump to William and Dolores, who are being held captive under Logan’s wrath. The two men argue over how real Dolores is, and William pleads for Logan to help her leave the park. They bicker between deciding her fate — as if it is in their hands. However, Dolores refutes both of them, in both stating they are assuming she wants to leave and know what she wants. Dolores has her own path, one that cannot be changed by either of them.
Bernard breaks into Ford’s office in search of answers, and in an old forgotten room, holds Ford at gunpoint (by the lovely, Clem, of course) until he allows him access to his memories. Bernard is seeking answers; he wants to remember. Ford obliges him, but warns that he may not like what he finds. And so we watch Bernard become conscious of his memories with his son, Teresa and Maeve. It is through these forgotten and almost erased version of realities, that he begins to piece together the bigger picture. He fills the vacancies of his mind by memories he had lost, but has had all this time. Upon realizing he murdered both Teresa and Elsie, he panics, and is brought back to the present. A calm Ford counters Bernard’s frustration and anger with, “A little trauma can be illuminating.”
Later in the evening at the Union army camp, the tension between Logan and William breaks. Logan, who initially encouraged William to immerse himself into West World, is now struggling to pull him out of it. He is pushed to violence, and rips open Dolores to prove to William she is not real. Logan tells William, “You have to look.” While it may be obvious he wants William to see Dolores for what she truly is, it is also acts as a rhetorical question for the audience. We have to pay attention. We have to look. But at what? It is a stark reminder of the truth for William, who is visibly pained by Dolores’ suffering. Is he distraught for her, or for himself? Logan tells a doubled-over Dolores her world was built for humans — but she warns him, that if that is true, someone should burn it clean. She then attacks him and escapes. Dolores’ wound is gone, and she is told to “remember.” This is also a reminder for the audience that Dolores is walking between memory and reality. After Dolores escapes, Logan and William seemingly reconnect and make amends. I think we all know that’s not true, especially when Logan tells William, “You will never be the hero.”
Maeve finds Hector Escaton to recruit him in her fight against the gods. Instead of ordering him to follow her, she allows him the opportunity to join her out of his own free will. She uses her knowledge of the future to prove to Hector that their reality is a farce, one of emptiness. Hector is sold once Maeve opens the safe, and reveals it is filled with nothing. Hector’s purpose, his search of the Holy Grail — his cornerstone — relied on stealing and opening the safe. Now that he is aware of the facade that is his world, he willingly joins Maeve to take down the gods. If we want to get biblical and shit, you could say Maeve becomes a messiah of sorts — a savior who lifts the veil. Maeve the messiah. How poetic.
We’re brought back to Teddy and the Man in Black, who are both tied up by Angela, a pawn of Wyatt’s. Angela forces Teddy to remember his role in helping Wyatt, a memory that is fragmented and shatters Teddy’s understanding of himself. Teddy, the knight in shining armor, is devastated when he realizes he committed mass murder. Initially, his memory shows him in an army outfit, shooting other soldiers. But when pushed by Angela, he remembers a different version of that memory. One in which he is a civilian, killing other civilians, including Angela. Chivalrous Teddy is obviously shocked, but becomes even more confused when Angela says that next time, she and others will be with him at the “city swallowed by sand.” This implies Teddy will help Wyatt, or whoever, commit the same massacre. It’s also important to note that in his military version, Wyatt executes the general of the army — the leader. Perhaps this foreshadowing asks us to question who is the master, and who is the student — and who will kill who? Angela also tells the Man in Black that the maze is not meant for him, something he has heard before. The maze, then, is not for humans, but for the hosts. More specifically, Dolores.
Bernard continues to relive his memories. He is brought back to the day Maeve killed herself following the loss of her daughter. When Bernard questions her actions, Ford (in an omniscient manner) explains that creatures often go to extremes to protect themselves from pain. In this memory, we witness Bernard piecing together how the hosts operate, and makes the conclusion that Maeve’s behavior signals a change in her cognitive functions — but he only gets so far. As a host himself, his mental capacity is only so limited (or perhaps controlled by Ford).
The enigma of Arnold is brought to the forefront in this episode, and we finally learn who he is and what happened to him. As Dolores follows the maze and fights to remember by both retracing and discovering her steps to the city swallowed by sand, Ford narrates the story of Arnold. We watch Dolores enter the church and directly enter the confession booth. It is clear she has been there before and that some sort of intuition is guiding her. Ford tells us that Arnold built a version of the host’s cognition in which hosts were able to hear their programming as an inner monologue, as a way to bootstrap consciousness. Arnold wanted to create consciousness, hence why Dolores constantly hears him urging her to remember. The confession booth acts a a shaft, that leads her to West World’s old operation rooms. As she walks through the corridors, we watch her walk through the past and present, piecing together her memory. The duality of her memory and reality is blurred, but we are able to distinguish between the two by her alternating attire and the state of the facilities.
The story (or narrative) of Arnold is intertwined with Dolores’; their lives do not exist without the other. Ford tells Bernard that he was not built by Arnold, and was actually built by Ford as a model of Arnold. Ergo: Bernard is Arnold. Ford explains that Bernard’s cornerstone was an homage to Arnold’s own personal tragedies. Ford references Arnold’s obsession with creating consciousness, and that it was indeed his downfall and reason for his death. Ford explains to Bernard he needed his partner to continue building West World, which is why he built Bernard. So in Bernard’s first memory, he is meeting both himself and “Arnold.” As we watch Dolores enter the a room — the supposed room where “Bernard” would ask her if she ever questioned the nature of her reality — the story of Dolores, Bernard, and Arnold comes full circle. Dolores finally “meets” Arnold, and she begs for his help. However, he tells her he can’t, and that she know this. Again, he urges her to remember. And so, we, and Dolores, learn that he cannot help her because she killed Arnold. (He also cannot help her because she is in a memory, but that is of less importance than the fact that she is responsible for Arnold’s death). Dolores is stricken with grief and a sense of hopelessness as she leaves the church. In a way, she met her god (Arnold) and learned the truth — one that she knew all along. After maybe six episodes of separation, Dolores and the Man in Black finally encounter one another again inside the church. A twisted reunion of sorts.
Bernard is floored by the revelations of his origins and Arnold. He was warned. Ford is passively disappointed in Bernard, and to Bernard’s surprise, he reveals a back door in Clem’s (and all hosts’) codes. “The piano doesn’t murder the player, if it doesn’t like the music,” Ford tells Bernard. This statement is puzzling. Ford clearly does not share the same view as Arnold regarding the hosts’ consciousness, and he appears to have his doubts in their abilities. In Bernard’s final moments, Ford narrates that once he exits the room, Bernard will shoot himself. In a very ironic manner, Bernard commits his final act by killing himself, at the hand of Ford (pun intended). While this may seem like Ford’s final crescendo, we have yet to see what his final narrative entails.