West World Chronicles: 1.9

“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.

 

West World Chronicles 1.8

Again, I did a little research on the title before watching the episode “Trace Decay.” Super reliable Wikipedia gave me the incredibly simplified — but also comprehensible — version of trace decay theory. Essentially, the theory implies that memory leaves some sort of trace, be it physical or chemical. What a clever way to incorporate a shit ton of foreshadowing in the title. As I mentioned, many things are hidden in plain sight.

The episode opens on Bernard, who is struck by grief — grief that he killed Theresa, grief that Ford told him to do it, and grief that he is a host. He is horrified by her murder, which was committed by him (but inflicted upon by Ford) no less. Ford is uncannily stoic during this entire ordeal, and it makes me question how much Ford has planned or knows. While Bernard suffers, Ford calls his range of emotions a beautiful thing, and that perhaps he and Bernard have indeed been able to capture one elusive thing: heart. He seems at peace with the way of things, which for me, means he is aware. But of what?

Ford explains his rationale behind Theresa’s murder, and drops Bernard a quote from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein:” “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire.” I think the parallels are extremely obvious and I’m just going to leave it at that. Ford promises Bernard that once he commits to being his true self (which is??) and covers up Theresa’s murder, he will wipe his memory of her, allowing him to be at peace. Can we ever be at peace if we have memory, and if we have memory, will be always have grief?

The next scene cuts to Maeve in the saloon, who is clearly not at peace. Her self-awareness has alienated her from other hosts, including the new Clementine, whom Maeve sees as an impostor (oh, the irony). While plotting her next steps, she witnesses a child walking by, which triggers memories of her and her own daughter. Although that past life has been “wiped” from her memory, traces of it clearly exist within her. She almost asks Felix to find out where her daughter is, but she chooses not to know. Instead, she is ready to “write my own story.” Do we need to be ignorant to move forward?

We then are brought back (online) to Dolores and William, who are searching for the town in Dolores’ mind. They come across a beach massacre of Confederado soldiers,  who originally intended to ambush them. William treats a dying boy with hostility, whereas Dolores pities him and immediately fetches water for him. There is irony in a host showing more compassion that a human being, prompting us to reconsider how different are we, if at all, from the hosts. While by the river, Dolores’ memories momentarily pull her into another life, one in which she sees herself dead in the water. A voice — a blend of male and female — tells her to “come find me.” Although we know Arnold is in her head, what is the second voice she is hearing? Meanwhile, we can tell by the look on William’s face that he is contemplating killing the boy; his attitude begins to shift towards a darker narrative. He doesn’t have a white hat anymore.

Meanwhile, Hale plays chicken with Ford as Stubbs explains Theresa’s cause of death and her disloyalty to the company. It is evident Hale knows Ford played a hand in her death, but since she cannot prove it, she continues playing the chess-game of power with him. She recruits Sizemore to help her smuggle core codes out of the park, and the host she chooses is none other than Abernathy.

Maeve is yet again with Felix and Sylvester, and she demands they change her core code to allow her more power and control. Sylvester chastises her, telling her that the way she operates is so deeply burned into her core code, there is no changing it. This almost sounds like a negative statement, but in reality, it works in Maeve’s favor. It is no mistake Maeve remembers her past life, or that her memory is continually preserved. She is, like Dolores, one of the oldest hosts in the park, and was most likely built by Arnold. I think there is much more at play here than a host glitch. Maeve says so herself, when she remarks that there are “things in me, that I was designed to do, that are just out of my reach. They almost seem to be dormant.” She then asks who Arnold is, and if that doesn’t spell it out for you, you’re not playing enough attention. In order to make the modifications in her code, the shades agree to shut her down, but Felix deviates from their plan of wiping her memory clean — he preserves it. So when Maeve wakes up, Sylvester is nearly scared to death, but Maeve beats him to the punch by slicing his neck. She orders Felix to save him, and in a very ironic way, he does her bidding. Maeve exercises her new power in the park, which allows her to control other hosts. She has a bit of fun, and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” emulates Maeve’s true self.

However, things get out of hand when she is triggered and remembers how she and her daughter were killed — by the Man in Black. The Man in Black explains his murder of Maeve and her daughter while Teddy has him tied up somewhere near Wyatt’s camp. We learn that the Man in Black has been playing in the park for over 30 years, and in an attempt to feel something, he murders Maeve. He notes, though, that after he killed them both, Maeve was alive — even just for a second — as she carried her daughter outside and collapsed on the maze-engraved ground. The moment Maeve attacks the Man in Black is when she slices Clem’s neck in real-time, in front of everyone in Sweetwater. She, like Dolores, is struggling to separate her memories and reality.

West World Chronicles: 1.7

trompe l’oeil
ˌtrômp ˈloi/
noun
  1. visual illusion in art, especially as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object.

After this week’s episode, I’m beginning to believe that HBO is trolling every person watching West World. I would consider this episode to be the turning point of the season, and it’s title serves as a spoiler hidden in plain sight. Unless you speak French — then perhaps you aren’t naive as I am. But I digress.

Bernard wakes up from a dream; a dream of a memory of him and his son, moments before his death. As he reads “Alice in Wonderland,” Bernard’s son questions the nature of his own reality. His last words are “listen to me,” but he does not complete his thought before losing consciousness. This leaves us wondering, why would he tell Bernard to listen? And to what? It is clear Bernard is living in the past, in his own memory (don’t we all?). Like the hosts, his reality is perhaps a sham — and it is in his dreams that he truly feels awake. However, he doesn’t give this a second thought, and he continues to carry on with his little loop.

We jump back to Dolores and William, who find themselves on a train with El Lazo, searching for the place Dolores is dreaming of. William and El Lazo are playing cards, a cheeky reminder that they are within a game themselves, and William is destined to lose. At one point, El Lazo tells William that maybe he has more of an appetite for killing than he thinks. The statement unsettles William, but he doesn’t refute it. He turns his gaze to Dolores, implying that she is his justification and reason for playing the game. Are we all searching for a reason to live, to work, to love? What is it that sparks the human drive? What are we willing to put our lives on the line for? William confesses to Dolores that in the outside world, he has a real life and a fiancee waiting for him. He is painfully honest with her, but makes a pivotal choice in also confessing that West World is “a life in which I can truly be alive.” William’s choice reflects his descent into his own personal maze, one which we have yet to see where it will lead him. Dolores warns him, that she is not a key. To what, we also have yet to find out.

In an attempted coup masked as a “blood sacrifice,” Teresa and Hale manipulate Clementine Pennyfeather’s code to create a connection between her past memory and violent behavior. They use Clem as a cautionary tale, a mistake that cannot ever be made — and one that someone must take the fall for. Watching Clem’s assault is an emotional peak of the episode. We bear witness to Clem’s helplessness, as well as Ford, Bernard, and Teresa watch her be brutally assaulted. It is both rattling and unsettling for us and the characters to watch her suffer. Clem is so human-like, that Teresa is visibly uncomfortable with the violence inflicted on her. It is an ugly reminder of what people –hosts or humans — are capable of.

Clem’s “grudge” is riddled with irony, largely because while her code is manipulated to remember, Maeve’s is not. Maeve continues to expand her mental understanding of her world, and she makes a decision to escape the park. After witnessing Clem’s lobotomy, Maeve realizes that her humanity (relatively speaking) can easily be taken away. Watching the “life” drilled out of Clem inflicts immense suffering on Maeve, and we connect with her, because suffering is a cornerstone of the human condition.

The episode’s final scene concludes in Ford’s underground lab inside the park after Bernard leads Teresa there. Although he’s lost his job, Bernard’s valiant nature implores him to show Teresa Ford’s undertaking of building secret hosts. The two quickly piece together that the hosts’ ability to have memories allow them to improvise and continually variate. This implies the hosts, unbeknownst to the board, are potentially capable of reaching consciousness and free will.  As she sifts through the items, Teresa comes across a number of diagrams. One of which is Dolores, who is noted as a prototype. This is another reminder that Dolores, in whatever shape or form, will play an integral role in Ford’s plans for the park. In an epic plot twist, Teresa also finds a diagram of Bernard, who, when shown the picture, says, “That doesn’t look like anything to me.” In that moment, Teresa realizes Bernard is a host, and Ford appears to tell her she’s been played the whole time.

Looking back, the subtle hints referring to Bernard not being a human do exist. Particularly when Ford tells him, “You should be getting back, Bernard,” or “That’s enough.” Bernard himself is shocked by this revelation, as is Teresa. Calmly, Ford speaks a trigger phrase that orders Bernard to kill Teresa. Bernard obliges, and Teresa dies where hosts are born. This final scene is particularly unnerving because this is the first instance in which we see a host kill a human, much less by the order of a human. This is why the episode’s title is perfect — Bernard’s inhuman existence was hidden in plain sight. It serves as a reminder that sometimes, reality and fantasy can be mistaken for one another; a mistake that could kill you.