Throughout its first four episodes, Westworld has alternated between precariously building and drunkenly lurching toward something that resembles a coherent plot. We know we’re in a sophisticated animatronic-filled wild west of an amusement park. We know it was created by Anthony Hopkins, a sad old man whose only friends are decommissioned bots and whose employees suffer through his God-complex ramblings. We know due to some weird coding (we think) the robots are having existential awakenings all over town. We know Ed Harris is some obsessive gamer all hopped up on whiskey and bloodlust, wandering the park searching for the hidden last level, which may or may not include the key to robot transience.
Otherwise, Westworld‘s (*show*) creators are playing the mysteries close to the chest. Given the complexity of its storylines, the menagerie of central characters, and its heavy themes, it took four episodes just to set the gingham-draped table of the show. And now that we have the general idea of how things work in Westworld, the show has finally started moseying on up ahead, slowly revealing where we’re headed.
That’s what makes Episode 5, the midway point in this first season, such a turning point for the show. And the problem that Westworld ran into is one of pacing, lack of substance, and clunky story telling as it transitions into what is hopefully a satisfying narrative climax. There are minor hints: Dr. Robert Ford’s former partner, Arnold, who helped create Westworld, was evidently obsessed with giving the hosts consciousness before he mysteriously killed himself in the park. And in this episode we learn that the host who chopped wood and went all aggro on Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) in Episode 3, was outfitted with some sort of espionage device. “Someone has been using our hosts to smuggle data out of the park,” Hughes explains. Finally, we learn that Arnold spoke with Dolores 34 years, 42 days, and 7 hours ago and asked her to help him destroy Westworld.
Beyond that, I couldn’t really begin to give you any concrete answers about what the hell is going on. I’ve made the comparison before, but now, more than ever, Westworld is starting to resemble Lost, another show that valued questions over answers. Westworld definitely doesn’t need to provide explanations as to the specific details of how the park’s technology works, but sooner rather than later we’ll need answers as to why we’re watching this show. Building a structured narrative out of the fragile building blocks of more questions is a dangerous showrunner’s game.
And let’s be clear, HBO knows how and when to throw an orgy. As the show is about to bore you with the specifics of William and Logan’s executive office drama, they know they can keep you interested by randomly throwing a bunch of gold-painted people fucking in the background. It’s a troubling example of what happens when this show deviates from its techno philosophy. The action and exposition of Westworld is hardly substantive.
Yet there was one moment in this episode that marked one of the finest of the season. It started with actress Evan Rachel Wood finally getting to wear a new costume. Before William and Logan randomly knock over a stagecoach for explosives (Ni-tro Glyce-er-rine!) with Dolores in tow, Lawrence graciously offers her a change of clothes. Out of that farmer’s daughter blue dress, Dolores gets a hat and a gun, which, it turns out, she knows her way around. Coming a long way since she couldn’t even pull the trigger, Dolores guns down a handful of horny confederados like she’s goddamn Clint Eastwood. It’s badass, and afterward she says one of the best lines in Westworld so far:
“You said people come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.”
F*ck yeah, Dolores. This moment more than makes up for the awkward conversation between The Man in Black and Dr. Robert Ford, which reads like a gamer bro bitching at some developer for making a boss too difficult.
I’ll chalk many of these failures up to this one being a necessary transitional episode. Plus, we’re rolling with what feels like one-fourth of the cast in this episode, including the introduction of random lab dudes working on birds. Yes, it was unbalanced, but let’s just enjoy the fact that we no longer have to watch Dolores play her programmed role of damsel in destress anymore—that is, unless this change is what she was programmed to do all along.
Via Matt Miller, Esquire