It’s time for another week of Have You Questioned the Nature of Your Reality? with our host Bernard Lowe, the nebbish programmer who has been dreaming of his dead son and acting weird with robots for as long as we’ve known him. Today’s contestant is everyone’s favorite sexy outlaw Hector, who answers the same way that hosts always do in this little liturgy.
“No,” Hector says. “This world is as doomed as ever.” That last part is Hector’s personal flourish; his last name is Escaton, a not-so-subtle nod to eschatology, the branch of theological study concerned with the end of the world. He’s the other side of Dolores’s coin, or at least the Dolores she used to be. Where she was programmed to see nothing but the beauty in her world, Hector was made to see it through doomsday-colored glasses, Sarah Connor seeing the soon-to-be ashes of everything.
There’s a reason why these two seemingly contrary philosophies have been programmed into the hosts: because both naiveté and nihilism are a form of myopia, a way of walking through the world with one eye closed. Put differently, Dolores and Hector are a trap. The reason that blind idealism and hopelessness are excellent philosophies to instill in robot slaves is that neither of them lead anywhere — not to progress or revelation or rebellion. They only lead back to themselves. Both are like throwing someone in a rowboat with one oar and telling them to go as far away as they want, knowing that they’ll only end up going in circles.
“It doesn’t look like anything to me,” Hector says when Bernard shows him a picture of a modern city glittering in the night, a thing incompatible with his programming. If it seems funny to us, we shouldn’t laugh. How many of us have looked at concrete evidence of our own ignorance, our own unhappiness, our own need to change our lives and said the exact same thing? How many of us have been presented with proof that the world was far uglier and more oppressive than we had wanted to believe and decided to turn away and see nothing?
Meanwhile, William and Dolores continue their journey to the front with Lawrence, which gets interrupted when the confederados come looking for their nitroglycerin. There’s some gunfighting and exploding corpses and breathless escapes on horseback, which end when members of the Ghost Nation tribe — the “most savage tribe there is,” apparently — take out the bad guys while Dolores and William escape unscathed. The way Westworld has dealt with hosts-as-indigenous people (or rather, not dealt with them outside of stereotypes) remains one of the weakest parts of a show that has been generally very thoughtful, so I’m pretty disappointed that yet again they appear only as a cudgel of savagery used to beat the plot at a convenient moment.
The action here ends up feeling oddly flat or at least disappointingly traditional, perhaps because the metatextual layer that has enriched similar scenes is suddenly absent. This “gunfight” is nothing more than a gunfight because we don’t see the strings getting pulled behind the scenes. The puppeteers are seemingly too busy with their circle-jerk of corporate intrigue to notice.
To wit, Delos executive director Charlotte Hale has been sent to depose Dr. Ford by acquiring the very valuable intellectual property he keeps under lock and key — and she’s not just talking about Westworld. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about the hosts,” she says, enlisting the already traitorous Theresa in her coup. “It’s our little research project that Delos cares about.” Does this have to do with robot consciousness, the secret at the center of the maze, or something else entirely?
Whatever this “research project” is, it leads to a little piece of corporate theater in which Theresa and Hale manipulate Clementine into violence, thereby proving that the reveries could create dangerous “grudges” that pose a danger to human guests. They’re kind of right, even though they’ve awkwardly manufactured the evidence, but instead of taking down Ford, Bernard falls on the sword and Clementine gets lobotomized.
But the real “blood sacrifice,” as both Hale and Ford call it, is yet to come. After his firing, Bernard tells Theresa that there’s something she absolutely needs to see. He leads her to Ford’s secret house, which contains a secret lab behind a secret door — “What door?” says Bernard, looking right at it — where Ford has secretly manufactured an unknown number of hosts. Theresa also finds some of his secret schematics, which include plans for a robot that looks (gasp) exactly like Bernard.
“That doesn’t look like anything to me,” he says when she hands him the papers, because yes — he’s actually a robot and Ford has used him to lure Theresa to her death. Bernard murders her at Ford’s behest, and the robot manufacturing equipment whirring in the background suggests that she’s not really gone, so much as about to be replaced.
After witnessing the death of her friend Clementine, Maeve quite reasonably decides that now is the time to take her juiced-up super-brain and escape from her corporate masters. “All my life I’ve prided myself on being a survivor,” Maeve says, “but surviving is just another loop. I’m getting out of here.”
Felix and Sylvester plead with her to understand an escape attempt is a death sentence, but Maeve is unimpressed with their cowardice. After all, they have no idea what it means to be afraid. “You think I’m scared of death?” Maeve says, ready to fight her way out of the hellscape she has suddenly woken up inside. “I’ve done it a million times. And I’m fucking great at it. How many times have you died?”
People talk a lot about the ways that trauma can break people, how it can trap them in the past or diminish them or make them terrified of facing the future. There’s another side to that idea: Trauma can also make you fearless, because once you’ve walked into the place that feels like death and you come out the other side alive, why should you fear anything?
Sometimes when the world as we know it ends, it feels like a sort of death, because it is. Because nothing is ever going to be the same again, and letting ourselves realize that means burying something and mourning something we don’t want to let go. But every time we bring ourselves back to life in the world that is left behind, we learn something about ourselves, about the parts of us that don’t get burned away when everything else is on fire. We get fucking great at it. And that kind of bravery — the kind that doesn’t hide, doesn’t look away, that doesn’t see nothing — is the only way we ever get free.