Why do Westworld hosts have to be unclothed when they’re being worked on by park staff? Back in episode 1, I thought the answer had to do with HBO’s love of naked flesh, and I still think that’s a big part of it, but it may also have significance beyond simple audience titillation. Stripping the hosts down is literally an objectification strategy, a reminder to the humans working for Westworld that though the hosts may seem lifelike, they are still just things.
Representing this point of view this week is Ford, who warns Bernard of the dangers of coming to believe that the hosts are real. Turns out Ford had a partner, back in the day, a man named Arnold who thought he saw glimmerings of consciousness in the hosts and was driven mad as a result. Arnold’s sad end—suicide, presumably—is most likely why Ford responds with near-anger when he sees a staff member covering up one of the hosts to work out him, out of a sense of consideration. Ford berates the man: what, you thought he was cold? Ashamed? “They only feel what we tell them to feel,” he insists, cutting the host’s face with a scalpel.
Whether Ford is right or whether he’s an unfeeling villain depends upon whether the hosts are…well, real. If they don’t have consciousness, then Westworld is simply an elaborate video game (albeit a highly problematic one); if they do, then the park is a human…er, android rights disaster.
Especially for Dolores, who continues to be our main vehicle for empathy with the hosts. We learn this week of Dolores’s purpose, the thing she was designed and programmed for, and it’s horrifying. She exists solely for those guests who want to rape an innocent, to kill Teddy, the stalwart gunslinger, and have their way with his girl. Every day ends with her coming home to find her father killed by bandits; every day, she is raped either by black-hat guests who’ve taken up with the bandits, or by one of the hosts themselves.
This is bad enough if Dolores isn’t conscious; if she is, it’s a torment worse than those suffered by Sisyphus, by Prometheus. Who is the villain—Ford, who designed her this way but denies her consciousness, or Bernard, who schemes to give her consciousness of the hell she lives in?
It’s not entirely clear what Bernard did to “change” Dolores, what potion he gave her to send her tumbling like Alice through the rabbit hole of consciousness. Perhaps he didn’t reverse Ford’s “reverie” code from the pilot, or maybe he introduced some code of his own. Either way, Dolores is experiencing memories, flashbacks to previous loops. She’s improvising. And she’s longing to be free.
We see this longing first when she pleads with Teddy to take her away, not someday, not tomorrow, but right now. Perhaps, with her flashes of memory, she has some premonition that for her and Teddy, there is no someday, only today. But poor Teddy can’t do it; he’s been programmed with an obscure guilt that doesn’t allow him to be with Dolores. His purpose is not to take her away but to keep her where she is, so the guests can have their fun with both of them.
Ultimately, Dolores’s desire to be free, from her suffering if nothing else, leads her to break her programming in a very crucial way: she is able to shoot a gun and kill the man who is about to rape her. (Only certain hosts are programmed with “weapons privileges.”) It’s only a host—how long until the person killed by Dolores or another near-sentient host is a guest? Didn’t happen this episode, but I’m guessing it’ll be soon.
Odds and Ends:
- We can’t forget about the stray host chased down by Stubbs and Elsie. The host is a whittler who apparently loves looking at the stars, and once they find him stuck in a pit we get most of the episode’s allotment of bloody shocks: first Stubbs tries to cut off the host’s head for some unaccountable reason, then the guy comes out of sleep mode to attack Stubbs, and finally he goes after Elsie only to off himself with a rock. What’s going on here? I’ve got no idea!
- Ford begins to roll out his new storyline, which has something to do with an evil ex-army guy named Wyatt who’s holed up in the hills like Colonel Kurtz. Teddy heads off to get him, along with a new guest named Marti. Marty and Teddy end up surrounded by what look like rejects from a Rob Zombie movie. Whether these people are with Wyatt, or whether they’re even hosts or not (Teddy’s bullets didn’t seem to do much to them) wasn’t entirely clear to me.
- Where is Westworld? Bernard has a video call with his wife (Gina Torres!), wherein we learn that they lost a son (backstory!) and also that it’s very difficult to get a line from Westworld to the regular world. Is it possible the park is on a different planet?