This is a recap of episode 3 of Westworld, ‘The Stray.’
Elsie and Stubbs head into the hills in pursuit of a missing host. Teddy gets a new backstory, which sets him off in pursuit of a new villain, leaving Dolores alone in Sweetwater. Bernard investigates the origins of madness and hallucinations within the hosts. William finds an attraction he’d like to pursue and drags Logan along for the ride.
Original airdate: 10/16/2016
First, a few thoughts about where the series is at so far: ambition is good, but only with follow through
I’m enjoying Westworld a great deal. That said…
To me, so far it feels like we’re watching an Olympic diver attempt a routine with an extremely high difficulty level. We’re still early enough into the dive that just the fact that something so ambitious is being attempted is enough to hold our attention and leave us impressed. However, at some point, they’re going to need to be able to pull the thing off and finish smoothly, or else it’s going to be a mess and leave us all unsatisfied. Sort of like this metaphor.
As was repeated in the “Previously on” intro, we’ve been told again and again some version of “you think you know what this park is about, but you have no idea.” We keep getting told snippets of information, but told there is more. There are deeper levels to the game, the board of directors has their own agenda, Dr. Ford has his most ambitious storyline planned yet. The longer we go without fulfilling these unanswered questions, the better the answers will have to be for us to be satisfied.
Okay, now onto the episode:
This episode is about two major concepts: BACKSTORIES and LOOPS
Dr. Ford talks about the concept of backstory, and we learn about Teddy’s backstory (it was never written)
Repeating the steps of their loop, Teddy picks up the can of milk for Dolores, and they ride off to have a beautiful, hopeful, romantic moment. But that’s all it is – a hopeful moment thinking about a “someday” that will never come. Dolores begins to realize that someday actually means never.
This is made explicitly clear in the next scene when Dr. Ford talks to Teddy back in the lab.
Teddy: Maybe someday soon we’ll have the life we’ve both been dreaming of.
Dr. Ford: No, you never will. Your job isn’t to protect Dolores. It’s to keep her here, to ensure that the guests can find her if they want to best the stalwart gunslinger and have their way with this girl.
This is reminiscent of the first episode when the Man in Black tells Teddy that the reason he is there is so that he can be a loser so that others can be the winners.
Dr. Ford goes on to tell Teddy that they never gave Teddy a backstory, just a “formless guilt” that he felt compelled to atone for. So, as a part of Dr. Ford new narrative, he decides to finally write a backstory for Teddy, a fiction rooted in truth, about a villain called Wyatt, an Army general gone mad who thought he was following the voice of God.
Later when out on a quest to find him in the wild, Teddy recites from his newly implanted backstory about Wyatt’s backstory. In particular, one quote really stands out:
— Teddy, s01 ep03
Wyatt disappeared while out on maneuvers. He came back with some strange ideas. He claimed this land didn’t belong to the new natives or the old settlers. He claimed that it belonged to something that had yet to come. That it belonged to him.
Could it be that this is a bit of foreshadowing showing what Dr. Ford himself thinks? Specifically, that this land doesn’t belong to the new natives (robots) or the old settlers (humans) but to something that had yet to come…perhaps robots that achieve consciousness?
Further evidence to support this, when Bernard interrupts Dr. Ford working on his new storyline, he says that it’s a “tricky thing, weaving the old into the new.”
Could this mean that he is weaving the old / “humans” into the new / “robots”?
Elsie and Stubbs talk about backstories, too
On their mission to track down the stray, they come upon his tent where he was last scene.
Stubbs notices some whittled animals, to which he remarks “another one of your fucking backstories?” Elsie replies:
— Elsie, s01 ep03
Backstories do more than amuse guests. They anchor the hosts. It’s their cornerstone. The rest of their identity is built around it, layer by layer.
Stubbs points out to Elsie that the rogue woodcutter host’s carving also includes a constellation:
Stubbs says the constellation looks like Orion:
Elsie remarks that they did not program an interest in stars in the woodcutter’s back story, so it must have been something that either (a) he came up with on his own through improvisation or the development of something like consciousness or (b) it was implanted in him by some unknown third party messing with the programming of all of the bots.
We learn some of Bernard’s backstory: tragic loss of a child
It seemed like this was the case, but now it is confirmed. Poor Bernard.
We learn some of Dr. Ford’s backstory about a mysterious loss of a work/creative partner: Arnold
Elsie tells Bernard that she figures out that Walter is having a conversation with an unheard voice right before he went rogue. He calls the voice he is talking to “Arnold.”
Dr. Ford tells Bernard to give it a rest with the questions. But then when Bernard badgers Dr. Ford and tells him that he doesn’t think he’s telling him the entire story, and brings up that two of the hosts were having a conversation with the same unheard voice named Arnold, Dr. Ford gives in.
In a VERY COOL sequence, Dr. Ford tells Bernard about the start of the park. For three years, the engineers lived in the park with the robots just creating, with no human guests. His creative partner was Arnold.
I love when sci-fi shows that technology ages and that the older robot technology isn’t as good or sophisticated yet.
Dr. Ford says that the robots passing the Turing Test wasn’t enough for Arnold. He didn’t want the appearance of intellect; he wanted actual intellect. He wanted to create consciousness, which he saw as a pyramid of: memory, improvisation, self-interest, and some unnamed thing at the top.
Dr. Ford tells Bernard he never figured out what the last piece was, but come on, it definitely seems like he is hiding something.
Then we get a big ol’ “[bicameralism](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology))” reference. From Wikipedia:
“Bicameralism (the philosophy of "two-chamberedness”) is a hypothesis in psychology that argues that the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys—a bicameral mind.“
This certainly ties in nicely with all of the mysterious "God voices” that hosts in the park are hearing. Could it be some dormant code from Arnold coming to life, trying to “bootstrap” consciousness into his creations?
Interestingly though, in a later conversation, Dolores tells Bernard that there are not two versions to herself, only one version, and when she figures out who this version is, she’ll be free.
Oh, and by the way, ARNOLD MYSTERIOUSLY DIED IN THE PARK NO FURTHER EXPLANATION FOR NOW BYE BYE.
LOOPS – time to repeat stuff!
As it’s used in Westworld, the concept of a “loop” seems to refer to two distinct but related occurrences, both of which play on the show’s theme of repetition:
Loop Concept #1) the planned sequence of activities that the hosts are supposed to engage in, or their “storyline”
This is the Groundhog’s Day version of the idea of a loop.
For example, we’ve seen many elements of Dolores’s storyline repeated over and over again. She drops the can of milk and Teddy picks it up; she gets back to her house and realizes something is still wrong when the cattle are still out; she gets thrown into the pile of hay in the barn by a bad guy; etc.
When Bernard and Dolores have one of their lil’ chats, Bernard tells Dolores not to tell anyone about their conversations and to “stay on your loop.”
So, a loop is what a host is supposed to be doing. But a loop can also be used to indicate something a host isn’t supposed to be doing, as in:
Loop Concept #2) an interaction that the hosts can get stuck repeating
This is how Elsie uses the term when she and Snubbs come upon the group who are stuck waiting for somebody to chop wood for dinner time. Since none of them have been granted the ability to chop wood in their programming except for the designated woodcutter, after the woodcutter host goes rogue, they’re stuck arguing about who will chop the wood.
This is interesting since we learned that the hosts are designed to be able to improvise, or to go “off script” and leave their storyline based on their programming, but the possibility of falling into and getting stuck in a loop like this shows that there are limits to their improvising abilities.
Bernard and Dolores have another one of their conversations
The show is bookended with these conversations.
At the start of the episode, Bernard gives her Dolores a present, a copy of Alice in Wonderland (possibly the same copy he used to read to his son in the hospital)and instructs her to read a passage:
— passage from Alice in Wonderland
Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think; was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?’
Bernard seems to what to be able to provoke Dolores to realize that she is repeating herself in the loop of her daily life.
From what follows in the episode, it seems this is starting to happen. For example…
That mysterious gun just keeps showing up different places in different loops!
The gun that the mysterious “God voice” led Dolores to find buried in her yard shows up in her dresser drawer when she’s starting out her daily loop.
Dolores seems confused when she finds it, almost like she doesn’t remember putting it there. She quickly folds the gun up and puts it away, and is immediately visited by the God voice again asking her “Do you remember?” Again, that voice sounds a lot like Bernard.
She remembers getting thrown onto the pile of hay in the barn as The Man in Black attacks her. Now, seemingly moments later, Dolores checks her drawer and the gun is no longer there.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GUN??
My co-worker and friend Nate Maggio has a theory to explain this using the idea of loops.
So, what happens is that in fact we are not seeing the same loop moments later, but in fact an entirely different iteration of the same loop a few moments later in the sequence. Dolores puts her clothes away the exact same way in every loop, so as a viewer we can’t be 100% sure we’re watching a new loop, the same loop, or any one of the thousands of times that Dolores has put her clothes away before.
Later in the episode we see that Dolores finds the gun buried in the pile of hay.
So, it seems this is what happened:
Prompted by the God voice (or Bernard’s lessons or her own developing inner drive for consciousness or some unknown third-party controlling the robots), Dolores remembered (which in a way, is like looking into the future in the loop she is programmed to repeat) that at some point, she was/will be thrown onto the pile of hay while being attacked. Remembering this, perhaps during the night, she places the gun in the pile of hay, so it will be waiting for her there when she needs it. So now in a new loop entirely (not moments later in the loop we started watching) the gun is no longer there, because in the nighttime Dolores has moved it to the pile of hay.
This is an interesting take on a convention in time travel movies where characters leave objects or clues for themselves to find in the past/future. See, for example, the appropriately named movie Looper.
BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE!
As the scene plays out, Dolores’s attacker switches back and forth between the mutton-chopped bad guy and the Man in Black.
It seems what is happening is that Dolores is remembering / experience different loops at the same time.
When the God voice says, “Kill him,” Dolores is able to pull the trigger.
Moments later when she runs outside, she seemingly is able to look into the future and see herself getting shot, and thereby able to take action to avoid that outcome.
In reality though, THAT OUTCOME HAS ALREADY OCCURRED and she is not seeing into the future, but rather remembering a previous loop when she got shot after escaping the barn:
The sci-fi reference that this brings to mind is the Edge of Tomorrow, when Tom Cruise is able to survive a little bit longer each time in an attempt to save the world from an alien invasion before dying, when he has to start over, remember what he did last time, and make another minor adjustment to see how much further he can get along next time.
WHAT ELSE DID WE LEARN THIS EPISODE?
The guns can hurt human guests, they just can’t kill them
William figures this out after the game finally drags him into it when he intervenes and shoots a bad guy in order to save Clementine. Or, as Logan puts it, he “popped his cherry.”
William is marrying Logan’s sister
So now we know a little bit more about the William / Logan relationship. Still unclear, though, is why Logan is trying so hard to get William to have sex with robots if he is marrying his sister.
Westworld isn’t afraid to go horror
Hoo baby things got spooky with those men wearing the masks of their dead enemies, eh?
In addition to sci-fi and western, look out for elements of the horror genre in upcoming episodes, which also should give us an idea of the direction some of these storylines might go.
And, maybe most importantly of all, we learn that Dolores has gained the ability to override her programming
Earlier in the episode, Teddy attempts to train Dolores to be able to defend herself with a gun for when he is not around. She tells him she isn’t able to pull the trigger, which he takes to mean it isn’t in her disposition to do so, but in reality she means that literally her programming forbids her from doing so.
Later in the episode this is underscored when Elsie and Stubbs discuss that the hosts have to explicitly be programmed to have weapons privileges.
The episode ends in a sequence where Dolores is able to pull the trigger to defend herself. Is this the equivalent of thinking on her own? Does overriding her programming mean that she has achieved consciousness?
WHAT QUESTIONS DO WE HAVE ABOUT THIS EPISODE?
If Stubbs and Elsie can track exactly where the stray woodcutter robot is with this gadget, why do they have to go out and find him on foot?
Look, I’m ready to suspend my disbelief for most stuff, but throw me a bone here. Did this confuse anyone else?
Why did the stray woodcutter kill himself?
With this question, I don’t think we’re meant to know the answer yet. And, in fact, this is just one of many unanswered questions we have about the stray.
Where was he vectoring to?
Why did he leave his assigned loop?
Did he achieve consciousness and choose to walk away from his loop (as Dolores asked Teddy to do with her, but Teddy was unable to conceive of leaving)?
Is some third-party writing code that is commanding the rogue robots to go haywire? And if so, did the woodcutter override the command to kill Elsie because he didn’t want to kill a human and that’s why he killed himself?
Why does the Man in Black keep showing up in the loops / memories of other characters?
In this episode, the Man in Black shows up in a loop / memory of Dolores in the same place as the mutton chopped bad guy.
In a previous episode, the Man in Black shows up in a loop / memory of Maeve where she is being hunted by an Indian scalper, but then after he passes behind a closed door, the Man in Black emerges instead.
One theory is that the Man in Black is inserting himself into every single loop in order to learn as much as he can about Westworld in his attempt to get to a deeper level, so he is playing out every single role in order to understand every character and storyline.
I look forward to the answers to these questions and more in future episodes!
Okay, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and see you next week!