Season 1, Episode 3: “The Stray”
Directed by Neil Marshall
Written by Lisa Joy & Daniel T. Thomsen
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chestnut” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Dissonance Theory” – click here
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gets a gift from Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright): Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She reads aloud a passage which speaks well to her life. Bernard talks a little about his son. By how he speaks, I assume his son is dead. She only understands personal questions as an “ingratiating scheme” and not actual bonding. We see how Lowe checks her, to see if she’s gotten the infection of her father, to see if she’s changing. “But if I‘m not the same, the next question is – who in the world am I?” she reads from Carroll’s words, as if they were her own.
And another day in Sweetwater begins. Although something’s strange. Dolores finds that pistol she’d dug up some time before when digging outside, now in her dresser. Likewise, she remembers The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his heinous attack on her. So, maybe she’s changing after all?
Lots of people say that William (Jimmi Simpson) is actually The Man in Black and that what we’re seeing is a different period of time. However, I’m not convinced. Either way, Billy has a look around Sweetwater, noticing all the idiosyncrasies and various touches to make the world oh so realistic – from WANTED posters everywhere to actual gunfights, people thrown through windows, and much more. He ends up in the middle of one such fight, having to pull the trigger on a man threatening Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan). He doesn’t right away, but changes his mind after taking a host bullet. This seems to start up a little journey, as another gunslinging cowboy named Holden (Chris Browning) asks him to join along on an expedition. When William seems concerned about Clementine, his buddy says: “That‘s why they exist. So you can feel this.” Ah, now if that’s not some incredibly relevant social commentary about the role society forces on women, then I don’t know what is!
Outside in Westworld HQ things aren’t always running smoothly. Lowe feels the pressure from Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), his superior and lover. The new narrative is causing lots of trouble, which Bernard is trying to iron out. There’s a big problem with Walter, the guy who malfunctioned in Episode 1, as if he’s “holding a grudge.” This troubles Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), although Bernard seems to make it out to be no big deal. I feel like Lowe’s got things to hide.
Good ole Teddy Flood (James Marsden) is talking tough and pulling guns, as he and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) gun down a few WANTED men they’ll bring in for ransom. There’s trouble when Maeve (Thandi Newton) has memories of seeing Teddy inside Westworld HQ, laying lifeless in that windowed cell being hosed down. She remembers.
And Teddy, he’s got that eye for Dolores. They go for a ride in the countryside, professing feelings for one another. Yet all of a sudden, words sound different to Dolores. She’s deviating from the normal script, challenging Teddy to leave now instead of “someday” like it always sounds. But he can’t compute that, and this still leaves her struggling for change. When they get back to the Abernathy ranch, guns are blazing.
But we cut to headquarters again where equipment is being worked on, eyes are sewn together and created out of bits and pieces. Doctor Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) chats with Teddy, wondering about his aspirations, if there’s a wish for something else, something more. We find out that Flood is merely a tool to keep Dolores in Sweetwater, for the guests, so that they can “best the stalwart gunslinger and have their way with his girl.” A truly sick storyline. Watching these ultra-human hosts be manipulated in such a God-like manner is very disturbing, an ethical view of what’s to come. Then Dr. Ford implants a memory for Teddy to remember: “It starts in a time of war, a world in flames, with a villain called Wyatt.”
Sweetwater’s new day commences. Greaser Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his boys accost Dolores in town, where they then run into Teddy. He drives them off, of course. The hero again! Later, he takes Dolores out and teaches her how to shoot a gun. When she tries to, she can’t pull the trigger. Is it an emotional aspect to her character, or is she specifically programmed not to be able to do so? Hmm. Well, things get interrupted when Teddy finds out Wyatt’s nearby, and he has a duty calling him. This leaves her all alone in Sweetwater against the brunt of the Wild West.
A stray ran off, so Elsie and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) are out having a look at a camp in the woods where a bunch of hosts are stuck in a loop. In the stray’s tent is strange, filled with wood carvings. Elsie explains how backstories, such as this guy and his carvings, are used to “anchor” the host, in that they’re three-dimensional, not some simplistic robot. On one carving in the stray’s tent Stubbs notes the scratches look like a constellation.
Now Teddy is on the high plains, roaming about, explaining his history aside from bounty hunting. He tells people about Wyatt and prophetic messages he came back with, how he had “strange ideas.” Did Wyatt understand the nature of Sweetwater and Westworld? Did he find what The Man in Black is now looking for himself? On the road, Teddy and his gang take fire from the hills. They fire back and try to gain ground on Wyatt.
Dr. Ford notices a technician covering a host while working on it. He whips the bib off him, feeling it’s foolish. Ultimately, he’s lost all sense of these hosts being sentient, he has no care for them. Like God, making his creations then casting us aside. The idea of an absent God, giving life to a world and later leaving it to its own devices. Yet there’s something else going on behind Ford. At the same time, he has to deal with Bernard bringing him news about the hosts and their supposed “cognitive dissonance.” When Lowe talks about the entity the hosts have been talking to being named Arnold, it strikes a small chord with Ford. Then he tells Bernard about the park’s beginnings, his partner Arnold; ah, the other God. Note: the flashback sequence uses amazing technology to put Hopkins’ face on a much younger actor; it isn’t too long and works great.
Most of all, Ford tells us about how Arnold wanted to actually create consciousness, not simply replicate the feeling of it for people. He wanted to “bootstrap consciousness,” which hasn’t panned out exactly perfectly. In a way, the hosts and their slip into Arnold’s old code is like an existential crisis the way a human questions their own existence in lamentation of its limits. “Just don‘t forget, the hosts are not real,” he warns Bernard. Something Ford’s obviously long forgotten. Perhaps he isn’t callous in the way he treats the hosts, unconcerned for their dignity, but rather it’s a mechanism of not allowing himself to get too close with them.
Seeing Lowe so close to a technology that can reincarnate a human being while simultaneously mourning the loss of a son, it’s heartbreaking. The temptation to want these hosts to be real was evident before. At this point the why has a face. Bernard’s personal tragedy may yet bleed further into his professional life. I only hope not to the detriment of himself, or those around him. “This pain, it‘s all I have left of him.”
Elsie keeps wondering why the stray carved the Orion constellation, as Stubbs only makes fun of the whole thing. But there are a incredibly real repercussions for how these hosts may start acting, depending on what they end up doing. When the pair come across the stray it’s stuck down in a crevasse, bloodied from trying to climb out. And this worries Elsie.
In the hills, Teddy and his gang creep up on Wyatt’s location. Only they come under siege of a vicious tribe. As Teddy sends Armistice off, he’s butchered alive.
Again, Dolores is out for maintenance. Poor Bernard is feeling strange about their talks and wants to put her back to normal. “This place you live in, it‘s a terrible place for you,” he says. It might just be too late to reverse what Bernard’s started. No telling what that could do in the future. For now, he has someone to talk to his dead son about.
When she gets back to Sweetwater, Dolores discovers Teddy’s likely fate in the hills. With that she goes riding but finds gunshots again at her ranch. Her father’s dead and Rebus’ gang are having their fun. Out in the hay, though, Dolores finds that gun again. Can she pull it? She flashes back between The Man in Black and Rebus – and this allows her to put a hole right through Rebus, right in the neck. Things start going haywire, as she sees herself shot, but the script rewinds and she’s not, getting the jump on the man she imagined shooting her.
Around the canyon Elsie and Stubbs try getting the stray out. When Stubbs start sawing at its head, the stray comes alive and climbs out himself. He manages to get a rock, though instead of smashing Else to bits he crushes his own head in, blood everywhere, falling to the ground. Yikes.
In the midst of the wilderness, William and his buddy sit by a fire like real Wild West cowboys, chatting, sipping drink. From nowhere comes Dolores, weary and falling over. She literally falls right into William’s arms by the fire. This is definitely not the last of their story together. I still don’t think the popular theory that he’s The Man in Black works. If so, they’re doing some mighty fine dodging in the plot. I think now, with Dolores having just come from her time with Lowe, we can almost definitively say there’s no timeline issues jumping from past to present. Don’t count it out, though. Others may have proof that I’ve yet to notice.
Loved this episode, as usual. A great, great series all around, in writing and execution. Acting is phenomenal.
Next up is “Dissonance Theory” and I hope we’ll get lots more juicy bits!