This week, we are spending time with "Les Écorchés" which literally means “the flayed ones” in French, but it is also an art term that means the image of a subject without skin, displaying the subdermal anatomy. The skin is off, and we can see what’s underneath, an apt metaphor for this week.
This week is also less philosophical and theological than previous episodes, perhaps because the downhill slide towards the end of the season is picking up speed and it’s hard to think about the meaning of existence when Teddy 2.0 is doing his T-1000 impression, wasting every human in sight. Don’t worry, True Believers, there is still a smattering of deep thought in with all this action and moving towards a resolution.
Yet again we start with a pre-credit sequence, which we shall call “We Need to Talk about Bernard.” Bernard and Stubbs are cold lounging in the control center and agree that Strand is not here to rescue anybody, which means that in his quest to find out what he wants, fecal matter might be hitting the fan, and they are expendable. Bernard looks at a photo of his deceased son and remembers his life. Strand enters, has a gun, and wants answers. See, Theresa died in a place other than where they found her body, and that’s odd. Strand’s theory – either Bernard or Stubbs is stealing data to sell to Delos’ competition in order to retire and live high on the hog. Turn on the fan and get the bucket of fecal matter! Then, they discover a secret door that leads to Bernard cold storage. It’s a room with a dozen of him in it. You can see the realization wave roll across the room – “He’s a host!” Cut to credits. Stubbs sighs in relief that it ain’t him in trouble.
Tangentially, as I see the series of corridors and rooms leading to house of a thousand Bernards (well, more like a dozen), I think of Kevin Smith’s Clerks. I mean someone had to build all this, right? Delos had to hire a whole bunch of contractors to come make the bunkers and the corridors, and the rocky outcroppings that are secret elevators. Somewhere in San Angeles, there’s a buncha guys sitting in a bar telling stories about the crap they built for Delos (“We hadda build this bunker that had this swingin’ mod pad in it. But then they had us put flamethrowers in the walls. Craziest thing. Rich people, amIright?”)
Back to Bernard who is being waterboarded, Westworld style, which means a tech is holding a pad with his display and turning up the “feel like water is being poured onto a cloth covering your face” option. “Your predicament is unique: a host hiding among humans, even from himself,” opines Hale. Meanwhile, Coughlin’s mercenaries go host-hunting in the dark. Bad idea. They have clearly never seen a genre film (Aliens, Resident Evil, any zombie film, really), because the hosts have slaughtered the response team, put on their body armor, taken their weapons, and massed near CR4DL. Game over, man! Game over!
Inside Bernard’s head (earlier or later in the timeline, who knows?), there is a cocktail party happening. Ford is there, explaining the situation. He then recites:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Which are the opening lines of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence,” popular for television, it seems, as they were also recited by the Creature during season two, episode two of Penny Dreadful. Free tip for television writers reading this: Quote Blake and sound smart and relevant. Ford reframes Barnard’s questions about what the actual project behind Westworld is. “Do you think James Delos would have spent all that money just to resurrect himself?” he asks. “He’s a businessman. He would prefer death to a bad investment.” In other words, Delos was a test, but not the reason for the park.
Jump to the saloon. It is clear we are in the time before the hosts “woke,” as Clementine is unzombified and Maeve is still the madam. Ford proclaims, “I don’t think God rested on the seventh day, Bernard. I think He reveled in His creation and that someday it would all be destroyed.” There is a hint there, about Ford’s endgame: The park will eventually be destroyed. Ford thinks quite a bit about God and thinks quite highly about himself. He is the creator, and he is playing with his creation. Indeed, if the hosts do have a religion, it may be Deism, popular with America’s founding fathers. They subscribed to the watchmaker theory of creation – God set the universe moving, then left. He’s taking a laissez-faire approach to the universe now. Ford might be doing just that – set it all in motion, and now watch it unfold but don’t actively enter into creation anymore.
Dolores and Teddy ride through town, unwoke. “Have you wondered why the hosts’ stories have barely changed in thirty years?” Ford asks. One: Now we have a sense of how old the park is (and it makes me ask, there is only thirty years separating “William” from “The Man in Black” – wow that must have been some hard living, because that guy AGED). Two: Bernard has an insight and realizes what the park really is:
The park is an experiment. A testing chamber. The guests are the variables; the hosts are the controls. The guests come to the park. They don’t know they are being watched. They get to see their true selves - their every choice reveals another part of their cognition, their drives, so that Delos can understand them. So that Delos can copy them!
This is a new view of the park. Ford refers to humans as “the last analog information,” since every other bit of information can and has been digitized. “We weren’t here to code the hosts – we were here to decode the guests,” realizes Bernard. Yup. Westworld only pretends to be an entertainment site for the wealthy – it really is a place to gather data about how humans work in order to replicate those humans. (In this case, shades of “Apotheosis” from Syfy’s Caprica, Battlestar Galactica’s “Cousin Oliver,” shark-jumping prequel series. If you were not one of the five of us watching: a religious group plans an attack in which when people die, their digital avatars/personality replicants would be uploaded to a new reality. Others are placed in cylon bodies, eventually resulting in the “skin jobs” – cylons that pass for human.) Sci-Fi is often about the limits of the human and how to move past them. And Ford says he has “cheated death,” except it doesn’t work. Yet. The CR4DL is keeping Ford real. To place him in a host body would be to degrade him and drive him insane. Now, Ford is the ghost in the machine.
Bernard realizes that host free will is an illusion. Ford has been pulling the levers. He made Dolores kill him. But Hosts are still responsible for their actions. Free will is today’s topic, True Believers. Without free will, are any of us guilty of our sins? We are, after all, pre-programmed or predisposed or predestined to do these things. Bernard says we still have a choice, and that idea might be breaking down his neural net a little. Faster than you can say, “Data, NO! Oh wait, that must be Lore,” Bernard may or may not be joining the host rebellion (this timeline confusion is murder on summarizing – which of these events happened first, which, tangentially, means the show also plays hell with causality. Wow, this is turning into an episode of ST: TNG).
Ghost Nation warriors chase Maeve and “her daughter,” with William in Black entering the cabin. The last time he did that, he shot the girl and knifed Maeve. So she, empowered and woke and armed, makes a stand for host rights. He calls her “Ford,” as he thinks Ford speaks through all hosts now, she calls him “dead” and shoots him. William and Maeve then have a shootout and the Ghost Nation gets the daughter in the end (setup for Maeve versus the Ghost Nation either for season finale or season three? After all, the daughter was afraid of the Ghost Nation taking her and Maeve promised she would come for her). Maeve gets the hosts accompanying the Man in Black to begin shooting him, too, forcing him to shoot them, but not without getting hit a few times himself. Maeve tries to work her hypnotist bit on Lawrence, when he ambushes her, but he, too, is woke. So she simply reminds him of all the times the Man in Black has tortured and killed him and his family. In reminding him, she wakes a vengeful spirit in him and he goes after William, guns a-blazing. By the time we’re done, everybody has been hit. William crawls off to hide as Sizemore and company seize Maeve, having gunned down Lawrence.
Bernard gets his second huge insight, a follow up to last week’s episode (and analysis – I argued this one last week!). When Dolores was testing Bernard for “fidelity,” she was testing him to see if he was a faithful reproduction of Arnold. The hosts are the control, Delos’ resurrection was a failure, but Bernarnold was a success! What this means, however, is that Bernard is not the first major host that passes as human – Dolores is. Bernard assumed he was Ford’s second-in-command. Nope. Dolores is.
Angela blows up CR4 DL (a.k.a. “the Cradle”) and along the way Mercs die. A lot. Teddy 2.0 has body armor now, and a temper. He beats Coughlin dead. Bernard is visited by the Ghost of Ford Past who guides him to the map room / control room, and Bernard shuts down the last control. The hosts are completely off grid now. Game over, man. Game…
Abernathy wakes up and has clarity. Dolores and Maeve confab. Dolores has her daddy’s head egg. She offers to put Maeve out of her misery. Maeve declines. Things move fast. We have been moving back and forth between timelines and they are unclear. A reality made manifest when Hale tells Bernard that it must be difficult to not be able to tell which memories are real, which are implanted, and which are Ford weaving “Journey into Night,” which now seems to be an apocalyptic narrative in all senses of the world – truth-revealing and world-ending.
Dolores tells Hale, whom we are led to believe is about to die, but once again gets away, the hosts’ ability to be rebooted and be brought back to life is, in fact, their chains, not their liberation. The great irony of the episode is that Delos was seeking immortality for humans while hosts are seeking mortality for themselves. Freedom is in dying and staying dead, rather than being resurrected to be raped, brutalized and killed over and over and over again. That’s right, True Believers, Dolores is oddly fighting for the rights of hosts, including the right to die.
“The pleasure of the story is in discovering the ending yourself,” Ford tells Bernard. Agreed. I’m going to leave it there, except to point out the Blake poem Ford was reciting at the beginning. It is a poem of paradoxes, beginning with these first four lines, all of which concern the infinite being found and held in a finite space. They also concern the idea about the greater, incomprehensible reality that is made up of smaller, comprehensible bits, which themselves are infinite and contain multitudes (to throw some Whitman on top of some Blake). Metaphorical, metaphysical, and mathematical, Blake’s lines in Ford’s mouth hint at the larger theme – that Abernathy (and possibly Bernard) contains data on hundreds of thousands of guests and hosts.
Oh, and that title, several times during the episode characters reference skeletons, the skull beneath the skin (to add Eliot to Whitman and Blake. Two more poets and I got a full house!) In particular, Hale, upon seeing the room of Bernard, remarks, “I knew you had some skeletons in your closet, Bernard. I didn’t know they were yours.” Bernard may well be the flayed one or ones (there are several Bernards in the room, which makes the plural in the title acceptable). But I want to advocate for the title referring to the guests, whom, after all, have been stripped bare by their interactions with the hosts, so that we might see everything underneath their surface.
Beginning to regret that I bought a SoCal resident’s pass to Westworld. Not only is parking ridiculous, they can now replicate me after I die. Oh, and the homicidal robots also cost them a star on my Yelp review. Three episodes left to “Delos’ ugly little project.” Gonna get uglier. You have been warned, True Believers!