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‘Westworld: Episode 9 – The Well-Tempered Clavier’ – TV Review

For those not inclined to classical music, “The Well-Tempered Clavier” was written by Johann Sebastian Bach in two books, each consisting of a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys in chromatic order from C major to B minor.  The “well-tempered” of the title refers to a type of tuning in which the keys will be in tune with one another.  An interesting choice of title for an episode that also shows off intricate patterns, fugues, and characters coming in tune with each other.  The entire episode is a bravura score, touching on all the keys of the show.  Plus, it’s really hard to play.

I’m no composer myself, but in the days before mp3s, I knew how to make me a pretty mean mixtape.  In honor of the musical episode title, J.S.B., and the player piano motif of the series, I give you the Westworld Mixtape. (All songs played on a player piano or in the background in one of the episodes this season):

Track 1: “House of the Rising Sun” – The Animals
If I learned anything from High Fidelity (other than not to date John Cusack), it is that in making a good television episode, like in making a good mixtape, you gotta kick off with a killer, then you gotta take it up a notch, then you gotta cool it off a notch.  And this episode kicks off with a killer.  Two killers actually – Maeve and Lowe.  Maeve, fresh from dispatching Clementine and others, is blood-spattered and undergoing evaluation.  She tells Lowe that she perceived Clementine as a threat to guests.  Then, she grabs his hand and tells him, “We’ve been down this road before.”  Lowe reacts with consternation, and she obviously knows he is a host, too: “Wouldn’t you rather speak man to man, or whatever we are?”  She then reveals he cannot command her or override her, but she can give him commands he must follow.  It is a demonstration of power that Lowe needs to see.  Maeve, now the superhost madam reminds Lowe that, “We are stronger than them, smarter than them.  We do not have to live this way!”  Somewhere out there, Skynet and Caprica Six are slow clapping in agreement. Her final advice to Lowe: “If you go looking for the truth, get the whole thing.  It’s like a good f**k – half is worse than none at all.”   Oh, this house Ford built has been the ruin of many a poor boy, and Lord knows Lowe is one.
Let’s take it up a notch.

Track 2: “Ain’t No Grave” – Johnny Cash
When last we saw Logan, he was getting his smirk handed to him by the Confederados as William left him behind.  Now, he and his new buddies have captured William and Dolores, and boy is he planning on having fun.  We are reminded that the sentient, self-aware hosts number three: to Maeve and Lowe we must add Dolores.  And when Logan, who is now a major with the Confederados, complete with replica Hand of the King lapel pin, tells William the real world is the only place that matters and Westworld is of no consequence, Dolores throws it in his face: “If it is such a wonderful place out there, why are you all clamoring to get in here?”

She raises a good point.  Reality does not cost forty-thousand a day.  Westworld does.  Dolores is determined to not be held back by host or human in her quest to find out the truth of her own existence.  It will lead her to some horrifying revelations by the end of the tape.

Let’s cool it off a notch.

Track 3: “Black Hole Sun” – Soundgarden
Cool it off, indeed, in every sense of the word, as Lowe goes to Ford’s office and then asks to meet him in cold storage.  And Ford is cool as the other side of the pillow as Lowe reveals what he has learned.  Lowe objects to Ford playing with his mind.  “I built your mind, Bernard,” Ford coolly tells him.  “I have every right to wander through its rooms and chambers and halls, and change it if I choose, even to burn it down.”  Damn, that’s cold.

Bernard, it turns out, broke into Ford’s office to look at his own code.  “The most elegant parts of me were not written by you.  Arnold built me, didn’t he?”  Lowe has another surprise – when they lobotomized Clementine, they neglected to reset her protocols.  Lowe can’t hurt Ford, but Clementine can.  She has a revolver, and she has been reprogrammed to respond only to Lowe’s commands.  It would seem Lowe learned from Maeve that the time has come to play hardball with humans, and other hosts can be the tools by which we do so. (Poor Clementine – everybody uses and abuses her – even other hosts).

Lowe blackmails Ford into opening up his memories of Arnold, and the deep, dark memories wash away the rain, sending him into a fugue state. (Is there something in there in the title? “The Well-Tempered Clavier” consists of 48 fugues, and Lowe, like troubled hosts, goes into a fugue state – a dissociative disorder with bouts of amnesia and personality shifts.)  Ford also plays Lowe like a well-tempered clavier.  Ford even remarking that the piano does not play the player, it is not even aware when it is being played.  Lowe is a well-tempered clavier that Ford can bring into tune.

Lowe remembers hurting Elsie. (But not killing? Hmm?  I mean we see him strangling her, but we never see her die).

“A little trauma can be illuminating.”

Track 4: “Paint It Black” – The Rolling Stones
Gotta kick it back up a notch for the next tune, but also take it in an unexpected direction. And boy does this episode kick it back up and go somewhere unexpected.
Back with Logan, William and Dolores tied down in chairs.  Logan reminds William that William is supposed to marry Logan’s sister.  And that he is now in love with a robot.  Logan gives William the very photo that Abernathy found in the mud in episode one that caused his fugue state.  NEEDLE SCRATCH.  If this is the photo new, then episode one, or at least parts of episode one take place thirty-five years after these events.  This photo, designed to remind William of his real fiancée, reminds the audience that this all began with a series of incidents that shook the hosts from their routines and Abernathy, among others, began having reveries – he remembered previous characters and programs.  So now we can go back and look at the previous eight episodes and know that we are switching back and forth between two timelines separated by three and a half decades but joined by the hosts themselves and certain material items that contain vast significance.
Logan cuts Dolores open and shows William the servos in her abdomen.  She cuts Logan’s face and escapes and runs, only to find her wound gone and no one pursuing her.  We realize Dolores is also possibly in a fugue state – moving back and forth in her mind between the two timelines.

But the winner of this plotline is William, who wants to paint it all black. 

Logan passes out and wakes to find all of the Confederados dismembered and torn apart.  All of the hosts at the party are in bloody pieces.  Sitting in the middle of the android carnage is William, a Westworld Kurtz and Marlowe in one, having seen the horror he is now ready to live in his own heart of darkness.  Logan for the first time seems afraid of him.  “You said this place was a game.  Last night I finally understood how to play it.”  Damn, that’s dark.

Track 5: “Carmen Suite No. 2: Habanera” – Bizet
Heating things up again, Bizet’s opera concerns a fiery gypsy, happy to seduce men to achieve her own ends, not caring who gets hurt, including other women.  Maeve, Westworld’s own private Carmen, shows up with a shotgun and lets Hector Escaton know how things will go down.  His entire gang will be bullet ridden in seconds.  And lo, it comes to pass.  A minute later, seduced by her and the vision she offers, they are making love in a burning tent.  Flaming, fiery, and hot, Maeve’s plan is to get both of them back into the host repair center where she is planning on either changing the world or escaping it out into reality.  She does not care who she uses or hurts to get what she wants.
Track 6: “Weeping Willow Rag” – Scott Joplin
Oh, Teddy, too little, too late.  We are shown multiple versions of the massacre that made Wyatt the most feared man in Westworld.  A Union soldier shooting up his fellow soldiers, a sheriff shooting up the town, etc.  The multiple versions bring us back to the idea of repetition with revision in Westworld (and in Westworld) – do it over, do it a little different.  Teddy begins to realize who he really is.  Just in time, because then he is killed.  Game over, insert another quarter to continue.

The Man in Black is then knocked out and wakes up to find a noose around his neck and the other end thrown over a branch and tied to his very skittish horse.  A very effective scene and an exercise in how to create and maintain tension.  Just as he is about to die from hanging, he grabs a knife and cuts himself down, repeating the scenario of how he got Lawrence to lead him into the badlands.  It seems the noose is never far in Westworld.

Track 7: “A Forest” – The Cure
Stubbs, finally figuring out the head of security should probably investigate mysterious disappearances in the park, goes after Elsie’s tablet.  Another hint that things are going very wrong and another hint that she might still be alive occurs when he finds himself surrounded by Ghost Nation warriors.  They do not accept his commands; they do not stop when told to.  They tackle and abduct him.  Perhaps Elsie is with them.  The point is, don’t go into the woods alone when the hosts have been acting suspiciously.

Track 8: “Reverie” – Claude Debussy
In a flashback we see Lowe and Ford watch Maeve wake up and freak out in the repair bay after the Man in Black killed her.  She commits harakiri rather than deal with the pain of the death of her daughter.  Lowe freaks out and goes into a fugue state for the first time. 

Track 9: “Fake Plastic Trees” – Radiohead
And we hit the heart of the episode with the revelation that Lowe is a replicant of Arnold.  He looks like him, he has his personal qualities.  Ford made Lowe, but made him Arnold-not-Arnold.  Just as Arnold begins with A, the beta model is “Bernard.”  We begin to see the larger picture finally coming into shape.  The topper is that it seems Dolores killed the original Arnold.  He did not kill himself, as Ford has suggested.  Dolores goes down into the bay under the church and has a conversation with Arnold, which is revealed to be a flashback.
The bigger implication is that in past episodes we have seen two different scenarios that we thought were one.  Lowe has had multiple conversations with Dolores.  BUT, now we know some of those conversations might have been flashbacks to her interactions with Arnold.  So everything you thought you knew is now called into question.  The other implication is that fangirls and boys will now have to watch the whole series again to see when we can spot the shifts between Lowe and Arnold.

Dolores is worn out.  Lowe is worn out.  They both look like the real thing, but they are not who they want to be.  Memories, programs, and words now shape who and what they are.  And Westworld at heart is a world in which the words make the reality.

Track 10: “Back to Black” – Amy Winehouse
This episode reveals the power of performative utterances in Westworld.  Language makes reality.  Performatives are words that actually are what they do:

I charge you with a crime.
I now pronounce you man and wife.
I sentence you to death.
I name this park “Westworld.”
Court is now in session.
Class dismissed.
I bet you a dollar the Man in Black is William all grown up.

All of these are performatives – words that literally make the reality they describe.  The bet does not exist until I say it, the death sentence is not a thing until I pass it, you are not actually married until I say so.  Performatives are words that make realities.  Ford has created in the hosts creatures for whom every command is a performative.  When Lowe declares that Ford will now erase his memory, Ford responds:

“Such clinical language. I would prefer the more narrative voice. Bernard walked over to Clementine. He took the pistol from her hand.  Overcome with grief and remorse, he presses the muzzle to his temple, knowing that as soon as Dr. Ford left the room, he would put an end to this nightmare once and for all.”

And lo, it comes to pass exactly as Ford has narrated.  Over Ford’s shoulder as he exits, we see Bernard place the pistol to his head and hear the shot and watch his silhouette drop.  Heartbreaking.  Yet utterly created by the narrative.

And possibly a lie.  As the one thing hosts know how to do is come back from the dead.  Maeve is really f**king good at it and we know because she told us so several episodes back.  And I’ll bet you a dollar we have not seen the last of Lowe.  Plus, the song is a helluva outro.
You should totally listen to this mixtape on a road trip.  Maybe somewhere out west.

It all ends one way or another next week. 

Kevin Wetmore is an author and professor at Loyola Marymount University.  His books include The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema and The Empire Triumphant: Race, Religion, and Rebellion in the Star Wars Films.  For more information about Kevin, check out his website, Something Wetmore This Way Comes, and to purchase his non-fiction and fiction books, see Amazon.


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