“Dear, dear. How queer everything is today, and yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night?” Episode Three of Westworld, ‘The Stray’, is the weakest so far but only in terms of being the most exposition heavy so far. With all we’ve come to learn about the park and its inhabitants, allowing a slower episode to focus our attentions seems the most logical choice to make now that we’ve all become fully invested in the story to come.
The main focus of this week’s episode was behind the scenes, specifically with Bernard and Ford and their differing ideals. Bernard is continuing his secret conversations with Dolores, and it’s become clear that he’s no longer checking her for signs of a virus but rather letting whatever glitch she may or may not have run its course. We also learn about the tragedy of his son, which admittedly could’ve been a cheap ploy for sympathy, but the show allows it to tie into Bernard’s talks with Dolores. He views the Hosts as people, seeing them as living things with real human emotions like love and pain. Because of this, Bernard almost feels sorry for Dolores for what she has to go through on a daily basis. Whether this parental instinct is natural or just a replacement for his own child is debatable, but it’s clear whatever Bernard is doing he’s doing it on his own.
By contrast, Ford’s villainy is revealed a little and sets him up to be the series big bad, even over The Man In Black. Between his unsympathetic view of the Hosts as nothing more than machines, and his admittance to Teddy that he was never given a back-story because they couldn’t be bothered to give him one, Ford is quickly becoming a much darker character than the enigmatic director we met just three weeks earlier. One of the most damning things he says is when he tells Teddy the only reason he exists is to keep Dolores on track so that at the end of the day the guests can rape her. It’s a throwaway line, but casualness with which Hopkins says it is sure to bring back Hannibal flashbacks. In fact, during a key conversation between Bernard and Ford where they discuss Ford’s former partner Arnold, there’s a hint of menace in Ford’s voice that strongly hints towards fouler play at the hands of Arnold’s removal from the company.
The Arnold conversation is arguably the most important element of this week’s episode as it ties into what has been happening with the Hosts and Ford’s upcoming narrative with the Church in the desert. According to Ford, Arnold was looking for a way to make the Hosts totally and completely self-conscious and planned to do that by allowing the Hosts to hear their inner-thoughts as The Voice Of God, with the hopes that eventually their own thoughts take over. Naturally that didn’t pan out, but it appears that Ford is looking to resurrect that line with some refinement. We still don’t know what his narrative is, but its basis in religion seems to be hinting at his creation of God.
A smaller side story this week has head of security Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) and new programmer Elise (Shannon Woodward) searching for a Host that’s gone astray. It’s a minor part of this episode but the implications are strong as it shows us both what a Host is and isn’t programmed to do. For example, the stray was carving constellations in wood despite now being programmed to know about them, while a team of prospectors were stuck in a loop because their woodcutter had been killed and none of them were authorised to use the axe – this moment in particular ties into Dolores part of this episode.
This was an important episode for Dolores, for while it’s still unclear what’s happening to her, being able to see how it’s affecting her makes for some of the most interesting parts of the story so far. We’ve dealt with timelines crossing already, with Mauve last week and her encounter with the savages, but now we’re getting a first-hand look with Dolores’ memories of the same bandit raid playing out multiple times all blending together into one, creating a disturbing and confusing array of violence and death. Whatever is happening with Dolores, it’s becoming more and more apparent that she’ll most likely be broken down before she’s able to reinvent herself.
Final storyline this week was Teddy, now fully confirmed to be a Bounty Hunter, which finally gives him more to do than just being the love interest who gets killed – at this point he might as well be Kenny from South Park. Teaming up with Marti (Bojana Novakovic), the first guest who actually wants to role-play and have fun, Teddy follows a new narrative given to him by Ford in which he hunts down former Army comrade Wyatt who has gone rogue and started a cult. This is the closest the series has gotten to full-on horror, and probably one of the reasons they picked horror director Neil Marshall for this episode in order to capitalise on the underlying threat and menace that Wyatt’s cult inflict upon the final moments, as well as successfully introducing a new threat into the storyline.
‘The Stray’ might be the most exposition heavy episode to date, but it’s still a worthwhile episode with a lot of headway made for storylines and character interactions. The highlight is Bernard and Ford, with Wright and Hopkins being able to define their characters for the first time since the pilot, and hints at where their differing ideals will lead the development area. The introduction of Wyatt looks to give the series it’s most savage villain yet, who’s sure to stir up trouble, but what stands out is the question as to how he fits into Ford’s narrative and what place does God have in all of it.