A definitely polarizing and controversial episode of Westworld, “Trompe L’Oeil” gave the audience two huge plot twists this week: one that was earned, and one that was uncomfortable to watch. It also tried to develop other storylines—some with more success than others.
Starting from the ‘it’ moment from the episode, I don’t exactly know if it worked as intended (it must have though…people seemed to love it). As much as I think last week’s episode was a better one in terms of nuance and storytelling, “Trompe L’Oeil” certainly managed to pull the carpet from under me in its last five minutes. However, the violence presented was disturbing from a show I have been defending for the past six weeks.
Yes, I know this is HBO. I know this is a mature audience show. I am aware that I *should* expect a degree of violence and I actually do expect. What I don’t is how cruel that last scene seemed intended to be, like it was aiming at making us feel terrible. It definitely reminded of Sansa Stark, Shireen Baratheon, Marissa Cooper, Laurel Lance, Allison Argent, Commander Lexa, and many other women who have been brutalized and killed off.
In a way, I can try to reach and see why Theresa Cullen “had to go”. Dr. Robert Ford did mention that he has seen many board executives from Delos come and go from Westworld, so it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that he may have ordered someone to off them before.
I also can’t really pretend like it wasn’t a believable consequence to the prior scene, but then again, I don’t really see how this was a good execution. However, all the awards for Sidse Babett Knudsen for her scenes, specially that last moment where she begs for her life in such a tone that was gut wrenching.
Gore is not something I am not unfamiliar with, but it did reach a point of being gratuitous this episode with the last shot of Theresa dead. I don’t see a reason why they only showed a blurry image of Bernard killing her—supposedly not to be gratuitous—and then showed the end result as her body lies against the wall. I may be a little oversensitive, I get it, but I was not expecting that to happen so brutally.
It all comes, I guess, from the reveal that Bernard was a host. If you have been tuning out of all Westworld related topics on the internet, you probably got shocked by that twist. I can’t properly say I was as I have been reading and listening a lot to podcasts about theories regarding the show and one of the most convincing ones was about someone from the behind the scenes being a host…most likely Bernard.
The reveal itself came organically and a little sooner than what I expecting, but it was actually kind of cool to just put those cards on the table. It comes together pretty nicely when you think about it: Ford knew about Theresa’s and Bernard’s affair because he instructed his loyal host to do it (unfortunate rape implications mixed with unfortunate black-male-on-white-female violence implications, anyone?).
However, this reveal sort of either corroborates another theory or gets contradictory with the scenes of Bernard and Dolores having their private conversations. One idea is that those scenes are taking place about 34 years ago and Bernard is actually Arnold (well, Robert would have made Bernard in Arnold’s image). The other is that if Bernard knows that present-time Dolores is bugging, then he is telling Ford.
Onto other stories from “Trompe L’Oeil”, something else came across as extra gratuitous: Clementine and the unnamed host beating each other up. I was horrified when the host sucker punched Clementine because she was one of the most “lawful good” characters who had apparently done nothing wrong. The punch itself and subsequent violence had come out of nowhere and were particularly gross to watch—even more as she was not reacting.
To be clear, it wasn’t just the host beating up Clem that felt bad to watch…the turnaround wasn’t incredibly good either. From an audience point of view, I assume we were all supposed to be vindicated that she had fought back because she was now holding a grudge against the host, but it was pretty cruel nevertheless.
Plus, when you think about it, that entire scene was mainly to demonstrate how non-fragile the hosts actually are, so that Bernard’s act of violence upon Theresa felt more real and more concentrated. You saw it, the dude killed the woman in five seconds. It was brutal and not the kind of brutal that gets you cheering and serves as escapism (how, for example, American Horror Story was for me last week, though not for everyone). Here it was brutal mostly for the sake of being brutal and a tiny bit of storytelling/exposition.
The more lighter side of the episode featured mostly hard conversations taking place. We had Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale using Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector for sex (for what it’s worth, he seems unaffected by any potential growing consciousness), before a brief conversation with Theresa. The scene did serve some answers: to the contrary of my own predictions, Theresa was in fact stealing code from Westworld because Delos wants Ford out, but fears he may take his property with him.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get any answers on what happened with Elsie. I said last week that I was expecting it to be a fake out and she was okay, but after seeing Theresa, a character I deemed to be safe be brutally murdered, I am holding back on my expectations and just hoping for the best.
Not much happened with William and Dolores: they had sex, she drew a picture of a landscape she hadn’t seen, they were attacked by Los Confederados, they escaped and that’s it. Meh.
I guess you could say that William had his catharsis on who he is meant to be and that may forward the idea that he is the Man in Black, but nothing much else.
Maeve, however, had her own moment of sadness as she witnessed Clementine have her personality drilled from her. I have to say, what a terrible week for women/female actors in Westworld. I don’t know if Angela Sarafyan will be back as Clementine or someone else, but I really hope so—I actually cared for her character.
Back to Maeve, though, she did make a major decision when she asked/demanded the surgeons to help her escape Westworld. THIS is probably the most interesting thing that will go on in future episodes, so fingers crossed that she doesn’t get caught or anything.
I love Thandie Newton’s performance and the show would lose a lot by having Maeve be lobotomized or have her development taken away from her so soon.
- “Trompe L’oeil” is an art technique that makes a 2D image looks 3D. In the episode, it most definitely meant how Bernard was made to appear 100% human to everyone.
- Last week I commented about the cast’s chances of getting awards nominations and, just today, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton received noms for the Critics Choice Awards.
- To be clear, it’s not always black and white with this whole subject of female characters being killed in media. It’s that debate “if you want more representation and diverse characters, then you have to be okay when bad things happen to the minorities”. The thing is… I don’t have to be okay specially when it feels a bit gratuitous, overly violent, and teeming with bad implications. I do trust showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, but this episode felt like a setback for me.
- Ford mentioned that Bernard wasn’t always with him: he wasn’t there when Arnold was alive. That kind of got me thinking that Ford may have ordered Dolores to kill Arnold if he’s really dead.
- So, Bernard is from Ford’s special collection which allows hosts to kill humans unlike the hosts from the park. I can live with that explanation, I suppose.
- James Marsden and Ed Harris were featured in the opening…but not in the episode…? I’ve never seen HBO do that as the opening are usually pretty spot on on who shows up. Kind of makes me wonder if they had scenes that got cut.
- I guess that twist worked on the audience: this episode had the highest IMDB score so far. Sadly, I don’t quite agree.
- Westworld was just renewed for a season 2 in 2018.