“There aren’t two versions of me. There’s only one.”
Season 1, Episode 3 – The Stray
After two episodes of establishing the world and introducing the characters, Westworld kicks into high gear with The Stray, ending with Dolores snapping out of the loop. It’s an exciting progression to finally see even though the show has been building up to this inevitability. Despite this, the show still finds the time to explore its back story and how events from the past might provide valuable insight with what’s happening to the hosts.
It’s revealed that Robert Ford had a partner years ago named Arnold who was responsible for the hosts’ life-like attributes. Not satisfied with simply passing the Turing test, Arnold wanted the hosts to have human consciousness, but accomplishing this was inhumane considering that the hosts were put in the park for entertainment purposes. The search for human consciousness was abandoned and Arnold eventually died from mysterious circumstances in the park itself. It’s a scene that is full of exposition, but Anthony Hopkins’ layered performance makes it intriguing because you just know that he’s not telling the complete story. Or perhaps he is, but you can fill in some of the details yourself because the scene is written in a way that allows Ford to avoid going into specifics.
Another reason why the scene works so well is because the audience is privy to some of Ford’s intentions. Just last episode we can make a pretty good guess that Ford is continuing Arnold’s work in secret. It’s further reinforced in this episode because before his exposition dump, we see Ford chastise one of the technicians who covered up a naked host while working on it to preserve its modesty. Ford overreacts and rips the sheet away, emphasizing that the host can’t feel modesty or shame and even drives a scalpel on its face to prove his point. It’s a bit of a shock considering that this is the first time we see the mild-mannered Ford treat a host cruelly, but by the end of the scene we know full well that his public outburst serves to hide his true intentions.
We’ll see how long Ford can hide his true intentions and motivations, but the supporting characters in the show are catching up much faster than I expected. Bernard has been conducting secret meetings with Dolores in an attempt to figure out why Dolores remains different from the other hosts. In this episode Bernard’s suspicions are confirmed when Dolores gives a surprisingly profound answer to an abstract question. Instead of reverting Dolores’ programming to stop the aberration, Bernard lets it go to see where it will lead. He also pointedly tells Dolores to stay in her loop, which she disobeys by the end of the episode.
Elsie and Ashley are also catching up to the fact that the hosts’ abnormalities run deeper than what a simple change of code can correct. In their search for a host who strayed too far from his own storyline, they discover the hosts’ hobby where he crafts woodwork inspired by the Orion constellation. Elsie is troubled by this because the host isn’t programmed to even notice the stars. After finally finding the stray host, it breaks free from Elsie’s controls and attempts to kill Elsie before killing itself. Whether this was a last-minute program control from Elsie or the stray did it of his own will has yet to be determined.
It’s clear by now that Dolores isn’t the only host who’s beginning to overcome their programming. Both Dolores and the stray ended their loops through violent means. It’s established in an earlier scene that Dolores isn’t programmed to fire a gun, but a traumatic memory and a mysterious voice heard only by Dolores enables her to shoot her would-be rapist and flee her attackers. Ford mentioned earlier that the problem with giving consciousness to hosts is that some of them can turn into lunatics because of it, believing it to be the voice of God telling them what to do. This tidbit is valuble because Dolores has been hearing this voice for two episodes now and it’s possible that the process of developing a consciousness is turning her into a lunatic at the same time.
It’s an interesting development because it shows that breaking away from their programming comes with even bigger problems. The hosts might not simply desire freedom once they become self-aware. They might lose their own sanity at the same time and be inevitably drawn to violent acts. They won’t be doing violent acts just because they want revenge on their masters. They’ll be doing it because they’ll have no choice in the matter. Becoming self-aware comes with a heavy price, which raises an interesting question. Would you rather keep living your regular life and forgetting all the horrible events that happen to you after the day, or would you rather have freedom and be able to choose what you do, but live with the trauma at the same time?