Westworld: Trompe L’Oeil

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Season 1, Episode 7 – Trompe L’Oeil

Robert Ford has been compared to a God for several instances in the show, which is an apt description. After all, he created Westworld, can command the hosts to his will, and seemingly has more power than the corporation does. But with God-like powers comes the wrath of one as well, and we finally get to see this aspect of Ford. We’ve seen him part wisdom to others, intimidate his foes, create incredible things, and now, we’ve seen him punish those who dare oppose him.

“Trompe L’Oeil” is a momentous episode of the series for several reasons. It reveals so many things about the characters that we’ve been following since the beginning. Not just with Ford, of course, but with Bernard as well. Theories have abounded since the show’s start that one of the seemingly human characters is actually artificial. In a show where robots are indistinguishable from humans, it seems an inevitable plot twist, but the show doesn’t give us a reason to think that such a twist was necessary. None of the storylines have relied on the possibility that a human character was artificial. When Bernard is revealed as a host, we’re blindsided by it because the show has been so preoccupied by so many other plot threads that have nothing to do with hosts hiding under the noses of the humans. Our attention has been on Arnold, The Maze, Maeve’s evolution, industrial espionage, and the hosts becoming self-aware. The fact that Bernard is a host is only revealed when it was necessary, when Ford takes a drastic step into solidifying his control of Westworld. We’ve been witnessing an illusion all along, and we’ve only realized it when the veil was pulled from us.

But in true Westworld fashion, this game-changing reveal also raises so many questions. If Bernard was a host all along, then who else is? How many people has Ford brought to his creepy basement in order to kill? Will Theresa be replaced by a host that looks exactly like her under Ford’s control so that he can undermine the corporation? Was Bernard always a host, or was he one of Ford’s unfortunate victims? Who was Bernard’s wife that he was speaking to a few episodes back? All these questions arise only after Bernard is revealed as a host, but these aren’t the only questions that the episode brings up. Theresa plainly states that the corporation’s interest in Westworld go beyond just being a tourist attraction for wealthy guests. What, then, is the corporation’s true interest? Use a little imagination and you can come up with endless posibilities: Militarized hosts, body organ duplication, unethical human experiments on the hosts to advance medicine and science, business and government takeovers etc., etc.

The episode’s title, “Trompe L’Oeil,” means “a visual illusion in art, primarily used to trick the eye.” It’s an appropriate title not just because of the Bernard reveal, but because we’ve been watching a show that’s still establishing its many, many possibilities. While Arnold and The Maze are important storylines, they are mere tricks that distract us from what’s possible from the series. Their answers only lead to what Westworld exactly is, but not what’s beyond it. Just like Maeve uncovering the truth, the audience is doing the same. This episode doesn’t just reveal that Bernard is a host. It also reveals the true scope of the series, which goes much further than Westworld itself and the interrelationships of the people who work in it.

There are now so many different directions that the series can follow that it’s a bit overwhelming. In my review of the first episode, I was wondering how far the writers can take this concept in order to fill up several seasons. After all, the film it was based on only involved the hosts going berserk and killing their masters. That’s hardly a story worth telling in a long-form narrative, but now I have no doubts. There are so many places that this show can go to that would comfortably fill up five or more seasons at the rate they’re going.

9/10

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