Westworld – Episode Nine: The Well-Tempered Clavier

❉ Nearly every unanswered question has now been resolved as we build to the climax of the season.

If you’ve been following these reviews then you might recall that last week I mused on the sheer proliferation of life on earth and how it’s also lacking on the other planets we’ve studied.  True, we’ve only really surveyed the moon and Mars and there’s been some astonishing information released in the last week: for one thing, we may have identified ancient life on Mars after all and we’ve also discovered a gigantic ice sheet on the red planet.

Neither of these is firm proof of life, of course, but it’s still interesting, and holds out hope that we might not be quite so alone as we think.  As an aside, a pair of astronomers for Quebec’s Laval University speculated on what transmissions from an alien civilisation would look like, then searched to see if they could such a transmission.  They found 239.    Even if none of them pan out, the attention to astronomy and what it can teach us both about the universe and our own planet is welcome.

There’s life in ‘Westworld’ too, and it’s almost ready to make a bid for independence.  Almost every question has been answered now, save for a couple of big ones; just what exactly is Anthony Hopkins up to and what’s the significance of the maze?  It’s quite possible, of course, that Hopkins really does just want to play cowboy in the desert and is having a whale of a time at everyone else’s expense, but I’m hoping for slightly more in the end.  The big twist is certainly not that he’s about to lead a robot revolution given his scenes with Jeffrey Wright this week.

A highlight of the episode, the Hopkins/Wright scene took place throughout the episode (which admittedly doesn’t make a great deal of sense in regard to the timeline of what we’re watching, but then again the series hasn’t made that much sense in that area either – it’s impossible to tell how long all this has been playing out.  Yes, we’re watching a couple of the guests as they enjoy their holiday, but just how long were their tickets valid for in the first place?  I suspect their fortnight ended some time ago.  I also suspect, from what we’ve heard, that a fortnight in Westworld costs far more than I earn in a year, but it’s quite hard to judge that given just how few of the guests we’ve seen since the start of the series.  I can think of five, offhand, which suggests that either we’re watching events at the lowest point of the off-season, or Delos really needs to start doing some advertising.  But I digress).

Hopkins and Wright played the scene perfectly, Wright in particular who was passed the acting baton by Thandie Newton in the opening scene and then ran with it.  Newton didn’t have all that much to do this week, but by God Wright took his moment to shine as seriously as he could and gave a mesmerising performance.  Give the man an Emmy.  It’s not easy to convey the stunning heartbreak of learning your entire life is a lie and Wright does much of it silently.  It’s a mesmerising performance, in a series packed with strong performances.

To be brutal, it’s necessary because the series doesn’t really have all that much in its favour.  The performances have been wonderful, as have some of the philosophical discussions between them, but that’s pretty much all we’ve had. The plot certainly doesn’t ring true (we’re expected to believe that Hopkins has built a robot double of his late business partner and that no one noticed? Really?  Jeffrey Wright just turned up for work one day and no one said “Bugger me, mate, you look just like that robot programmer who used to work here and died so mysteriously.”  We keep hearing about how much attention The Board pay to Westworld (and it’s quite obvious that they’re only doing it because they want the technology – which is hardly surprising given that it’s being criminally wasted by a group of sex-crazed sadists in a theme park) and someone must surely have noticed that Jeffrey Wright looks like Arnold.  Throw in the hilarious revelation that Arnold was killed by Dolores and you have to wonder just how sane Hopkins is supposed to be in this.

He has a robot with known programming issues (something Jeffrey Wright seems to have been aware of – perhaps not consciously – since the first episode) and hasn’t had her deactivated.  The bloodbath at Westworld that we’re not going to see because this clearly isn’t that sort of series should be all but inevitable.  (Unless I’m wrong, and all five of the guests currently in the park are about to find themselves in grave danger.)  That’s something else that niggles – for all the intriguing conversations about consciousness and free will, this really isn’t ‘Westworld’.  I realise the name has some vague brand recognition, but mostly from people expecting a theme park in which robots run riot killing people. That’s not happening here, and I’ll be amazed if it happens in the last episode.

In the real world this week we learned that dogs have episodic memories, just like humans. In ‘Westworld’ we learned that Arnold’s programming was so damn good he created life.  The conversations we’ve been watching here are currently fiction, but I imagine that within my lifetime we’ll be seeing them played out for real.  Given that we’re only just now starting to understand how dogs think, I can’t see the robots of our future having a fun time of it; slavery and military use will be the most likely forms of employment for them, and I think the robot uprising is inevitable as a result.  Humans are pretty awful.

But then that’s what Hopkins has been saying since the start of the series, and so far he’s been spot on with everything he’s said.  Maybe he won’t turn out to be the villain after all, just a very flawed man who couldn’t afford to play cowboys unless he’d conned lots of businessmen into funding his wildest dreams and is now determined to live them out no matter what the cost.

We’ll find out next week.

 ‘Westworld’ airs on Sunday nights in the US on HBO, and on Tuesdays in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

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