Westworld Season 2 Episode 4 Recap: The Ultimate Panopticon
Westworld finally pulls back the curtain on the other project they’ve been doing.
One of the most frustrating things about Westworld, from the beginning, is the lack of taking their ability to do go science fiction seriously. The best sci-fi, for my money, is the kind where it’s like holding a funhouse mirror up to society, allowing audiences to process our current situation from the safe distance of behind a fantasy shroud. Battlestar Galactica, for instance, was a huge hit because it allowed us to process terrorism in a post-9/11 world from the safety of space and Cylons. Game of Thrones is super popular because of all the different facets of our society it’s digging into, and on any given week can be a meditation on power, politics, prestige or the patriarchy. (In their best moments, they mix and match.)
Bernard: I’m not here with you am I?
But Westworld, despite being well positioned to comment on artificial intelligence, technological progress, and virtual reality was mostly interested in hiding Bernard’s true nature and Ford’s plan, to the point it wasn’t clear what happened in the finale exactly, because fans were still trying to figure out where all the puzzle pieces fell.
This season has been a major overhaul. Since the premiere, there have been hints that the “the park is one thing to investors, another to park goers” is going to actually be a real statement and not some corporate buzz line. We’ve had evidence of data mining, and Charlotte Hale’s upload in peter Abernathy’s brain that the park literally will let everyone die for if they don’t get it. But what exactly is the data for?
This week, we finally got an answer: Eternal life. And from the looks of it, it’s a project that is all over the park in different pieces, and one known to Dolores and company since Amanda dragged Bernard to that lab.
Westworld has been experimenting with the format this season. Our last two episodes had cold opens, a first for the series. This week, we had our first “bottle episode,” with the totally self-contained story of what happened to James Delos, why he approved becoming the major shareholder of Westworld and what exactly he was talking about with William at the retirement party. It turns out for the last 25 years (give or take, based on Emily’s apparent age at the retirement party), he’s been the guinea pig for the project of creating a host of a real person.
James: I take it I didn’t recover.
This seems the most sensible next step for the park. the hosts are so real, why not make hosts of real people? But there’s a leap here that William and James assumed was easy, but isn’t. The cloning of an entire human brain. Hosts are *not* human. Not fully. They don’t have self-awareness, and they only carry enough programming to function in their preset loops. They only have the personality they need to be convincing for a few days at most. Not that Bernard is NOT a host clone of Arnold. Ford couldn’t (or wouldn’t) recreate his partner’s mind perfectly. He could make a perfect host body of it. But when it came to his mind, it was a facsimile and one that needed to be data dumped every o often to keep from overloaded. Hosts were not designed to process the whole of a one human’s life experience, and as we learn from William by the hour’s end, 25 years on, they’re making incremental process, but not enough to justify continuing, in his mind.
But does the board agree with him? Obviously, someone is desperate to get that information out of the park, and it’s not William. We have Emily (let’s not call her Grace, that was silly), who has sketches of the symbol in her notebook and has crossed park lines in a way that no regular user would think to do. And the idea of cloning people, based on the data gathered inside the park is a key plot point in Futurworld. Not so they can live forever, but as “Sleeper Hosts” to do Delos’ bidding in political and business arenas. Either way, this is technology, however imperfect, that is valuable to a great many people.
So now we know what the secondary labs are with the new symbols and the drone hosts are for. (And we know there are at least 12 of these off-grid labs.) We also know at least a few more timeline plot points:
- William announced he was shutting down the project, but told the lab tech not to off Delos, let him “run himself down.” But Delos was still running when Elsie and Bernard walked in, so clearly he hadn’t run down yet. That means the scene where William decided to can the project was probably the same day as The Man In Black’s arrival at Dolores’ homestead in the Season 1 premiere, since in real time it’s been probably a week to ten days.
- Sometime during the events of Season 1, after William’s last visit, but before Bernard attacked Elsie and put her in the cave, Ford sent him to that lab to “shut it down” and kill all the people working in it. That means Ford knew about the project, and also wanted it brought to a halt before he launched his New Narrative, right after Bernard made one last cloned host brain. But whose?
- The drone hosts recognize Bernard as an authority. Chances are he was sent to all the labs over the course of the last 25 years even if he remembers none of them.
- Bernard really is completely unreliable in terms of a narrator. Elsie’s description of his memories reminded me of when one uploads a giant music collection of mostly ripped and illegally downloaded tracks which have no artist, album, or song title label. Ford really did not plan for Bernard to survive his death.