Westworld Recap: “The Stray”

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Maddy and Teresa have both been watching HBO’s Westworld, which is already shaping up to be about as controversial as its fellow HBO offering Game of Thrones, even just among our own staff. Teresa seems to be the Mulder when it comes to Westworld, while Maddy seems more like the Scully. The two are tag-teaming recaps this season and sharing their different takes on the show.

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THE RECAP SECTION

The episode opens with Dolores and Bernard having one of their now-regular chats. Bernard gives Dolores a gift: a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, telling her that he used to read to his son Charlie from it. She asks him where Charlie is now, but he tells her she wouldn’t understand. He asks her to read a passage aloud, and when he asks her what it brings to mind for her, she mentions that it, like other passages he’s asked her to read from other books, has to do with change.

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Later, Dolores wakes up for her day like usual and goes about her chores. When she opens her dresser drawer, she finds a gun wrapped in cloth, which seems to trigger [Teresa: pun only retroactively intended] her memory of being raped by The Man in Black. [Maddy: In Westworld’s stronger moments, which I would consider this scene to be, I wonder if the show specifically wants to invoke a PTSD metaphor here–in which case, “trigger” would indeed be the correct word to describe these types of involuntary flashbacks.] We see a bit more of the scene this time; after he throws her into the pile of hay, he says “Let’s reacquaint ourselves. Start from the beginning” as he approaches with a knife. When she snaps out of the memory, she looks in the drawer again, and there’s no gun.

William wanders around Sweetwater and happens upon some ne’er-do-wells having themselves a shoot-out. Clementine gets mixed up in it and is taken hostage by the shooter left standing. William makes like he’s gonna save her, and the host shooter shoots AND HITS HIM. He falls to the ground. However, as he’s about to abscond with Clementine, William sits up and shoots the host, freeing Clementine. She is very grateful, but William is too much of a Nice Guy to allow her to “show her gratitude.” When Logan arrives, William asks “I thought we couldn’t get shot?” Logan replies that they can’t be killed, but that it wouldn’t be much fun if there were zero risk. We also learn that apparently, William is engaged to Logan’s sister, which explains why they’re hanging out in spite of not getting along well. William seems to have grown into his marksmanship, and rather than be boring like Logan and screwing and drinking all day, he decides to be a bounty hunter instead. Logan reluctantly tags along.

Theresa confronts Bernard about Ford starting a new storyline in secret, assuming he knows something about it (he doesn’t). She says that the new storyline is starting to wreak havoc on the other storylines, and that Bernard should come to her with anything he finds out.

Bernard goes to see Elsie, who is working with the host Rebus. She tells Bernard about her suspicions regarding Walter’s incident. Showing him the footage from Walter’s rampage, she points out that Walter was having a conversation with someone named “Arnold.” Bernard dismisses this as a normal part of the program. She points out that Walter killed 6 hosts while letting the other three in the space go. The six he killed were responsible for killing him in a previous storyline. “It’s almost like he’s holding a grudge,” she says. A stray host is reported as being on the loose at the park, and Bernard tells Elsie to go after it, and that he’ll do “a little bit more digging” into the Walter situation.

Elsie meets up with Stubbs in the elevator to go out to the park. When she wonders why he’s so strapped with weapons, he points out that the only thing keeping the hosts from going nuts is one line of her code, and that he’s not taking any chances.

Teddy is with a female guest, and they take down some more ne’er-do-wells. They enter the saloon, and the woman practically leaps up the stairs behind Clementine for her special discount. [Teresa: I love how they’ve had several women either be approached or pursue prostitutes at the brothel like it ain’t no thang. Maddy: This makes me all the more curious about what the rest of this version of the future is like… and how far away from ours it is.] When Maeve sees Teddy, she briefly remembers seeing him in the glass enclosure, riddled with bullet holes and being hosed down, but snaps out of it, feeling very off. Teddy sees Dolores in the street like usual, and he goes to her.

Teddy and Dolores get to their usual scene alone together, but this time, when he talks about needing to go, she asks “What if I don’t want to stay?” When she asks if she can go with him to see more of the world, he tells her that “someday” they will. This word bothers her, because it sounds like the kind of word you use that actually means “never.” [Maddy: I loved this scene; it’s evidence of how much Dolores has changed. In the pilot we got to see her look wide-eyed and naive about Teddy’s grand adventures. In this new version, she seems morose and world-weary.] She wants to go now, but he talks about how he was a different man before he met her, and he basically has to atone before they can be together.

Having seen this, Ford inspects Teddy and decides that, rather than this vague guilt and no backstory that motivates him, Teddy needs a new backstory. A “worthy origin. A fiction which, like all great stories, is rooted in truth.” He programs him with a story about a foe named Wyatt… [Maddy: In this scene, we also learn that the reason Teddy plays this particular role in Westworld is so that he can prevent Dolores from leaving town; she’s doomed to always wait for him to come back. Doesn’t seem like Teddy is enough of a motivation for Dolores to stick around these days, though, and I’m not sure that giving him a more compelling backstory is going to solve the problem…]

Later, Dolores is surrounded by three men (two hosts and one human guest) as she walks down the main street. The men try to have sex with her, but they are stopped by Teddy, who threatens to shoot them. The human guest decides to forego pursuing Dolores, because Teddy makes it more trouble than it’s worth to him.

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Teddy then teaches Dolores how to shoot a gun, but when she takes aim she physically can’t pull the trigger. Hosts can’t kill living things, after all. [Maddy: My read on this scene is that she’s been specifically programmed to be unable to shoot a gun, even if it’s at a lifeless target. If so, that’s pretty disturbing.] The sheriff shows up for Teddy’s assistance. Wyatt is on the loose, and as Teddy’s the only one who’s “met him and lived to tell the tale,” he has to go with the sheriff to catch him. Dolores understands, and we understand that this backstory is for her benefit. To keep her content to stay right where she is.

As Elsie and Stubbs look for the stray host, they happen upon a camp where the other men that are part of his storyline are stuck without him. Upon inspecting their tents they see that the stray has been carving strange patterns into his woodcarvings. Stubbs doesn’t get the importance of backstories. [Maddy: Maybe those carvings are a map? We’ve already seen at least one other mysterious map in the previous episode.]

Teddy tells the sheriff the story of how he knew Wyatt: “Wyatt was my sergeant. My friend.” Apparently, Wyatt left his men and came back with “some strange ideas.” Chief among them that their land didn’t belong to anyone fighting over it, but to “something else.” [Teresa: that “something else” emits a noise that is quite reminiscent of the monster being loosed on Lost.] Teddy and his cohorts find a bunch of corpses tied to a tree; one of the corpses is still alive, actually, but before anyone can question him, a bunch of mysterious bad guys (Wyatt’s new recruits, Teddy suspects) show up and start shooting at them.

As Stubbs and Elsie continue looking for the stray, Stubbs points out that the etchings on the woodcarvings are actually constellations. But…hosts weren’t programmed to go off stargazing…

As Ford and Bernard begin to discuss Bernard’s concerns about the hosts hearing voices, Ford derides and corrects an engineer who covers a naked male host for modesty. Ford rips the covering off the host and cuts into it with a scalpel. He reminds the engineer that the hosts are not people. They’re things.

Ford then tells Bernard about his former business partner whose name was—wait for it—Arnold, and how in the early years of the park, he and Arnold and the rest of their team spent 3 years holed up in the park perfecting the hosts. Arnold wanted to give them real consciousness, but Ford did not. Eventually, something happened that made the company scrub Arnold’s existence from its record, which is why Bernard had never heard of him before. This was 30 years ago. He explains that Arnold “died here in the park,” and that his search for consciousness consumed him. [Maddy: I thought this was a science-fiction show, not a ghost show!! Kidding, kidding…]

That's young Dr. Ford on the left, and Arnold on the right.

That’s young Dr. Ford on the left, and Arnold on the right.

Ford reminds Bernard that the hosts are not real, and when Bernard claims to “know that,” Ford brings up the death of Bernard’s son, Charlie.

[Maddy: This whole scene made me think that perhaps Dr. Ford knows about Bernard’s secret meetings with Dolores. After all, he rebukes one of the other programmers for putting clothes on a robot during analysis, which Bernard has been doing for Dolores, and also Dr. Ford bringing up Charlie seems too coincidental not to be indicative of something. That said, this is all strange coming from Dr. Ford, who in the pilot episode seemed to sympathize much more with the robots than with humans, and he’s had some robot friends of his own too, like the old robot who he shares a drink with in the pilot episode (with clothes on). And, of course, we saw Dr. Ford talking to the little boy robot in the desert, too, in the previous episode.]

Bernard gets on a futuristic-looking Skype call with Charlie’s mother, Lauren (Gina Torres). They reminisce about Charlie, and Lauren asks him if he ever wishes he could forget Charlie. His response: “This pain is all I have left of him.”

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Teddy and co. end up getting ambushed during their search for Wyatt. Teddy ends up getting hacked to pieces. Poor guy always ends up dead, no matter what the storyline. [Teresa: Oh my God, they killed Teddy! YOU BASTARDS!] [Maddy: When Teddy shoots his attackers, his bullets have no effect on them, even though he’s clearly hitting them at close range. Is Wyatt’s cult made up of human guests??? Teresa: However, we also learn in this episode that host bullets can affect a person if they get hit, too. This is something that I don’t get. The “bullets” affected William and cause him to fall when he’s shot, but The Man In Black doesn’t seem affected at all. Maybe the pain of whatever it is that hits you can be gotten used to?]

Bernard and Dolores in another session, and Bernard is trying to decide whether or not to reset Dolores back the way she was. He asks her to imagine there are two of her: one who feels things and asks questions, the other who’s safe. Which would she choose to be? In improvisation-only mode, she responds, “There aren’t two versions of me. There’s only one. And I think when I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” [Teresa: Whaaaaaaat?!]

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Bernard asks her what prompted that response, and she says she doesn’t know, then asks if she’s made a mistake. Bernard talks about how evolution is basically a series of mistakes. Dolores’ eyes are almost brimming with tears. Bernard doesn’t want to change her. [Maddy: I’m not sure he can change her. It seems like she’s begun to remember everything, even when he tries to erase logs or reset her programming.]

Dolores goes about the rest of her evening and, without Teddy this time, gets home in time to see that her father’s been shot. A guest (one of the three that accosted her in the street earlier) takes her into the barn to rape her, but when Dolores looks up at him, she flashes back to The Man in Black. Suddenly, there’s a gun in her hand —the same gun that she found in her drawer, and that Teddy used to teach her how to shoot. She points it at the guest and, at first, can’t pull the trigger. But the more she thinks about The Man in Black, the angrier she gets. SHE SHOOTS, and KILLS the guest. [Maddy: I think this guy is a robot, though, unlike the Man In Black? But she didn’t even have the ability to shoot at an empty box before, so clearly, something has changed.] She runs out of the barn, hears her mother in danger, and is about to go find her when one of the other guest shoots her. At first, she’s bleeding, then suddenly she’s not. She gets on a horse and rides away. [Maddy: This scene seemed like an amalgamation of different memories, since we see multiple different human guests repeating–like flashbacks on Dolores’ part. I’m not sure which of these scenarios is the “real” one. Perhaps they all happened during different play-throughs? Either way, Dolores is definitely remembering that this has happened before, and finding new ways to escape–even without Teddy there.]

Elsie and Stubbs have found the stray host in a crevasse. Elsie puts him in sleep mode, and Stubbs goes down to retrieve him, and almost gets killed. The stray climbs out of the crevasse using Stubbs’ rope, and as he’s about to kill Elsie, he self-sabotages, hitting himself in the head with a small boulder.

Dolores stumbles upon William and Logan’s campsite, pulling her horse behind her. She falls into William’s arms, unconscious. And on a show that’s all about consciousness, that’s a big deal.

THE OPINION SECTION

Teresa: This episode was the best yet, and writers Lisa Joy and Daniel T. Thomsen did an amazing job of weaving many disparate threads together in a way that makes some kind of sense.

It was also exciting in that it gave us even more tiny morsels to puzzle over. One of which was the information on Dr. Ford’s business partner, “Arnold.” Arnold was in the park 30 years ago, then “died.” He was obsessed with figuring out consciousness for the host. Is “Arnold” The Man in Black? Is Arnold a first name or a last name? If it’s a last name, could it be William’s last name and is “William Arnold’s” storyline happening in the past? A time shift would also explain Ford doing a complete 180 from sympathizing with the hosts to forcefully reminding the engineers that hosts are not people. What soured his apples?

Another morsel: For some reason, based on how Ford connected Bernard’s sympathy for hosts to Charlie’s death, a part of me wonders if Charlie and Lauren are even real. How sad would it be if Bernard had tried to make himself a robot family. Either Lauren’s fake/a host, or Bernard is just cheating on Lauren with Theresa. I vote robot family. Cheating is so boring.

Something that really fascinated me was Dr. Ford giving Teddy a backstory “that like all good stories, is rooted in truth.” How many of the narratives are “inspired by” real-life events? Which elements are “true?” And are we talking about Truth, Capital “T,” or actual true things that have happened? When we hear about Wyatt, or Arnold, are we then supposed to try and see which of the engineers those stories fit?

From the continuing mystery of the “glitch” in the hosts that’s making them talk to Arnold, to Dolores’ speedy evolution, to hosts apparently holding grudges, the show is peppered with mysteries that I both want the answers to, and never do.

The cast continues to bring their “A” games, and Evan Rachel Wood’s performance in this episode is her best of the show so far. Her face is so expressive, even when she’s stone still as a host, and her final session with Bernard where she posits the idea that there’s only one of her and that she wants to be free killed me! There were tears brimming in her eyes. It was heartbreaking and flawless.

The thing I love most about the show so far is that the “consciousness” isn’t just happening to one “protagonist host.” Obviously, we’re placed firmly in Dolores’ corner, but Maeve is also waking up. This “stray” in this episode is also waking up. I love that the show is about collective consciousness of a species, rather than the One Woman Rises Up to Change the World approach. It’s going to take all the hosts rising up together to make a difference here, and it looks like that might be starting to happen.

However, every good revolution needs allies, and it’s clear that someone is helping Dolores and the others speed their consciousness along, encouraging them to take action. I said this in the recap for “Chestnut,” but I just can’t believe that every single human would be so callous and horrible when it comes to the hosts, and I’m thrilled that this episode continued to prove me right. Bernard is as conflicted as ever. Elsie, if she doesn’t see them as conscious at the very least is fascinated by the changes she’s seeing in them from a scientist perspective. And you have that one engineer that put a cover over the naked host he was working with. I have to imagine he’s not the only one, and I’m so glad these people are being depicted, too. SOMETIMES PEOPLE HAVE SOULS AND CONSCIENCES, YOU GUYS!

The host revolution won’t only be the product of the hosts rising up. It will be the product of humans helping them do it. The question is, will the hosts care that these humans helped? Or will they unleash equal amounts of wrath on the likes of Bernard for supporting their oppression for so long? There’s a really interesting featurette on the making of Westworld, where Evan Rachel Wood talks about the possibilities of a host uprising, and that while yes, it could be a bloody one…that’s looking at it from a human perspective. If the hosts are their own species with their own evolving consciousness…it shouldn’t be automatic that they’d be as bad as we can be. What if they’re better? Then again, as Thandie Newton points out in the same featurette, both humans and AI are taught so much of their behavior. We learn things like love and hate. So, if all the hosts see and learn is hatred…

It’s these philosophical questions that, for me, are the heart of Westworld, and why I’m so fascinated by the show. We see a lot of the worst of humanity on this show. But we also see some of the best. We see sympathy and empathy. We see exploration and inventiveness. And we also see that not everything is black and white. Ethics and morals don’t exist on a binary, but a nuanced spectrum, and we’re beginning to get into the complexities of that on the show. William and Dolores, a human and a host who each tend toward goodness are beginning to find their rage, whereas Elsie is starting to understand that there’s more to the hosts than meets the eye, despite her skepticism in the pilot.

And then there’s the titular “Stray.” This is basically the first time we’ve seen what amounts to a host suicide. As Elsie mentioned, it’s as if “he got a thought into his head” and went out on a mission. Was this an example of a host not being able to handle the flashbacks and memories? Or unable to handle desires like wanting to see stars? Was it motivated by self-hatred and not being human? Or was it a simple glitch? OR was it a host that was about to kill a person but, in a display of conscience, stopped itself? A part of me wonders if the Stray went out there specifically to kill himself, tried jumping into the crevasse, and it didn’t do the job, so he climbed out and just ended himself with a rock. We don’t know yet, but I was moved by this host, and am curious as to what his suffering might have been.

The one weak link for me right now on Westworld is Theresa Cullen, as she seems to have zero motivation for anything she does other than “This is my job (and also my function in the script), so I have to say these things to be a foil.” It’s a shame, too, since we share a name. That’s what she gets for spelling her name with an “h,” I guess. But seriously, yawns happen whenever she’s on screen. It has nothing to do with the actress, mind you, but we still don’t know what’s up with her, and she doesn’t seem to have a personality. Yeah, she’s the head of Quality Assurance, and yeah she’s sleeping with Bernard…but so? The rest of the supporting cast of human Westworld employees each seem to have a certain amount of personal investment in the park. What’s hers? I’m sure it will be revealed, but I also don’t think it should’ve taken more than three episodes to understand what her deal is beyond being the corporate nag.

Despite all that, each episode of Westworld seems to be getting better and better, which is exactly what all shows should strive to do. I’m definitely looking forward to what’s ahead!

AND FOR ADDED BONUS FUN: If you go to discoverwestworld.com and type “whitehatblackhat” into the Access box in the upper right of the screen, you’ll be able to take a quiz to see where you fit into Westworld. (I’m the Sheriff, because apparently I’m so lawful) But even MORE interesting, you’ll get to book a stay, and check out Westworld’s prices. OOF, these prices. Only, like, 5 people in the world would actually be able to afford a stay there for any significant amount of time if this were real:

westworld-prices

Maddy: Just to respond to one of Teresa’s points right up top, I had actually assumed that Bernard and Lauren had gotten a divorce after Charlie’s death, since that’s a common situation for parents who have a child that dies very young. Since they don’t say “I’ll see you at home” or “I love you” or anything like that, it doesn’t seem like they’re together anymore, and that they only have occasional phone conversations to reminisce about Charlie … which sounds healthy, actually. Except for the part where Bernard’s paternal relationship with Dolores is a sign that perhaps he isn’t moving on. Get a therapist, Bernard, and stop trying to psychoanalyze yourself through your work!

I did also wonder whether Bernard had attempted to create a robot version of his son, because … it seems like it would be very tempting, given his line of work. However, it also seems like something that Dr. Ford would find out about, if it happened (waste of company resources, and all). I already suspect that Dr. Ford knows more about Bernard’s secret meetings with Dolores than he’s letting on, so if Bernard has a secret robot family, I bet Dr. Ford knows about that too! In general though, I don’t get the sense that Bernard has anything too secret going on. I’ll have to eat my hat on this if we meet Bernard’s robot family in the next episode. Dr. Ford, on the other hand…!! That guy’s got secrets!!

I definitely agree this episode was the best so far, and that’s probably because it focused much more on the aspects of Westworld that are the most interesting for me. I think this show is at its strongest when it sticks with the big picture philosophy: the concept of life and death and consciousness and awareness, humans wanting to create life (either in the form of children or robots), and the overarching video game metaphors. The fact that many of the storylines in Westworld apparently revolve around raping women seems odd to me, though, and I play videogames. Like, yeah, videogames are pretty bad, but I think the players who engage with games in that way are the minority, you know? I guess I just don’t buy that there would be that many human guests who are interested in shooting up Dolores’ farmhouse and raping her, but according to Westworld, this is a very popular storyline, and we see Dolores flashback to lots of different variations on it in this episode. Perhaps I just don’t have a dim enough view of human nature to believe that aspect of the show, which is surprising to me, because I thought I was actually pretty misanthropic! Westworld has got me beat on that one.

Luckily, those storylines took a back seat this episode because we instead got to learn a lot more about how Westworld works–my favorite part of this show. The new layer with Arnold is fascinating to me, although I will say right up top that I don’t trust Dr. Ford’s version of the story. As I noted in the recap, we already saw Dr. Ford getting overly familiar with robots in previous episodes. I think that it’s entirely possible that Dr. Ford was the one who got too emotionally involved with the robots before, and that his cautionary tale about Arnold could have more aspects than we know. Dr. Ford implied that Arnold killed himself–but why would he do that? I think it’s possible Dr. Ford killed him. Also, I’m very curious about whether any of this is related to the Man In Black, who is notably absent in this entire episode, apart from Dolores’ very brief flashbacks.

Ford’s new “voice of God” storyline sounds like it’s going to involve Dr. Ford literally “playing God” in Westworld, which Teresa guessed after in last week’s episode. It’s interesting to hear Dr. Ford be so judgmental of the power fantasies that Lee wrote in the previous episode, when he seems to be playing out his own large-scale power fantasy by “playing God” with his creations. That said, I think the show would be more interesting if Dr. Ford isn’t 100% evil, and if he instead sympathizes with the robots more, as opposed to just wanting to be God, which would be kind of a boring motivation. I think the show will probably surprise us with this one, since I’ve been consistently surprised so far with the twists, at least when it comes to Dr. Ford.

Since Dolores and William actually interact in this episode, seemingly in the same timeline as everyone else, I’m not sure I buy the theories that William is from a previous Westworld timeline–but I could be wrong about that too. There are a lot of flashbacks and dream sequences on this show, so it’s really hard to say when anything is happening. That creates some interesting storytelling quandaries, which again, I’m really enjoying.

I’m still the “bad sheriff” to Teresa’s “good sheriff” here, though, which is to say that I do still have some problems with Westworld. The big one still is that I don’t think any of the robots can reasonably consent to anything that is happening to them, since they do appear to have consciousness (although Dr. Ford doesn’t want to admit that, I think they do, at least from what we’ve seen so far). So, that means that any time the robots are having sex with human guests, it’s not consensual–at least, I don’t think so, especially for Dolores, who has made it clear to the viewer that she actively doesn’t consent to what’s happening to her and she would leave Westworld if she could. I’m guessing that would also be the case for the other robots, although we haven’t seen their perspectives quite as much yet. That’s why I’m not that excited about these brothel scenes; I’m all for sex work if the terms have been established for all involved, but this isn’t a situation where the host characters can consent, which creates problems… none of which the show has navigated yet.

I did think the conversation that Dolores and Bernard have about Dolores’ personhood presents an interesting layer, though. Bernard believes Dolores has two selves: one that is blissfully ignorant, and one that is aware that she is imprisoned. But she doesn’t see it that way at all; she sees herself as one being, who at times is aware of what’s happening and at other times seems less aware, based on if she’s having a flashback or a moment of clarity or not. It’s all still her, though. At least, that’s how she sees it. Unfortunately for Bernard, though, once all of the robots become aware of what’s happening to them, I don’t think they’re going to be all that happy about it. I have more thoughts about that–mostly thoughts on how they could do it wrong, haha–but I’m going to give Westworld a chance to play their story out. There are a lot of different directions the inevitable robot uprising could go in terms of narrative, and I’ll admit I’m curious to see how they do it here.

One last point, though: this show is about robot sex slaves, so there’s a lot of sexy sex stuff on this show, not to mention lots of casual nudity, but, in terms of overall messaging, Westworld seems pretty sex-negative to me so far. We have yet to see a sex scene that doesn’t involve dubious consent in some form. Even Bernard and Theresa’s relationship involves a displaced power dynamic: she’s his boss, and their relationship is probably against the rules at work (they’re keeping it a secret, after all). I’d like for Westworld to show us a positive and consensual version of sex and relationships at some point, just so the viewers get that it’s possible. This is also part of my larger concern about the show’s overall misanthropic message–is there really no hope for anyone here? (This is probably why I had to stop watching Game of Thrones, huh? Just kidding, I stopped watching Game of Thrones because all the torture scenes were giving me panic attacks. But the show’s dismal message didn’t help much, either.)

I guess I’m saying I want Westworld the TV show to have the same sense of narrative meaning that its theme park has… just like the Man In Black said in the previous episode, I don’t want my stories to be meaningless chaos, I want them to have some sort of meaning. Never thought I’d have anything in common with that guy, but here we are!

I want to believe there’s some hope for these characters to be in relationships that have fair power dynamics, as opposed to non-consensual ones and uneven ones. I don’t need them to have a “happy ending,” but I do think that the power of choice is an important theme of this show, and I’d like to see Westworld incorporate that theme into its depiction of relationships. Perhaps we’ll see Theresa and Bernard’s relationship evolve into something more balanced and communicative, or perhaps Teddy and Dolores will get the happy ending they deserve–who knows??? We’ll have to wait and see.

(images via screencaps)

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