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I suspect if you haven’t been following the various theories regarding Westworld online (or even reading these reviews), the twist at the end of “Trompe L’Oeil” was a game changer for you. However, if like me, you had deduced the true nature of Bernard a some point earlier in the season, I suspect the moment landed with a bit of a thud. Not a hollow thud, mind you, but a beat that simple left you mumbling “Yes, and?” following the reveal.
And that isn’t a bad thing. While I think this particular “twist” could have been revealed earlier in the season to greater effect, I don’t mind it coming to light as it did in the episode. Bernard was really only important to two humans within the story: Elsie and Theresa. And now, it appears that he has dispatched both women (one assumes his “abrupt departure” from Theresa last week, which she mentioned, was to get to Elsie). I also suspect that we haven’t seen the last of either woman- at least in some form.
As with my Bernard theories in earlier reviews, I have a new theory to throw out there. I suspect that the host Ford is making in the secret house will turn out to be a host version of Theresa or Elsie. It makes sense on a story level: Theresa mysteriously disappearing while the Delos board is sniffing around won’t look good and won’t go unnoticed. And, what better way to help stack the deck in your favor than by turning a critic into an ally? From an outside HBO business perspective, Sidse Babett Knudsen is too good of a get to lose after only seven episodes- despite her recent interviews stating she’s done after episode seven (similarly, Jeffrey Wright is too good of a get to have him just play a dull technician- having him play a complicated host is much more within his wheelhouse). As for Elsie, perhaps she will return from her “leave” a changed woman?
However, there is an issue with this particular “twist,” and it could become a major problem. When dealing with a story where you are messing with the perception of the audience in terms of which characters are “real” and which are “fake,” too much misdirection can backfire. It can be successfully handled, like in Battlestar Galactica and the search for the “final five.” Or it can get trying quickly, like in Dollhouse. There has to be a cap on the idea- a point at which that particular mystery is solved. As it currently stands, anyone could be a host in the current present arc of the show (in the past arc, the one with William, it’s pretty clear that William is human). And that is something the show will have to address.
If your audience is suspicious of the motivations of every character on the screen, they cannot relate to them or trust their feelings regarding their actions, their hopes, their dreams. The reason Maeve and Dolores have been the show’s most successful characters so far is that we know who and what they are. We aren’t waiting to see if there’s a twist surrounding their characters (although there is still the timeline reveal with Dolores to contend with- but the two Dolores characters have been delineated well enough to makes this work). But someone like Stubbs? He could be a host. He could be someone completely different than what we once thought. And that means we can’t trust him or his reactions to anything. And that same can be said for any of the apparently “human” characters working in the labs. They are all now suspect.
But, even though the twist didn’t land as such for me (and, I suspect, a large portion of the audience), it was still a nice plot point. There were more than enough clues dropped along the way to make the revelation work within the narrative. And while it turns Ford into a power hungry killer and removes some of the nuance of the character, I like how it positions his character moving forward. He becomes a more formidable adversary for Delos, which was something sorely needed. As lovely as it is to watch Anthony Hopkins deliver gorgeous philosophical speeches, it’s even better to see him get a complex character to sink his teeth into.
— In the “Is William really The Man in Black?” corner: It certainly looks like William is changing, and not for the better. Being seduced by the action, adventure, and love story he’s currently playing out certainly would make the prospect of returning back to the real world way less enticing. Which, over the years, absolutely could turn bright eyed, white hat William into The Man in Black.
— Let’s take a second to look into the Maeve arc. She wants out of the simulation and into the real world. Apparently “everything” about her was made to prevent that from happening. Likewise, Delos’s ultimate goal is to get the tech and use it in the real world. It seems, with multiple forces wanting a way to get hosts out of Westworld and into the world, that has to happen before the end of the season, right? Like, perhaps, the season will end with Maeve getting out? It’s not quite Chekhov’s gun, but it’s certainly a red klaxon blaring.
— For those who didn’t take French, Trompe L’Oeil literally means to deceive the eye and is “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.” So, the hosts in a nutshell.