Westworld - S1E9: The Well-Tempered Clavier - Review: Hey Arnold!
“The answers are coming”- It was possibly the biggest lie ever told in promotion of a TV show when Sky marketed the arrival of Lost’s 4th season with that tagline. At a time when for many viewers, the rapture of the show was giving way to frustration over its seemingly endless unexplained mysteries. They told us the answers were coming to give us hope only to rip it apart harder than a boar thrown into the polar bear cage when practically none did, and so began a significant decline in the show’s ratings. In its penultimate episode of this season (it’s finally been renewed), Westworld finds itself in that same position. As viewers knowing the end is near, we’re telling ourselves, “The answers are coming”. The question is, will the show deliver satisfying rewards and make its mystery worthwhile? Or will everything be left unanswered making us wonder why we bothered. Thankfully, it’s the first one. Instead of being another Lost, Westworld has found its way and brilliantly delivers some big reveals while setting up for a great finale.
The Well Tempered Clavier – After an encounter with Maeve, Bernard forces Ford to give him access to all his memory archives but is he ready for the whole truth? Logan tries to convince Will that Delores is just a machine while she follows a path to her own truth.
Right from the start of the season, anyone even vaguely aware of 70's film has been thinking about when we’ll see the hosts turn against the guests. Now it’s no surprise that such acts of revolution are being saved for the season finale but I really loved the way this episode showed some characters firmly crossing a line of distain. They’re not just mulling over ideas of self-awareness, they’re actively bitter and hateful towards their “o’ natural” counterparts. From Maeve literally spelling it out to Bernard, “We’re stronger than them, smarter.... we don’t have to live this way”. To Delores enraged at Logan after being mutilated, “There is beauty in this world, Arnold made it that way but you people keep spreading over it like a stain!”. Delores in particular drives home the key message of sympathy to view the hosts as a violated and persecuted people and many of their human counterparts deserving of a Tarantino ending to their Wild West adventures.
Easily the best story this week is Bernard as he goes inside his memory archives. Firstly, this builds well on the past remarks between Maeve, Felix and Sylvester about a host’s perception of the past, that because they can recall details and events so vividly it’s difficult for them to differentiate between their actual memories and their programmed back story. This gets nice and trippy as Bernard shifts through the tragedy of his son’s death to go right back to his creation. Yet again, Jeffrey Wright is outstanding as he manifests these confused emotions into physical agitations, mirrored perfectly by the clinical composure of Hopkins, seemingly trying to talk him into stopping out of genuine concern. It develops into a very complex sequence of events but director Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Bad) distils things down nicely into clear comprehension...... and yes, there are big (spoilery) reveals here. Some may well have seen them coming but does take anything away from the scale of their reveal. It’s incredibly rewarding and fits excellently into the past events.
The only story thread that really didn’t work for me was Ashley being captured by the Ghost Nation. Case and point, many of you are now struggling to remember who the hell Ashley is. While the Park’s Head of Security has always seemed like a nice enough fellow, he is an incredibly underdeveloped character. He’s had minimal story involvement other the standing round the control room map explaining someone else’s plot. He’s essentially Riley from Buffy without a personality. So here, when we’re asked to think of him as a hero and care about his uncertain fate, the emotional tank is dry.... because it was never been filled in the first place. This could still develop into something interesting or maybe even set Ashley up for a better Season 2 arc but right now, it feels like nothing but wasted space in the episode. The only other down note is a disappointing reveal over Elise’s fate: it makes sense but we were hoping for more.
However, elsewhere there’s still plenty of great story work and more importantly some good bridging and adjoining as certain paths start to cross. The most interesting comes from the Man in Black as a little more of his identity comes into the light via an unexpected acquaintance. I wasn’t thrilled about seeing Logan again and the end of the last episode but I really enjoyed his scenes with Will as he flits between a deranged and torturing puppeteer to an emphatic friend again. It’s easily the best work from Ben Barnes all season, showcasing the best and worst sides of his character. Teddy’s trip down memory lane had many similarly likeable attributes to Bernard’s as the truth of his back story came to light, but was sadly a bit overshadowed amongst bigger reveals elsewhere. Finally, Maeve and Hector certainly deliver the episodes best visual as they send themselves to a fiery hell, sinning all the way down (talk about hot stuff).
I think it’s fair to call it now. Save some monumental face plant into horse crap of a finale, Westworld is officially the best new show of 2016. It’s smart, littered with fantastic storytelling, enjoyable characters and as this Thanksgiving roles past, it’s certainly something we should be thankful for.