Co-creator Lisa Joy directed her first episode of Westworld, and it’s probably the best of this season so far. Joy creates an episode that is creepy and beautiful to look at, something the show has desperately needed. She also provides answers to some pretty big questions, namely, what is going on in that lab beneath the park? Well, it’s all about creating host clones of humans.
The episode opens with a long pan across a crisp white apartment while “Play with Fire” by The Rolling Stones drifts off a record player. As the camera pans across the apartment, it stops on James Delos (Peter Mullan) who seems to be going through his typical morning routine. Then we discover he is actually in an observation period, according to young William (Jimmi Simpson). We return to this scene two more times, slowly learning that this isn’t the real Delos. Instead, Delos’s mind has been transferred into a host’s body in an attempt to achieve immortality. But, this process is not so easy.
In each return, William is getting older, more haggard, eventually ending with Ed Harris as William instead of Simpson. After 149 tries, the host still isn’t stable. This episode tackles the implications of playing God and the cost of immortality. William has trapped his father-in-law in a vicious cycle of death and rebirth in the name of living forever. All of Delos’s family has died. There’s nothing left for him. Is the immortality worth it? As older William (Ed Harris) says, “Some men are better off dead.”
These memories are packed with powerful performances from Mullan and Simpson. Mullan’s final scenes as the unhinged host are unsettling and creepy, reminiscent of his Session 9 performance. The creepiness is offset by a scene where he happily dances through his apartment. He is slowly becoming unhinged and Mullan captures that creeping transformation. Simpson’s subtle smirks and facial tics make him scary; he isn’t the white knight from season one anymore.
The vicious cycle is ended by Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Elsie (Shannon Woodward), who’s back after being chained to a cave floor for a few days. They discover Delos’s “apartment” in an underground lab. But instead of pristine and white, it is completely dismantled and cast in an eerie red light. Delos is still there, but he is completely unhinged. Elsie and Bernard terminate him for what seems to be the last time.
Bernard is having flashbacks of his own, as his memories are floating around in his code rather than anchored. Joy does a superb job of portraying that to the viewer, as she melds scenes of the past and present together. It creates a jarring experience, similar to what Bernard himself must be experiencing, as we jump in and out of his memory. He remembers, in pieces, what he did in the lab littered with bodies.
Interspersed between these two narratives is the Man in Black’s run-in with the escaped Confederados, his capture, and eventual victory. It felt trivial compared to the stronger narratives in the episode. It was meant to offer a glimmer of redemption for the Man in Black as he saves captured hosts from the Confederados. However, this storyline leads to a very important reveal: who is the strange woman from the Raj.
The episode ends with the most Western thing I’ve ever seen: the strange woman rides up to William during the sunset, to reveal that she is his daughter. Cut to black. Roll credits. The Internet called the reveal, but it felt so random, especially after only giving her about 10 minutes of screentime between two episodes. Right now, it feels like her character was written simply to add more to William’s story.
I fear that this season is venturing into LOST territory. Characters, symbols, storylines, and memories are being introduced at such a rapid rate that there doesn’t seem to be an effective way to tie them all together. And at its hour and 13-minute runtime, they don’t seem to show any signs of stopping. They’re pushing the limits of how much they can pack into episodes that are becoming the length of a film, instead of trying to write more succinct stories.
This week’s episode, I believe, would have been more powerful if the focus had been on weaving Jim Delos and Bernard’s narratives together, rather than inserting other storylines in between. Those narrative moments were the most memorable, so why not spend more time on letting them develop, rather than cramming them into an episode with two other plotlines you’re trying to advance? Despite these continuous narrative issues, this was my favorite episode so far. Joy’s directing has added a little more focus to the show and I hope we see more of her this season.