In case the headline above isn’t clear enough, let us be absolutely crystal now: Below, there will be spoilers for and through Episode 7 of “Westworld.” And in case you’re not tracking episode numbers, that means everything we’ve seen this season is in play. So, consider yourself warned.
Now, as far as we can tell, there are seven major reasons everyone should be discussing HBO’s twisty drama after Episode 7. No, they don’t all revolve around the massive reveal that Bernard is a robot under Dr. Ford’s control. But not all of them are good reasons, either.
OK, Bernard is a robot. This popular fan theory that’s been bogging down message boards since early October was finally proven true. (1) But so what? Those of you who “knew” it ahead of time: Do you feel satisfaction in being proven right? Is that better than being surprised? Was it worth wading through an endless amount of clues, only to have the foresight of tonight’s big reveal? And, moreover, is it Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s job to surprise you, or should they simply be telling the best story they can?
In regard to both points, (2) the actual presentation of Bernard’s reveal was a formally accomplished and dramatically satisfying production. Whether you saw the twist coming or not, the shot of Bernard’s schematics followed by his robot-programmed response (“That doesn’t look like anything to me”) and Dr. Ford’s emergence into the room was an excellent one-two-three buildup to the scene’s tragic ending. Bravo to director Frederick E.O. Toye and writers Halley Gross & Jonathan Nolan, who handled a reveal some have been expecting for a while in a way that should prove satisfying to everyone.
How Do You Feel About Bernard, Now?
While it’s easy to respond to Sunday night’s twist viscerally, how you feel in the days following is even more important. So, take a second and think it over: How do you feel toward Bernard now?
(3) After spending so much time getting to know him through his tragic backstory — including the death of his son, a tough divorce, and a fractured relationship with the now deceased Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) — any feelings of betrayal could certainly be justified. None of that actually happened, so why should we care about a robot who’s just doing what Dr. Ford tells him to do?
The answer, for those that still feel for Bernard, comes in his new tragic backstory. (4) The glib designer now joins the army of repressed robots waiting to be freed. Along with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandie Newton), and Teddy (James Marsden), Bernard is an enslaved, confused robot who may know more — remember more — than he’s programmed to, even if he hasn’t shown signs of it yet. Imagine if the bug in the system keeps spreading and Bernard remembers how Dr. Ford made him kill Theresa. We’ve seen that these beings can have feelings, and Bernard’s response to such a realization would be a tragedy on par with his fictitious backstory.
Violence Against Women
The above phrase has basically become a trigger for any fans looking to “Westworld” for sheer escapism, as the HBO series has repeatedly delved into dangerous territory with its depiction of violence against women. But Episode 7 saw two scenes as, if not more telling than what’s come before.
Working in reverse chronological order, (5) Theresa’s death will certainly evoke varied reactions from audiences. Just in the IndieWire offices, one editor’s first reaction was that her death felt more brutal than was necessary, while another writer saw it as a tasteful depiction of the “blood sacrifice” forewarned at the start of the episode. Looking back on the scene, it’s clear the creators were careful with this one, as the camera pulls back to a safe distance when Bernard actually did the deed. Only after she’s dead do we get a medium close-up of Theresa’s lifeless body, blood splattered on the wall behind her, and that shot seems present only to emphasize she did, in fact, die.
The same restraint cannot be seen in an earlier encounter: (6) specifically, when Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) is brought in to demonstrate a defect in the robots’ programming. At the time, watching the robot prostitute get mercilessly beaten and then taking her revenge seemed important; viscerally appalling, but meaningful. After all, Bernard was fired for the cause, and Dr. Ford just stood there and let his long-time defender take the blame. Such a big moment in the story warrants such violence to emphasize it.
That is, it did. (7) Later we discovered the whole presentation was a put-on; a power move by Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) to try to steal power from Dr. Ford. But worse yet, when we discover that Bernard is a robot, that means he couldn’t be fired. He’s got nowhere else to go. He’s got nothing else to do. He’s there for as long as Dr. Ford is, so the scene in which he got axed by an unknowing board member means nothing. Unlike the death of Theresa, which means quite a bit, the far more shocking violence done to Clementine lacks an appropriate rationale.
Talking It Out
If you’re looking for an even deeper discussion into “Westworld’s” many talking points, make sure to listen to this week’s Very Good TV Podcast. Hosted by IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers, the episode is devoted entirely to the points above, as well as various other “Westworld”-centric topics.
Don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes, and follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news. Check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to IndieWire’s other podcasts: Screen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.