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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ Goes Down the Rabbit Hole For Answers

In Season 1, Episode 9, we're reminded that when you look for the truth, you may not like what you find.

Westworld Thandie Newton Season 1 Episode 9

John P. Johnson/HBO

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Trace Decay’ Reminds Us That We’re All Just Stories, In the End

Diagnostic Report

Let’s start with Maeve, who flexed her newfound powers in a few key scenes but otherwise seems to be playing the long game. After first recognizing Bernard for what he is (and triggering his latest descent into madness), Maeve then went on to properly recruit Hector to (in her words) “break into hell with me and rob the gods blind.” We’ll look forward to seeing how that takes shape next week.

William, Logan and Dolores aren’t having the happiest of reunions, what with Logan taking the two of them prisoner with some help from the Confederados and doing his best to remind “Billy” that Westworld isn’t real, and neither is Dolores. After a gruesome confrontation with a knife that Dolores manages to escape, Logan thinks he’s wooed William back. But the next morning, he wakes up to find that his future brother-in-law has slaughtered the entire camp of hosts and will be demanding his help in tracking Dolores down. Whatever Logan’s awakened inside William, he’s clearly regretting it.

Oh, and we learn a little bit more about the Man in Black as he continues trying to track down Wyatt (specifically, the fact that he’s a member of the secretive board which is trying to establish control over the park)… But most importantly, we go down the rabbit hole with Bernard and Dolores as he uncovers even more of his true nature, and she remembers some key facts of her past.

Most importantly, we learn the following facts: Bernard is a simulacra of the fabled Arnold, Ford’s original partner, and while we’ve been told that the original Arnold committed suicide, Dolores remembers killing him. At the end of the episode, Dolores is shocked by this knowledge, while Ford — as always ever in control — triggers the necessary programming to have Bernard shoot himself in the head. Bernard is a host; death is theoretically a meaningless thing. But maybe this time, it isn’t.

White Hat or Black Hat

Anthony Hopkins Westworld

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Ford.

John P. Johnson/HBO

It’s always a bit awkward when a character has to ask the question the audience has been wondering: In this case, Bernard asking Ford why, exactly, Ford let himself be coerced into this trip down memory lane. Ford’s answer — that he wanted to see what would happen to Bernard if Bernard was fully aware of his true nature — wasn’t terrible, but it’s a moment which spoke overall to Ford’s behavior in this week’s episode, that of a villain from a lesser sort of show. Ford’s been a bit cartoonish of late, which is a real shame given the potential of the revelations. We can only hope to see more humanity out of him soon.

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

We’ve avoided really poking at the questions surrounding the show’s timeline (which is still in flux) but thanks to Logan and the photograph of his sister, we’re now forced to ask: When, exactly, are Dolores and William going on this adventure of theirs? Because unless we’re mistaken, that photo of William’s fiancee is the same one that triggered the original Peter Abernathy’s meltdown in the first episode, which theoretically means that at some point after William and Dolores end their adventure together, Dolores returns to the narrative loop during which we originally met her. Or does it? Point is, everything we see on screen in each episode (beyond the scenes which are obviously flashbacks) could be taking place within the same hour, or weeks or months or years before or after. It’s a mindfuck, to be sure.

Player Piano

Let’s take this opportunity to discuss the title of the episode. Not only is a clavier the French word for keyboard, often used in reference to musical instruments with keyboards, but “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is also the title of a piece written by JS Bach that (according to an entire website devoted to this series of preludes and fugues) “belongs to the major musical achievements of the Baroque age in Europe.” It’s a piece of music which goes through all tones and semi-tones, making it insanely comprehensive and challenging. We look forward to digging more into what its invocation implies here.

READ MORE: ‘Westworld’: Watch Composer Ramin Djawadi Play the Haunting Main Title Theme

Paired Off

For anyone who appreciates a bad boy/bad girl pairing, Maeve and Hector’s fire-kissed makeout brought with it a certain thrill. Maeve’s certainly in full control over the situation (in so many ways), but what makes them especially intriguing as a duo is how tightly-woven sex and death have become for them. Freudians, take note.

These Violent Delights

It’s not so much the moments of violence inflicted against Dolores that are troubling, as it is how incredible Evan Rachel Wood is at depicting her inner pain and terror. From looking down at her own artificial innards to the memory of what she did to Arnold, the most horrifying sights of this episode carry the impact they do because of the look on Wood’s face.

Also, once again the less a violent act is truly seen on screen, the more it stays with us. Bernard crumpling in the episode’s final shot was a true blow.

Westworld Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores.

John P. Johnson/HBO

Best Quote

“There is beauty in this world. Arnold made it that way.
But people like you keep spreading over it like a stain.”

— Dolores, to Logan

This realization is not only eloquently put, but a statement that feels like a rallying cry for the uprising we’re clearly so close to witnessing unfurl. And it’s a statement that could only come from Dolores, who’s represented the innocent optimism of “Westworld” since the very beginning.

Secondary shout-out, by the way, to one of Maeve’s always delightful and too-true jabs: “If you go looking for the truth, go looking for the whole thing. It’s like a good fuck: Half is worse than none at all.”

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • Who else is planning to go back and rewatch every Bernard and Dolores scene over the last eight episodes, to try to suss out which were flashbacks to the original Arnold and which were Bernard? There’s an awful lot left to detangle there.
  • Didn’t really get a chance to mention Stubbs, who’s been taken by the Ghost Nation hosts after they defied all his attempts to shut them down. But while that’s an intriguing development, let’s be honest: How much do we really care about Stubbs’ well-being?
  • And on the flip side: We confirm that Bernard was in fact the mysterious figure that attacked Elsie — but we didn’t see her die! So… maybe she’s okay? (Please?)

Final Reveries

Thanks to “Game of Thrones,” we’re somewhat conditioned to expect epic mayhem from the penultimate episodes of an HBO series, but “Westworld,” as usual, proves committed to developing its own models. “The Well-Tempered Clavier” didn’t stall by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s clear that the big action is coming in next week’s finale.

And while we did get some significant answers — including the confirmation that Bernard is at the very least based on Arnold (and may be more deeply connected than that) — it feels like this episode offered a fair amount of fuel for the nitpickers, especially those confused by the show’s rules when it comes to basic things, like when a host can hurt a human and when they can’t.

Despite these frustrations, “Clavier” kept up the pace admirably and offered up a satisfying amount of information. There’s a lot left to untangle as well — both for the show, in future installments, and for us viewers, with some careful study. Sometimes fully understanding “Westworld” feels a bit like work. But it’s certainly an enjoyable challenge.

Grade: B+

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