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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Les Écorchés’ Escalates the Action in a Nearly Perfect Episode

Season 2 picks up the pace as the big ideas and big action of the HBO drama escalate.

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HBO

[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2, Episode 7, “Les Écorchés.”]

Programming Update

Thank you, HBO for providing screeners for future weeks, but this reviewer has only seen this week’s episode, so please read ahead knowing that yeah, we have no idea what happens next.

Diagnostic Report

Timeline-wise, it’s a split between the furthest-forward moments we’ve seen, featuring Charlotte trying to recover the data core containing Delos’ most prized information, and several days back, as Dolores’ revolution continues to shake things up (using the mildest terminology possible) inside Westworld… while Charlotte also tries to recover that same data core.

But there are some big reveals along the way, as Bernard’s nature as a host is discovered by Charlotte and other Delos employees (apparently, Bernard has a number of physical backups in storage) and we gain more insight into, for lack of a better term, the immortality experiment that has proven to be a core aspect of Delos’s interest in Westworld and related parks.

Meanwhile, Dolores continues her assault on the Mesa core, and we see her get her hands on Abernathy’s data core (after a deeply emotional scene in which she says goodbye to her father). More importantly, Angela achieves Dolores’ ultimate goal — destroying the Cradle, which contains the backups for all the host programs. This might seem like the end of host immortality, from one perspective, but Dolores has a very different POV: “Our backups aren’t an advantage. They’re our chains.”

Beyond that, Maeve gets shot up and left for dead following a violent confrontation with the Man in Black, the Ghost Nation, and also a Delos attack squad, Teddy is still a stone-cold killer, and everyone’s headed towards Sector 16 Zone 4, otherwise known as “The Valley Beyond.” Buckle up.

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

Everything this week is extremely park-centric, but one intriguing question that comes up after watching this episode is the length of time that Bernard’s “fidelity” was tested by both Ford and Dolores for years after Arnold’s death. How many years? And how important is it, that in creating Bernard they never once tried to call him Arnold? The distinction of names is something we look forward to seeing if the show chooses to explore in the future.

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Player Piano

So Ford isn’t quoting Wu-Tang Clan when he and Bernard first speak — instead, it’s William Blake, specifically the poem “Auguries of Innocence.” This week is a return to the ordinary score and the classic Mariposa piano player tune, which is understandable — after all, a lot is going on.

Paired Off

The sight of vicious Teddy is still no pleasure to witness, especially in an episode where violence has far more superiority over romance. There’s a moment where you almost might think Sizemore capable of putting Maeve’s needs ahead of his own safety… until, of course, he runs off.

Thinking about how characters are paired off this week, though, is actually really interesting since the bulk of the scenes are really great one-on-one conversations, but none of them have to do with romance. It speaks to the depth of the characters that have been established by the show, as well as their relationships.

These Violent Delights

Lots of machine-gunning this week, but somehow the action scenes managed to feel truly transgressive and violent despite these sorts of scenes having an almost numbing prevalence on the show. Consider this a credit to the episode’s director Nicole Kassell (currently also tapped to direct the pilot of HBO’s “Watchmen” pilot), because honestly, violence on screen can be fun, but this week’s installment contains only one moment that could be considered a celebration of destruction.

That moment, by the way, would be Angela’s self-sacrifice in the cradle — which has less to do with the violent act and far more to do with the impact it has on the story.

This Natural Splendor

As a site devoted to the details of filmmaking, IndieWire owes its readers a massive apology for not calling out one of the coolest details to come with Bernard’s descent into the cradle, which was introduced last week: The shift in aspect ratio from what is now the standard TV perspective to official, quite noticeable wide-screen. It’s a perfect touch for these scenes depicting the unreal, the sort of choice that really shakes up a show like this.

Best Quote

“Every piece of information in the world has been copied, backed up — except the human mind, the last analog device in a digital world.”
“We weren’t here to code the hosts. We were here to decode the guests.”
— Ford and Bernard

This episode was rich with potential lines for this section (a round of applause for writers Jordan Goldberg and Ron Fitzgerald, who delivered some stunning one-liners), but this moment isn’t just a big moment for the episode, but for the series in general. The real-life implications of “Westworld’s” premise continue to become more and more disturbing, and here we see this put front and center in the most fascinating way. As we saw with the failed attempt to “resurrect” Delos, recreating a human with this technology remains impossible. But what happens when we embrace this new form of life that now roams Westworld? As Ford put it, “They want fidelity — a faithful self-portrait of the most murderous species since time began… but you and the other hosts are something very different. An original work.”

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • This is either a very dumb observation or a very deliberate choice on behalf of the creators, but hey, we just noticed: Drop one O and one R, and move around the E, and “Dolores” becomes “Delos.”
  • It’s tough to ask the question of whether or not anyone is actually ever really dead on this show. But now that the Cradle is shut down, are Angela and Clementine really dead?  Both actresses Talulah Riley and Angela Sarafyan, respectively, have proven their capabilities, and it’d be sad to see them say goodbye.
  • We saw a shot of Bernard’s wife, as played by Gina Torres, in the flashes from his previous life. What are the odds that we might ever see her again? Was she a simulation of Arnold’s real-life wife, or a facsimile on another level? Who knows, but now we’re thinking about it.

Final Reveries

Easily the most exciting moment of “Les Écorchés” is the twist that Dolores isn’t interested in recovering the host backups, but instead destroying them, as it creates such fascinating thoughts regarding the questions of what it means to be alive, questions that are certainly going to remain a part of the conversation going forward.

Frankly, this section is going to be short, largely because the show already said so much. This week, the balance between action, answers, and advancing the philosophical questions inspired by this show was pretty much perfect; this is what we tune in for when we watch “Westworld.” Challenging TV should always be as exciting and emotional as this.

Grade: A

”Westworld” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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