Westworld: “The Stray” Season 1 Episode 3 Review

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What does Westworld want consciousness to be? The climax of “The Stray” seems to put free will down as its answer. Dolores has been riding off to her death at the sound of gunshots at her father’s home for who knows how long. But finally, her experiences started to play against her programming. Is Bernard the voice of God forcing her to think on her own? He does have her turn off scripted responses in one of their private meetings. There has to be a direct correlation between that and her sudden ability to escape. After all, fight or flight can only apply to living things with instincts. Dolores is waking up, but not as we’ve already seen her do countless times in these first three episodes, but as a conscious being that’s going to fight for survival and question her artificial reality.

These questions raised out of the exciting climax of “The Stray” were the best part of this third entry. Otherwise, this was likely the weakest episode so far. Early on, Dr. Ford adds a new backstory to Teddy’s existence, where he is the only person to survive and encounter with Wyatt, a mass murderer who doesn’t believe the land is meant for them. Ford mentions this as part of his new narrative, but is this a hint that Wyatt knows this land is meant for guests? There’s no answer yet, obviously. But we spend a healthy portion of the episode following the ramifications of Teddy’s new backstory and where his independent story is going now because of it. And this story represents Westworld‘s biggest problem so far. Watching Teddy doesn’t matter. Unlike Dolores and Maeve, he’s not even close to being sentient, leaving us to watch the park’s orchestrated plot, giving the episode another shootout with zero true consequences. How this storyline progresses will surely have more to do with Ford’s overall plan, but so far it’s just fueling the fact that when Westworld isn’t showcasing its human characters or the androids on the path to consciousness, it really has nothing going for it besides flashy visuals. As the mythology further develops, this problem by very nature will hopefully go away. But for now, the action scenes involving various hosts merely feel like fodder for an audience that needs to see something exciting to like the show. Westworld doesn’t have to be that show.

More interestingly, “The Stray” also had Elsie and Ashley investigating a host that was stuck off course, hence the title. The tension was high as Ashley was surprised when the host woke up in the middle of its head being cut off. How that happened and why the host eventually committed suicide are greater questions that play into everything happening with Dolores and Maeve. At the moment, Westworld is far more plot driven than character driven, which hopefully won’t last. But in this state, curious advancements in the story like this work to keep a slower episode like this one afloat.

But steps toward more of a character-driven whole came through Bernard’s smaller moments this week. We learn through a future version of Skype with Bernard’s wife that they lost a son, which later strained and seemingly ended their relationship. It’s a thin backstory, but Jeffrey Wright plays it smartly reserved. He and Ford now share the experience of loss, which might as well be a prerequisite for building these androids. As the two most interesting characters on the show so far, it’s excited to see their similarities and their differences as they butt heads. But how will Bernard initiating Dolores’ awakening interfere with Ford’s new sweeping narrative? It’s the intense philosophical questions that’ll be explored in that answer that’s keeping Westworld alive at the moment. But eventually, the show is going to need to put more effort into its talented ensemble. Grade: B

Some Other Notes:

  • Dr. Ford was always going to land more on the villain side, but this episode pushed him a little too far into the cartoonish side. Let’s pump the breaks a little.
  • I was relieved that Maeve remembered at least part of her escape last week. That would’ve been such a waste of time otherwise.
  • Did everyone else thing Arnold had to be the Man in Black before Ford said he was dead? Either way, there’s still probably a connection there.
  • So did the Man in Black rape Dolores or just scalp her for a piece of the map/maze thing? The answer is pretty important to his characterization, thanks.
  • The great Gina Torres showed up as Bernard’s presumably ex-wife this week. Let’s not have that be a one time thing, please. If there’s anything the world needs more of, it’s Gina Torres.

By Matt Dougherty

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