Season One, Episode Three — “The Stray”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. With “The Stray”, Westworld teeters dangerously close to that call-and-response type of narrative that so many poorly penned shows rely on – the type of back and forth flip-flop that severs a linear narrative that was otherwise meticulously sewing its pieces together. To be fair, even the most wonderfully written programs (I’m looking at you, Sopranos and Game of Thrones) have wildcards thrown in (strays, if you will), that elaborate on a backstory or focus on introducing a new character, but when you shift gears as suddenly as Westworld did this week, you risk stalling out the story completely.
Stubbs and Elsie go on a long hike to find the titular stray, but spend most of their time establishing dominance by undermining each other’s roles. Elsie does note that the backstories don’t exist just for the guests — they’re put into place to anchor the hosts, to ground them throughout their narratives. This adds a deeper air of mystery to why Dr. Ford would suddenly want to fill in the blanks of Teddy’s narrative, especially in giving him such a violent and cold-blooded adversary. What exactly is Dr. Ford cooking up over there?
Last week he revealed that he had a big secret project – an expansion of the park – but we know very little about what’s behind the veil. Whatever it is, it seems that Dr. Ford is preparing to spin the top and sit back and watch his underlings deal with the chaos.
There’s a lot of unnecessary jawing over sentience in “The Stray” — isn’t that already understood to be the entire point of the series? Regardless, Bernard and Dolores are still meeting on the sly, which adequately underlines the drama surrounding Dolores’ burgeoning free will. Seeing Dolores all blonde and blue like Alice doubtlessly makes for a pretty picture, and it certainly infers a few things about the episodes to come, but reading from Adventures in Wonderland? It’s a wee bit on the nose.
Dolores, in her up-and-down, back-and-forth states of mind, reads from the chapter “The Pool of Tears,” in which little Alice grows nine feet tall, shrinks down to mouse-size and is almost swept away by her own tears, all in a matter of minutes. We hear this echoed later in Dolores’ conversation with Teddy, as they discuss heading down to the sea, where the salt water can “wash away your past.”
Despite all the talk of change, Dolores ends the episode swooning into a man’s arms (a very willing William), Teddy’s heart of gold is pierced by yet another bullet and Dr. Ford quotes more Shakespeare. I think at this point we are well acquainted with our characters. Let’s move on to something a little more sequential, thank you.
Stubbs: “Where are you going?” Elsie: “Vectoring, asshole.”
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” – Dolores.
“Personal questions are an ingratiating scheme.” – Dolores. Indeed.
BEST MOMENT: Honestly, this episode was so all over the place that nothing stuck out as a singular great moment. It was, however, lovely to see Dolores shoot the man attempting to rape her rather than need to be rescued. While this moment had a much larger purpose (to show that Dolores is changing and to underscore that her growing instincts can trump her preprogrammed narratives), it was just as important not to have to sit through yet another gratuitous HBO rape scene than it was to see what a galvanizing factor The Man in Black can be.
EPISODE’S MVP: This was without a doubt Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) episode. We learn a little more about his family and the loss of his son, and in doing so we also get a glimpse of the impetus behind his strange mentoring of Dolores. Bernard is even able to tease a little more information out of Dr. Ford regarding the park’s history and what befell a previous partner. As Dr. Ford and Bernard wrap up that particular conversation, Dr. Ford warns Bernard not to let the memories of his son influence his actions and relationships in the park. Were those vague words of caution, or does Dr. Ford know about Bernard’s and Dolores’ little trysts? It’s been really hard for me to accept that Bernard would be able to get Dolores alone for any amount of time without being seen.
DOWN THE BARREL:
– For what it’s worth down the road, we learn that Logan is William’s future brother-in-law.
– So the guests can apparently get shot by hosts, but only enough to hurt a little? And what happened to those bullets lobbed in Dolores’ direction? She came out unscathed (and confused) after it seemed she had been shot.
– The CGI-ed young Anthony Hopkins was impressive-ish. He looked as though the digital artists pulled old images of Hopkins from David Lynch’s The Elephant Man.
– Lucky Bernard is married to Firefly’s Gina Torres.
– Dolores’ would-be rapist is named Rebus, a word for a puzzle (specifically one that contains images that correspond to phonics). Puzzles feature prominently in this episode, from Dolores figuring out who she is to the woodcarver’s trail of Orion patterns.
– What the hell killed Teddy? Wyatt’s army of Indian zombies? And what was that elephant noise echoing off the hills? Is Westworld heading the direction of Smoke Monsters and polar bears?
6.5 out of 10
Next: “Dissonance Theory,” soon.
Before: “Chestnut,” here.