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Westworld finally addresses the ‘when’ question instead of focusing on the 'where'

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Let’s dig in

John P. Johnson/HBO

"But when are we?"

One of the biggest questions hanging over Westworld since its beginning was whether the stories presented were told in the same time period, or over the course of multiple timelines. It wasn’t necessarily a question of where the characters were in Westworld at the moment, but when they were actually existing.

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Westworld.]

In the show’s eighth episode, many of our questions were finally answered. Although the answers are certainly important to understanding what’s happening in Westworld — and what has happened in Westworld — they aren’t as important as the shared revelation that the hosts are experiencing: they’re remembering.

Four vital moments in this episode must be addressed: Dolores figures out she’s been living different versions of her life, with each scenario altering the outcome of her survival. Teddy remembers how he first met the Man in Black and how that relates to his quest to find Dolores. Through a series of intense flashbacks, Maeve remembers, well, everything. And although he’s had his memory wiped several times, Bernard remembers the vicious acts he’s committed against his co-workers.

Westworld episode 8 John P. Johnson/HBO

These four incidents are crucial to understanding where the story is going. A couple of weeks ago, I said the host revolution was beginning, after Maeve figured out a way to wake herself up within the virtual world and began plotting her grand escape.

This episode didn’t just confirm that the revolution was well underway; it gave the hosts, these biological and technological amazements, real feelings and emotions, not just the means of replicating them. The feelings of grief, despair, anger and guilt that the hosts experience in Westworld and in the real world aren’t just programmable reactions, but violent outbursts of uncontrollable emotion. It’s the most dangerous aspect of their character, and it will ultimately be the biggest fight that Dr. Ford will face when the time comes to to fix the problem.

Ford operates under a semblance of total control; without it, he doesn’t have anything. Ford likes the feeling of being a god and having the hosts be his playthings, dancing like marionette dolls whenever he wants them to put on a show. But like any false god, his arrogance combined with his human condition is what will trap him. He knows how to control the machines he’s created when they’re in this kind of active sleep mode, but now that the hosts are breaking out of it, the control he relishes seems to be disappearing at a rapid pace.

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Westworld - Dr. Robert Ford in his office Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO
Bernard is a host


One of the episode's critical scenes involves Bernard remembering a brutal crime he committed — the murder of his friend, colleague and lover Theresa Cullen. Last week, Bernard learned from Ford that he was a host, and during his moment of self-realization and being utterly distraught, Ford ordered Bernard to kill Theresa. It was a devastating scene as Theresa begged Bernard, a man she once loved and whom she believed loved her, to spare her. In this week’s episode, Bernard remembers killing her and, despite still falling under the control of Ford, asks a very important question: Has he killed anyone else?

Ford, who looks taken aback by the question, comforts his favorite host and assuages his fears by promising him that he hasn’t. While it’s important to hear this conversation, the unspoken aspect has to be addressed. Although Bernard doesn’t say anything, a quick flash of memory pops into his mind of what appears to be himself holding up his co-worker Elsie, his arm wrapped tightly around her neck. We still don’t know if Elsie is alive or dead — remember, we got a glimpse of someone grabbing her in the last episode — but Bernard's question implies that he remembers doing it, even as Ford is wiping his memory.

This leads into the second and most important memory of the episode: Maeve’s recollection of her past life. This has been alluded to in previous episodes, and we already knew that before Maeve became the brothel madam that we know her as today, she was a mother in a peaceful time. In this episode, we learn that the Man in Black used Maeve and her daughter to test the boundaries of his monstrous capabilities. Coming upon their house, he stabbed Maeve before killing her daughter, but in a moment of being "truly alive," as the Man in Black explains, Maeve picked up her daughter and carried her into the middle of a field, lying down with her and crying out in despair.

"But when are we?"

Like I said earlier, the most interesting facet of the hosts isn’t their robotic abilities, but the human capabilities that gestate inside them. Ford programmed the hosts to replicate human emotions and react with what they believed was supposed to be the proper response, but there are a few moments in each episode where the hosts break out of that pattern, and experience a painful or angry sentiment and act upon it.

One of Mave's last memories comes after the death of her daughter. She awakens in the engineering repair bay, as hosts do when they’re killed in the theme park, and is an emotional wreck, begging Ford and Bernard to let her keep her pain so she can remember her daughter. Ford ultimately refuses and begins the process of shutting her down, wiping her memory in the process. He informs her that the best thing they can do is give her another narrative in a completely different world, where she won’t be haunted by the graphic images and memories of her daughter’s death. Just as they’re about to start the process, however, Maeve jumps out of her seat and stabs herself in the neck, essentially trying to kill herself.

This speaks to everything the episode has set up for us to understand about the hosts' behavior. Although they remain under the thumb of Ford and his team, it seems that when they’re experiencing pure anger or grief, they can break out of his control. This is only an observation, and I could be wrong about what’s happening, but that seems to be the consistent trend that occurs week after week on the show.

The main exception to that rule is Teddy. During their hunt for Wyatt and his men, Teddy begins to remember that the Man in Black was the one who killed him and kidnapped Dolores in the first episode. Upon remembering, he attacks the Man in Black and ties him up, beating him until the Man tells him exactly who he is. We don’t get a clear answer, but it’s through their conversation that we learn Maeve’s story and how all of their narratives coincide with one another. For the most part, the Man in Black’s talk with Teddy is a way for us to understand more about Maeve and the park itself, but their confrontation at the end of the episode reminds us that despite the hosts’ ability to remember past lives and break out of their programmed confines, they’re still under the park’s control.

Westworld episode 8 John P. Johnson/HBO

After the Man in Black’s story, Teddy pulls a gun on him and, prodded by a different version of Angela — the host who welcomed William into the park originally, and whose recasting essentially confirms the multiple timeline theory — deliberates whether or not he wants to kill him. Everything in his being tells him to pull the trigger, finally killing the man whom he believed killed his one true love. Yet he finally admits defeat and confesses that he can’t do it. As we learned in the first episode, the number-one rule of Westworld is that the human visitors can kill the hosts, but the hosts can not kill any visitors. It’s interesting to see how Teddy’s reaction, as full of anger and grief as Maeve’s, differs in the final result.

The last host’s memory that we revisit is Dolores’, and unlike in her artificially intelligent companions, her memories seem more like glitches than actual recollections. While traveling with William, she has sensory-overload memories that remind her she’s experienced everything that’s happened before, but with different outcomes. The places she thinks she’s stumbling upon for the first time are cities and towns she’s already visited. The people she’s meeting are people she’s already met. And, most importantly, Dolores remembers that each of these different narratives ends with her dying.

Much like Maeve experienced in previous episodes, Dolores is beginning to understand that she isn’t human, and she’s terrified about what this means. As she says to William, it’s not a matter of where she is, but rather when she is. Dolores has always been one of the keener and more inquisitive hosts, perhaps second only to Maeve, and it seems like the pieces are finally coming together for her to explore what her existence in the park truly means.

The show still has plenty of questions left. We still don’t know who Arnold is, we still don’t know what happened to Elsie, and we still don’t know who the Man in Black really is or what his intentions are. There are only two more episodes left in the season, so we hope to get a few things cleared up over the next couple of weeks. But I wouldn’t expect an answer to everything.

Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.