Westworld S01E07: Trompe L’Oeil – Stakes are raised with a blood sacrifice

It was staring us in the face the entire time, well at least since the start of the episode. Yet our biggest hint that Bernard, the hopeful hero of the humans was actually a Ford controlled robot is hinted oh so cleverly by the episodes title. Trompe L’Oeil is an artistic technique that uses realistic images in order to create something that seems three dimensional. Out of all of the human characters of Westworld, who have we spent the most time with? Who is the closest to being a three dimensional character? You guessed it: Bernard. I’ll admit that I was only about a minute ahead of Theresa, in guessing Bernard’s true origin, but I was discomforted by his presence from the beginning of the episode.

Watching Westworld these past weeks has made me seriously question the execution of story-telling. The show uses the tricks and conventions of narrative within the park to both hide, and sometimes show its true themes. So when Trompe L’Oeil opened with Bernard waking up within a dream, reading Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland to his bed-ridden son, only to wake up again in the present, it was discomforting in ways that I couldn’t predict. Instead of the standard emotional response to the scene: sympathy, and if the show is really clever, empathy. Instead I began to wonder about the use of dreams in fiction. Think about this: have you ever dreamt of a past event exactly how it happened? Usually there are signifiers, most of which you only realise when you wake up, that things aren’t quite as they seem. In television dreams are a handy expositional tool: if a character hints at some past trauma, you better believe that that is setting up a dream sequence down the line.

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So the nature of the dream is the first clue, the content is the second. Bernard reads his son the passage about the Mad Hatter, or the mad man, as Charlie calls him. In the passage the Mad Hatter is talking about his view of how the world should be, that the way that everything is, isn’t. What the Hatter is describing is Westworld, and Bernard of course. The very existence of this type of dream is legitimised by Maeve’s question to Clementine about if she dreams of another life.

Bernard goes through the rest of the episode with what we think is agency. After getting fired, he sticks around leading Theresa to Ford’s robot family as a way to try and understand the faults in the hosts further. But it was Ford all along, always that one step ahead. Bernard unwittingly brought Theresa there to kill her. It’s a brutal scene, and a real shame that the show’s first human casualty, or blood sacrifice had to be Sidse Babett Knudsen, who did a great job as Theresa despite getting stuck with some of the show’s worst dialogue. Her death at the hands of Bernard (every Banshee fan knows that when the henchman takes off his glasses someone’s going to die), was a chilling hint of things to come, and a clear mirror of Clementine’s actions earlier in the episode.

Like a dream, it’s only after Bernard’s reveal that we realise how strange his behaviour has been. His concern for Elsie, who is now missing in action was muted at best, but there are wider implications to the reveal. Bernard didn’t recognise Ford’s private workshop, a place where he has talked to Dolores many times. He couldn’t remember it, as Ford states “they can’t remember what will hurt them”. So has Bernard been a stand-in for Ford in his conversations with Dolores, a more trusting presence. Typically of Westworld, these implications will sprout numerous fan theories before they are answered.

The rest of Trompe L’Oeil was a case of table-setting. Dolores and William finally consummate their relationship and survive a thrilling chase. Despite his white hat getting dirtier, William poses an interesting theory about the park: that it doesn’t show people as their basest selves, but as their true selves. Which is basically saying that Logan’s a shit, and always will be a shit, and that good people stay good despite the lack of consequences if they don’t. It’s William and Dolores’ previous conversation that strikes the biggest chord. William reminisces about living his childhood through books, and his desire to be part of those stories, because things make sense in a story unlike real life. It’s a romantic notion, much like Williams assertion about what the park really does to people, but Dolores stops him dead. She doesn’t want to be part of a story, to be part of a story is to be controlled by the author of that story, whereas Dolores wants to be free.

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As does Maeve who uses her update from last week to plan herself a jail break. Again Thandie Newton impresses here, with her take no shit attitude, and her skills of male manipulation. Maeve is an interesting case; while Dolores seems destined to be the leader of the robot rebellion, I predict that Maeve, with her own selfish reasons, will be the one who paves the way for her. Maeve’s escape, or attempt to escape could be the spark that sets the park on fire.

9/10 – Westworld has produced another week of great performances, and thrilling action, but it’s the finely crafted plot twists, and attention to characterisation that puts this show above the rest.

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