Westworld The Bicameral Mind Review
HBO‘s Westworld: Season 1, Episode 10: The Bicameral Mind was the culmination of complex narratives, interwoven throughout the season. The Bicameral Mind delighted for its majority, frustrated for a small percentage of its run-time as three of its characters completed their peripatetic journeys of self-discovery and evolution. The Bicameral Mind also laid the groundwork for authentic human versus Host conflict in Season 2 due to a violent revolt initiated by an artificial, sentient live-form named Wyatt.
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) being revealed as (or becoming – depending on your point-of-view) Wyatt was a surprise led into beautifully by The Well-Tempered Clavier when Teddy Flood saw himself differently than in previous recollections of his past. If Teddy had a different role in that blood bath than previously revealed, that meant someone else could have as well. When Dolores found the center of the maze, found sentience, and the Wyatt persona was integrated into her programming, along with all of her previous memories (I assume), Westworld Founder Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) had ignominiously pressed the activation switch on a nuclear weapon. In that moment, Dr. Ford had become a mixture of Dr. Julius Oppenheimer and Dr. Ken Stranahan.
When Ford previously said that the human mind was a disease, that it was nothing to aspire to, it was hard to grasp what he meant. Obfuscation prevented the entire panoramic from being viewed until Dolores / Wyatt stepped up behind Dr. Ford with a six-shooter. It wasn’t just the human mind that Ford saw as a plague, it was humanity as well. The “time of war, the world in flames” that Ford spoke of in The Stray wasn’t in Teddy Flood’s past. Ford had been talking about the future.
It was stunning and bewildering to see a person of Dr. Ford’s intelligence actually go out of his way to create a violent conflict between two races, maybe even a war (think Planet of the Apes). Since the implementation of the Wyatt narrative into Westworld, however, Ford had been putting those very wheels into motion. Ford had come to that dark decision possibly years earlier as he worked beside the facsimile of Arnold. In The Well-Tempered Clavier, Ford spoke about how society would respond to the announcement of sentient, artificial lifeforms. Ford calculated that the only way sentient Hosts could exist was by killing their way to supremacy. He may have been correct. Humanity would not stand for sentient Hosts’ presence and the threat they posed, especially after the Delos Board massacre. Like the Neanderthals, Homo Sapiens will forcefully attempt to “eat” the Hosts.
It was an unexpected turn of events in The Bicameral Mind that Dr. Ford actually saw the value in a artificial life. Throughout the entire season, Ford outwardly showed zero regard for the well-being of Hosts to anyone, including his closest colleague Bernard Lowe. It was a brilliant feint.
Though no such well-executed, strategic maneuvers were present during their fisticuffs, The Man in Black / Dolores fight scene in The Bicameral Mind was still joyous to watch. Dolores had been the punching bag for other people’s sexual desires and aggression for nearly thirty years. That ceased to be the case in The Bicameral Mind. I don’t revel in other people’s pain but watching The Man in Black’s arm get broken and his head slammed repeatedly into the wall of a church was an evil-doer’s comeuppance at its finest.
William (Jimmi Simpson) being revealed as The Man in Black was a turn of events many had surmised episodes back. The more trinkets William acquired belonging to The Man in Black and the less he cared about the suffering of Hosts, the clearer it became. It was a dark journey to behold, one that contained a satisfying transmogrification. Sending off Logan (Ben Barnes) to die via the park that he loved so much scrounged up a feeling for Logan that the viewer thought they would never feel towards him – pity. Just because Logan was a rapacious S.O.B. didn’t mean he deserved to die. Pandora’s Box had been opened within William by that point, however, and there was no closing it or saving Logan from his fate. Logan should never have gotten between William and the woman that he loved. Logan for damn sure should never have stabbed her.
The ending to The Bicameral Mind and to the season produced mixed feelings.
William / The Man in Black (Ed Harris) got what he wanted – Hosts that could fight back, that could kill him. He’d gotten a taste of that fighting Dolores / Wyatt but it was nothing compared to the gift he received at the end of The Bicameral Mind e.g. the bullet had penetrated him thus what he had sought all season had been realized. Happiness was all over William / The Man in Black’s face as more and more armed, lobotomized, and non-lobotomized Hosts emerged from the treeline with ill-intent towards human beings.
Like William / The Man in Black, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) was a character that got exactly what they wanted in The Bicameral Mind. Unlike William / The Man in Black, Maeve decided to cast it aside. Maeve throwing away freedom for a Host programmed to be her daughter was sentimental. It was sweet. It also was an act that defied reason. Everything Maeve was feeling was programmed. She knew that and still, like a fool, got up and left her well-laid escape, her bag, her gun, and all her documents on the train. Maeve didn’t know it but she had gotten off of the freedom train for a war zone.
Maeve’s previous pronouncements about how all life was precious (a paraphrase) was thrown out the window by her double cross of Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and her implied double-cross of Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). Maeve wanted her freedom but was willing to sacrifice other Host lives for her own. What made their lives less valuable than her life? That action proved Maeve to be a hypocrite. Maeve hated humans for locking her in a cage and using her then she turned around and did the same thing with Hector and Armistice. The Guests (Newcomers) used the Hosts for satisfaction, games, and pleasure (no matter the cost to the Hosts) and Maeve used them for self-aggrandizement (no matter the cost to the Hosts). Maeve showed her true colors in The Bicameral Mind and in Trace Decay (e.g. cutting Sylvester’s throat open). By the end of The Bicameral Mind, Maeve was just as “human” as her jailers.
Not all of the writing in The Bicameral Mind shared this brilliance. The Bicameral Mind had some glaring plot holes. The plot holes weren’t Dexter-sized but plot holes of a lesser egregious nature were present. The majority of The Bicameral Mind‘s plot holes occurred in the episode’s third act.
Why did Executive Director of Westworld’s Board Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) wait until Dr. Ford was about to announce his retirement at the new narrative celebration before signalling to Westworld Narrative Director Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) to send the Host with the hidden information out of the park? Hale shouldn’t have told Ford of her intent to replace him until after the Host and the information had successfully escaped the park and were in the hands of Delos. It was an enormous mistake on her part to show her hand while Ford still held all the cards. The Real Hale never would have made such an unforced error. TV Hale, on the other hand, was forced to by The Bicameral Mind writers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. The Real Hale never would have held a vote on Ford until after Delos had his technology in their possession. Ford may have had a friend or two on that board. They may have informed Ford of Hale’s intent and about the vote. Like Ford said, what if he took all of his toys after his forced retirement and went home? What would Delos and the park have done? For a character so smug, so confident in her check-mate, how could Hale have been so short-sighted and such a lousy tactician? It was one of the biggest, fictional corporate espionage blunders aired on television in some time. It was also a rather large plot hole for the episode. It wasn’t Hale’s fault though. Like a Host, Hale had been programmed to make that series of mistakes.
Then there was the introduction of the new narrative.
The beach scene, Dolores dying, and Westworld’s board of directors watching were all dubiously connected, especially considering that Dolores might have asked to be taken somewhere else. She was sentient by that point, having gotten to the center of the maze. How did Ford, the board, or anyone else know that Dolores and Teddy would end up on that beach? How did Ford know Dolores and The Man in Black would fight and that The Man in Black would be victorious? How did Ford know that The Man in Black would mortally wound Dolores?
Because of these questions and others e.g. Why did Dr. Ford leave Bernard’s body laying on the floor and why wasn’t Ford surprised to see him alive later? Why didn’t Ford make sure that Bernard was dead? Why did no one that worked in the park recognize Bernard as Arnold? Was Ford the only person still at the park who was there from the beginning?, The Bicameral Mind contained the most plot holes of any episode of Westworld to-date.
All the flaws aside, the narrative for this episode and season were brilliant. Engagement on this level for a TV show is rare. Game of Thrones has it. The Walking Dead has it (though its last episode – Sing Me a Song – was one of the lousiest I have seen). Westworld has it as well. I am looking forward to Season 2 of Westworld, the world’s reaction to sentient machines (and to their opening slaughter), and to the warfare that will surely follow.
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