Title: Westworld: “The Stray” Review
Air Date: October 16, 2016
Check out our reviews of previous episodes of Westworld:
Westworld started to move into some stranger territory this week, especially with whatever is going on with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). The hosts are starting to malfunction more often and more severely, and it seems like Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Ford (Anthony Hopkins) are headed for a distinct clash of ideals over what exactly the hosts truly are.
Dolores was the star of “The Stray,” as she finally broke her abusive loop and managed to protect herself from assault. Granted, it was against another host, but it seems only a matter of time before she gets equal satisfaction against a guest as well. This was especially significant given the scene earlier in the episode, where Dolores was completely incapable of firing a gun. There are a number of things that pushed Dolores to breaking her typical code, but it all kicked off with the gift of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Is Bernard trying to use Dolores as a replacement for his dead child? Is he trying to find the method in which hosts forget trauma? Or does he have something else up his sleeve?
We cannot have Dolores without Teddy (James Marsden), and I really like how Ford gave him an upgrade. Badass Teddy is fun to watch, and the hunt for Wyatt and his gang of cultists was creepy and fascinating. Why could Teddy not hurt the cultists? It seems doubtful that the cultists are guests, but they reacted the same way to being shot that the Man in Black (Ed Harris) typically does. This has to be part of Ford’s new storyline, but what is his end game with an unstoppable doomsday cult?
Ford also gave some interesting backstory about his original partner, Arnold. In some cool flashbacks (involving some cool effects to make Anthony Hopkins thirty years younger), Ford talked about how he and Arnold viewed the hosts differently. The code phrases for the hosts are all that remains of Arnold’s programming, and it seems likely that the malfunctions are due to something Arnold placed into their code. There was a great deal of mystery and uncertainty to Ford’s recollection of he and Arnold’s disagreement, and there are most likely many more layers to pull back to get the real story of what is happening with the hosts.
Besides Dolores’s, the other main story of “The Stray” was the actual stray itself. Elsie (Shannon Woodward) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) went hunting for a host who had left his story and caused a group of other hosts to get caught in a loop. The scene contained some much-needed humor for Westworld (no one was programmed with how to pick up the axe, so the men had been stuck arguing about firewood for days and would not advance their plotline, but also managed to be suitable gruesome (Stubbs partially sawing off the head of the rogue woodcutter). At the same time, this scene was also a bit predictable and confusing.
The woodcutter storyline will most likely serve as the catalyst for helping understand what is going wrong with the hosts, but it was apparent almost immediately how the scene in this week’s episode was going to go down. Westworld has done a good job subverting our expectations so far, but this one was a little too by the numbers. At least it was up until the end when the woodcutter smashed itself to death (most likely to avoid harming a human being). The hosts are still becoming dangerously close to open revolt (and apparently they can actually shoot people, just not kill them, as we saw during William’s big gun fight), and it will be interesting to see what the final straw is that flips the switch for them.
The theme of “The Stray” was very focused on the concept of change. Some of the hosts are changing by accident (although it is surely something deliberate in their code). Others, like Dolores, appear to be changing of their own free will. This seems to be Ford’s plan, to give the hosts the choice to ascend or to stay the way they are. This will obviously ruffle some feathers of his bosses and cause some serious problems for guests when the hosts decide they are done being used for target practice. Even people, like William convincing Logan to go on their own bounty hunting sidequest, are exhibiting some change even in their characters’ infancy.
Overall, “The Stray” was the weakest episode of Westworld so far. That’s not much of a fault, considering how good the first two episodes were. “The Stray” was not boring or bad in any way, but it felt like more of a “moving the pieces into place” episode than any we had seen before. The story is ballooning a bit towards the “too many mysteries” realm that tends to doom some shows, but the acting, effects, and scripting are top notch and HBO’s track record is good enough that I feel pretty sure they will avoid that trap. There are a boatload of questions right now and not a lot of answers. Fan theories commence!
- Dolores's slow breakdown is fascinating
- Teddy's new programming
- Wyatt and his cult
- Mysteries of Ford and Bernard
- Show is bogging down a bit
- Ed Harris is basically a no show this week