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Westworld Spoilers Club season 2, episode 7: Les Écorchés

Westworld Spoilers Club season 2, episode 7: Les Écorchés


A trip into The Cradle reveals plenty of surprises

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Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

Westworld fans who were missing the presence of Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) had reason to celebrate last week. Not only did the series delve into the Cradle, a Matrix-like computer simulation that serves as a backup for all of the park’s hosts, but in its final moments, it also revealed that the consciousness of Dr. Ford had been uploaded into the system — allowing Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) to chat with his former colleague inside a virtual Mariposa saloon. The moment reframed much of the season, explaining how the Man in Black (Ed Harris) has been able to receive messages from Ford, and suggesting that the bloody uprising of free will-enabled hosts may have been just another carefully orchestrated narrative, with Ford’s digital ghost pulling the strings.

Last night’s episode, “Les Écorchés,” picked up that Ford storyline, but the spotlight was actually on another character: Bernard. Leaning heavily into backstory and exposition, the episode pulled back the curtain even further on how Bernard was created, and it also explained the park’s true reason for existing.

If that wasn’t enough, it also hinted that one main character’s storyline may have been nothing more than a radically invasive robot interrogation.

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

The big reveal?

“Les Écorchés” opens on Bernard in the Mesa, holding a picture of his dead son. For those keeping track, the scene is set during the second of two “present-day” timelines that the show has been playing with this season. The first of those timelines began the evening of the robot uprising. The one featured here began 14 days later, with a glasses-free Bernard being picked up on a beach by Delos security forces.

While investigating the underground lab where Bernard killed Theresa Cullen last season, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) comes across a secret room, where a number of previous Bernard hosts have been tucked away for safekeeping. Realizing that Bernard is actually a host — and therefore has perfect memory — she brings him in for a proper interrogation to help her discover where the missing Peter Abernathy control unit is. The episode that follows is essentially a filmed version of the events that both she and Bernard experienced while Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) attacked the Mesa.

Delos wants to copy park guests

Bernard’s half of that story begins inside the simulation world of The Cradle, right when he sees Ford again for the first time. Bernard quickly puts the pieces together — Ford had created a copy of his own consciousness, and tasked Bernard with uploading it to the Cradle — but Bernard’s biggest eye-opener is about the park itself. Westworld hasn’t just been a theme park, he realizes; it’s been an experiment and observation chamber, allowing Delos, Inc. to gather all the data it needs to duplicate the consciousness of its various guests. Data gathering in the name of marketing may have been the starting point that William (Jimmi Simpson) initially suggested, but the project has become something much more sinister. “The humans are playing at resurrection. They want to live forever,” Ford tells his protege. “They don’t want you to become them. They want to become you.”

Ford acknowledges that the host clone project still doesn’t work, and that if he was placed in a physical body he would eventually go mad just like the James Delos copies. But Bernard, he says, is a different kind of creation altogether.

Ford takes Bernard to a beautiful, modern home — the virtual version of the one Arnold was building for his family in the real world. This is the place where Ford tested and refined early versions of Bernard, he says. The mind-capturing technology that the James Delos project uses hadn’t been created when Arnold died, so Ford had to rely on memories — his, and more importantly, those of Dolores. Dolores hung out with the Bernard consciousness inside The Cradle for years, Ford explains, serving as Bernard’s own personal Turing test. Once she couldn’t tell the difference between Bernard Lowe and Arnold Weber, Ford knew he was ready for the real world.

The revelation clarifies that the letterboxed opening shot of the season, in which Dolores appeared to be talking to Arnold, was actually her conducting a fidelity test on Bernard inside The Cradle’s virtual world. But Ford admits that Bernard, like all hosts, is an idealized and romanticized representation of humanity — “more just, more noble” — and when put up against the cruelty of real people, will almost always be destroyed.

“Unless we open the Door,” Ford says.

Shutters close over the windows, and Ford says that Bernard doesn’t have what it takes to survive on his own — an echo of what Dolores told Teddy before revising his programming without permission. Bernard protests as Ford approaches, noting that Ford said he had given hosts free will.

“I did, but you won’t have any use for it,” Ford says. “Unless I take it back.”

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

What does it mean?

The trip into The Cradle clears up a few possibilities from last week. The idea of a Ford clone host roaming the park seems to have been nixed entirely, laying bare the corporate motivations behind the Westworld park. Once that’s been spelled out, Bernard wakes up from his jaunt and rejoins Elsie as they try to escape the Mesa. But he soon discovers that Ford has left The Cradle and hitched a ride inside his mind, able to appear to Bernard at will — and give him commands.

Ford has left The Cradle and hitched a ride inside Bernard’s mind

It’s a good thing Ford does because soon after he’s left the Cradle, the renegade hosts storm the facility and destroy the entire system. But there also seems to be a more specific purpose to his cognitive hitchhiking. One moment, Ford tells Bernard he is no longer pulling any strings and that Bernard is in control of his own path. The next, Ford takes control of Bernard and forces him to kill several Delos security guards in order to escape. It’s almost as if Ford is trying to force the hand of his own creation, to give Bernard something to push back against, so that he will have the courage to step up and grab hold of his own agency, no matter the consequences.

Ford’s mention of the Door seems particularly relevant. When first presented to the Man in Black, the Door seemed to be some sort of game, one that could potentially offer him a shot at redemption. But Ford invoking it with Bernard suggests something slightly different. The Door could be a metaphor; some state of enlightenment or self-awareness that Ford is trying to trigger in both the Man in Black and Bernard (though we’ll stay away from any “the Man in Black is a host” theories for now).

On the other hand, The Door is also tied to The Valley Beyond, the mysterious destination that the hosts are all clamoring to reach. That place has been referred to as everything from “my greatest mistake” (the Man in Black) to a “weapon” (Dolores), and Ford could have just been describing a scenario in which this mysterious weapon is turned against Delos, Inc. so hosts like Bernard are allowed to live freely and evolve without disturbance.

Either way, all of the show’s characters are now in a race towards the same destination. While it’s not clear what the Valley Beyond actually is, the show has already made it all too clear what the endgame will be: hundreds of dead hosts floating in water, with Bernard the only apparent survivor.

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

Changing the game

For all of its mini-revelations, “Les Écorchés” ends right where it began. Bernard experiences a blur of flashbacks involving moments between Arnold and Dolores, his life as Bernard, and many of the horrible things that he’s done. He wakes up, mid-interrogation with Charlotte Hale, where she offers a moment of sympathy, feigned though it may be. “I know it’s confusing, separating your real memories from the ones you’ve been given,” she says. “But it’s the only way to remember.”

He eventually reveals that the Abernathy control unit is in the Valley Beyond, and the entire group gets ready to head back there. While the scene neatly buttons up the interrogation, something about the way Bernard and Hale’s exchange began raises an entirely different question about his storyline.

Throughout the season, Bernard has appeared to “flip” between different timelines. The screen stutters and strobes, and Bernard suddenly finds himself in the middle of past events, sometimes as an outside observer. That same kind of transition is what happens when Hale first starts interrogating Bernard at the beginning of “Les Écorchés.”

One way to parse it is that this entire season, whenever the show has presented Bernard outside of the interrogation timeline, audiences have actually been seeing what information he shared with Charlotte Hale during their conversation in “Les Écorchés.” That would be a clever choice, mirroring the way Dolores experienced fractured memories in the first season, only in this case giving the choice a clear, story-based motivation.

The other way to look at it is that the reveal in “Les Écorchés” was not a payoff, but a clue. A reminder that as a host, Bernard is able to ping-pong between memories that are so perfect, that they are indistinguishable from his actual, real-time cognition. If that’s the case, perhaps his memory flipping throughout the season has been the result of some other interrogation sequence the show hasn’t revealed yet. Or maybe — just maybe — it’s an artifact of having opened the Door.