TV Review: Westworld 1×03 “The Stray”

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(SPOILERS)

The questions continue to mount in Westworld, and it now ranges past just the park and control room. After the first two episodes zipped by with heavy exposition and intriguing characters, episode three, titled “The Stray,” executes a different approach in a slower-paced tale that digs even deeper into the increasingly mystical nature of the park, in addition to providing key backstories that will surely be vital to the rest of the season.

Bernard, who had mostly been portrayed as sly and overconfident, finally has details of his past revealed, which are mostly extracted from the private conversations he has with Dolores. The loss of his son has left him emotionally distraught for years, and it may explain his workaholic lifestyle. This is further hinted in a video phone call with his wife as she refers to him almost always being “out there,” which also fuels the fire in a theory circulating the internet that the park is on a different planet than Earth. Most of all, Bernard seems to have finally begun believing that the host problems are abnormal. Jeffrey Wright has done a great job at portraying the smug corporate, but it is quite satisfying to see him show greater emotional range that he’s easily capable of in his resume.

Elsewhere in the control room, Ford, in his largest amount of screen-time so far, has his backstory peeled apart and ultimately date back several decades before the park opened. During the early development of the hosts, Ford’s original business partner, Arnold, was ostracized from the staff at the time due to his belief in adding an artificial consciousness feature. Ford mentions that Arnold eventually died in the park but doesn’t share the location or cause of death. This is critical information because Elsie showed footage to Bernard of Walter (Dolores’ “father”) talking to an unseen man named Arnold.

Backstory aside, Ford’s vision of the park becomes more perplexing by making an unusually high amount of narrative changes to multiple hosts. At the end of Chestnut, he showed Bernard an open area of the park that had an abandoned church stand out. His vision of this setting, along with what roles the hosts would play, remain unknown. The most notable host that undergoes a modification is Teddy (James Marsden), who beforehand never had a backstory. Originally programmed to be Dolores’ knight in shining armor, Ford uploads a new code for him to pursue an old army friend named Wyatt, who has become mentally unstable and leads a gang of outlaws that cause menace in the countryside. Along with the sheriff and a few park guests, Teddy eventually reaches the gang’s territory, but they are ambushed from a distance. Teddy attempts to hold off the foes while the others run for safety, but his bullets don’t inflict any damage. For a host that has died as many times as Teddy has, you’d expect him to get redemption. Did Ford intend for this to happen despite giving him a new story? Whatever it is, Anthony Hopkins continues to show his master class talent at playing enigmatic characters.

The most important story from the park control room involves stout programming division employee Elsie discovering a “stray” host in the park, and she’s joined by Ashley, the head of security, to track it down. When they arrive at its tent, they come upon a carving with an odd constellation drawn out, which is a trait the host wasn’t programmed to do. Once they find the stray trapped between some rocks (and no, Aron Ralston is not present with him), Ashley decides to remove it on his own rather than have a retrieval team take care of the task later in the morning. The stray suddenly wakes up from its sleep mode and graphically kills itself with one of the large rocks. It’s a wildly unexpected moment showing that literally anyone in the park, host or human, is a wild card that can spark at any moment. Clearly there’s something seriously wrong with the new host code, and it has no chance of being repaired to restore order.

Dolores meanwhile has an increasing amount of speculation that lies in more areas than just her private one-on-ones with Bernard. She experiences multiple flashes of The Man in Black, and asks Teddy to teach her how to shoot. When it comes to her pulling the trigger, however, her programming prevents her from doing so. During her final conversation with Bernard, she’s asked to choose between questioning her existence or remaining the same. Encouraged by him to “improvise” her choice, Dolores says she’d rather be “free,” a response that perplexes Bernard. Late at night, Dolores returns home to see the same group of bandits murder her parents. One of them drags her to the barn to rape her, in a similar way The Man in Black did in episode one. She has a flash of seeing the bandit as The Man in Black, and manages to shoot him and flee the scene. She ends up reaching a camp site where guests William and Logan are on a bounty hunt, and falls into the arms of the former.

Wow. Just wow. The list of questions gets longer each week, but the unending level of intrigue levels it out. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have a firm grasp on the limitless amount of opportunities for Westworld to unravel, and it’s becoming more intense for what surprise(s) they’ll have in store next week. Sooner or later the show will have to start emptying at least one round out of its creative revolver, but its artistic craft is still on a pedestal of its own for current fall television.

Rating: 9/10

Tyler Christian is a 23 year old graduate of UC Irvine with a BA in Film & Media Studies. After viewing a double feature of Pulp Fiction and Scarface in his early teens, film became his biggest passion. He has had a number of film-related ventures over the last couple years, including making several appearances on The Rotten Tomatoes Show, doing movie reviews on Youtube under the account “CaliCriticReviews,” and editing the Arts & Entertainment section of his college newspaper for two years. When he gets a break from his digital media day job, he's prime for catching up on the latest and greatest in film and television. Also if you ever happen to meet him in person, prepare in advance for the onslaught of sarcasm and bad puns.