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Review: Westworld Episode Seven, “Trompe L'Oeil"

Ed Harris in Westworld. Photo from HBO. 

For a show that tries to be as philosophical and intellectual as Westworld, I’m surprised that at no point did the writers said “hey, maybe we shouldn’t cast Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer with a twisted worldview.” That’s not to say that Hopkins doesn’t excel in his role as the creator of the park, Dr. Ford, but it’s just another example of the show struggling to deviate from pre-established storytelling norms.

Westworld has never felt like more of a sponge of preexisting pop culture than it did this week. A rather dull “cowboys versus Indians” shootout that borrowed heavily from works like The Revenant and True Grit , coupled with human/A.I. moments straight from Dollhouse, has me wondering what exactly this show has to offer that’s fresh. Like in previous episodes, the most intriguing thing is what’s unsaid or alluded to, rather than actual moments of action or heartfelt dialogue. The more that is suggested about the yet-to-be-named corporation that runs the park, the more sinister and nuanced their motives sound. That wouldn’t be a problem if the build up to get there wasn’t so unimaginative.

As the parallels between William (Jimmi Simpson) and The Man in Black (Ed Harris) continue, suggesting that what we see is taking place in multiple time periods, the less William becomes a tolerable use of screen time. Nearly every line he says feels canned and unnatural and every move he makes is easily anticipated, particularly the scenes with the host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). In addition to William saying that he has a girl back home, then proceeding to act on his love for essentially a robot, adds nothing engaging to his character.

Perhaps the character who has seen the most progression is Maeve (Thandie Newton). The now ex-brothel runner has become a fan-favorite since she began to snap out of her predetermined story “loops.” While the premise of a host becoming self-aware and attempting to break out of their world isn’t all that new, it’s hard to not enjoy a good breakout. Seeing her use Lutz (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) for her own motives is somewhat captivating, even if the two  A.I. programmers’ banter is lackluster. 

While the notion of a host breaking out of the building that houses the behind the scenes of the park is a high point in the season, the season still continues to move slowly toward its big moments. The reveal that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is in fact a host was not only overdue, but the scene, like many in this week’s episode, felt lifeless and predictable. Not that anyone had much empathy for Theresa before her grisly demise, but the show could have treated the character with a little more respect by making her death feel significant beyond the “Dr. Ford is crazy” reveal. For the show to have given her so much screen time, only to be lead into a rather obvious trap by Bernard felt anticlimactic on several levels.

It is redundant to berate the point that ultimately a show about human relationships with robots lacks soul, but it must be made. Ultimately, whatever we come to discover about the park’s past, the maze or the outside world will be emotionally stunted by the fact that every bit of dialogue that takes place in the park feels empty. In no world, manmade or otherwise, can an intimate relationship between William and Dolores not feel heavily contrived. The Man in Black’s journey to find meaning in the park is a genuinely enthralling plot point, but as long as the focus remains on the rudimentary sci-fi cliches of sentient A.I. and the humans who care about them, the show can only have so much resonance. This episode did not introduce anything new or move the chess pieces forward enough to make me forget about how uncreative so much of the show is at its core.

Grade: C

Westworld is on Sundays this Fall at 9 p.m. (ET) on HBO, HBO GO and HBO NOW.

growell@theeagleonline.com


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