If you doubted that Westworld would dive into some of the deeper questions on artificial intelligence and evolution, “The Stray” should’ve put your doubt to rest.
This episode saw Bernard, one of the park’s top creative minds, go from being a little curious about the hosts’ glitch to downright enabling one to go rogue. He’s become captivated by the thought of the hosts developing sentience and is willing to put everything at risk to see what happens. The prospect of evolution -- and the allure of imposed, blissful ignorance -- play key roles in the decisions of our players.
In case that seems like a lot for a new show to tackle, fear not: There’s still plenty of violence and humor in “The Stray” to go around. Let’s jump in.
In one of the underbelly’s (how I refer to behind-the-scenes Westworld) spiffy glass rooms, Bernard has another “conversation” with Dolores to observe what’s going on in that mechanical brain. As a test, he gives her a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and has her read a passage where Alice questions her own being. It couldn’t be more on-the-spot for Dolores’ circumstances.
At that point, she asks Bernard about his son -- who we weren’t aware existed, and a question Bernard wasn’t expecting. Dolores explains she asked because such personable questions are part of hosts’ programming, but it’s an unusual moment to say the least.
He later finds Elsie questioning a host about the unscripted shootout Walter (aka the Milk Bandit) had in the show’s premiere. She confronts Bernard with some unsettling information from the incident. One, a video shows Walter having a conversation with someone named Arnold, who wasn’t even there. Two, Walter killed six hosts and let three of them live. The thing is, she says, the six he killed had actually killed Walter before -- in previous narrative cycles Walter shouldn’t even remember.
“It’s like he’s holding a grudge,” she says. YA THINK?
If Bernard is intrigued by this (which he is), he doesn’t let it show. For the second time in two episodes, he tells Elsie to drop it. They’re notified about a host who’s strayed from his assigned group, and he tells her to do her actual job and go get it.
Back in the park, White-hat William draws his first blood when he kills a bad guy trying to escape from the sheriff’s office. What’s interesting here is when the villain shoots William first, our hero gets hurt. Sure, it’s just a bruise from the bullet, but it shows that shots from hosts can be painful. Who have we seen get shot before without even flinching? (*cough cough* Man in Black *cough cough*).
Anyway, moving on. Also in town is Teddy, Dolores’ boybot. He and a lady bounty hunter shoot up some wanted men with machine-like efficiency (pun shamelessly intended). Afterwards, Teddy sees Dolores leaving a store, and the pair recreate the first interaction we witnessed of theirs almost exactly. A glaring difference this go around is Dolores’ persistence on accompanying Teddy on his next adventure, but Teddy’s programming kicks in and reigns her back to their perceived reality.
Meanwhile, Elsie and Stubbs, the host-suspicious security man, are searching for the missing robot. They find his camp, where his companions are (hilariously) caught in a loop, since the missing host was the only one programmed to use an axe to chop wood. Indeed, we learn only a few hosts are capable of using weapons. Hmmm...
Elsie finds out in the group’s tent that the missing host has a knack for carving a strange symbol into his things; Stubbs points out that it’s the constellation Orion. Weird, thinks Elsie, because astronomy wasn’t part of this host’s programming.
Back in the underbelly, we find Teddy sharing his life’s dreams to Ford. Ford matter-of-factly tells him those will never happen and, instead, uploads a new backstory into Teddy to fit Ford's mysterious new park narrative. A man from Teddy’s (new) past is wanted by The Law, so he leaves Dolores to hunt him down.
This man, called Wyatt, evidently was a buddy of Teddy’s when he was in the army. After disappearing for a couple weeks, Teddy tells us, he returned a changed man. Citing the voices in his head, Wyatt would massacre natives and settlers alike, saying the land they claimed wasn’t theirs but someone else’s; he was there to clear it for these gods he heard. From there, Teddy says, Wyatt assembled a posse of grotesque men, so tormented that they believed they were dead.
Wyatt’s god issues, interestingly, tie into a conversation Bernard has with Ford. When he airs Elsie’s concerns about the hosts to Ford, he learns that Ford wasn’t in fact the sole creator of the park. He had a partner -- named, unshockingly, Arnold.
Ford says that Arnold had grand dreams of creating self-aware, evolved hosts. That, however, resulted in some hosts hearing voices in their heads and going mad. Sound familiar?
Ford alludes that Arnold, with his troubled life catching up to him, committed suicide in the park. Seeing a little bit of Arnold in Bernard, Ford reminds his friend that the hosts aren’t real and urges him to not let the death of his son (gasp!) get the best of his work.
That death does weigh heavily on Bernard during a conversation with (gasp!) his current (or ex?) wife via FutureSkype. She asks if he ever wishes he could forget what happened -- something Ford says earlier is a blessing for the hosts -- but the painful memory is all he has left of his son. Bernard doesn’t want to forget.
Seemingly questioning his choice to let Dolores continue in his experiment, though, Bernard holds another secret meeting with her. He posits a question: If there were two versions of you -- one who questioned things and challenged what she knew, and one who wanted to stay blissfully safe -- which would she rather be?
Dolores says she doesn’t understand the question because there’s only one her, and “I think when I discover what I am, I’ll be free.” It’s deep stuff, and it’s just enough to nudge Bernard into not restoring Dolores to factory settings. “Let’s see where this path leads,” he says. She promises to keep to her usual routine, lest others learn of their secret talks.
Bernard’s substitute child is discovering she has wings, and he wants to see if she can fly.
While Dolores steps onto the path of self-discovery, Teddy and his bounty hunters come under attack from the bandits they’re hunting, who let out some truly monstrous roars. As his companions either flee or get killed, Teddy finds himself surrounded -- and his bullets fail to harm them. Just when you thought he could survive an episode, Teddy gets brutally slaughtered.
Elsie and Stubbs also have their own strange encounter. They find the missing host trapped in a crevasse, and Elsie remotely shuts him down for retrieval. When Stubbs tries to get him out, though, he somehow turns back on. He won’t turn back off, despite Elsie’s efforts, and climbs out of the ditch looking as if he’s going to kill her.
But when he picks up a giant rock, it’s not Elsie’s head he smashes but his own. Repeatedly. What the heck was that?
Since this night can’t be normal for anyone, Dolores once again rides home to find it under attack from ruffians. Except this time she’s alone, without daddy or Teddy to protect her, and she’s having flashbacks to previous times this exact thing happened with her old father -- and with the Man in Black as the attacker.
When one nasty dude hauls her into the barn, she somehow manages to get his gun and points it at him. In defiance of her own programming and promise to Bernard -- and with the help of a voice in her head saying “kill him” -- Dolores uses the weapon and shoots the man to death. Struggling to understand what’s happening and how it’s happened before, she flees the scene and rides straight into the arms of White-hat William at his and Logan’s little camp.
The hosts’ minor glitch seems to be manifesting and, dare I say, evolving in fascinating and terrifying ways. If Dolores and Maeve the Madam (who also had a flashback this episode) are able to piece together that their lives aren’t what they thought, if they wander down the rabbit hole, what will they do when they discover the truth of Wonderland?