Posted on Monday, November 14th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
And with a huge plot twist and the first death that cannot be quickly fixed in a lab, Westworld has taken things to the next level. As usual, I have ten questions, some literal and some just acting as an excuse to talk about certain aspects of the series. Let’s begin.
What Does “Trompe L’Oeil” Mean?
As with the titles of past episodes, calling the seventh episode of Westworld‘s first season “Trompe L’Oeil” speaks volumes about every plot thread, every character motivation, and every twist, both major and minor.
French for “deceive the eye,” trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that was given its name during the Baroque period but has existed for thousands of years, appearing in ancient Greek works before being utilized in the Renaissance and beyond. Everyone knows what the term is referring to even if they don’t know the term itself: the use of perspective to create the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional work of art. By utilizing depth and suggesting that some objects in a work are closer and further away than others, artists are able to create a more realistic image, tricking the viewer into finding reality where none actually exists. It’s cornerstone of art and a key divider between realistic and abstract forms of art.
The term does a fine job of summing up Westworld the theme park: a land where nothing really matters, where all interactions are scripted, where tragedy and pain and pleasure are carefully constructed, but done so with such care and detail that it takes on the illusion of reality. It’s surely no accident that trompe l’oeil is a Baroque term. Like the paintings and sculpture of that time period, Westworld is intended to be unambiguous, dramatic, and instantly pleasing, a canvas where thousands of tiny details serve an instantly gratifying “big picture” that is difficult to misinterpret.
But like any artist, Westworld founder Dr. Robert Ford knows more about his painting than those who paid for it and those who pay to see it. He may smile and nod while you give him your interpretation of his work, but only he knows his true intentions and what it all actually means and how it all hangs together. It’s his painting, his world. Everyone else is just unfortunate enough to have walked into it.
What Is Delos’ Actual Plan For Westworld’s Technology?
One of Westworld‘s quieter threads has begun to heat up over the past two episodes with the arrival of Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, a member of the Delos board who has come to oversee a “transition” at Westworld and oust Dr. Robert Ford from his position of power. In “Trompe L’Oeil,” we were able to hear more about the company’s intentions straight from Ms. Hale herself: Dr. Ford cannot be fired, so he will be persuaded to retire; the company doesn’t have much interest in running a cowboy theme park, but it does have uses for the technology being used to operate that cowboy theme park; they do not know how a significant portion of the park actually operates because Dr. Ford has refused to back up his data off-site and remains the only living person to know what makes Westworld really tick.
And that solves last week’s big mystery. Head of quality assurance Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) may have been using a stray Host to steal park secrets, but she wasn’t assisting a rival company. She was tasked with internal espionage by her superiors at Delos and Knudsen’s performance tells us everything we need to know – she really, really didn’t want to be a part of this. Perhaps more than anyone else working at Westworld, she was aware of what Dr. Ford is capable of doing and how far he will go to protect his dominion. Recall their conversation in that park restaurant a few episodes back, where he literally put on a display of God-like power within the park to prove a point. She, like the other Delos representatives, are but mere mortals, guests in God’s domain.
The lingering question now is what Delos actually wants to use Westworld’s code to accomplish and how they intend to apply robot cowboy technology to the outside world. Considering the events that end this episode, we will probably know soon enough.
Where Do We Draw the Line on Robot Sex?
There are several ways you can have a relationship with a Host in Westworld.
You can be like Charlotte Hale. You can be wealthy enough to actually indulge in what Westworld has to offer and take full advantage of the fully functional recreations of human beings available to you. While the Delos board member seems to have no interest in actually going down to the park and playing cowboy, she’s perfectly happy to borrow outlaw Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) for a few hours, utilizing him as the world’s most advanced sex toy. For Charlotte (and park guests like Ben Barnes’ Logan), they approach the illusion of Westworld with constant self-awareness – none of this is real, so why should you not have a good time? Break it, abuse it, use it. Who cares? It’s all going to get reset in the end.
You can be like William (Jimmi Simpson). You can be wealthy enough to actually indulge in what Westworld has to offer, but have no interest in treating the faux world around you as a sandbox for whatever game you want to play. You can meet the illusion halfway and let the roleplay go beyond cowboy cosplay. For William, Dolores isn’t just the Non-Playable Character accompanying him on a violent quest. She isn’t just an RPG ally whose only use is to carry all of the stuff that won’t fit in your inventory. He’s embraced Westworld in the ways that Dr. Ford has always wanted guests to embrace it. He’s fallen in love (or at least in something) with a woman who was built and programmed in a lab. But here’s the concern: if Dolores is an artificial creation meant to simulate humanity who has broken free of her programming and is capable of making her own decisions, when does she deserve to be treated as something more than a cog in a machine? At what point does an exactingly recreated human become human?
Or you could be like Theresa Cullen and learn that your longtime colleague and lover has actually been a Host all along and he didn’t even realize it. The Hosts are tools, but up to this point, we’ve only been granted a glimpse at one of their uses. Now, we have seen what they can accomplish if wielded like a weapon by someone unafraid to destroy lives to protect his life and work. But we’ll get there shortly.