Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
If last week’s episode of Westworld was the show taking in a deep breath, “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is that breath being let out in a hurricane of twists and turns that tore down many of the series’ facades and brought several key characters to their knees. And it isn’t just an avalanche of answers to questions – it’s as rich and thoughtful and weird as the show has ever been.
As always, I’m here with ten literal and rhetorical questions about what went down. Let’s dive in.
Can We Pause and Break Down the Three Westworld Timelines?
As with many HBO series, the penultimate episode of Westworld‘s first season was the one where the entire world was blown open and where characters and storylines were shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. The possibilities for how the season finale will pick up the shards and build the foundation for a second season are endless.
Let’s start with the big picture. “The Well-Tempered Clavier” confirmed that we’ve been watching multiple timelines all season long, but now we know exactly how many and where they stand in relation to each other. For our purposes, we’ll call them Timeline One, Timeline Two, and Timeline Three.
Timeline One takes place prior to the opening of the park itself, during the years when Dr. Robert Ford and his partner Arnold Weber were living in the park itself and fine-tuning the Hosts before a single guest even set foot in Westworld. During this period, that unnamed town where the Hosts were tested was above ground and easily accessible, with the bulk of the park’s operations existing underneath it. Also underneath it: that mysterious room where we saw “Bernard” having conversations with Dolores, encouraging her to read and question her existence. We now know that these odd scenes were actually early flashbacks and that Bernard was actually Arnold. But we’ll get to that.
Timeline Two takes place a few years after Westworld opens to the public, seemingly before Delos has propped up the struggling park. This is the timeline where William and Logan visit the park and Dolores, still reeling from her experiences with Arnold, begins to question her existence and break out of her loop. As we saw in the most visceral fashion possible, the Hosts of Westworld at this point were more mechanical than the later versions, which more closely resemble humans. And as we saw last week, the town where the Hosts are tested (the center of the Maze, presumably) is buried under a mountain of sand.
And then there’s Timeline Three, which occurs decades later and has occupied the most screen time this season. This is the era of Maeve’s awakening, the Man in Black journeying to the Maze, of Arnold/Bernard discovering the truth behind his existence, Theresa’s murder, Charlotte’s corporate espionage, and Elsie’s disappearance. During this era, that mysterious town has been uncovered and restored, presumably because it plays a key role in Ford’s new narrative. After all, it’s the place where Teddy Flood witnesses the origin of the monstrous Wyatt. Or did he? That deserves its own sub-header.
But while “The Well-Tempered Clavier” provided all of those sweet, sweet answers, it also provided a reason for why the show has been told out of order beyond “let’s make it mysterious.” As we saw when Dr. Ford gave Bernard full access to his memories, the Hosts do not recall past information like we do. As long as nothing in their programming is actively blocking them from recalling a certain moment, their memories are seemingly perfect. They can traverse the decades like they’re fast-forwarding or rewinding a movie. Nothing fades. It’s why Maeve’s flashbacks to a previous life are so traumatizing – a programmer can tell her to not think about it, but it can’t contain or water down the (simulated and therefore, according to Ford, very real) emotions that accompany a stray memory. We have been watching season one of Westworld through the eyes of the Hosts themselves, with past and present mingling together and separated only by edits that do not call attention to themselves because they perceive memories differently than we do. For human flashbacks, you need a sepia tone or an obvious transition to symbolize the act of remembering. For the Hosts, a more complex and powerful organism, it all feels the same.
Westworld hasn’t been complex for the sake of being complex – its filmmaking immerses us in an unfamiliar mindset, gradually revealing that we’ve been bearing witness to how its artificial characters view the world.
Who Is That Woman in the Photo?
One of Westworld‘s original mysteries has been answered. The photograph that Peter Abernathy discovered back in the pilot, the image that broke something in his brain and made him realize that all is not right with the world, belonged to Logan and the woman in the picture is Logan’s sister, who is engaged to marry William. It’s still not clear how that photo ends up buried in the dirt on the other side of the park, but the events of Timeline Two have helped solve a mystery that began in Timeline Three.
Of course, the photo is revealed in a key sequence for William, who has finally snapped and abandoned that white hat routine altogether. If William is the younger version of the Man in Black (a concept that feels more and more accurate by the episode), “The Well-Tempered Clavier” helps explain how a “nice guy” can transform into such a monster. All it takes is an unhealthy obsession with a robot girl, a future brother-in-law with a cruel streak a mile wide, and a single brutal massacre of a couple dozen hosts with a big ol’ knife… a knife that certainly looks like the same blade wielded by the Man in Black in Timeline Three.