Television

Maeve Ascends as More 'Westworld' Secrets are Revealed in "The Adversary"

Maeve (Thandie Newton) demands a tour of the facility from lab tech Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam).

Despite the ubiquity of corporate intrigue and maze imagery, "The Adversary" delivers another fascinating episode.


Westworld

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 6 – "The Adversary"
Network: HBO
Air date: 2016-11-06
Amazon

Westworld's sixth episode "The Adversary" snakes through its character journeys at a more convoluted pace. By this point, viewership requires a necessary understanding of all character and storyline threads and the splintering versus convergence between each. While Game of Thrones was initially hammered by critics for being too convoluted, the Groundhog Day effect that adds intrigue and nuance to Westworld is arguably trickier to follow without repeat viewing or paratextual sleuthing: the de facto norm for viewers of "prestige TV" these days. Director Frederick E. O. Toye brings consistency to a script credited to Halley Gross and series co-creator/showrunner Jonathan Nolan.

Descending to Ascension

Maeve (Thandie Newton) awakens to another dusty dawn in Westworld; however, she's now experienced her true awakening, and is thus motivated quicker than ever to unbind her shackles and crawl out of the Platonic cave. Maeve steals an aggressive visitor and talks him into choking her to death during rough sex. Thus, Maeve descends in "death" in order to re-awaken life in the dank laboratory, ready to continue studying this brave new world. In a riff on Groundhog Day's morbid moments where Bill Murray's weatherman attempts multiple forms of suicide to break his loop, Maeve exercises increasingly creative fatal exits that will bring her back to the "real world" for repairs.

Elsie (Shannon Woodward) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) scheme over the corporate espionage surveillance tech she retrieved from inside the stray. Bernard is willing to investigate the matter further under cloak and dagger. He descends down an express elevator to floor B82. The flickering fluorescent lighting on floor B82 reveals a prototypical office space with contemporary (for us, the viewer) late 20th-century architectural design. Bernard boots up an old computer where he discovers unregisters hosts wandering the park. The atmosphere in this scene is spookily strong and suggesting the passage of time between a recognizable past (or "present" for the audience) and denoting the park’s evolution to dystopic future shock status.

On the park surface, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) surveys a village -- the village a visual doppelganger to the remote town in John Sturgess's The Magnificent Seven -- and decides whether to demolish it as his team rushes to complete the new park extension. A picture of the oval-shaped maze catches his eye and sends him back to the office (and perhaps sends fans scurrying to the message boards).

The Man in Black (Ed Harris) (aka, TMIB) takes Teddy (James Marsden) past the same valley graveyard on the road to Pariah. In theory, they're hot on the trail blazed by Will (Jimmi Simpson), Logan (Ben Barnes), and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood); however, recent narrative wrinkles suggest all Westworld timelines ought be called into temporal question. Nonetheless, Teddy tells us he's on the hunt for Dolores in a clever bit of ambiguous dialogue.

Visual Montage in Perfect Motion

Maeve sits naked and exposed atop a cold steel table. She squabbles quietly with Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam), the lowly lab tech that longs to empower his own creations. Maeve asks him, "How do you know [that you're not "real"]? Felix responds, "I was born, you were made". The differentiation he makes is one of "control". Felix is empowered by freedom, while Maeve maintains distinct programming. Felix offers to sync her up with his bird; I assume a kind of algorithmic programming intended to expand her agency. He demonstrates this by pulling up her dialogue programming. The software on tablet predicts her every word, while also showing possible variations. The digital effects and sci-fi logic make for dynamic display. Her cognition overloads trying to break into "improvisation" mode and Maeve temporarily shuts down.

Felix, genuinely caring and yet submissively fearful, brings Maeve back online and dresses her, a humanizing gesture that isn't to be missed. Felix then fulfills Maeve's request by walking them through a tour of the cloning laboratories.

Their trip functions as a visual montage of how the park is built piece by piece. The entire sequence is set to neoclassical violin chords. The brilliance of writers' and director’s strategic use of montage is not in everything revealed, but rather, that enough is revealed to deepen the world building without breaking narrative momentum by tacking on convoluted exposition.

The touring montage is a prime example of the demarcation between Westworld and nearly every other drama on TV. To cap it off, Maeve catches a meta-montage of her own. A wall-sized screen plays a commercial comprising filmed footage from the park Westworld, including shots of Dolores, Sweetwater, and Maeve with her lost daughter. Maeve’s expressionless face nonetheless emits bewilderment and heartbreak, and private humiliation in recognizing the scale of (her) public exposure.

Felix's lab partner Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) catches Maeve with a dress on. He tears into Felix for breaking protocol, but his anger pushes Maeve to break her mannequin pretense. She puts a scalpel to Sylvester's neck. Her brood of psychological hostages grows. By episode's end, Maeve has persuaded both men to show her the "attribute matrix" of personality settings, controls she will alter in her mission to usurp the status quo. To say "The Adversary" is "Maeve's episode" is putting it mildly, and Newton has a breakout episode (no pun intended) to pair alongside "Dissonance Theory".

Melodramatic Corporate Espionage

Security chief Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) abruptly breaks off her affair with Bernard. Her encounter with Ford has her spooked, and she must act accordingly if she's to save her job. Meanwhile on the roof of the Westworld surveillance complex, narrative architect Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) drinks away his sorrows in the most affluent way possible: poolside and surrounded by attractive people. A sign he's been at it too long, Lee gets cut off at the bar while he spouts private company information to an unnamed flirt (Tessa Thompson). Back in the war room, Elsie and Bernard continue their internal investigation. Bernard tracks the signal to the unmarked hosts, and when he arrives at his destination, the scene inside offers another pivotal plot-shifting shocker.

Taking one of the hidden elevators topside into Westworld, Bernard discovers an innocuously pristine cottage hid away in the pine woods. A family of four set about their simplistic routines: a father fetching wood for the fire, two boys sitting fireside with their books, a mother tending to the house duties. Bernard asks the father, "Are you Arnold?" All four dressed in post-Victorian fashion, the youngest the little boy we've seen wandering the desert ("Chestnut") and valley riverbed ("Contrapasso") by himself. A visual assessment led to the minor theorization that the boy may represent Ford at a young age (given their identical wardrobe in "Chestnut"). This theory proves accurate when Ford magically appears in time to save Bernard from the father, who doesn't halt to Bernard's programmer "voice commands".

Mythic Poetry in Robotic Revelations

Ford calls the boy over. He commands him, "Turn the other cheek", to which the boy’s face splits open at the center to reveal an animatronic skeletal system underneath. Bernard responds incredulously, "These are first generation". Ford communicates a clear melancholia in his exposition, "What our new designs gained in efficiency, they lost in grace." He tells the boy, "That's enough, Robert" and the boy's face closes back and he resumes his duties. Ford recalls that his family holidays (the inspiration, we assume, for this specific design) represent his only happy childhood memories. Thus, it would seem Arnold, gifted the first-gen creations to him with the adage, "Great artists always hid themselves in their work". Indeed, Ford does a great deal hiding within his works: the tortured artist, God walking amongst his creations in Eden. Bernard raises his concern, but Ford begs to differ.

"The Visceral Pleasure of Revenge": The Man in Black

In a shoot-out with a host of cavalry troops, TMIB and Teddy have been taken hostage. When one solider readies a fire poker in the shape of the maze (the maze symbolism is on literal overload by this point and to be fair, it's not even a particularly complex labyrinth shape. By this point, its become as de-mythologized as the Dharma logo on Lost), the men make their move to fight away. Teddy gets to a Gatling gun mounted atop a nearby wagon. In a scene that recalls The Outlaw Josey Wales or perhaps The Wild Bunch, Teddy lays waste to the soldiers in a maelstrom of bullets.

In the closing scene, Bernard confides newfound reservations about Ford to his former lover Teresa. This happens just as Elsie locates key data that implicates Teresa as a corporate spy. Elsie informs Bernard, but it might be too late. In padded cliffhanger fashion, someone then apprehends Elsie before she escapes the remote area.

Parts of this corporate espionage episode are quite contrived. For fans of the genre, however, watching these characters hoop through spy craft motions offers a welcome change up in the show's typical narrative protocol. While scenes with Teresa or Lee Sizemore feel largely secondary, the Westworld tech facility montage, Maeve's increased agency, and Bernard's investigation into Ford's faux childhood replication more than makes up for the shortcomings in "The Adversary". Indeed, the closing moments offer a chilling discovery, as Ford's childhood replicant Robert (should we call him "Little Ford"?) reveals a distinct voice in his head motivating him toward chaos. The same secret voice we previously heard Dolores speak to? Most definitely. Is the growing myth of Arnold haunting the park? Is he the ghost in the machine? While time will tell, one thing we know for sure, the machines can lie and they will kill.

Meta-Textual Manna

For Easter egg buffs, there's a brilliant blink or you'll miss it Yule Brenner host android (from the original 1973 film) hiding out of focus in the background when Bernard is rummaging through level B82. The cameo is special because it isn't given a lot of attention. In fact, Bernard doesn't even notice, which makes the inclusion a distinct inter-/extra-textual moment between producer and audience.

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