Warning: This interview about the “Trompe L’Oeil” episode of Westworld contains spoilers.
There are still three episodes left before that retro-futuristic theme park known as Westworld shuts its doors for the season. But in the wake of tonight’s seventh installment, “Trompe L’Oeil,” at least one notable park employee appears to be taking an early retirement: Clementine Pennyfeather, the most popular attraction at Maeve’s bordello. “I feel this is the end for Clementine unfortunately,” actress Angela Sarafyan tells Yahoo TV. “I hope I can continue to play strong characters like her; more of this, that’s my goal!”
If Clementine’s gotta go, at least she goes out swinging. After being plucked from the bordello on the orders of Delos board executive Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), Clementine is brought to a laboratory where she’s the victim of a brutal beating before turning around and delivering a wicked beat-down to her attacker. This demonstration is intended to serve as a teachable lesson/pointed warning to Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), highlighting how dangerous these beings they’ve created are, especially if they remember any of the awful things that have been done to them. That’s why Clementine is shot and then lobotomized by the park staff. The last time we see her, she’s on an operating room table, her lifeless eyes staring forward, blood dripping from her nose.
Of course, since Clementine is an artificial human, her death doesn’t have to be permanent. But Sarafyan declines to reveal whether there’s a chance, however slim, that she’ll return. “I don’t want to give out any information that might compromise the story, and I don’t know what will happen in the coming seasons,” she says. “But if you continue to watch this season, other things will reveal themselves. You never know!” We spoke with Sarafyan about her harrowing last scene and the episode’s other big revelation: that Bernard is also a robot.
The scene between Clementine and Maeve in the bordello is one we’ve seen several times before, because it’s part of their loop. But this iteration is different right away, because Maeve’s perception levels have been heightened, making her aware that she’s part of a program. Did you feel a tangible difference in the way Thandi Newton performed that scene versus previous times?
In the past, that conversation has been part of their loop. And I’ve always felt that Clementine wants to confide in Maeve; that’s partly because Thandi and I have such a great dynamic. We’ve become good friends throughout the shoot, and because that’s how I feel toward Thandi, I feel that’s part of how Clementine feels toward Maeve. But this version of their conversation is definitely the most intimate. Thandi was really moving and tender when performing this scene, and I hope that came across — the intimacy between these two women.
That sense of intimacy is definitely present in the scene; it’s notable that Clementine has never revealed this much about her past before, and it seems entirely motivated by Maeve’s genuine curiosity.
Even in Clementine’s program there’s a tenderness and kindness. We learn that she’s only a prostitute so that she can support her family; she does these things so they can all move to a new place someday. Of course, that idea of “someday” unfortunately makes me think that it will never happen. But it’s a hopeful idea.
There’s a palpable eeriness to the moment where Clementine gets extracted from the bordello by the park staff. The other hosts are standing there frozen, and only Maeve is aware of what’s happening.
Right — initially it seems as if they’re coming to take Maeve, but it’s really Clementine. They pick someone who is the least possible threat, and she represents that since her backstory is the prostitute with the heart of gold. It’s a scary thing that the staff can literally put the hosts on pause whenever they want. It’s a little bit like The Manchurian Candidate, this idea of having your thoughts and actions controlled.
Even by Westworld standards — where the staff and guests routinely abuse the hosts — Clementine’s beating is hard to watch. How did you react when you read the scene for the first time?
I remember getting very emotional, not only because of my relationship to Clementine, but also the mere fact that this could happen to anybody is heartbreaking. And then when she turns around and attacks her attacker, it shows how much strength she has. These creatures are incredibly dangerous, and I found that empowering. You see how much power Clementine has. The whole sequence was very moving and exciting to make. And I loved that I was able to do all of the action myself; it was all very choreographed. No one got beaten up in the making of it!
What sort of choreography goes into a scene like that?
You plan out the movements with the director, and you repeat them over and over so your body acquires the muscle memory. I’m a ballerina, so I understood that kind of choreography. What’s interesting with this show is that normally after a scene like this, you have all these emotions coursing through your body. But here, you’re told to stop feeling anything. So it was when Clementine attacks that you get to see that she will not permit anything like this to happen to her. To be able to do that as a woman in that kind of situation was incredibly powerful and fun to do.
What was it like to see the completed sequence?
I saw it for the first time three days ago, and I was really nervous because you never know how it’s going to turn out. I’m very happy with it. I hadn’t previously seen Clementine alive as a character, because I was always in the scene. So when I saw her in this sequence, I was sad about what was happening to her, but when she found her strength, it was liberating. And it was awesome performing that in front of Anthony Hopkins. Clementine gets to be a badass, and I was thinking, “I get to do it in front of him!”
Did you consciously approach your character as if she had a different personality when she’s Clementine than when she’s in pure robot mode?
Very much so. Clementine is the program within Westworld, and part of the reality of that place. She’s the perfect Method actor who carries guests into the fantasy she’s part of. As a character in the park, Clementine is always falling in love. So for the scenes where she’s in sleep mode, I asked Jonah [Nolan, the co-showrunner] if it was possible for her to appear in a kind of dream state where there’s still something romantic about her. For example, in the first episode where Bernard and Elsie are analyzing her, she’s mentally in a very different place than that laboratory. She’s with a person that she’s dreaming about. I wanted her sensuality to still exist even in those moments.
Speaking of Bernard, this episode climaxes with the revelation that he’s also an artificial human. Were you as surprised by that twist as the audience?
We had no idea that was going to happen! Everything that’s a surprise for viewers was a surprise for all of us. It’s incredible to read all these fan theories, and how astute they are. Like the whole debate about the two different Westworld logos, and whether that means there’s a second timeline. It’s insane what people are coming up with. And I love that it’s become this collaborative thing; viewers aren’t just watching the show, they’re dissecting it. They’re active members in it. The Man in Black is hunting for the Maze, and viewers are doing the same thing with the show.
How has being part of this show impacted your own thoughts about the future of artificial intelligence and robotics?
It makes you think about what we’re capable of as people. We exist in a world where there our rules, and where everyone has a place to go and things to do. But if you’re living in a place with no rules, what are you capable of? Or what about if you’re in a place where you’re looking at something that looks human, but you’re told it’s like a cell phone? While I was playing Clementine, I realized there’s such a humanity to her; she’s almost more human than any human. The hosts exist purely in the moment, and aren’t influenced by a million other thoughts. They’re evolving creatures, not just mannequins. The real question is: do they have empathy? I don’t know the answer to that, but I really think that it’s possible.
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.