Warning: This recap for the “The Stray” episode of Westworld contains spoilers.
In case you’d forgotten that Westworld is a J.J. Abrams production, the show’s third episode, “The Stray,” unlocks one of the super-producer’s favorite Mystery Boxes: the one-named Man of Mystery. Remember how Alias had Rambaldi and Lost had Jacob? Well, get ready to meet Arnold, the friend and colleague of the park’s creator, Dr. Ford, whose presence has since been scrubbed from the official history books. But Ford remembers him and, more important, the hosts remember him … after a fashion anyway. He’s the proverbial ghost in their machine minds, having given them inner monologues that were intended to develop their early consciousness.
But as Ford tells Bernard, being made conscious of the daily horrors inflicted upon them by park-goers would all but guarantee a robot uprising. Hence, Arnold’s programming was wiped from their brains around the same time that the man himself vanished from the game-play arena under still-undisclosed circumstances. Several of his creations still talk to him, though, which directly addresses Ford’s second reason for deleting those inner monologues: Some hosts reacted to the voices in their heads as if they were the word of God. And as evidenced by his actions, Ford is only too happy to serve as Westworld’s one true deity.
Now that his name has been invoked, expect Arnold’s presence to loom larger and larger as the season progresses, although it’s an open question as to whether his spirit will be made flesh. After all, the centuries-dead Rambaldi never became a living, breathing, wig-changing character on Alias, but Jacob eventually appeared in corporeal form as Lost approached its endgame. Even as Ford suggests to Bernard — and, by extension, we viewers — that Arnold is no longer an active player in this game, there’s no reason to assume that he’s gone for good. Ford may believe he knows all and sees all in the world he’s created, but despite his imagined omnipotence, he’s still only human.
It’s worth noting that Arnold isn’t the only one-named wonder introduced into Westworld continuity this week. We also have a Wyatt, the newly christened nemesis for guilt-ridden sharpshooter Teddy. Wyatt is the missing link in our hero’s backstory, the answer to the unspecified guilt that Ford programmed into his code. With Dolores now pushing her assigned love interest to finally act on his promise to ride off into the sunset with her, Ford gives his fears a face, one that will keep him tethered to the small town where he’s lived and died more than 1,000 times. In a moment that could have come straight out of Inception — the blockbuster written and directed by Chris Nolan, the brother of Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan — Ford implants Wyatt’s name in Teddy’s mind, and a heretofore unwritten backstory takes root. When you’re watching a person’s history being created in front of your eyes, it’s no wonder you start imagining yourself to be God.
But enough of gods and men — artificial or otherwise. Here’s what’s happening around the rest of Westworld.
While Teddy is becoming newly acquainted with his “memories” of Wyatt, his lady love takes a departure from her own programmed routine, shooting the man who’s otherwise scripted to have his way with her and then fleeing into the night. It’s the second, and bloodiest, act of violence that she’s committed since the fly-swat at the end of the series premiere, and it’s accompanied by visions of her close encounter with the Man in Black. Meanwhile, Maeve is also experiencing bursts of horrific imagery from her time in the “real” world underground the park, specifically the sight of Teddy’s lifeless, bullet-riddled body awaiting repair. Their minds are both reaching toward self-awareness. What happens when they have it in their grasp?
Sure, Ford’s info dump about Albert was directly inspired by Bernard’s inquiries. But the elder doctor recognizes that his head of programming might be drifting toward similar obsessions that compromised his onetime partner. Certainly, Bernard remains fascinated by Dolores, continuing their one-on-one sessions where he digs around for the seeds of consciousness that he suspects, and maybe even hopes, are buried in her mechanical brain. But these meetings are also a kind of therapy for him, giving him someone to talk to when memories of his dead son seep into his mind.
The New Players
Now we know why Logan regards Lawrence with thinly veiled contempt: The guy is marrying his sister. That also explains why Lawrence has so far been reluctant to engage in the more provocative re-creations Westworld has to offer. Even if Logan swore that this is a “What happens in Westworld, stays in Westworld” kind of trip, not all brothers-in-law can be counted on to keep secrets. That’s something he probably learned by watching that super-old movie about a bachelor party gone wrong — you know, The Hangover.
The Wild Card
Apart from Dolores’s flashbacks, the Man in Black is off the game grid this episode, continuing his side quest for the mysterious Maze. But his presence in her dreams is something else she has in common with Maeve. Apparently, awakening to the reality of the park also involves awakening to the menace posed by this stern-faced gunslinger.
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.