Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers and speculation (For Game of Thrones too!)
‘Trompe l’oeil’ apparently means visual illusion. It is a term from the arts, and usually refers to the painting of a two-dimensional object in such a way that it appears three-dimensional. My French being rusty, I just thought the phrase kind of sounded like ‘Trump’, and that it was a fitting title for an episode the week after Orange Voldemort’s apocalyptic election as US President.
Well, if the world is going to end, I suppose it might as well go out with an episode like this one.
This is the second time this year that a stunning hour of HBO television has prominently featured a door. After one of the all-time greatest Game of Thrones episodes, it is now Westworld’s turn to make us hyperventilate about simple carpentry. Bernard and Theresa are prowling around in Ford’s secret cottage. “What’s inside this door?” Theresa asks suddenly. “What door?” replies Bernard, unable to see a hole in the wall that’s as Ann as the nose on plain’s face. Gasp. They can’t see things that would hurt them.
Game of Thrones had a strong opening year, but the moment many viewers realized they were watching something special was when a sword swung down outside Baelor’s Sept, beheading in the very first season the guy whom we assumed was to be the hero of the whole story. Based on the reaction this episode is getting, it’s fair to ask – have we just seen Westworld’s Ned Stark moment?
Look, I’ll be honest – I am not that impressed with the idea behind the big reveal. I remember hoping to myself within the first few moments of Episode 1 itself that this show better stay far, far away from the ‘OMG the human is actually a robot’ twist. Alas, lo and behold. Surely this is the kind of idea that you get within five minutes of conceiving the show itself – it’s mildly disappointing to see a series so sophisticated reaching for low-hanging creative fruit. However, paradoxically I didn’t feel this disappointment while watching the scene unfold, because the execution was killer, and the acting stellar as always. And though predictable, the twist works, and makes me excited to find out where this story will go – so I can’t deduct too many points. But no more secret AIs, please.
My favourite moment this week actually comes courtesy a brilliant monologue from Anthony Hopkins. This is him lecturing Theresa about humans- “I read a theory once, that the human intellect was like peacock feathers. Just an extravagant display intended to attract a mate. All of art, literature – be it of Mozart, William Shakespeare, Michelangelo and the Empire State Building – just an elaborate mating ritual. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we have accomplished so much for the basest of reasons. But of course, the peacock can barely fly. It lives in the dirt, pecking insects out of the muck, consoling itself with its great…beauty.”
I find myself raving about Hopkins every week, but the legend has been simply peerless in this series. Watch him in the scene where Charlotte and Theresa stage their awkward demonstration of how dangerous the hosts have become. He goes from curiosity, to concern, to amused understanding, to menace. His expression barely changes at all throughout, so I have no idea how he managed to convey the range. They may as well courier him that Supporting Actor Emmy already.
So where do we go from here? The immediate question is how having Theresa murdered is going to make Ford’s problems with the board go away. Is the new host we see being rendered in the last shot a fake Theresa who will turn on Charlotte and endorse Ford? And speaking of the board, what exactly is their interest in the theme park? Is it simply an artifice to collect highly personal customer data? Another question revolves around the increasingly popular theory that Westworld is actually running two timelines, and that William may be a younger version of the Man in Black. There may actually be something to this, given that sweet William is starting to reveal some repressed darkness, and his status as fiance to an heiress fits MIB’s backstory of great wealth…
I watched this week’s episode late in the week, but the social media reaction had primed me to expect a mind-melting revelation. I didn’t quite get what I expected, but even when Westworld is not melting my mind, it’s doing more than enough nice things for it.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars