We are nothing without our memories. Our ‘lived’ experiences and the memories they create shape us, they give us drive and make us who we are. This is what Westworld explores in ‘The Stray’, a solid but unspectacular episode that continues the show’s mission statement to examine what makes us human. It’s an interesting facet of a complicated theme, but in a world where robot cowboys slaughter each other, it’s a shame the show doesn’t inject subtly into the pulpy backdrop.
It’s disappointing that after last week’s relatively quiet episode the show reverts to being loud. The story this week pushes Teddy (James Marsden) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) to the fore. Teddy, the gunslinger, is given new memories in the form of a backstory and from then on his character is different. He becomes more rash, more violent and more heroic. Marsden plays the changes well and makes it clear that Teddy is still the same gunslinger everyone has grown to love in the last two episodes but this time he has a bit of edge.
In the control room, Bernard watches over Teddy and is struck by memories of someone he has lost. His grief is what drives him and his entire arc exists to stick to this week’s themes. Bernard’s entire character makes every choice in the shadow of this past event and Wright is able to turn Bernard into a sympathetic character.Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Ford (Anthony Hopkins) thread Teddy and Bernard’s stories together. Ford gives Teddy his tragic backstory and continues to be shifty. As expected Hopkins is great, however, it’s with him that Westworld’s problems come to the fore. The writing is far too obvious, and Ford might as well be wearing devil horns. Normally, the taut plotting makes it easy to overlook this annoyance but ‘The Stray’ makes it too hard. Ford has regressed from shady to 98 percent evil and the dialogue between Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth — yes, another Hemsworth brother) and Elise (Shannon Woodward) is trying too hard to set up some romantic friction — it’s cringe inducing.
Thank heavens for Dolores, then. The biggest success of these first three episodes has been Evan Rachel Wood’s performance and Dolores’ characterisation because it has remained ambiguous. A reason for this is that with every revelation Wood is able to keep generating questions: how much does Dolores understand? Is she playing along? Whatever she is planning, the returning memories are impacting how she plays the game and watching Wood is such a joy it is impossible not to wonder what Dolores is going to do next.
To some extent, that anticipation can be transferred to the ‘The Stray’ itself. It was a functionary episode, one that moved the plot along without doing anything amazing. There was nothing particularly special about this episode, and, yet, it remained engaging and addictive. This may have been a placeholder episode, but it makes getting the next Westworld fix a must.