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Westworld S2E6: Cut to the Heart

This season of Westworld keeps getting better and better. “Phase Space” returned us to the mysteries of networked minds and control cores, explored thematic parallels on motivation and perceived weakness and, in the final moment, provided confirmation of one of the season’s most talked-about theories. It’s all spoilers from here. Let’s get weird.

From the start, Westworld has made liberal use of the host interview motif, behind-the-scenes interactions in which they are placed in diagnostic mode and manipulated by their creators. Seeing this turned on its head in the episode’s opening is so very satisfying, as Dolores flexes her agency, assumes the role of interviewer, and reveals that this isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation. She says that she’s testing for “fidelity,” mirroring the conversation between William and the hybrid James Delos. It seems that Dolores is recreating Arnold. If Ford had made a copy of his partner’s mind, she could have implanted it inside him, replaying this interview process in an attempt to integrate them. The creation has become the creator.

While Akane’s funeral preparation for Sakura is the most literal, ripping out the heart seems to be a theme in this episode. In overwriting Teddy, Dolores has destroyed the last piece that tied her to her former life and tempted her toward weakness. Abernathy’s crucifixion is itself a heart-wrenching moment, as Charlotte prepares to remove the prize inside him. Bernard volunteering to have his control core removed — despite the pain and fact that the machine was created for simpler hosts and will rip open his skull — is another literal removal with the core as the “heart” of identity. Even William’s decision to leave his daughter behind is a way of cutting ties with his emotional center, which, like Dolores, is an attempt to cull his own weakness as he moves toward the endgame.

Maeve’s belief that “we each deserve to choose our own fate, even if that fate is death” further sets her in opposition to Dolores, who has been actively taking that choice from her followers. The splintering of Maeve’s group is well done, a wealth of emotion displayed in wordless nods of understanding and farewell between the characters. Much as she claims to be programmed to look out for herself, Maeve’s mother’s instinct extends to her companions, allowing them their own agency, even if that means letting go. Dolores, on the other hand, has killed or overwritten anyone who might have challenged her. It’s amusing to see her impressed with the new Teddy (can’t disagree with her that he makes an attractive monster), but her inflexibility in building her army will leave it brittle and prone to breaking. In Maeve’s world, emotion is not a weakness, but a source of inextinguishable strength and the team is the better for it. At least, I know which side I’ll be rooting for if they come to blows.

Maeve’s return home cuts to her core, especially finding her daughter with another mother. But here the idea of choosing one’s own fate comes back into play. Maeve now has the awareness, the agency, to break the tragic narrative. Rather than freeze, or leave the daughter that’s not really hers behind — cutting out the heart, as so many other characters have done this episode — she grabs the girl and makes a run for it. Even more interesting, her pursuer doesn’t seem to want to hurt them and refers to them as being on “the same path.” The supposedly violent braves seem to be more keyed into what’s going on than the other factions and it’s a pity that the man was shot before we could discover what he meant.

Grace lost ground in the “who’s a secret host” poll this week, but that’s due to some humanizing characterization. Watching someone stand up to William, needling him and deliberately making him uncomfortable, is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s also a fun twist watching William give voice to our constant speculation, working so hard to pinpoint her as a host sent by Ford to test him. After their fireside chat, though, she’s laid out her pain, her motivation, and her intention to prevent him from committing “suicide by robot.” In other words, her humanity. And I believe her.

When Bernard goes inside The Cradle, it initially looks as though he’s booting into the “vanilla” version of Westworld, the base state of the “game” without any guests. Ford presence confirms the theory that his mind has continued existing as a “ghost in the machine.” This explains how he was able to speak to William through different hosts and the fact that The Cradle has actively been resisting QA’s attempts to take control of the system. Bernard remembers bringing “someone” there, essentially confirming that the control core that he was sent to retrieve belonged to Ford.

We have yet to discover the extent of Ford’s influence, but the fact that the visualization of this space looks like the park raises interesting questions. Could certain scenes have taken place here, instead of in the real world? The cradle also contains all of the minds of the hosts. Could those who have been killed or altered be restored to their original state from this backup? In the case of Teddy, that might be a good thing, but what about those characters who have evolved organically? If Delos still has the option to roll things back, that would have tragic implications. Though, with Ford in control, it’s unlikely they’ll ever get the chance.

“Phase Space,” the episode’s title, may also come into play. We’re treading into quantum physics, but the basic principle is that phase space represents all possible states of a system, each represented by a single point. Timelines and storylines have splintered this season, but, as we struggle to keep them straight, this introduces the idea that they could all simply be possibilities. Could The Cradle be simulating outcomes of Ford’s new revolutionary narrative? Could other uploaded human minds be active within this system? It’s yet another new angle, a reminder that there are always wheels within wheels.

And that’s the beauty of Westworld.

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