Westworld Recap: S1E6 “The Adversary”


Like a knight rescuing a damsel, “The Adversary” arrived just in time. After “Contrapasso”, a slow and rather frustrating episode, Westworld had us feeling restless. Mysteries, world-building, and philosophizing are all well and good; they certainly provide plenty of fodder for think-pieces. At some point, though, the narrative has to actually move forward, toward a destination.

Our destination isn’t in sight quite yet, but at least now, we seem to be on the right track instead of wandering around and gawking at the scenery.

Early on in the episode, Maeve asks perhaps the pivotal question of Westworld: “How do you know?” Felix, the mild-mannered technician who has witnessed her awaken from sleep mode for a third time, is attempting to explain that she’s a robot, her personality and actions determined by others, and he is human. After a brief hesitation, he insists with the vague impatience of a parent talking to an overly inquisitive child, “I know. I was born. You were made.”

But, pulling off his surgical glove and clasping his hand, she notes, “We feel the same.”

The difference, then, isn’t physical but mental. “The processing power in [your brain] is way beyond what we’re capable of,” he says. “It’s got one drawback, though. You’re under our control – well, their control… Everything in your head, they put it there.”

Thandie Newton and Leonardo Nam in Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

With his self-correction, however, Felix undermines his own argument. He, too, is under “their” control. His behavior is also constrained by a code of sorts – the policies imposed by the Delos Corporation (in using equipment from the Behavior Department to conduct experiments, he risks being fired or “decommissioned”) as well as the rules established by society (like many of his fellow employees, he can’t afford to go inside the park that he helps operate). As Westworld has demonstrated throughout its run so far, the concept of free will is tenuous at best and illusory at worst.

Only when Felix shows Maeve the tablet that the staff uses to monitor her activities does reality begin to sink in. After temporarily shutting down, as if incapable of processing this information, she decides to confront the situation, perhaps believing that with more knowledge, she can regain control. In a sequence almost as horrifyingly numbing as Maeve’s “Chestnut” escape attempt was horrifyingly visceral, Felix takes his android charge on a guided tour of the Mesa Hub. They walk through livestock management, where “dead” hosts are cleaned and repaired, and design, where new hosts are created and tested, before winding up at the visitor welcome center.

Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

There, Maeve is greeted by a giant screen displaying an ad that should look familiar to anyone who has explored the Westworld website. Woven in the montage are images of her from her days as a pioneer, running in a sunlit field with the girl acting as her daughter. Maeve’s reaction to this sight is unexpectedly subdued, as Thandie Newton conveys a devastating mixture of alarm and confusion using only her eyes.

When the ad ends, a cut whisks us back to the lab downstairs where Maeve sits, now wearing a royal blue slip. “How did you have my dreams?” she asks. Felix explains that what she interprets as dreams are actually memories of a previous storyline to which she was assigned; her current assignment as the madam of the Mariposa is less than a year old. A loud voice interrupts, and we groan. Sylvester is back and still annoying. Once again, though, Maeve overcomes her shock and seizes control, putting a scalpel to the bearded technician’s throat. Even though he’s aware that the hosts can’t harm humans, the threat feels real enough that Sylvester relents.

“Despite what’s in here,” Maeve says, pointing the blade at his head, “we’re not so different, are we?”

The technicians aren’t the only humans out of their depth. The episode’s most pivotal storyline belongs to Bernard and Elsie, as they try to figure out who is siphoning data from the park. Some digging around reveals that five hosts, in addition to the stray, have discrepancies between their “known” programming and their “legacy” programming. None of the hosts in question have been entered into the new system, which doesn’t broadcast data, and they are in Sector 17, which has been designated off-limits for future narratives.

Jeffrey Wright in Westworld season 1, image courtesy of John P. Johnson/HBO

Bernard sneaks into Sector 17 and sees… a cottage? It seems someone has plopped a fairy tale in the middle of the Western dystopia. Going against his “let it lie” nature, Bernard enters and finds what appears to be an ordinary household inhabited by a man, a woman, and their two sons. But we recognize one of the sons as the boy host Ford spoke to in the desert. They, Ford explains (he has been standing in the corner the whole time), are first-generation androids Arnold designed as a gift to his partner, his sole remaining creations, though Ford has modified them over the years.

The scene is a recreation of what Ford calls his only happy childhood memory, of family trips to the English countryside. As we suspected, the familiar boy is young Robert, and older-looking one is his brother. Even the greyhound from last week’s anecdote is here. In spite of his efforts to hide or deny it (one of the modifications involved making his father alcoholic), Ford clearly has a sentimental streak.

Meanwhile, Elsie tracks the satellite – a Delos one – to Sector 3. Talking to Bernard on a walkie-talkie, she speculates that the voices the hosts have been hearing are a broadcast sent by someone using the old “bicameral” control system. The trail leads her to a dark room full of relics: statues, wooden chairs, and, stuck to the underside of a floorboard, a computer. She can now read what is being transmitted. This reveals three things, as she tells Bernard:

  • Theresa is a culprit (which sounds fishy, especially since earlier in the episode, Elsie implied that she thinks the Quality Assurance head should be fired).
  • The altered programming includes prime directives, meaning the hosts can potentially lie and harm humans.
  • The other culprit somehow appears to be Arnold.

After ending her call with Bernard, Elsie hears a creak behind her. She’s not alone.

Although the Maeve and Bernard/Elsie storylines dominate the episode, we check in with other characters for a couple scenes. There’s Teddy, still accompanying the Man in Black on his quest for Wyatt. When they get waylaid by soldiers who resent Teddy, the gun-slinging hero reveals a new side of himself, viciously slaughtering their captors in a hail of machine-gun fire. We see through flashbacks that Teddy’s fallout with Wyatt happened not because he opposed the latter’s massacre of a town but because he helped, hence his yearning for redemption. The Man in Black expresses surprise at his companion’s ruthlessness, to which Teddy replies, “You don’t know me at all.”

Ed Harris and James Marsden in Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

And then, there’s Lee Sizemore, who shows up for the first time since episode two. During this time, he’s been “on sick leave”, relaxing at the Mesa Gold, a hotel where guests decompress on their way to rejoining the outside world. As it turns out, he’s just as obnoxious when on vacation as he is when at work. He whines to Theresa that he “can’t get it up”, creatively speaking, and she doesn’t appreciate the effort he puts into his narratives. He whines about his lack of creative freedom to a woman played by Creed’s Tessa Thompson, who rejects his offer of a drink.

“It’s my business to read desires,” he brags. Yet, he clearly isn’t as perceptive as Maeve or even the stranger at the bar, who observes that Lee is “afraid to lose control.” Only after smearing the park’s management and sullying the Control Center map does he find out that the woman isn’t a guest at all but Charlotte Hale, executive director of the board, sent to Westworld by Delos to oversee “certain transitions in our administration”.

“The Adversary” could easily have been tedious; we already know or have pieced together a lot of the information that the characters discover. Ultimately, the revelations themselves matter less than their effect on the characters, from Maeve’s acceptance of her artificial yet conscious nature to Bernard’s grief upon seeing Ford’s intact (if manufactured) family. It’s ironic: the less certain people are of their reality or humanity, the more real and human they seem.

Related Story: Westworld Releases Episode Names and Synopses Through Episode 9

Stray observations:

  • This week’s player piano song is “Fake Plastic Trees”, another Radiohead tune. In other music news, Ramin Djawadi’s score goes more synth-heavy and is still sublime.
  • Like Maeve’s shade, the maze figures into Westworld’s version of Native American mythology, supposedly sheltering a man who continually came back to life to vanquish his enemies and afterward gave up on violence.
  • Theresa to Lee: “Tortured artist only works for artists.”
  • Ford’s memory house and Sector 3 both have strong A.I. vibes.
  • Theresa and Bernard should get an award for Least Emotional Breakup Ever.
  • Fiction makes you super paranoid about characters revealing information about secret investigations. On that note, Elsie better be okay!