Westworld – The Stray (S01:E03) | Review

Westworld – The Stray (S01:E03) | Review

Westworld – The Stray (S01:E03)

William chooses a quest, Teddy gets a backstory, Ford tells Bernard a fable, Dolores learns how to swim, and Elsie and Stubbs follow a vector.


Spoilers ahead

Just don’t forget, the Hosts are not real.

After the disappointment of the on-rails second episode I was delighted with the open-world feeling that we get in “The Stray”. It felt like there were some chances being taken and we got a return of the dread that I felt in the pilot. The tenderness Teddy has with Dolores is wonderful and even after you get reminded that it’s all been scripted by Ford, the flickering of free-will that you see behind Dolores’ eyes pulls on your heartstrings as you realise that there’s a very long road for them to travel before they get anything close to happiness.

I’m amazed that when a gunshot or worse befalls one of the hero Hosts there’s still weight to it even though you know that after a hose down they’ll be back, good as new. Whether it’s Teddy getting butchered by the cowboy cultists or Dolores noticing the cattle have got out again, I continue to feel distress at seeing the fate handed down to them. Which is why, I suppose, when Dolores develops weapons privileges through a sheer force of will, it’s such a punch the air moment (I might have let out a “Yee-haa!” when she pulled the trigger). 

Evan Rachel Wood is at her very best this episode. She is enchanting with James Marsden but nothing prepares you for her final scene. Just for a flash there’s a steely bad-ass vibe to her before she escapes the barn and has her Edge of Tomorrow moment. I can’t wait until she gets a full sentience upgrade and has an “I know kung-fu” realisation. I predict that before the show comes to a close she’s going to unleash a bullet shaped river of doom upon all those that have wronged her.

Who in the world am I?

Bernard really doesn’t want anyone knowing he’s talking with Dolores does he? He’s super keen to make sure that files are wiped and Dolores hasn’t told anyone about their conversations. But what’s to stop someone else *cough* Dr. Ford *cough* from executing the same commands? It seems a little naive but I think he realises the danger he’s putting himself in as he almost pulls the plug on it all. In the end we’re told his curiosity gets the better of him and he doesn’t reset Dolores’ build. But is curiosity behind it all or is it a guilty feeling that he owes the Hosts something? Sure, he loves the possibilities that a conscious AI would allow (especially with regards to resurrecting his dead son) but an empathy for the robots, given the horrors that they have to endure, seems to weigh on him. If he can liberate them then maybe he’s not quite so much to blame.

Perhaps this sympathy is part of the shifting dynamic in these Dolores/Bernard encounters? Last episode it was all about him but here he starts out as a teacher and by the end of it she seems to be the one that’s in control. Is she wilfully keeping things from him and dangling the odd insight out there so that Bernard remains interested or is Dolores still working things out and making it up as she goes along?

In the pilot, I assumed that the two narrated “You can drop the accent” conversations with Delores (one at the start, one towards the end) were her talking with Bernard and then Stubbs but I’m going to have to go back and re-listen. Maybe it was Bernard and the not-quite-as-dead-as-Ford-makes-him-out-to-be Arnold? Following on from this, just before she pulls the trigger you hear someone say, “Kill him”. Is this Ford, Arnold, Bernard, the Voice of God/her programming, or Dolores’ own developing inner monologue? Regardless, they’re playing a masterful tune as they string Dolores (and the audience) along.

 Let’s see where this path leads.

I enjoyed the roadtrip that Elsie and Stubbs took to track down the eponymous “stray”. At least I did when it started. The banter in the lift and the bits of world building that happened along the way were subtlety written and played with a thoughtful level of workplace familiarity by Woodward and Hemsworth. What I didn’t like is the second half of the story when we got into the Orion carvings, the insane semi-decapitation scene that followed, and finally, the stray woodcutter’s improvised self-destruction.

The suicide by rock was shocking but on reflection and after a second viewing, it comes off as a little goofy. Other than the reveal about who can and can’t touch an axe did we learn anything new? I hope the next episode picks up immediately following the aftermath of this and we find out that this is more than just another robot gone haywire. With Stubbs there to witness, this has to be raised with Cullen and hopefully the sheer number of malfunctioning Hosts finally brings about some change. Otherwise, the whole incident could easily become a cynical metaphor for the show – a bunch of blood, jumps, and violence to distract you from a whole lot of meandering in the wilderness for no reason.

Random thoughts

  • Why don’t the retrieval team cosplay when they’re in the park? Surely if they come across any Guests while dressed in their uniforms it would ruin the immersive quality and cause alarm?
  • Loved the fear on Teddy’s unnamed Guest side-kick when the cultists descended in the dark. I’ve let out more swears of surprise than I’d care to mention playing computer games over the years. You know it’s not real but in the moment it might as well be.
  • $40k a night?!? That sounds like a steal. Maybe there’s a 30-day minimum stay in place to keep the undesirables out or the economy is different from what we’re used to and 40,000 future-bucks holds more value than we think.
  • The flashback to the Young Anthony Hopkins was amazing. The show continues to keep wowing me with their visuals.
  • Big hand for Gina Torres. I hope she turns up in the park at some stage as we know from Firefly that she’s a kick ass cowboy.
  • There’s robot horses and robot snakes but what about those cattle that keep escaping? Are they android steer or would it be easier for them to be actual cows?
  • Can’t help but imagine an elfin JJ Abrams gleefully dancing about in the background whispering “Mystery box, mystery box!” and throwing glitter in the air as the episode ended. As a lot of others have already identified, there’s definitely a Lost-esque feeling to the show which scares me a little. I really don’t want to spend the next six years watching only to be told at the end that they were kind-of-but-not-really dead the whole time.  


Author: George Langlands

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