In “The Stray,” the third episode of Westworld that aired Sunday night, we were hit with a Western period prop train full of new information to grapple with. Like how park founder Dr. Robert Ford didn’t create Westworld on his own—he founded it with “Arnold,” a mysterious scientist interested in actually “bootstrapping consciousness” in the androids who met his end equally mysteriously in the park years ago. Or how Dolores, our newly self-aware heroine, somehow got herself to fire a gun.
But this week I’m going to focus on one specific theory that has floated around the bowels of Reddit since the show’s premiere three weeks ago: that Bernard, the troubled, enigmatic head of programming, is actually an android.
Because Westworld park programmers have incorporated so many safeties into their creations—they understand the concept of dreams and memories, you have to saw into their middles to see they aren’t totally flesh-and-bone—it’s necessarily almost impossible to prove or disprove someone is an android, especially with the measured, segmented information the show has given us so far. But Bernard being an android would make a certain amount of sense, most notably, because he is Ford’s right-hand man. And many of the signifiers that indicates he is human can easily be explained away.
“Back stories do more than amuse guests,” explained programmer Elsie after security head Ashley questions the complex programmed histories of the androids. “They anchor the host. It’s their cornerstone. The rest of their identity is built around it, layer by layer.” If that’s true, Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson writes, Bernard’s backstory—he had a child who died of some illness who still haunts him today, and an ex- or estranged wife with whom he speaks on some sort of video platform—could just be his own programmed cornerstone.
In the second episode, “The Chestnut,” after Bernard has sex with Theresa Cullen, she asks him why androids talk to each other even when humans aren’t nearby.
“They’re always trying to error-correct,” Bernard explains. “Make themselves more human. When they talk to each other it’s a way of practicing.”
Theresa asks: “Is that what you’re doing now?” And is it?
Bernard has shown a special interest in encouraging Dolores’ expanding consciousness, and protecting her from management inquiries. Bernard has his private meetings with Dolores, she stays clothed, when programmers usually deal with androids when they are nude. Bernard definitely respects Dolores as an independent being—though I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean Bernard is an android himself. Plenty of human men have shown they’re capable of respecting android women, okay?
Additionally, some have suggested that Bernard could be an android with Arnold’s uploaded consciousness or knowledge. This is intriguing. Careful watchers will remember (and Bernard explains it again in “The Stray” for the rest of us idiots) that Abernathy, Dolores’ original glitchy dad, and Walter, the milk-guzzling massacre artist, both spoke to an invisible presence while they were glitching—it turns out they were both talking to Arnold, and referencing him by name.
Similarly, when Dolores glitches, or has moments of enlightenment, like shooting her would-be rapist in the barn, she also hears voices, only, the voice that speaks to her is clearly Bernard. So, is Bernard Arnold? Is Arnold Bernard? Am I insane?
I initially thought Ford was an android, who possibly escaped from another Westworld-esque situation to build his own army of androids, but a scene in Sunday’s episode in which he denies androids have feelings (“It doesn’t get cold,” he says slicing into an android’s face mush, “It doesn’t feel ashamed,”) made me doubt that reading, as did his own self-explained juxtaposition with Arnold, the consciousness seeker.
“Arnold hadn’t considered two things,” explains Ford. “One, that the last thing you want the hosts to be in this place is conscious, and two, the other group who considered to be their thoughts to be the voices of the gods—”
“Lunatics,” says Bernard, in what could be an unintended slight to Ford, who is mega God-complexing this whole show.
Moments later, Ford says that “the least we can do for the hosts is make them forget,” and indeed, the most obvious difference between the androids and humans is the ability to remember and have emotional connections to things in the past. This comes into play a few scenes later, when Bernard speaks with his wife about his son. Check out this beautifully vague theme-appropriate dialogue:
Wife: Sometimes it still feels unreal.
Bernard: Some mornings when I first wake up, for a split second I forget where I am, what I am. I reach over, half expecting to find him there next to me. Between us.
Wife: These talks... I don’t know if they help or hurt. Do you ever wish you could forget?
Bernard: This pain, it’s all I have left of him.
First, I’m crying. Second, this dialogue could be equally applicable to android or human consciousness, but in my interpretation, the emphasis on memory and his lingering pain distinctly separates his humanity from the androids.
Stray observations that could go either way:
- When Abernathy is decommissioned and put into livestock, Bernard whispers something in his ear.
- He can have sex with a human.
I don’t totally buy it, probably because the Occam’s Razor part of me doesn’t really see why it’s necessary to the plot. Regardless, it seems likely that someone in the control room is going to end up being android. I still haven’t convinced myself that that someone isn’t Ford, although this episode would suggest that if that’s so, he’s trying very hard to make himself forget it.
Let’s talk about that young Anthony Hopkins CGI, right?! TV is magic!