“Les Ecorches” is the most exciting episode of Westworld season two yet, answering many burning questions about the park while setting the fuse for future episodes to come. Taking place across three timelines, spanning before, during and after Bernard’s trip to The Cradle, episode seven is still rather blurry when it comes to figuring out how everything happens. Nonetheless, directed with great energy by Nicole Kassell, “Les Ecorches” satisfies both as a piece of entertainment and as a necessary piece of the Westworld puzzle. Let’s get straight into what this episode had to offer:
While Westworld has thrived on being a show replete with fake-outs, reversals, and resurrections, the return of Ford still represented something of a surprise. His death, coming right at the end of season one, felt so definite that everything that happened afterward in the park, like in Game of Thrones, would be somewhat of a reaction to that. Yet, like any great puppet master, he still remains pulling the strings — existing both in The Cradle and acting like a devil on Bernard’s soldiers back in the “real world”. It is a great pleasure to have Anthony Hopkins back, as he is better suited than anyone else to take the endless philosophical monologues rampant in the show and spin it into something that at least sounds profound.
And who better than Ford himself to tell us that the real purpose of the park is not to harvest data to sell it on to other companies, but to create immortality itself? Now it seems that the human mind — what Ford refers to as the last truly analogue object — can be uploaded into replicates of the guests so they can live forever as digitized versions of themselves. Finally, Westworld is giving us some hard answers to already existing questions, rather than adding yet more mysteries. This revelation, spun so eloquently by a Blake-quoting Anthony Hopkins, is a deeply satisfying way of showing why the information uploaded into Abernathy is so valuable. (Conversely, the appearance of multiple versions of Bernard was expected, given how confused the poor man constantly feels). This imbues Westworld with a certain meaning far more profound than merely an allegory about why data harvesting is bad.
Much like in Get Out, the hosts are not seen as bodies in and of themselves, but as capsules within which the guests can live forever. That is until Angela destroys all of the back-ups and herself in the process. With Ford constantly lingering in the background, this seems to be his intention all along. He loves the hosts, telling Bernard that, “you and all the other hosts are a different species, an original work, just nobler.” Whether you want him to succeed in his mission or not depends on which ideology to follow. Which leads me to state:
Meave is Our One True Ideological Hero
Westworld is a TV show about clashing ideologies. On the one extreme, you have neo-liberalism, represented by Charlotte Hale, while on the other you have Robert Ford’s utopianism. In between, you have Sizemore’s egocentrism, The Man in Black’s conspiracism, and Dolores’ quest for bloody liberation. (You can really see this lot subtweeting one another furiously online). This doesn’t really give us a lot to root for, as each person’s belief system comes at the expense of others. Seeming as Bernard does not really have any driving philosophy beyond being confused, this only leaves one person left: Meave.
Meave is the only person bound by something that everyone can relate to; the love of one’s own flesh and blood. Even if she has only been programmed to feel this way, Meave remains the most human character of all because she is willing to selflessly give herself up in the name of someone else. It raises the key question: Are we human because of who we are, or due to the way we act? Therefore, her showdown with The Man in Black feels loaded with tension because, if anything were to happen to her, it would take away the one truly sympathetic character in the entire series. While it would be a mighty shame to see the great Ed Harris leave the show, William’s death would have been more far, far more satisfactory and brave on the part of the show-runners.
Westworld missed the chance here to have a woman in colour speedily disabuse a privileged white man of the notion that literally, everything revolves around him, thus making a broader, revolutionary point about the stories we tell and the way that they have so often centred around a particular type of person. Although Westworld has never explicitly been a show about race — with Dolores and Meave’s uprisings, it seems far more interested in pop feminism — this still feels like a missed opportunity in a show that does so often (see: ShogunWorld, RajWorld) reinforce stale and tired stereotypes.
Lee thankfully saves Meave and takes her back to the lab, where she meets Dolores once again, who has managed to save her father and will try and take him to The Valley Beyond. I mentioned before how the show seemed to be setting us up for a showdown between the two women, yet here Dolores seems to show sympathy for Meave, handing her a pistol to put herself out of her own misery. Thankfully scheming Lee, who has a knack for avoiding bad situations, has avoided the wrath of the hosts, and should get Meave back to working order in no short time.
Where Do Ghost Nation Come into This?
Ghost Nation have been in the backdrop of almost every episode of Westworld this season, but they have yet to come to the forefront. As the kidnappers of Meave’s daughter, the question remains whether they are to be a benevolent or malevolent force in the series, giving how vague they have been so far. The trailer for the next episode, “Kiksuya” (which means “remember” in the Sioux language of Lakota) seems to suggest it will focus entirely on the Tribe. Hopefully, Westworld will find a way to round them out in a more intriguing and respectful way than the ‘otherised’ clichés of RajWorld and ShogunWorld we have seen so far. Tune in next week to find out!