What Is Jeffrey Wright's 'Westworld' Character Up To?
This post contains major spoilers for the premiere of Westworld. Head to our show page for more Westworld reviews, theories, and deep dives.
In the series premiere of HBO's Westworld, there is a scene in which the Westworld park operations director Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is upset because the newest update to the robots (called "hosts") in the Wild West-themed park is making them do the android version of Apple's spinning wheel of death. As the park's narrative director Lee (Simon Quarterman) blows up at her suggestion that they pull all newly updated hosts out until it's fixed, Theresa tries to keep her composure. Meanwhile, another man in the cold, metallic room creepily stares at her.
"It's beautiful," he tells her, moving awkwardly close to her face. "Your brow. When you're angry but trying to control it, the fine muscles pull into a little arc. It's elegant. Would you mind if I recorded it? I'd love to show it to my team."
This, friends, is Bernard Lowe (aka Jeffrey Wright, aka Valentin Narcisse from Boardwalk Empire). At Westworld, he is a man who wears many hats. Engineer. Head programmer. Freaky face-toucher. And soon-to-be destroyer of humankind as we know it.
"But no," you cry out. "Bernard is a softie, a smart, sensitive, perceptive man. He would never do something like that."
I am not suggesting our man Bernie is an intentional agent saboteur. But he falls into the camp of conscientious idealist, and considering this is a story originally concocted by author-director Michael Crichton, those people tend to ruin the world. Exhibit A: neglectful Scottish grandparent and ice cream aficionado John Hammond, founder of Jurassic Park.
Unlike Hammond, who had the vision for a dinosaur theme park but couldn't do the fancy and technical things needed to pull it off, Bernard is merely a student of the original visionary Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). But he's also a man with both the technical expertise (he oversees all programming of the androids) and a social-emotional compassion for the robots that borders on alarming -- everything one needs to cause a full-out robot rebellion. Here are the early signs that Bernard could bring doom to Westworld.
1. His obsession with Dr. Ford's "reverie" updatesIn the latest host upgrade, Dr. Ford snuck in a new function: "reveries," a set of movements the hosts make that are tied to specific memories (or, for robots, traces of past programming). When Bernard explains this to his assistant, she's reasonably confused; Westworld employees are supposed to purge host memories at the end of every narrative loop -- i.e., every day. Bernard suggests that past programming is still in there somewhere "waiting to be overwritten," and that Ford found a way to access them "like a subconscious." He goes on, in a voice filled with awe: "It's the tiny things that make them seem real."
Unfortunately, the "reveries" are the source of Westworld's current malfunctions, a point Bernard reluctantly brings up with Dr. Ford, who then treats him to one of his patented speeches that puts a finger on the thesis of the show. Ford explains that humans have peaked, because we've been able to fix all natural "mistakes" and "slip evolution's leash." The next natural step, he says, is for us to be able to eventually "resurrect the dead." But, Ford says, Bernard must indulge him "the occasional mistake." Upon hearing this, Bernard smiles warmly and walks off.
Ford is proclaiming himself God in this scenario, and because humans are "done" and "as good as we're going to get," the more interesting project at this current time is to push androids closer and closer to that human reality, mistakes and all. Judging by Bernard's demeanor as this is revealed, it seems that he's on board with this.
But as we find out with the Peter Abernathy host, when those old memories act as a subconscious, the hosts remember all the depraved stuff the rich humans do to them in barns. Acting out is inevitable. And by acting out, I really mean destroying or enslaving our entire civilization and making us chug a lot of milk and listen to the piano version of "Black Hole Sun" ad infinitum.
2. His secret picture of a childHalfway through the premiere, Bernard takes a moment to look at an old-school elementary school photo of a young boy. He hides it in his pocket when other people enter the room. Unless he's a narcissist who stares at old pictures of himself as a child to gain self-confidence before interacting with others, I'd like to believe that this was Bernard's child, who has died (at one point earlier, the head of security, another Hemsworth brother, asks if he has children, and Bernard glumly and quickly responds "no").
If this is indeed Bernard's deceased child, the "resurrect the dead" speech given by Ford has an entirely new meaning. Bernard could be using all that he's learned to "resurrect" his son, or -- in any case -- learn how to create a lifelike android version of him who is real enough to have dreams and a subconscious. If Bernard is willing to sacrifice everything to try to get to that point, it means he'll have tunnel vision that might blind him to any red flags. Like, I don't know, the robots with bad memories of Ed Harris all planning to enslave civilization as we know it?
3. The Peter Abernathy sagaPoor Peter Abernathy. If Dolores' robo-dad hadn't poked around in the dirt by his cattle pen, he might still be out there dying by bandits' hands in front of his daughter every night. But instead, he found what looks like an old Kodak FunSaver photo of a girl taken in a Times Square-esque situation. That didn't compute. When Peter realized his entire world was a lie, the robot had a nervous breakdown.
So who would plant such a photo in Westworld? Could it possibly be, oh, I don't know, Bernard? He was the only other person in Westworld holding a similar type of old-school photo, and as we see in the pilot, he has the logical alibis to travel pretty much anywhere he wants to on the property. Bernard expressed interest in witnessing the tiny things that make hosts seem real. What better way to experiment than to give the host an actual, real picture?
Even if you don't buy that Bernard planted the photo, it's hard to deny that the roboticist feels guilty over packing Peter away in the basement. After they've made the executive decision to send the farmer bot to the underground shed of misfit toys among all the other broken-down robots, Bernard whispers something in his ear.
There has been speculation online about what he might've said, especially because Abernathy whispered creepy Shakespeare lines to his daughter earlier in the episode. But I think we all know in our hearts that Bernard told him, "It's time to start the revolution."
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