Wait -- What's the Deal With Arnold on 'Westworld'?
This post contains spoilers for the eighth episode of Westworld, "Trace Decay." Head to our Westworld show hub for more reviews, theories, and deep dives.
Westworld is a show about obfuscation. In the same way the masterful (and downright evil) Ford manipulates his dutiful employees, his robot servants, and his corporate overlords by confusing them, the HBO show's co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy clearly enjoy keeping theory-obsessed, message-board-patrolling viewers in the dark for as long as possible. Case in point: Arnold, the show's mysterious antagonist who we've never even met. After eight episodes, he remains an enigma wrapped in a Reddit post.
Ever since Episode 3's lengthy flashback, Arnold has been a source of fascination for fans who want nothing more than to untangle exactly what role he plays in the history of the park and its increasingly precarious future. At this point, Ford's "dead" partner isn't even the show's only vaguely menacing offscreen threat -- Wyatt serves a similar role in the Man in Black and Teddy plot -- but after the Man in Black's "deeper game" speech to Teddy at the close of "Trace Decay," the Wyatt business feels more like a smokescreen for something bigger. And that's Arnold's game.
But what are the rule's to that game? Who is playing it? And, on an even simpler level, who is Arnold? Is he someone we've already met, or will we meet a new character in the finale? (Personally, I've got some casting ideas.) There are so many possibilities, so let's break down a few.
Is Bernard a clone of Arnold?
After last week's surprising-to-some-but-predicted-by-many revelation that Bernard is actually a robot, you'd think the show would give poor Jeffrey Wright a break when it comes to playing a character with hidden motives. But, despite the fact that he spent part of last night's episode erasing himself from pictures, destroying love letters in a fancy microwave, and removing all his lovey-dovey memories of the dearly departed Theresa Cullen, it still feels like there's another Bernard twist coming. The guy cannot catch a break.
Besides the "Bernard is a robot" theory, the most popular Bernard take floating around online is the "Bernarnold" theory, which is way more complicated than that very silly Brangelina-style pun might suggest. The simplest version of the theory is that Ford uploaded Arnold's consciousness into Bernard after Arnold's death so that he would have a more compliant, easily controllable partner. From a management perspective, it's easier to boss around your co-worker when you have an iPad that controls his every impulse.
The many one-on-one scenes between Dolores and Bernard that have occurred so far are important to this theory. "Bernarnold" supporters believe the two have such a close bond because Arnold created Dolores. Are the scenes with Dolores and Bernard taking place in a different timeline? Are we seeing flashbacks or flash-forwards? As Dolores says in this episode, in yet another neat bit of meta-commentary, "When are we? Is this now? Am I going mad?" (We feel your pain, Dolores.)
If you buy into the "Bernarnold" theory, the most recent episode provided some gatling-gun-like firepower. For one thing, the conversation between Ford and Bernard contained some heavy insights into Ford and Arnold's partnership, particularly about what caused conflict between the two. When Bernard asks Ford what the difference between his and Ford's pain is, Ford delivers one of those patented creepy Anthony Hopkins soliloquies that you either relish or dread at this point:
"This was the very question that consumed Arnold, filled him with guilt and eventually drove him mad," says Ford. "The answer always seemed obvious to me. There is no threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts. No inflection point at which we become fully alive. We can't define consciousness because consciousness does not exist. Humans fancy that there's something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops as tight and closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices."
The fact that Bernard would be so disturbed by the same distinction that eventually "consumed" Arnold does suggest that they likely share more than just a fondness for tinkering with androids. Bernard's self-consciousness about these questions will undoubtedly increase in the coming weeks, as the brief memory we saw of him killing Elsie suggests. As Maeve and Dolores have learned, bad memories don't stay hidden for long.
Is Wyatt actually Arnold? Is everyone Arnold?
Wyatt may be less important than Arnold, but that doesn't mean he's not still a major player in the battle for Westworld. I mean, the dude has an army of minotaur-people at his command and is powerful enough to convince veteran hosts like Angela, who we first saw introducing a hopeful William into the park back in Episode 2, to join his occult cannibal squad. Plus, Wyatt is just a scary name.
But it's hard to know exactly how nervous the Man in Black and Teddy should be about him -- or what consequence he might have on the larger narrative. We do know that the violent Wyatt shoot-out provided as Teddy's backstory looked very similar to the one we saw during Dolores's shoot-out nightmare-dream in this episode. And who was calling her to that barren area, anyway? That creepy voice that many have long assumed to be Arnold. He's bringing her to that park for a reason, and it likely has a connection to the maze-centric mystery that the Man in Black is caught up in.
"This is what Arnold wants," says Dolores to William at one point. On the surface, this felt like an "a-ha" moment where the show was finally beginning to unravel some of its mysteries, but viewed in the cold light of the morning after, it feels more like sleight of hand. A more profound revelation for Dolores is likely a couple episodes away, and even after it arrives, it seems likely that the show's creators will introduce another complex set of mysteries for her to unravel. The idea that Dolores might know what Arnold "wants" is tempting because we know so little about Arnold's larger goals, ambitions, and plans for the park. It's all so vague. Arnold could be Wyatt, but Dolores could be Wyatt too. Wyatt isn't a character as much as a future plot twist.
As the episode came to a close, I kept thinking about that little girl who spoke to Dolores in her dream-like flashback. (Honestly, that little girl could be Arnold too. Who knows?) "Did you find what you were looking for, Dolores?" she asks. The answer is clearly no. Unless, like the creators of Westworld, Dolores loves smoke and mirrors, and speculating wildly about Arnold's true identity and motives. If that's the case, she's come to the right place.
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