"It doesn’t look like anything to me."
The phrase that’s haunted Westworld since the beginning has become weightier with every passing episode, as Hosts blankly stare at images and objects that should shatter their realities, if only Ford hadn’t programmed them otherwise. At first, this response was a simple way to show how the android Hosts only see and understand what they’re supposed to; if you show them a picture of a modern railway, for example, they wouldn’t see anything at all.
Now, it’s clear that the idea of perception — what we see versus what is true — is Westworld’s strongest thread. As much as the show is trying to get us invested in Dolores and William’s blossoming romance, or Delos overlords like new player Charlotte Hale making moves to seize control of Ford and Arnold’s unique coding, Westworld has the most fun when it’s fucking with everyone’s heads — its audience included.
And so we come to "Trompe L’Oeil," an episode explicitly named for the artistic technique of making the eye perceive a flat object as three-dimensional. It is, in other words, the thematic bedrock upon which Westworld — both the series and the park — is built.
The line between humans and Hosts is blurrier than ever
As Westworld exposes more of the wires holding it together beneath the surface, one thing has remained consistent for both the show and its characters: messing with perception with equal parts love and fear.
For Maeve — still Westworld’s most engaging character by a mile — upping her own levels of perception is a way of fighting back against those who created her, those who maintain her body by hosing the blood off her back, those who would deny that she or Clem has any humanity at all. Being able to keenly observe her surroundings and straddle the line between Westworld and the clinical laboratory behind it is a hugely powerful weapon, and Maeve intends to use it.
For Ford, toying with perception means trying to push his Host creations to the point where everyone involved forgets they’re androids. This instinct is alarming on several levels. For Charlotte, it’s the prospect of messing with a potential empire built on powerful code. But for the Westworld employees and Hosts, it’s a catastrophic blow to their very cores.
For one, there’s Bernard, who doesn’t realize his perception is skewed because, as this episode reveals — confirming a popular theory — he isn’t just Ford’s most trusted and favorite co-worker. Bernard is one of his Host creations.
In the episode’s final, tense sequence, Ford instructs Bernard to kill Theresa now that she’s threatening whatever vision led him to make this park in the first place — a mission Bernard carries out by smashing her head against the wall in two efficient blows.
The creeping horror of Theresa realizing that Bernard is a Host hinges on that question of what, exactly, he’s seeing. When he brings her to the site of Ford’s secret Host family, she immediately notices a door he didn’t; when she leafs through a series of prints, she sees a sketch of Bernard’s splayed robot body that he never will.
There’s an obvious reason why the Hosts shouldn’t be able to understand everything, which is that it would implode their entire world if they happened upon one of those sketches, or if a guest couldn’t shut up about how cool these robots are, man.
According to Ford, though, shielding the Hosts from revelations like these is an act of mercy. He wants the best for his creations; the question is what the hell does "the best" even begin to mean?
For that, Westworld openly invites us to read as much between the lines as we like. Being a show that’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed inside a rhetorical question buried underneath a series of riddles, Westworld is a show that doesn’t end when the credits do. It wants — hell, needs — its audience to be invested enough to engage beyond that.
Half the experience of watching Westworld is how you engage with it
Despite the best efforts of their slick advertisements and enticing promises of immersing people in a stunning new world, Westworld — both the series and the theme park — is less about beauty being in the eye of the beholder than reality.
For the show itself, playing with perception means being less concerned with the slow untangling its own dense web than with the fun of fucking with the audience’s heads. Westworld wants viewers to play along at home rather than just watch passively and forget until the next week — which seems be half the point. Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are aware of what their fans are spinning; even HBO president of programming Casey Bloys has admitted to scoping out fan theories, and said that some of them are "getting close."
Was Bloys talking about the Bernard revelation this week? Maybe. Is this further evidence supporting the idea that Dolores and William’s seemingly disconnected Western fantasy adventure is actually an earlier part of this timeline, and that William is the Man in Black? Who knows! But the show is having a hell of a lot of fun making us guess — and even if Westworld stumbles, it will at least have dozens of fan podcasts dissecting the shambles.
As many have already written, the Westworld park is basically a video game. Whether that game itself is any good is something we can — and, given that this is the internet, surely will — debate as Westworld drags on. But with every passing episode, Westworld starts to look more and more like the maze propelling its characters forward. If its viewers get lost, so be it; at least they’ll be engaged.
At least for now, the show is having enough fun making us guess. It might as well be looking straight at the camera and asking us, "Does this look like anything to you?"