'Westworld' Recap: Human Resources

In a theme park this paranoid, how the hell can so many people get away with breaking the rules?

In a theme park as paranoid as 'Westworld,' how the hell can so many people get away with breaking the rules? Our recap of tonight's shaky episode. Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

Westworld is a show about androids, but the titular theme park's biggest problem is – let's face it – its H.R. department. Delos, the corporation behind the theme resort, has based its staffing structure around a system of checks and balances – though in practice it's more like Republican and Democrat zero-sum party politics, or a Hobbesian war of all against all. The boffin-y behavioral scientists, the temperamental artists who craft storylines, the hardcases who handle security, the grunts in the basement chop shop: They work against each other far, far more than they work together. According to Theresa, who breaks up with Bernard because the conflict of interest their relationship represents, that's by design.

Okay, fine. After all, this might explain the constant backbiting and infighting we were complaining about last week. (Explain, mind you, not excuse: Just because it has an in-story reason for happening doesn't make non-stop conflict any less boring to watch.) But in this week's installment – "The Adversary" – this policy winds up raising more questions than it answers. In a theme park this paranoid, how the hell can so many people get away with breaking the rules?

The most fundamental breach of security is obvious: those highly irregular interactions between medical technician Felix and robotic madam Maeve, who's gained the ability to wake up from deactivation and retain her memories after every reboot. Their scenes together are the heart of the episode, particularly the sequence in which she persuades him to walk her through the entire facility, where she learns in graphic detail what a lie she's been living. Their tour concludes when she catches a glimpse of "moving pictures" – actually a promotional film for the park – showing her and the "daughter" she continually sees in her dreams. For the first time, a host has irrefutable, un-erasable evidence that her entire existence is an elaborate hoax. The whole series has been leading to this moment … which makes the decision to gild the emotional lily by soundtracking it with a chamber-music version of "Motion Picture Soundtrack," the achingly sad final song on Radiohead's electronic classic Kid A, all the more baffling. Let the moment breathe, for god's sake!

But put aside the unnecessarily manipulative musical accompaniment. Forget the fact that the robot's a vastly more compelling character than her human companion, or indeed any human on the show. There's another problem with Felix and Maeve's little stroll: the fact that they get away with it at all.

The park is predicated on the idea that its secrets are meant to be impregnable, and that interference by outside parties either within or without are an existential threat, both to the humans' safety and the corporation's profits. In this episode alone, we've got Theresa's conversation with Bernard about the philosophy behind keeping the departments separate and behaviorist Elsie's quest to track down the transmitter beaming info out of the park as proof of that. (Theresa is secretly the spy doing the beaming, proving her own point.)

But elsewhere in the episode, a host is routinely coming back to life and chatting with one of the employees tasked with keeping her unconscious during surgery. Another staffer, Sylvester, is essentially an electronic pimp who's figured out a way to wipe the hosts' memories so that his fellow techs can fuck them undetected. Entire floors of the park's massive subterranean complex have fallen into ruin, even though vital backup systems are stored there. (And, in a cute quasi-cameo, the dimly visible body of Yul Brynner's murderous Man in Black robot from Michael Crichton's original film.) Robert Ford, the park's mercurial co-founder, has maintained a zone populated by outmoded robot versions of himself and his family a secret for three decades. Arnold, his supposedly dead partner, is either still alive and well and living somewhere inside the Maze – or he's operating from beyond the grave thanks to buried lines of code that not a single scientist or technician has noticed since his death 30 years ago. None of this is automatically recorded on some central server? None of it gets caught by routine sweeps of the grounds? For crying out loud, none of it gets captured on plain old security cameras? For an absurdly expensive top-secret installation full of priceless, hyperadvanced androids, Westworld apparently only has slightly better op-sec than your local 7-Eleven.

Obviously, science fiction requires suspensions of disbelief – otherwise it'd just be "science" – and few stories of any kind are so flawless that there are no plot holes to overlook. In that light, all this nitpicking about lousy stop-loss practices by park staff could be seen as just that: nitpicking. But logical gaps are easier to cross when we're given enough material of value to build bridges, and that's where Westworld fails time and again.

Let's review: You have the hyperactive score, which tells you exactly what to think and feel at all times, sometimes with the help of creakingly obvious and unearned rock classics. ("Fake Plastic Trees" also puts in an appearance this episode as well, as if the Nolan-Joys were simply rifling through the Radiohead section of their iTunes.) You have dialogue that conspicuously bears no resemblance to how people actually speak to each other. (Lowlights this week: "What the fuck, ding-dong?" and "Creatively speaking, I'm flaccid now. I can't get it up.") You have an intriguing central mystery — the Maze and co-founder Arnold, who Teddy implies built it as he and the Man in Black continue on their increasingly violent quest – that's not enough to maintain an entire drama, much less the cottage industry of breathless theorizing across the Internet. Finally, you have plotting that would look shoddy in a B-movie slasher flick, like Elsie investigating a dark abandoned theater alone, or Bernard and Theresa's repeated near-misses with vital information.

The more this stuff grates on your nerves, the less apt you are to forgive glaring flaws in story logic elsewhere, and the cumulative effect of these narrative valleys is beginning to undermine the show's peaks. Westworld can roll out player-piano versions of as many canonical alt-rock songs as it wants. Unless it starts to shore up its programming bugs, those notes are never going to ring true.

Previously: Sex, Lies and Office Politics