Why That Big ‘Westworld’ Twist Works Even Though You Probably Saw It Coming

     November 14, 2016

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SPOILER Warning. Just to be perfectly clear there are spoilers galore in this post. I’m gonna spoil your face off. So if you haven’t watched ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ (Episode 7) get thee to a TV set or thou shalt henceforth be spoiled.  

Well, folks, it’s official. Our beloved Bernard is but another of Robert Ford’s seductive inventions; a carefully calibrated host and lapdog who has served faithfully for years. For many, including myself, this is confirmation of a theory so popular many of us have already moved on to the next big Bernard theory (I’ll get there in a bit). But what the creators have pulled off is a twist that doesn’t feel like a disappointment, but a genuine revelation — an impressive trick to pull off when it’s been so long predicted — and an opportunity to deepen and reshape our understanding of Westworld’s creator and the world he’s shaped.

Tonight brings the first of what may be many instances of the fanbase predicting a Westworld twist long before its reveal. In the age of social media-fuelled speculation where millions of minds are collaborating on a single mystery, twists become an at-your-peril narrative decision that threatens to leave audiences unsatisfied or smirking with a self-congratulatory, “I knew it.” With the first major reveal in what I imagine, and very much hope, will be many more in the closing episodes to come, Westworld manages to rise above that with careful craftsmanship. Because the episode didn’t just drop the knowledge on you and cut to credits. Instead, the reveal was embedded in propulsive narrative action that will have consequences within the world of the show, not just on the audience.

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Image via HBO

Westworld‘s writers know what kind of game they’re playing and, if you were looking, the signs have always been there. The way Ford has always spoken to and about Bernard in a condescending, know it all fashion. The pillow-talk jokes with Teresa about whether or not Benard is “practicing” his humanity with her. The fact that his son died of an illness in a time when we know all illness has been cured. For more details, you can check out my Westworld theories explainer or Kayti’s Bernard break down, but Westworld has invited this speculation  from the beginning, and that’s exactly why the ‘Trompe L’oeil’ twist works even if you saw it coming. The truth about Bernard has been carefully and intentionally worked into the narrative in a way that feels like a payoff rather than a deception.

At no point is Bernard’s reveal played as a gotcha moment. To the contrary, the episode guides you there from the beginning, and not altogether very subtly. The episode itself is titled ‘Trompe L’oeil’, which is the name of a painting technique used to make two-dimensional objects appear 3D. No, not very subtle at all. The subtext is there from the opening shot, which echoes the morning loops we’ve seen from Dolores and Maeve — a centered close-up of Bernard in bed as he opens his eyes and wakes. The scene reveals he’s trapped in a nightmare, the tragic moment of his son’s death, but the framing is too intentional to dismiss. From there, we see Bernard in his little loop, coping with his grief and programming the hosts day-in and day-out.

Television