Saddle up! But beware potential spoilers in this review, which will discuss elements of the episode.
After she was less prominent last week, The Stray sees Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores back to front and centre, at least for a fair number of scenes. She's still enduring lengthy chats with Bernard, who is trying to figure out what is going on in her head – including have her read from Alice In Wonderland, because apparently he's about heavy metaphors. When she's not failing to muse on the deep mysteries of life and existence, everyone's favourite rancher is running through variations of her story loops, including being leered at and nearly raped by some less-than-savoury goons. Sometimes James Marsden's Teddy is there to step in, but when he heads out as part of a posse, she has to defend herself. And when she is finally able to shoot one of her attackers, you just know that's going to come back and bite Bernard later, especially when he's said, "let's see where this path leads" after one of their sessions together.
As for the Teddy arc, the poor guy just can't catch a break. Either he's frustrated at his lack of narrative or, when he is given a proper background, he then ends up horribly murdered. Oh my god, they killed Teddy! Again. Still, there's a break from our regularly scheduled Dolores/Teddy narrative loop, even if that's not such good news for her. The story also allows for a little more shading in of his character, though that's really what Ford is allowing him. Seeing Teddy on the receiving end of his creator's seemingly capricious whims is as telling about Ford as it is about everyone's favourite cowboy.
We got our first sizeable bit of backstory on the usually mysterious Dr. Ford this week. And while it seems like an awfully convenient exposition dump, when it's delivered by the likes of Anthony Hopkins, the medicine goes down easily. And we're sure the Arnold backstory – assuming it's all true – will be lighting fires in fan theories all over the web. And it led to that fascinating glimpse into the early days of the park, when Ford, Arnold (is there a reason we don't learn his surname?) and their team were still figuring it all out. How many winks to the original movie did you catch? And while we're talking about Ford, his momentary, callous and chilly dismissal of a host's needs in another lab section added another layer to his personality.
Ford was not the only person having some backstory filled. After letting slip during one of his Dolores debriefs about his son "he's not somewhere you would understand" – subtle! – we also get a slightly wedged in comment from Ford and then a nice scene over video chat between Jeffrey Wright's tech and his wife – or more likely ex-wife – played by Gina Torres, one of the big damn heroes of Firefly. While the previous mentions of deceased son Charlie didn't always land in the episode, this was a lovely, human moment between two people clearly in pain.
Snarky tech Elsie (Shannon Woodward) got to leave the lab this week. heading up to the surface with Luke Hemsworth's Stubbs to track down a stray. It makes a change from her being assigned to clear up glitches in the facility or snogging host-itutes. Her banter with Stubbs had an amusing jock-versus-nerd ring to it ("I bet you do" was her withering response to his remark that he sleeps with his gun) and this pairing, freed from either wandering the basement or adjusting hosts (well, they were still wandering and adjusting, but it was outdoors at least) was enjoyable. We were a little saddened to see Elise treated almost like one of the stock women of the park's narratives when she comes under threat from the rogue host, but it was worth it to see the AI destroy himself in spectacular, bloody fashion.
Another fascinating episode, and now that we're truly starting to dig into the story, we're definitely on board to see where it goes from here. Storylines that don't necessarily offer up the immediate thrills of Dolores and co. evolving to a new state of consciousness (such as Jimi Simpson's William and Ben Barnes' Logan exploring the town and getting into gunfights) are still engrossing. Plus, for all the times you see it, the hosts shifting between their personalities and blank-faced analysis mode continues to be an effective and creepy use of tension. As we mentioned above, the glimpse back into the park's history was interesting, even if it felt a little like Hopkins giving a lecture, but it's early days and there are only so many ways you can parcel out such information.
Westworld airs on HBO in the US on Sunday nights and Tuesdays on Sky Atlantic in the UK