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“I love you, baby girl.”
And with those five heartbreaking words, Peter Abernathy has journeyed into night. In the thick of all the carnage in the most recent episode of HBO’s Westworld, “Les Ecorches,” Louis Herthum’s soulful host counts as one of the casualties — at least in his flesh-and-blood form.
Directed by Nicole Kassell from a script by Jordan Goldberg and Ron Fitzgerald, “Les EcorchEs” was primarily focused on Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her minions assaulting the Mesa, decorating the walls with a fresh new coat of blood red. In the process, several hosts seemingly lost their lives: Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), gunned down in a firefight; Angela (Talulah Riley), incinerated in a suicide blast that wiped out the Cradle; and even Peter Abernathy, whose control unit was removed from his head by his daughter.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about Abernathy’s “bittersweet” fate, Herthum says he first learned what was ahead for his character during a conversation with original Westworld theorist and top-billed star Wood.
“We were talking on set, and she was the one who asked if I had seen the script yet for the episode, and I hadn’t,” says Herthum. “I think we were shooting episode five; that part ended up in either three or six. So, she kind of told me. She said it was really sad, what happens.”
In the episode, it’s evident that Dolores surgically removes her father’s control unit, though the action itself plays out offscreen, left to the viewer’s imagination. “It was a lot more brutal [in the script],” says Herthum. “They lessened the brutality. Originally, I think you were going to see it. I’m glad that didn’t happen. At first, I was disappointed, because it was going to be so crazy and cool [to film], but the scene was really sweet and powerful. If you gotta go? It’s a lovely way to go.”
Before his departure, Peter and Dolores are afforded one final chance to say goodbye to each other. Herthum describes the sad farewell as an equally moving process to film: “It was very emotional, obviously, for the reasons that the script required. I won’t speak for Evan, but for me, I was thinking, ‘This might be the last time I get to work with this extraordinary actress.’ It was sad. That’s what goes on, leading up to it. But once the cameras are rolling and you’re doing the scene, then it’s all about Peter and Dolores. She’s very easy to connect with. Ridiculously easy. It was pretty emotional.”
Throughout the season, Peter speaks mostly in riddles, rants and raves, his head filled with so much information thanks to “the key” to Delos’ secret project swimming around in his control unit. But in his final moments, Peter speaks clearly with his daughter. Herthum has a theory about why Peter reaches such a grounded state in his final moments, though he’s quick to emphasize that it’s not one he’s discussed with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.
“The last time we saw them together, he recognized her,” says Herthum. “I think the love he has and the dedication he has to his daughter is so powerful, that it overrides all the other stuff that’s going on in his head, clearly. We hear Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in an earlier episode talking about how when the hosts are in proximity of each other, it’s sort of like a mesh, so they’re easy to track. I’d guess Peter’s sense of knowing his daughter is nearby is just that powerful. We never talked about that; I never talked about that with the writers or anyone, but that’s my own theory, and I’m sticking to it.”
What’s next for Peter Abernathy? At first, it’s an odd question, considering what happened to the character in this latest episode. But even with his mortal form presumably destroyed, Dolores still wields her father’s control unit, which will certainly play a critical role as season two pushes into its end game. For his part, Herthum wishes Peter was able to unleash some vengeance upon his human oppressors, as the character promised all the way back in the first episode of the series; perhaps it’s a comfort that even in “death,” the rancher will still have a major role in the season’s violent end.
As for Herthum himself, and the odds of a Westworld comeback? He’s looking on the bright side of the show’s tenuous relationship with mortality: “The way I look at is that you can be dead, but that doesn’t mean you’re gone — so you never know.”
What did you make of Peter Abernathy’s swan song? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.
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