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Consider the Cradle rocked.
The sixth episode of HBO’s second season of Westworld took Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Elsie (Shannon Woodward) and viewers into a heretofore unseen element of the park’s infrastructure: a room filled with control units that serve as backups for the hosts and their respective narratives. It’s a thorn in the side for the humans of the park, as it’s not only responsible for the aberrations in the hosts’ behavior, but it’s been able to combat any attempts to hack into it from the new wave of Q.A. support led by the formidable Coughlin (Timothy V. Murphy). As Elsie says while she fruitlessly tries to access the system, “The Cradle is fighting back.”
The source behind its resistance comes as the final shock of an episode already stuffed to the gills. Bernard puts himself inside of the Cradle to hopefully access what this sentient firewall may be. After we finally get to see what Bernard’s discolored “pearl” (affectionately known as “brain ball”) looks like, we see him wake up in a familiar-looking train in a familiar-looking place. He arrives in the heart of a version of Sweetwater much more peaceful than the season two status quo. All the hosts seem to be going about their typical narratives, with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) walking past, groceries in hand, and Teddy (James Marsden) sauntering out of the Mariposa.
But something’s a bit out of the ordinary in this idyllic setting, as a familiar greyhound plods past Bernard. Remembering a story he heard that felt like a lifetime ago, he walks into the Mariposa to find a source behind the piano music that has been filling the scene: Robert Ford. After getting killed in the last moments of the first season, Anthony Hopkins’ ultrapowerful park owner has returned, albeit in a more virtual form, and it’s clear he has still has songs to play.
Ford’s appearance in the Cradle, in true Westworld fashion, answers many questions while simultaneously raising more. We can now assume that the red pearl that Bernard remembers in flashes creating down in the cave-based lab he and Elsie went to in “The Riddle of the Sphinx” was, in fact, Ford’s consciousness. We can also assume that Ford had ordered the host created in the image of his co-founder to take the pearl to the Cradle to make him a permanent “ghost in the machine.” But when did this happen in the timeline of things? How does the Cradle link up with the other systems of the park? And how does this revelation complicate Bernard’s mission, considering he entered the Cradle with the intention of shutting down whatever was causing the hosts to go rogue?
Bernard’s history with the Cradle may be even more convoluted than he realizes, considering the scene that opened “Phase Space.” It starts in a familiar place, a conversation between Dolores and who we assume is Arnold (Wright). It mirrors and even contains snippets from the first dialogue exchange in “Journey Into Night,” the season premiere. But everything gets warped when Dolores interrupts Arnold midsoliloquy with a cool, “No, he didn’t say that.”
It turns out that this scene is not a test administered from human to host, but host to host. After freezing his motor functions, Dolores explains that she’s actually the one giving the test, observing his reactions and language for accuracy. It’s an assessment of “fidelity,” a word that pops considering William (Jimmi Simpson) used the same term when testing James Delos (Peter Mullan) as they were attempting to house Delos’ consciousness inside a host body. That brings a whole new meaning to the season opener, as there’s no guarantee whether that person warning Dolores about the choice he had to make was actually Arnold, or Bernard in one of his many fidelity tests.
Repeating this setting also highlights a cinematography tactic that may have had some initially reaching for their remotes when they first saw it. The opening scenes in both “Journey Into Night” and “Phase Space” use a wide-screen aspect ratio, bookended by black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. Once we move away from the setting, it returns to full screen. But we see the wide screen in one other scene this episode as well: when Bernard enters the Cradle. If we’re using that choice as a constant, it could be possible that these conversations have taken place entirely within this alternate reality, in a narrative loop all of their own. And if that’s the case, is this yet another Bernard that we’re seeing in the Cradle, or is this possibly a conversation that happens in the future, and hints toward an ultimate end goal for Dolores to take control of the system?
That’s just one of the many topics discussed this week on “Welcome to Westworld,” the Post Show Recaps podcast co-hosted here on The Hollywood Reporter. Listen to Mike Bloom (playing the role of THR’s Westworld beat reporter Josh Wigler) and Jo Garfein (founder of the nonprofit Cancer Gets LOST) discuss “Phase Space” in greater detail in the player below.
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