Bernard spent most of this season of “Westworld” in a state of confusion that launched a thousand fan theories. Was he just malfunctioning? Had his code been merged with another host’s? Was Dr. Ford still programming his actions?
In the Season 2 finale Sunday, we finally learned the truth: Bernard had scrambled his own memories in an attempt to hide his decision to have Charlotte Hale killed — and to smuggle Dolores’ “mind” into an android copy of Charlotte’s body, thus giving Dolores a real chance at escaping the park.
If it sounds confusing, it is. But Jeffrey Wright’s nuanced performance — as both the android host Bernard and his human prototype, Arnold Weber — was a beacon all season, guiding viewers through the narrative camouflage of jumbled memories, real and digital spaces and multiple timelines. In telephone and email conversations before the finale, Wright discussed the show’s puzzle-solving appeal, the usefulness of shooting scenes out of order and what it’s like reading fan theories about his own work on Reddit. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.
A: It’s not a linear show, and it hasn’t been a linear show from the start. I think there wasn’t that awareness going into Season 1, but this year, some people tended to relax into it more because they were more concerned with getting ahead of it, deciphering it and dissecting it, more than they were previously.
A: I do a little Reddit, yeah! I pop in every now and again. In some ways, I see it as another dimension of the storytelling. I think there are certain folks out there who are tapped into this, who so clearly appreciate and get what we’ve been doing. And it’s really gratifying within some of the other noise of people kind of whining about this show and wanting it to be dumbed down. [Laughs.]
For me, it indicates that the fans have immersed themselves into a show about an immersive experience, in a way that I might not have anticipated. They’ve immersed themselves into studying beyond the show, once each episode ends — studying the implications that arise out of the show, and in some ways, drafting their own narratives and storylines. I think it’s pretty cool, and pretty rare.
A: The majority of my questions were geared toward understanding everything that I felt I needed to know in order to perform within a given scene. Jonah and Lisa make themselves available to us, either in rehearsal for the more complicated scenes, or the morning prior to us filming anything. They’re always there. That was an interesting function of the nature of the collaboration on this show, which is something that I’m so respectful of, and so grateful for, because it’s what gets created by these long-form dramas, this symbiotic relationship between writer and actor. It’s a rare thing when it’s as fertile and as open as the relationship that we build together, and so I take full advantage of that!
A: For sure. That’s one of the markers of the timelines. It’s also about trying to determine what in the space I can use to help better tell the story that the scene is asking you to tell. In the first five or six weeks of filming this, we were filming scenes from later episodes that I hadn’t fully read, because we were front-loading Anthony Hopkins, because he was going off to do “King Lear.” So it required me, even more so, to be attentive to the moment and to perform within it, which is the old actor’s mantra. So that further aligned me to Bernard’s place in all of this, because he’s wrestling with his immediate, irregular relationship to time, space and memory.
A: As we got rolling into the season, we did start having conversations about more core ideas — not for the show, but for Bernard — of agency, self-determination, of creating himself in his own image, of freedom. That, in many ways, was the larger question that he was wrestling with. I mean, it really is about this patriarchal hierarchy that existed between him and Ford. That’s been his host’s life’s purpose. And when he’s finally able to shatter that, when he rejects Ford and heads out into the desert on his own, that’s where it begins.
A: [Chuckles] Yes. Yes. For me, there’s a clear logic to these narrative choices, and for certain audience members, I’ve noticed, there’s a very clear ability to track what’s going on and to be aware when things seem out of step. And rather than fight that, it only further piques their curiosity.
When we filmed those scenes, we front-loaded those scenes, particularly those scenes that happen inside Arnold’s house. And so, when we were filming, I was trying to piece it together, and there were scenes that just don’t make sense if you view them on the first level! So we, as actors, had an experience like the audience shared, because as I was taking the pulse of fan theories, I was noticing that people were clued into what was going on with Charlotte and that relationship with Bernard. Particularly that interrogation scene, in which she whispers in his ear, and we as the audience can’t quite hear.
A: It’s pretty simple. She asks him the question, and she whispers the answer. She just tells him what to say!
A: Well, I think it’s pretty clear what Dolores had swapped it with. As for the guest data, I think it’s pretty clear where that might be, too! [Laughs.] Dolores and Bernard have been observers throughout their time within the park — and what they do with those observations, these are questions that remain to be answered. What comes next will be interesting. That’s the big question.
A: That scene is mind-blowing. I’m still thinking about the possible implications and probably will be until we start filming season three. It de-addresses all of our memories. We’ll all wake up together on the beach tomorrow morning staring at our watches.
Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.