Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jeffrey Wright breaks down Westworld’s latest surprise

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

This post discusses major plot points from the seventh episode of Westworld.

Well, the theories were right. As some had predicted, Bernard Lowe, the calm engineer of Westworld, is indeed a robot. Both the audience and Bernard himself, played with an even hand by Jeffrey Wright, come to realize this in the final moments of the series’ seventh episode—notably titled “Trompe L’Oeil.”


After being fired from his post in a political move by the park’s corporation, Bernard takes his sometime lover, Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen), to Dr. Robert Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) hideout to keep her apprised of the boss’ shady goings-on. In a moment of great dramatic irony, Bernard says, “The longer I work here, the more I think I understand the hosts. It’s the human beings that confuse me.” Theresa then discovers an even more covert lab—one that Bernard had been programmed not to see—and, in it, designs for a host that look a lot like her companion. Ford ultimately steps in, transforming Bernard from a caring, sentient being into a vicious killer and making Theresa his victim. The A.V. Club spoke to Wright about the revelation.

Wright with Sidse Babett Knudsen (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)

The A.V. Club: Bernard is indeed a host—

Jeffrey Wright: What?

AVC: Sorry, did I spoil it for you?

JW: Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Hold on. Let me wrap my head around that.

AVC: How did the fact that some people caught onto this make you feel?

JW: If no one had any idea that this was a possibility, I think that would have been a disservice to our audience. That some part of the audience caught on to that is by design. It also proves that there’s logic behind it, and it’s not some random twist or random mistake, but that it makes sense within the storytelling. Clearly, there are bread crumbs along the way, practically from the beginning. I wasn’t aware when we shot the pilot. I knew when we went back into production to start the season in full, when we started the second episode. I was the only cast member that knew. So we did flash little revealing moments, fragments of moments, here and there throughout the episodes. I think audiences, if they trace back up the rabbit hole, they’ll discover little windows onto that along the way.


AVC: How did the knowledge that this was going to be a reveal color your performance?

JW: It only informed my performance in fleeting moments because Bernard doesn’t know. He’s as convinced as anybody else. It didn’t change any colors, except in these moments in which we play with the idea that maybe Bernard hasn’t been necessarily working at his desk in one instance, but is just coming out of sleep mode, for example. I don’t want to give too much away, people can go find their own moments, but clearly when Theresa is asking him about why the hosts talk to one another when no guests are interacting with them and he describes it as a way of practicing and she asks him if that’s what he’s doing now, clearly that’s a cryptic Easter egg. Just an awareness of that, not from a character perspective, but as a moment within the scene, colored my understanding of things, although I couldn’t alter anything about the performance because that would be too much of a forecast.

AVC: What was it like filming the scene of the actual realization?

JW: Yeah, well, it was tricky because he goes from his virtual blood on the cusp of boiling to completely draining out of his body. So the idea that what we thought was human becomes, in a moment, machine was fun. It was fun to create. And then, of course, not only is [he] a machine, but he is a pretty dangerous one, too, when throughout he’s been sensitive everyman Bernard.


AVC: Evan Rachel Wood has talked about going into “Terminator mode.” And Bernard goes into that at the bidding of Dr. Ford. What was that moment like?

JW: That was about trying to think of, in a completely dispassionate way, what is mathematically and physically the most efficient way to do what’s asked. It was about carving it down to the bare mechanical bones of the thing and proceeding without conscience. And obviously this is the core issue that we explore in Westworld, this idea of consciousness and what it is that makes us human and distinguishes us from animals or inanimate objects. And also the multifaceted reflection for us as actors is these are the questions that we have to ask ourselves as we create characters and replicate human behavior and instinct and thought and emotion. So that, for me, became the most intriguing part of my work and seriously satisfying and almost like a mediation, which I think is what the heart of the show is. That’s freeing for audiences because we can all go there in our own individual ways. That theme is very much at the nucleus of the first season. There’s a lot of data. There’s a lot of information in that.


AVC: What are we to make of Bernard’s tragic backstory now?

JW: The backstories for the hosts are interesting, I suppose, from a technological perspective, but are more interesting in that they are a metaphor for our own understanding of our own histories and our own awarenesses and our own understanding of who we are. Perhaps there are, but I’m not aware of any AIs that are watching the show, so the exploration is more food for hungry audiences—hungry human audiences.

Anthony Hopkins and Wright (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)

AVC: You signed onto this role not knowing that you were playing a robot. When you first were told, what was your reaction to that?


JW: Lisa Joy called me into her office. Lisa is a ridiculously articulate person, who stumbled around for about 45 seconds to a minute trying to figure out how she was going to tell me the truth about what I was to be doing, saying, “Okay, Bernard’s very complicated. How do I explain this?” Finally she did, and I think I had a bit of a Bernard moment, but it ended with me saying, “Ah, that’s cool.” I sent Jonah [Nolan] an email, just to tell him that I was coming onboard with the show and that I was looking forward to going on this clearly wide-open journey with him as we built this thing, and I said, “A journey in which we’ll discover that Ford is a creation of Bernard Lowe.” And he emailed me back saying, “Close, colonel, but no cigar.” It goes back to a wonderful premise, for one, from Michael Crichton and then a respectful continuation and evolution of that premise through J.J. Abrams and Jonah and Lisa. It all makes sense. In the most hallucinatory storylines that I’ve worked on, they are able to imbue them with sound logic.

AVC: You mentioned these subtle hints that people could have caught on to. One thing people were using as a clue was where your glasses were placed, that he seems not to be looking through them.


JW: Those theories come from people too young to understand how reading glasses work.

AVC: That’s a very good answer.

JW: I should change that. I think the theories come from people who are thankfully too young to understand how reading glasses work. It’s kind of to their credit.


AVC: These theories are now a huge part of the show, and one theory that was recently posited by a writer at Vanity Fair is that Bernard is a robot clone of Arnold, who we have heard so much about. What is your take on that?

JW: I’m kind of at this point asking myself who is Arnold just like everyone else.


AVC: What was the reaction of the other cast members to the reveal?

JW: I was pelted with text messages as soon as the script came out with people bugging out in ways I hope the audience does as well. My response to them was, “Team Host, baby.”


AVC: Are we supposed to take Bernard as the most advanced host of all? Or is he a more controllable version? He is under Ford’s thumb in ways beyond we can even imagine.

JW: As the song goes, one never knows, do one. As far as the Vanity Fair question: I can give you a better answer. I just think that the show has mutated with these additional narratives and loops beyond what exists in the scripts. There are certain theories that overlap with our reality, and there are certain theories that have no relation whatsoever to our reality. That’s unfair—but [they] have only a tangential relationship to our reality. In a way that I haven’t experienced before, we’re all working on this show together in some ways. While one thing that I’ve read is some people are wishing that HBO released its shows in the way that some of the other networks do so they can binge watch, but it sucks that aspect out of the mystery of the storytelling and doesn’t allow these pauses where we can all marinate and speculate and imagine together. I think a show like this particularly is really wonderfully served by the fact that, for the most part, we’re all going to gather around together and shove keys into these keyholes and open these wormhole doors together.


Share This Story