The Daughters of Westworld: Salvation, Destruction, or Both?
I would have titled the episode “My Mother’s Daughter” although I suppose “Phase Space” has more of a cool, futuristic bent. But title aside, last night on Westworld, it was all about the daughters. We spent quality time wrapping up Akane’s plotline as she grieves Sakura. Maeve finally reunites with her daughter. William and Grace come together and repel. So why all this focus on daughters? I think the show is trying to tell us something about the nature of relationships, what works and what doesn’t.
Take for example William reuniting with Grace. As predicted, she offers him salvation: she starts with physical safety, seeming to know a way out of the park via the beach. Then she offers emotional safety – a way for William to no longer blame himself for his wife’s suicide and repair his relationship with his child. Of course, it’s too much for William. Ed Harris plays it beautifully – with tears in his eyes, it’s so clear he wants what Grace is offering but he cannot accept it. Maybe he still thinks this apparition is just one of Ford’s creations, one of the obstacles he must overcome. Maybe he knows this is his real daughter but lacks the emotional courage to choose the path she’s offering. Whatever the reason, William abandons her to go play in the park for what must be the millionth time. Here it is the humans who are stuck in their loops and the human father-daughter bond that is not strong enough to break the pattern.
On the host side, the episode features Maeve seeing her daughter for the first time since starting this quest. This bond has propelled so much – Maeve’s whole storyline and a good half of the reason why the park is now in chaos – but the reunion isn’t satisfying. Maeve’s daughter has been re-programmed to see a different host as her mother. She doesn’t have her (previous) mother’s self-awareness (or does she? When she says she fears getting taken away again, we see the possibility of a true reunion to come).
And just as Maeve has the chance to engage her replacement and grapple with the question of whether she could take the girl from her now-mother and start the cycle again or perhaps take both with her and share some sort of parenting role, Ghost Nation members ride up. This sends Maeve into flashback mode and in her panic, Maeve doesn’t try to use her voice – she just runs. When she falls and the Ghost Nation leader tells her the two are alike (perhaps both self-aware), Maeve can’t rise above her programming. She sees him as an enemy and is ready to fight. The daughter here offers no salvation just more heartache.
And that brings me to the last daughter, Dolores. Yes, we do keep seeing her robot father (who gets literally crucified in this episode if you’re looking for a symbol) but it is not that relationship I’m interested in. This episode reminded me that Dolores is really the park’s first daughter. She is the oldest host and the one who literally plays the daughter archetype – dutiful, innocent, and sweet.
Pushing this metaphor, “Phase Space” begins by revealing the purpose to all those Arnold/Bernard and Dolores interview scenes that we’ve been seeing since the show premiered. In the same way that William was testing the robot-version of his father-in-law, Dolores has been testing the robot-version of Arnold. She even uses the same phrase, naming the reason for the tests as “fidelity.” And as she performs this heir’s labor, it is clear she has already broken with her programmed role and transformed into the righteously angry Dolores of season two.
This is a daughter ready to burn everything down. This is the woman who used other hosts to kill as many humans as possible. This is the woman who sends a train into the human world, causing unknown destruction. This is the woman who was not matched by her lover so she made him more brutal (Will she still love the meaner Teddy? We don’t know. But I do know that I am SO relieved to have a break from bumbling, earnest Teddy. I can only imagine how James Marsden must feel).
So we have Dolores, the daughter-turned-against her human creators. We have Maeve struggling to overcome her programming and meaningfully reunite with her daughter. We have William rejecting his daughter’s salvation. We have Akane mourning and sacrificing herself for her daughter. Daughters are a powerful force in Westworld but like so much in this dark vision of humanity, they breed destruction. The opportunity for a meaningful relationship turns into an opportunity lost. The chance at a connection, always a chance missed.
If there is any hope, it is with Elsie who seems more sister than daughter to Bernard. She’s outside of the power structure of the Delos board, she’s neither guest nor host, neither child nor parent. This non-daughter-ness gives her freedom from the oppressive programming of the hosts and the terrible worldview of the humans in charge (see also how Felix has this ability). Bernard even tells her, “I believe if anyone can right this ship, by force of sheer will, it’s you.” And it is this plotline that brings us the big reveal of the episode – Dr. Robert Ford is in the “cradle,” the host’s Matrix where the robots are all just consciousnesses and not bodies. And he’s playing the piano! All those shots of piano playing have been leading to this moment! Maybe it’s a metaphor for who’s in charge? Unclear! But this is certainly a huge step toward restoring some sort of order.
We’ll have to wait until next week (or the weeks to come) to find out how this discovery of Dr. Ford plays out. Maybe along the way, the daughter-parent storylines will yield some more positive results. Or maybe, it will be Elsie who will “right this ship” – perhaps she can find a way to set the hosts free without killing everyone and disrupt the toxic masculinity that led to the park’s creation in the first place. Maybe she will find the way out.