Are you confused yet? It's okay, I am too.
Evan Rachel Wood wasn't kidding when she tweeted that the show "is about to go up about 10,000 points on the ‘holy f*** meter.'" This episode was basically designed to push our understanding of this universe to the very brink. So, since we're all on this crazy ride together, let's at least attempt to nail down what exactly just happened, starting with the ending. (Why not? The timelines on the show are just getting weirder, so I feel entitled to do the same.)
1) Ford is still in charge.
Not in the physical sense, of course. His body is very dead, and a lot of it is sitting inside a maggot's belly. But we now know that the tiny red control unit that Bernard was printing in the secret lab and snuck into his pocket was a copy of Ford's mind. Rather than insert it into a host, however, which clearly hasn't been perfected yet, Bernard inserted it within the Cradle, the main server hub where all the hosts' source code is kept. (You might have noticed that when he and Elsie first enter the room, helpfully marked CR4-DL, he says, "I remember bringing something here...or someone.")
We know all of this because he and Elsie have snuck into the Mesa to try to access the system and put things back to normal. Only when she logs in, Elsie notices that the Cradle has been interfacing with the system in a way that it's not designed to do. Something in there is "improvising." (It's no coincidence that Ford is playing the piano — the same player piano that presumably dictates narratives — when we meet him. And it's probably no coincidence that we also see Dolores, who is seen controlling Bernard in the first scene, playing that same piano earlier in the episode.)
In order to really find out what is going on, Elsie and Bernard head down to the space where the Cradle is housed. There too, her access is blocked. So, Bernard suggests that she plug him in directly, using his control unit. He finds himself in some sort of simulation, in an alternate Westworld universe where nothing has gone wrong yet. There's Dolores, wearing her blue dress (the same one she was wearing at the beginning of the episode, but we'll get to that) and running her errands, and Teddy, wandering into town. And there, sitting at the piano of the Mariposa, is Ford.
2) Is Grace a host?
We've been wondering what William's daughter has been up to in Westworld for two weeks now, and the answer is a lot simpler than expected: she just wants her dad home. Interestingly enough, William believes her to be a product of Ford's game at first, a host copy that he inserted there to trick him, which...maybe? In any case, he is forced to engage with her after she saves his life. In a heart-to-heart that initially seems touching but proves to be just another William game strategy, she apologises for putting her mother's suicide on his conscience, but explains that she won't let him take reckless risks by continuing to put his life in danger for a fake reality. He promises to leave with her, but reneges on the pledge, leaving her alone with one of Lawrence's cousins.
Maeve is leaning into her Neo narrative, in a storyline that picks up right where we left off last week. The Shogun's army lies dead around her, victims of her new Matrix-like mind. After a very cool (if a little pointless, TBH) duel between Musashi and Takana leaves everyone free to go, Maeve and her gang pack up to Snow Lake, where Akane wants to bury Sakura's heart (literally...she cut it out of her). It also helps that there is an access point that leads right to the Homestead located a few feet away from the temple. After the ceremony, Akane and Musashi decide to stay behind and defend their own homeland, leaving Maeve, Hector, Sizemore, Armistice, Felix, Sylvester, and Hanaryo (Maeve's got quite a posse) to continue searching for Maeve's daughter.
When they arrive, Maeve is adamant she do this alone. It's great at first. She runs her hand through the wheat, just like in her dream, and finds her daughter playing on the porch. Only... there's another host playing her mum. And the kid, who clearly hasn't reached sentience yet, doesn't know that Maeve used to fill that role. In fact, she has no idea who Maeve is. And as in her dreams, the Ghost Nation fighters attack. This time though, Maeve runs away with the girl, and rather than ride them down, the chief among them calls out: “Come with us. We are meant for the same path.” (I've said this before, but the Ghost Nation is clearly going to be playing a big role in the denouement of this season. They seem to be the keepers of the wisdom of the Valley Beyond, which is a little cliché, but hey.)
The main problem with giving Maeve such vast powers is that now I have to ask myself why she's not using them all the time, to control everyone. Why doesn't she just make the Ghost Nation fighters kill each other off, as she did the Shogun's army? Will the writers constantly have to invent caveats to explain why her abilities aren't working in a given situation?
While Hector, Hanaryo and Armistice are busy helping Maeve, Sizemore busts out that walkie talkie he stole in "Akane No Mai" and uses is to call for help. I mean...I knew this would happen but I was really starting to root for his twisted friendship with Maeve.
Side note: As much as I enjoyed being introduced to Shogun World, I feel as though this whole transition was rushed. We spent an entire episode getting to know characters who are now essentially irrelevant (unless they come back into play later on, I guess), and then suddenly we're in a new place, with new clothes, which feels very much like the uneven pacing of recent seasons of Game of Thrones.
4) Hale yes!
Say what you will about Charlotte Hale's motives, the woman is badass. With Peter Abernathy finally in her custody, she can call for Delos to send in reinforcements. But to make sure he doesn't go anywhere, she takes him down to what's left of Behaviour, where the remaining butchers (I don't know what else to call them, really) nail him to a recliner in order to prevent him from escaping. (The Jesus symbolism, while a bit on the nose, is effective, especially given Abernathy's past life as a preacher.)
When the cavalry does arrive, it's headed up by a gruff commando named Coughlin (Timothy V. Murphy), whose sneering delivery of Stubb's first name ("...Ashley?") will go down in shade history.
5) (Not your) Teddy bear.
Whatever Dolores did to Teddy last week has clearly worked, although whether or not she's into it remains up in the air. Her paramour is hard as nails (his definition of mercy is handing a man a gun with a single bullet before locking him in a train compartment and setting it loose from the main locomotive). What's interesting, however, is that he clearly seems aware of the person he once was, and that she gave the order to change him. “The man who rode that train was built weak, and born to fail," he tells her in one scene. "You fixed him. Now forget about it.” That will almost certainly come into play at some point, and he'll either resent her for it and try to thwart whatever she's planning, or she'll turn on him. In any case, their paths are intertwined, just as old Dolores liked to say, and as of now, that path is leading them both to the Mesa.
6) The student becomes the master.
I'm ending with the first scene in the episode mostly because it's the one I have the fewest answers for. It seems relevant that Dolores and Teddy arrive at the Mesa (with a bang) at the very moment where Bernard meets Ford in the bizarro Westworld. In their conversation, which we're meant to believe is yet another Arnold and Dolores one-on-one from the early days of the park, she's wearing the same dress as when Bernard sees her walking down the street. But it's not a flashback, or at least, not a traditional one. It's the continuation of the very first scene of the season, in which Bernard tells Dolores that he's frightened of how fast she's learning. One day, she'll move beyond the confines he's built for her, and what then?
“If you outgrow this place, outgrow us, what would become of you? I’m not sure it is my choice to make," he says.
Only, that's not what he said. Dolores interrupts the speech here, correcting the turn of phrase. "No, he didn’t say that," she says. “He said, 'I’m not sure what choice to make.' He didn’t question whether he had agency, whether he had the right to end me, but whether he should.”
And as if that wasn't enough of a surprise, she hits us with another bombshell: We've been watching a fidelity test, much like the ones James Delos went through in "The Riddle of the Sphinx."
What's not so clear is when this is happening. Does Dolores join Bernard in the simulation, and is interrogating him in there? Is she trying to recreate Arnold using the new Delos technology for human control units? And if so, why?
In any case, point taken Ms. Wood. "Holy fuck" indeed.