Westworld’s Elsie Explains Bernard’s Persistent “Is This Now?” Question

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Westworld has a way of turning fans into their own versions of David After Dentist: slumped over, unsure of everything around them, and repeatedly murmuring, “Is this real life?” A big reason for our shared constant confusion is the fact that every lead character seems to be an untrustworthy narrator. Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) didn’t know who she was — or when she was — for nearly every second of season 1. Now, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) has taken over that mantle by stumbling through Westworld and repeatedly asking, “Is this now?”
Sunday night’s “The Riddle of the Sphinx” helped clarify some of Bernard’s biggest temporal questions, all thanks to the reappearance of the wonderful Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), who we last saw during a quick flashback in season 1’s “Trace Decay.” The programmer’s return was especially momentous, as the last time we saw her it sure looked like Bernard strangled her to death. Thankfully, this means Elsie’s portrayer, Shannon Woodward, can now explain exactly what’s going on with the host's memories, and what that means for the rest of season 2.
One of the biggest details of “Sphinx” is that Bernard’s memories aren’t “addressed,” which is a bit of a mysterious way of describing something already obscure like robot coding. “There are no, essentially, date markers [to Bernard’s memories],” Woodward explained to Refinery29 over the phone. “Like when you see a date on a photo. You’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what day that photo was taken.’” Unfortunately for Bernard, he doesn’t have the luxury of having those metaphorical dates scribbled on his memories — hence the constant question of, “Is this now?” Because, for Bernard, any encounter could be happening at any point in his many decades of life. That is also why, during Elsie and Bernard’s time in the underground bunker, he repeatedly drifts into past recollections.
While much of “Sphinx” seems to suggest Bernard might be re-experiencing in a loop — and therefore Elsie isn’t actually there with her former boss, he’s merely floating through a past adventure with her — it sounds like we can truly believe the events of the episode are “now,” to speak in Westworld terms.
“The nature of his recollection is disjointed,” Woodward added of Bernard. “It’s not a device to try to confuse the audience as much as [it is] a way for the audience to understand Bernard’s particular experience.”
If you're still terrified of trusting Bernard's Westworld timeline, there is even more evidence littered throughout season 2 that proves the secret host and Elsie’s adventure truly does occur “now.”A lot of that evidence comes in the form of everyone's storyline. First of all, Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) drops Bernard off at Elsie’s cave prison right after Dolores’ “Virtu E Fortuna” battle against the Delos Forces. You can tell this is true because Clementine is wearing the same outfit in both episodes and has the same bizarre, post-rebellion look on her face. Secondly, Bernard and Elsie talk about Ford’s death repeatedly, which only could happen “now,” since it’s not like the pair experienced the one-time-only murder previously. And, the third and most important piece of proof comes in the form of Bernard and Elsie finding host-human hybrid James Delos (Peter Mullan) in his weird holding cell.
It’s important to remember James was only abandoned to his research facility after the suicide of his daughter, and Old William’s (Ed Harris) wife, Juliet (Claire Unabia). You know, the same suicide that drove William to fully obsess about the park and leave the real world behind. So, everything Bernard and Elsie experience quite literally couldn’t happen any time before the “present” — no matter how “disjointed” the hosts' memories are, as Woodward called them.
Thankfully, viewers might not need multiple layers of evidence to have faith in anything Bernard tells us soon. Woodward explained that Elsie, arguably Delos’ best programmer, is “trying to help Bernard learn how to understand and navigate his own memories.” If Elsie succeeds, there would be no more hanging questions over Bernard's recollections, or strange time shifts.
But, fans might be wondering if the coder should even try to help her former boss, who, as previously mentioned, straight-up tried to murder her (albeit under the influence of Westworld’s oft-nefarious puppet master, Robert Ford). Woodward says yes, explaining, “[Bernard] is her friend. She cares for him … I think their previous bond has warranted them the possibility of a test period of going forward and seeing if they can trust each other.”
Expect to see this tenuous bond create some major philosophical questions for Elsie and Bernard, as is a habit for all Westworld characters. Teasing the back-half of Westworld season 2, Woodward said, “Now that the [Westworld] rules have changed … we have this journey for not just the hosts but for the human characters, too, asking, ‘Who do I want to be now? Who am I now? What does this make me? Where do my morals lie? Who are my allies?’”
Fingers crossed that by the end of season 2, the three greatest allies are Elsie, Bernard, and his organized memories. But, don't get your hopes up. As Shannon Woodward forebodingly cautioned, “Anything could happen in Westworld.”
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