“The longer I work here, the more I think I understand the hosts. It’s the human beings who confuse me.”
These would turn out to be the deeply ironic words of Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), the head of programming at Westworld before his major reveal in Sunday’s episode (“Trompe L’Oeil”) of the hit HBO show — spoiler! — as a host himself (i.e., a robot created by Anthony Hopkins’s godlike Robert Ford). But even before the twist, this assessment held water: For a group of people smart enough to build an entire world and populate it with robots who pass the Turing test and then some, the employees of the Westworld theme park are remarkably prone to incompetent decision-making.
But there is one Westworld employee who seems to corroborate the audience’s own skepticism: Elsie Hughes. Played to eye-rolling perfection by Shannon Woodward, Elsie is a bright young programmer tasked with investigating and remedying host anomalies. A fan favorite from the moment she kissed a sleeping Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) in the series premiere, she boasts good instincts and a biting wit, characteristics in short supply among the rest of the characters. When the hosts inevitably gain consciousness and turn against both the guests and Westworld’s creators, Elsie is the only one we want on our team.
Last week, her investigative work finally landed her in hot water when an unknown assailant attacked her while she was looking for antiquated broadcasting equipment in an abandoned theatre deep in the wilds of Westworld. Elsie fans hoping for answers during last night’s episode were left disappointed — all we know is that she’s not answering her phone and, aside from Bernard, everyone seems content with the explanation that she’s “on leave.”
While we anxiously await Elsie’s fate, here’s a look back at all the times she seemed to be the one sane person at Westworld.
That time only Elsie realized Abernathy’s glitch was cause for greater concern.
In the series premiere, “The Original,” Dolores’ host father, Peter Abernathy, suffers an existential crisis when he sees a photo of a woman standing in Times Square. Given that his only reality is the Old West, the illuminated screens, whizzing cars and even the woman’s puffy coat raised more questions than his robot brain could handle. Abernathy starts glitching out and is carted off to the park facilities for analysis.
Cut to Episode 2, “Chestnut,” in which everyone brushes off Abernathy’s malfunction as a symptom of a buggy software update. Elsie, however, has a hunch that it hints at something more dangerous. After reviewing footage of every dissonant episode she could find, she notices Abernathy’s reaction is unique in that the photograph didn’t immediately trigger it. “It’s as if he’s mulling it over,” she says. She even goes so far as to suggest that his condition might somehow be contagious, which of course it is.
Elsie voices these concerns to Bernard, suggesting that she should rebuild Abernathy to see if she can uncover whatever is “f–ked up” with his cognition, or, at the very least, examine the hosts with whom he’s been in contact. But Bernard tells her to “let it lie,” because no one ever listens to Elsie.
That time only Elsie thought the stray host was a big deal.
In Episode 3, “The Stray,” we get our first major Elsie plotline, not to mention our first taste of the bristly banter between Elsie and Stubbs, the head of Westworld security. The unlikely duo (there is never going to be a will-they-or-won’t-they plotline in “Westworld,” but this would be the one we ship) are looking for a rogue host when they discover that before he went off his loop, the host, a woodcutter, had also taken up whittling, carving what appeared to be Orion’s belt onto the belly of a crudely made tortoise. Elsie knew this was no routine host retrieval. “He wasn’t programmed to give a shit about stars,” she says.
Sure enough, when they find the host he’s trapped in a rock crevice and none too pleased about it. Ever the pragmatist, Elsie suggests that she send a “retrieval team” to pick up the host in the morning but, like every other male on this show, Stubbs disregards Elsie’s suggestion and rappels down the rock face alone. Naturally, this plan goes awry when the host wakes up and nearly kills Elsie, our savior.
That time Elsie blackmailed the repair guy.
After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the woodcutter host, Elsie realizes that there are dark machinations at work inside Westworld. In Episode 5, “Contrapasso,” she blackmails a “creepy necro perv” down in the repair department, threatening reveal that he’s been having sex with the sleeping robots. In exchange for her silence, she wants to inspect the host that tried to kill her. When he reluctantly offers her five minutes alone with the woodcutter, she replies, “You took a little more time than that for your examination, didn’t you?”
That time Elsie found the satellite uplink in the woodcutter’s arm.
Elsie’s blackmail would pay off when she discovers something strange embedded in the host’s arm. Upon removing it, she finds it is a “laser-based satellite uplink,” later revealed as the method by which Westworld’s intellectual property is being secretly transported out of the park. (Of course Elsie knows what a laser-based satellite uplink looks like.)
That time Elsie found the relay.
Elsie goes full Nancy Drew when looking for the relay for the satellite in a creepy old theatre in the untraveled depths of Westworld. After putting herself in the mindset of “an evil genius hiding a relay,” she pulls out an X-Acto knife and cuts open the floorboards, finding precisely what she’s looking for. (Does everyone in Westworld hide things under floorboards? Ahem, robot Thandie Newton.) Despite the fact that the relay is antiquated technology that Elsie has never seen or used, she quickly figures out how it works. She discovers that it’s Theresa, the park’s operations leader, who has been smuggling data out of the park. This thing goes all the way to the top! Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, she’s ambushed by a mystery man (or woman).
May Elsie return to us safely.