Elsie Hughes, played by Shannon Woodward, gives off a weird first impression in Westworld. As the show is more of a hybrid kind of story, we can still use her place in it to guess where the show might be heading.
When we first meet her, she steals a covert kiss from the prostitute robot Clementine. In her ensuing onscreen appearances, she seems to have more sympathy for the robots than a programmer technically should. She wears a bowler hat for no apparent reason and needlessly calms Dolores down before giving her the command to sleep. But, as the season has progressed, she’s proven more and more that she might actually be the only character who is aware of her own story. If this were a horror tale, she has all the markings of the Final Girl.
She goes outside of her loop
Elsie is not a park host. That being said, even the human park workers have their own “loops” of sorts. They stick to certain areas like the behavior level or the secret lab level and generally don’t look up from what they are tasked to do. When Maeve wakes up on the tune-up table, after having a “holy shit” moment, the technicians just shrug it off and assume they forgot to put her in sleep mode.
When Elsie discovers abnormalities like a stray robot carving an Orion’s Belt design on a rock, she does not merely shrug it off the way the park workers and hosts do. She takes action. In a horror movie, this could mean she will be the first to die. In a sci-fi narrative, this could mean she will be the first to be enlightened, taking Westworld’s version of the red pill (as opposed to blue). Going off other entries in the sci-fi conspiracy genre like The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, and Source Code, she probably won’t like what she finds.
She is actually trying to find out what’s going on
Westworld has puzzles around every corner. The Man in Black’s entire mission is an abstract one, filled with riddles about mazes and snakes. Dolores is trying to become free, and Teddy is trying to become worthy of Dolores, but those remain abstract too. Even park guests William and Logan might have goals beyond what’s presented to the viewer. William in particular doesn’t seem to know exactly what he’s looking for. As for Anthony Hopkins’s Ford, he’s quite possibly screwing with everyone.
In that regard, Elsie’s every onscreen appearance is a breath of fresh air to the viewer. Her character is not a puzzle to herself or to others.
She makes a concrete discovery
So far, audience and characters alike are waiting to find out what’s really going on in this park, whether there are multiple timelines or not, and what’s up with the maze. When Elsie discovers the hosts are being used to smuggle information outside of it, it’s the first tangible finding the show has given us thus far.
Whether or not Elsie remains important as the show proceeds is an open question. But, in a sense, she’s been a viewer surrogate thus far: She’s impatient to find out what’s going on and proceeds about her business in a logical, straightforward way. Dolores and Maeve might be Westworld’s center points; Ford its hand of creation; and Lee it’s stand-in network exec, but Elsie might just be its practical brain.
Photos via HBO, HBO