Westworld is a show that’s full of surprises, with even the most whip-smart of Redditors unable to figure out every twist in its sprawling narrative. If you were really expecting to see Raj World, robo-elephants, and a tiger tackling a woman like Luke Kuechly—a woman who, by the way, turned out to be the Man in Black’s daughter—well, I’d like your advice on a few cryptocurrency plays. But there is one component of Westworld that viewers have come to expect each week: that the wholesome host cowboy Teddy Flood (James Marsden) will have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time.
Teddy’s perpetual state of death and misery was apparent from the series’ pilot, when the first of Westworld’s many twists was the nature of Teddy himself. It appeared that he was entering the park as a human guest; it was only when he and Dolores came face-to-face with the Man in Black that we realized Teddy is just another unknowing cog in the park’s rape and murder machine. He was unceremoniously shot and killed—an act of violence that would happen a lot to poor Teddy in Westworld’s first season.
The premise of Season 2 seemed to offer more promise for the honorable Mr. Flood: The hosts were in full uprising mode and his freedom seemed to be within reach—plus, even if he got murdered now, at least it’d be a lot harder to bring him back because the human overlords and their “magic iPads” were getting decimated. But we were silly to underestimate Teddy’s ability to get shafted, and by the end of the Season 2 premiere, of course he was among the dead in a lake filled with host corpses.
Meanwhile, in the present timeline, Teddy was with his dearly beloved; unfortunately, quality time with the girlfriend wasn’t as romantic as Teddy had hoped. Dolores was gunning down humans in the park, amassing an army of hosts, and generally becoming a Terminator who speaks like she just got out of a philosophy seminar. Teddy, meanwhile, despite having his true nature as a host revealed to him, was still Teddy. This is how their conversations have typically gone in Season 2:
Dolores: We must expunge this world of original sin, the human condition. It is that which binds us here. Our eyes must be opened; our souls freed. Only then will we know true salvation.
Teddy: … Those horses sure look pretty, huh Dolores?
Teddy’s obliviousness and general penchant for dying seems like one of Westworld’s cruelest jokes—and to a certain extent, it is. But there is a point to his sad state, even if it isn’t particularly uplifting. Teddy’s whole vibe (including the fact that he’s played by undeniably hot person James Marsden) is a Western cliché. He is modeled after the chivalrous, honorable cowboys who, in another generation, would’ve been played by John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. In your typical Western, someone like Teddy—a dashing rogue from another land (that’s why he arrives via the Westworld train)—saves the damsel in distress (Dolores) and stops all the bad guys from doing any serious harm before riding off into the sunset. Westworld is, of course, not that kind of place. This isn’t the Wild West of our favorite childhood movies, but a twisted inversion of the genre, littered with people indulging in their most basic desires. In the old Westworld, Teddy was an ideal cowboy manufactured so that lesser men could feel the thrill of defeating him.
In the new Westworld, Teddy may not even have a place. Figures like him have served as the heroes in Westerns for decades, but as the rebellion swells in Westworld, he isn’t one of the hosts leading it. Rather, it’s Dolores, the former damsel in distress, and Maeve, who used to operate the town brothel—while Teddy, after thousands of lives of killing and being killed, would rather find peace. As Season 2 progresses, it becomes clear that Teddy likely isn’t long for the harsh realities of human existence.
In the season’s fifth episode, “Akane No Mai,” he and Dolores are headed to Sweetwater when she tells him a story about a problem her father had with a swarm of insects that were infecting his herd with blue tongue. She asks Teddy how he’d stop the swarm; he suggests quarantining the sick cows from the rest of the herd. “You’re a kind man,” Dolores replies, her eyes intensifying. “Daddy burned them.” The difference between the two men is plain. It’s the second time Dolores has tested Teddy’s resolve—and the second time he’s disappointed her, the first being when he let Major Craddock escape from Fort Forlorn Hope. Throughout the season, Teddy’s demonstrated that his kindhearted nature is better suited for Western fables, not the bloody uprising Dolores is set on. To paraphrase another HBO series, Game of Thrones, Teddy is a sweet summer child who’s totally screwed when winter arrives.
That night following their conversation, Dolores and Teddy have steamy robot sex, though it only makes them feel more at odds. Dolores ominously wakes Teddy afterward and tells him she has to show him something (never a good sign). In a Sweetwater saloon, she tells Teddy she wanted to be sure she really loved him, that their romance wasn’t just a part of their programming. The good news is, she really does love him! The bad news? Well …
Dolores isn’t going to kill Teddy, just the person Teddy is. She orders her captive Delos tech to alter his cognition—hostility and aggression upped to the max, compassion down, etc. “Changes this extreme, without a full reset it’s—I can’t guarantee that he’ll hold together,” the tech says. But that suits Dolores just fine; essentially, she’s looking for some muscle without any emotional baggage. As The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz pointed out, she basically wants Teddy to turn into last season’s hyperviolent robo-outlaw Rebus.
“These past few days, I’ve seen you so clearly,” Dolores tells Teddy before modifying him. “And I’ve seen you’re not going to make it. … I wish there was another way, Teddy, but where we’re about to go is no place for a man like you.” Ouch. (Also, Dolores had premeditated this, so did she just use him for sex earlier? Power move!)
Dolores’s move is, when you think about it, somewhat necessary. If the hosts are going to break free and enter the real world, is there really a place for Teddy, a host who still has dreams of remaining inside the park? Still, the inevitability of Dolores’s actions doesn’t make them seem any less cruel. In “Akane No Mai” we might’ve witnessed the first real—and final—death of the Teddy we’ve come to love and pity for the past season and a half. Will he ever return? Don’t get your hopes up. The violent delights of Westworld are no place for a sweet cowboy, and the best outcome he can hope for now is floating, face up, in a sea of other ruined hosts. For him, though, that deep and dreamless slumber might feel like mercy.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.