Writing Within Very Specific Confines
♦ Westworld writer and consulting producer Jordan Goldberg shares what the journey was like writing his first episode of the series: Season 2, Episode 7, Les Écorchés. Here, Goldberg breaks down the high-octane hour, writing within a (rare) singular timeline and punctuating action sequences with very human decisions from the hosts courtesy of hbo.com…
HBO: What makes Les Écorchés unique?
Jordan Goldberg: What’s interesting about Season 2 is every episode has its own unique genera in a way. Episode 5 “Akane No Mai” is samurai-focused with Shogun World; Episode 4 “The Riddle of the Sphinx” has a thriller feel to it; Episode 3 “Virtu e Fortuna” has the Western battle. In other episodes, it’s tough to know the day and night breakdown, but in “Les Écorchés” the action takes place in the episode in real time — it’s high octane.
HBO: Where did you find inspiration for writing this episode?
Jordan Goldberg: The title is particularly revealing. “Écorchés” is [the French term for] a figure artists study to paint the human form — and they say you have to learn to paint the skeleton and muscles underneath. It’s an interesting concept because, in this episode, so much physical stuff happens, but all the decisions made by the hosts reveal who these characters are underneath.
Dolores in particular goes on a rampage, sees the consequences, and rationalizes it. These psychological decisions — good or bad — speak to the emotional landscape [co-creators] Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy want the scripts invested in. There’s a firm commitment in making each of these characters three-dimensional. It brings the hosts to a human level.
HBO: How did you incorporate the season’s themes of free will and fidelity?
Jordan Goldberg: The issue of fidelity is fascinating and played really well in Episode 4. The free will questions gets an addendum in Episode 7. If you have free will, what’s your responsibility with that free will? There’s a reckoning. Characters make rash decisions and get hurt. Free will is not a pleasant thing; it’s not easy or black and white. It can be dangerous. Episode 7 puts a microscope on this idea and the consequences. Making the choice to sacrifice yourself, as many hosts do, is free will.
HBO: Maeve finally gets revenge on the Man in Black. What was it like writing this long-awaited standoff?
Jordan Goldberg: It’s an inevitable moment. Western motifs of the standoff play out amidst all the other chaos of the episode. Maeve exercises her power and comes into her confrontation with the Man in Black as an equal — now even greater with her power [to control the hosts]. Then Lawrence has his version of an awakening.
The three days we shot those sequences were amazing. I can’t speak highly enough of [the episode’s director] Nicole Kassel. It was an extremely complicated scene to shoot because anytime a three dimensional triangle of action is filmed, it’s hard to do, and even harder in the amount of time we had. She filmed it in such a visceral way.
HBO: What was it like scripting a continuous action sequence across different locations?
Jordan Goldberg: The goal, and the most-difficult thing, was to keep the sequence in a real-time scenario so all these events could happen and function in a single continuum. It was not only to structure the events, but juggle them to realistically fall into place.
It happens, literally, in the last act of the episode, with the huge detonation of the Cradle. It felt like a stick of dynamite — you light the fuse and it just explodes. The way that Angela and Clementine complete their missions is heroic in the sense that they make this human decision to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Then, at the end, the moment between Maeve and Dolores holds the action in place. Dolores does the ultimate thing to set up the basis for free will by destroying the Cradle — which is to make yourself mortal.