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'Westworld' recap: 'Contrapasso'

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John P. Johnson; HBO

Westworld

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
run date:
09/25/16
Producer:
Jonathan Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
broadcaster:
HBO
genre:
Sci-fi

The world of Westworld is getting bigger and naked-er. Episode 5, “Contrapasso,” expanded the theme park map to a new town, Pariah, an outlaw desert outpost of sex and violence — it’s like Las Vegas meets Mos Eisley via Eyes Wide Shut. Plus, Dolores further embraces her inner gunslinger, the Man in Black has a meeting with Dr. Ford, and we get major new clues about the identity of the mysterious Arnold.   

The change in scenery starts with the opening shot, where for the first time we don’t begin with Dolores, but rather with Dr. Ford. He’s down in the basement chilling with Old Bill. He recalls a story from his childhood about an adopted racetrack greyhound that he let off the leash and killed a cat. “That dog had spent its whole life trying to catch that thing and now it had no idea what to do,” Ford says. The metaphor seems clear: Ford’s saddest memory is giving freedom to one of his pets and then watching helplessly as disaster struck. Keeping the hosts in their loops — running in circles like a greyhound on a track — is not just good business, Ford believes, but kinder, too.

And speaking of getting off loop, Dolores is far from home. She’s going with William and Logan to the decadent Pariah. Dolores has been listening to a voice in her head, somebody telling her to find him. Presumably the same person who told her to dig up that gun a few episodes back. We’re starting to get the feeling that this voice is the mysterious Arnold. But how, when Arnold died 34 years ago?

Along the way, Logan drops another detail about Arnold, noting he’s a complete mystery, that there’s not even a photo of him. This makes me think that whenever we finally see Arnold, his face is going to be a familiar one.  

William makes a reference to the “real world” and Dolores asks what he means by that. William is startled as the hosts are supposed to blank out whenever guests say anything that challenges their reality. I wonder how open Dolores’ system is at this point. If William decided to point-blank explain she was a robot in a theme park, could she understand him?

Dolores spots a vision of herself and follows it into a Day of the Dead-like parade. She hears Dr. Ford giving a voice command to sleep and suddenly she’s being interviewed by him underground. We’ve been getting the sense that these Analysis Mode interviews are sometimes being conducted without the hosts physically leaving the park. How, exactly, remains unclear. Ford notes she’s gone far off her “modest loop” — like his pet greyhound.

Then Ford says something that could be a huge reveal: “Tell me Dolores, do you remember the man I used to be? … I’m sure you remember him — Arnold, the person that created you?”

This is dropped so casually that it’s unclear how literal we are meant to take it. Because Ford quickly resumes talking about Arnold in the third person: He wants to know if Arnold has been speaking to her. She lies and tells him that Arnold hasn’t said anything to her since he died. Dolores also reveals that before he perished, Arnold wanted her help to destroy the park. Then she hears what we assume is Arnold’s voice in her head, and says, “He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.”

Okay. It’s time for some major speculation on my part…

NEXT: Theories that might be embarrassing in a few weeks [pagebreak]

Here’s what I’m thinking watching this Dolores scene. This is pure speculation and not based on any insider knowledge, but feel free to skip the next THREE paragraphs if you don’t want to potentially be spoiled in the off-chance I’m correct. First, I’m wondering if Arnold and Dr. Ford are the same person. Could Arnold have been a younger, more idealistic Dr. Ford? When Ford talks about Arnold, it could be like in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi shiftily lied to Luke Skywalker about his father — saying Anakin was betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader. Except in this story of the wonders and threat of artificial intelligence, it’s possible that Anakin/Arnold can still exist, electronically preserved somewhere, and is now causing trouble for Darth Vader/Robert Ford in the present decades later. Or that could be totally wrong, and Arnold could stroll out from behind a curtain in the season finale as a completely new character.    

Ford and Dolores also had this exchange: “Are we very old friends?” Dolores asks, and Ford replies: “No. I wouldn’t say friends. I wouldn’t say that at all.” Which could either be Ford simply referencing his overall master-slave relationship with the hosts, or it might hint at some additional backstory between himself and Dolores specifically. I’m starting to suspect that we’re going to find out what really happened all those years ago to Arnold when Dolores is able to access all her memories — she’s the key to unlocking the Arnold mystery. And that Arnold memory has something to do with that church and graveyard scene she keeps flashing back to.

Remember that odd church spire in the desert that Dr. Ford walked out to at the end of episode 2 and then we never saw it again? It looks just like the spire on the top of the church in Dolores’ visions — I think it’s the same church, and Ford buried it with his earth-movers after whatever happened 34 years ago. Down there lies the secret. Which then brings up another, even wilder possibility: Could Dolores … somehow … be Arnold? And Ford killed him/her, trapped her in this host body? Her name is something close to being an anagram for Arnold (Dolarn). Is the thin branch I’m out on breaking off yet?

Okay, it’s safe to continue reading again. Elsewhere backstage, Elsie is working on a naked host who can’t pour drinks correctly. In a rare Westworld literal LOL moment, actress Shannon Woodward stares intently toward the host’s well-hung manhood and is somehow able to say with a straight face: “You’re still miscalibrating by four centimeters to the right.” Then the ax-man “stray” host that almost crushed her skull gets wheeled by and she amusingly pops off, “Hey! That’s the host that tried to kill me!” There are bigger name actors in this show, but Woodward gets a lot of entertaining mileage out of her moments.

Elsie confronts a body shop worker with some video busting him for having sex with “dead” hosts that get brought in for repairs, dubbing him a “necro-perv” (add that to your list of Westworld-inspired band names). She discovers a transmitter in the stray’s arm and goes to Bernard with her finding. You’ll recall that the biggest asset in Westworld is the park’s proprietary AI code. Somebody has been using the hosts to smuggle data out of the park. So that stray who tried to climb a mountain wasn’t star-gazing, but trying to get high enough to send a signal to transmit data. But who programmed him to do that?

Back in Pariah, Logan has sought out this group of ex-soldiers called the Confederados, as well as their outlaw middle man, Lawrence. (This might be a bit confusing for some. The Man in Black killed Lawrence in an earlier scene that we’ll talk about later. Dead Lawrence was then recovered off screen, repaired, and then re-spawned in Pariah, thus popping back up again. The writers of Westworld are no longer holding our hands with this stuff and just assume we’re keeping up.)

NEXT: The 300-some [pagebreak]

Lawrence gives our heroes a stage-coach robbing mission to complete, which they do. William gets deeper into the outlaw spirit by shooting an unarmed guard, much to his own dismay. The hosts, interestingly, are fighting back now. We were told in the first episode that the further a guest travels away from the center of the park — the town of Sweetwater — the more intense the experience gets. You can get legitimately hurt out here, though not in any permanent way (supposedly).

For completing the mission, the tourists are given a reward to the E-Ticket orgy ride. It’s like the world’s greatest Burning Man tent, and includes a large orgy-tastic body pile in the center of the room. This reminded me of the Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards” body pile only with sexy oily people instead of bloody corpses. I worry about the people on the bottom of the orgy pile. They probably can barely move or breathe down there. Is there a safe word for tapping out? Wouldn’t the bodily fluids situation be kinda out of control? And how much of this Westworld episode’s budget was spent on merkins?

None of our characters seem to be having any fun here. Dolores is turned off and can’t wait to leave. Logan’s theme park Padawan William isn’t interested either; these are not the hooker droids he’s looking for. His bickering with Logan over robot-theme park ethics reaches a new pissy break-up level as they fight amid the humping.

All this sexual decadence seems staged as an example of the park’s extremes and to give some striking ambience to this sequence. But if a show is going to stage something this bold, I do wish one of our characters had some moment of meaningful interaction — at least a word or two — with the background sensuality rather than just gawked at it. It’s a sex party guys, don’t be lurkers.    

Dolores finds a Tarot card reader. She’s told she must follow The Maze and has a vision of pulling a string out of her arm. It looks like a piano wire, or a tendril of the 3-D printing of the hosts (the player piano is used on the show as a metaphor for the hosts themselves). This could be a literal clue as well. Perhaps Dolores has a transmitter in her arm like the stray and is similarly following directions on how to smuggle data out of the park?

Moving on: Lawrence double-crosses William and Logan by giving the Confederdos tequila instead of explosives. Logan gets captured and is getting the hell beaten out of him by hosts. Finally, an experience in the park that’s too intense for him. William decides to ditch him. Good, we’ve have enough of Logan.

Then William and Dolores get cornered themselves, and Dolores sharp-shoots the Confederados. “You said people come here to change the story of their lives,” she says. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.”

She’s seeming to evolve and improvise. But is she really? Is Dolores truly becoming self-aware and empowered, or just following a larger loop for an unseen programmer’s new purpose? She kisses William, but also notes the voice in her head says she needs William to “find a way out.” So does she really like him, or is she just using him?

I feel like I’m asking you, recap reader, more questions than I’m actually answering for you, but hopefully these are guiding your thoughts in some helpful directions.

And then there’s The Man in Black. He kills Lawrence and uses his “blood” to juice up Teddy. “Sorry Lawrence, I guess I’ll see you on the other side,” he says, dropping yet another reference to possibly dying. The MiB tells Teddy that his newly programmed nemesis Wyatt kidnapped Dolores, which motivates Teddy to help him, even though he’s way off his loop. I like this — the MiB might not know the tech team’s verbal command cheat codes, but he knows enough about the characters that he can basically hack them anyway, saying what hosts need to hear to trigger them to take certain actions.

Later, the MiB gets a visit from Ford and for the first time the MiB looks a bit impressed. It’s like Walt Disney joining you while you’re waiting in line at the Haunted Mansion. We get the feeling from this exchange that these two know each other, and even have some kind of business connection. The MiB seems to think of himself as the park’s self-designated arch villain that Ford never bothered to design, and he wonders if this new Wyatt character will prove to be a worthy level boss for him to defeat.

But the MiB is far more interested in Ford’s former partner, Arnold. “Maybe he left something behind,” the MiB says. “I wonder what I would find if I opened you up,” and threatens Ford with his knife. Teddy quickly grabs the blade — that’s the host’s “Samaritan Reflex” at work, which we’ve heard about but haven’t seen in action before (basically if a guest moves to harm another guest, a host will reflexively block it).

The MiB seems to be wondering the same thing we are, especially after that Ford and Dolores scene earlier: Is Dr. Ford a host? Is he Arnold? That Teddy blocked the knife doesn’t help here — Ford presumably programmed the hosts to protect him no matter what.

Back underground, a body shop tech has a side project trying to bring a dead bird back to life. Apparently he wishes he had a better job at Delos and is practicing coding with a stolen control pad in his spare time. He’s startled to find Maeve awake — and wanting to have a chat.

For more insight, check out our weekly Westworld Q&A with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, where we talk about the orgy scene and more.

And below is the latest episode of our Westworld: Analysis Mode Sirius XM radio show, where Jeff Jensen and I get into some heavy theorizing (including what “Contrapasso” means).

Episode grade: B+

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