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'Westworld' recap: 'Trace Decay'

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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:
Scifi

For the final three episodes HBO is no longer sending out screeners, so the recap is being posted a bit later (and shorter) than usual.

Maeve is taking control. Bernard and Dolores are losing their minds. Elsie might really be dead. And the Man in Black might have just confirmed a major fan theory in tonight’s Westworld.

We open with poor suffering Bernard, whose major malfunction is that he killed his own lover. Dr. Ford messes with him further, saying he should feel proud of all these horrible guilty emotions because he — Bernard — helped design them in the first place. Ford reveals that he created Bernard early on to help him design the hosts. But under Ford, the hosts can have nothing of their own, not even their feelings.

Next Ford orders Bernard to clean up all traces of Theresa’s murder, so he goes into CSI mode, getting rid of every stray hair, including erasing all signs of their relationship. It’s the ultimate ghosting for doomed Theresa. Guess they’re not going to print out a Theresa host replacement to cover up their tracks after all.

So after last week’s episode where Theresa and Charlotte delivered a bogus demonstration, now it’s Ford and Bernard’s turn to put on a show — only this time instead of Clementine being killed by way of example, it’s a very human Theresa. They tell the Delos board member that Theresa fell off a cliff while trying to smuggle out data, and that they discovered the Clementine demo was faked — pinning it all on Theresa, of course, not Charlotte. This turns the tables on Charlotte while also giving her a way out. 

Charlotte isn’t buying this. I would think she’d be running for the exit train to escape robot murder park. But instead she enlists writer Lee Sizemore for help. She drops a couple hints about Ford’s mysterious narrative (digging up the white church town of Dolores’ visions and having arch-villian Wyatt come with his masked men to proselytize and bring about the end of the world). Then they go down into the cold storage vault to restart her data smuggling operation using a new host. Charlotte picks at random, oh, let’s see … how about the host who was the first one to start glitching and creeping us out in the series premiere spouting Shakespeare? Yeah, Dolores’ dad Abernathy. How can that go wrong?

Once their crime is complete, Ford gets ready to erase Bernard’s most recent memories, as we suspect he’s done many times before. Bernard gets off some quality questions first, like what’s the real difference between a host and a human? Ford’s opinion is that there isn’t much different as you might think (or at least, not as much difference as you might think that he thinks): “There is no threshold, no inflection point … we live in loops as tight and closed as the hosts do. You’re not missing anything at all.”

At the risk of agreeing with Ford, we’ve made a similar point in previous weeks, that the notion of hosts going about their unexamined loops is a rather effective metaphor for how we live our own lives. But it’s interesting that Ford — contrary to some of his statements to his staff — doesn’t really see the hosts as lesser or lacking compared to humans. This also makes his tyranny all the more villianous. Ford knows the hosts are capable of a very similar level of personhood, yet wants to dominate and control them anyway. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising since he treats real people the same way. 

Bernard’s final question is whether Ford has ever made him hurt anybody else. Ford says he hasn’t, but Bernard flashes on a memory of him choking Elsie, who’s still missing. I’ve been holding out hope she’s coming back, and given that Westworld is playing coy with the details still has me somewhat hopeful. Later, when Bernard chats with Stubbs, the secruity chief is perplexed when Bernard totally denies his relationship with Theresa and seems unbothered by her death. Is Stubbs’ host-sense tingling? 

NEXT: Did the Man in Black give us a big clue? [pagebreak]

Meanwhile, Maeve is becoming more powerful. She’s learned that all hosts have an explosive implant that goes off if they leave the park, like the collars in Battle Royale. She decides she’s going to recruit an “army” to help her break out, that it’s “time to write my own story.” She cryptically notes “there are things in me that I’m designed to do that are just out of my reach,” which is pretty intriguing. Like what? Is she loaded up with copies of TurboTax and Call of Duty and perhaps a version of Star Wars Battlefront that isn’t disappointing?   

Increasingly nervous Sylvester finally has the idea that I suggested a couple recaps ago, that they should shut down Maeve, wipe her memory and take the heat for the “accident.”

They take Maeve upstairs and seemingly shut her down, but suddenly she’s back on her feet again with a final tinkering of her core code now complete. She reveals Sylvester’s hapless partner Felix warned her of his plan (yes, they’re both named after cartoon cats, so if their storyline seems a bit cartoonish, then, well…). I continue to wrestle with believing this storyline. I’m not sure how bewildered Felix thinks this situation is going to end well for him. Maeve slashes Sylvester’s throat as a warning, then lets Felix cauterize the wound, which is unepected. So there’s still no incidents of a host deliberately killing a human. But aren’t there cameras everywhere seeing all this? We’re also not even really noticing when Thandie Newton is naked anymore — it’s like going to a nude beach, after awhile you just get used to seeing it. 

Maeve goes back into the park and starts trying out some third person orders on the other hosts. This isn’t how we thought the voice commands worked, but okay. She can now control other hosts to do whatever she wants. She maneuvers to keep Hector and his gang out of harm’s way in order to rope them into her cause, but some flashbacks interfere and soon she finds herself slashing the throat of the New Clementine.

Backstage, the techs realize Maeve has gone totally rogue and send a team to fetch her.

But let’s get to The Man in Black, becuase this is probably the most interesting bit this week. The MiB and Teddy find victims of an attack. One young woman looks familiar to the MiB and he’s shocked. His reaction here could be a major clue. You know the fan theory that holds that the William and Dolores story line is happening years before everything else? And that William might be a younger version of the MiB? This scene could be indirect confirmation. Because this grubby woman is Angela, the sleek hostess who introduced William to the park in episode 2 (the one in the white dress when he picked his white hat and clothing). The MiB not only recognizes her, but gives us the impression she’s a very old model that he hasn’t seen in a long time. “I figured Ford retired you … I guess he never likes to waste a pretty face.”

So is the MiB remembering the scene when William met Angela in episode 2? Or his own separate memory of her? The timeline theory is tricky because there are things that happened in Dolores’ storyline (such as remembering the MiB before running off with William) that seem to conflict with the idea of multiple timelines.

Another variation on this, which my Sirius XM podcast partner Jeff Jensen first brought up, is that William is a host version of Young MiB, and Ford’s narrative has somethign to do with confronting your past. Hopefully I’m wrong about this, but it’s starting to feel like there’s not one singular unifying theory in which all the pieces fit. 

Later, Teddy remembers that the MiB actually took Dolores. He’s starting to glitch, too (and it’s about time). After taking a couple of punches to the face, the MiB decides to reveal some backstory: “I’m a god. Titan of industry. Philanthropist. Family man… I’m the good guy, Teddy.” The MiB’s wife committed suicide and his daughter blamed him. Seems that all that time spent in the park fulfilling his darkest desires changed him in some fundamental way. Rewrote his code, if you will. “They never saw anything like the man I am in here, but she knew anyway,” he said.  

So he came back to the park to prove something to himself. He found that narrative with Maeve-as-homesteader and killed her and her daughter. But for a moment saw a glimpse of Maeve as truly alive, which gave him an idea (presumably it’s to wake up the hosts). Now finding “the maze,” with its host-awakening power, is the only thing that matters to him. Once again it seems like the maze will make the park a place where everybody has an equal chance to live and die.

Somewhere else, possibly sometime else, William and Dolores continue their trek. They find some Ghost Nation victims, with one still alive. They learn Logan sent the ambush. They finally arrive at Dolores’ “home,” the white church town. For a moment it seems like this episode is fully confirming the William/MiB theory because she sees the hosts doing their stiff dancing in the streets like in Ford’s flashback to the first-generation days of Arnold (Angela is there as well). But then suddenly the townsfolk are gone and the church is buried again. “Is this now? Are you real? I can’t tell anymore!” Dolores cries. Join the club, sister!

Here’s a theory: William and Dolores are arriving at the white church early in the park’s history…but flashing back to a time when the park was still being developed and the church still existed — back when Arnold was alive and the hosts were first being tested … Ford buried the church after whatever happened to Arnold. Because if Dolores and William were at the town during the present moment, the church wouldn’t be buried, but dug up — because remember what Theresa said to Lee about Ford’s new narrative? He’s digging up the white church. So why is there no sign of Ford’s new narrative? Where are the earth movers and new construction? There’s nothing, because this scene is still taking place in the unspecifired past.

Then Logan arrives and captures William and Dolores.

While Wyatt’s team captures Teddy and the Man in Black.

And the tech team has been ordered to capture Maeve.

And Elsie has definitely been captured; possibly murdered.

There are only two more episodes left, almost everybody has been captured, or in the process of being captured, and poor Bernard doesn’t remember anything! How will it end?

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UPDATE: Our weekly Westworld: Analysis Mode radio show is now live, below (and probably our best episode yet). You can also catch up on back episodes here

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