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October 24, 2016 at 01:17 PM EDT

Westworld is a story of incremental change. Not just for the hosts, but the show’s own narrative style. Every scene edges the characters and story forward. This is more unusual than you might think. Most shows advance their story in fits and starts, with characters and story lines spinning in place for a few scenes or whole episodes, not really progressing, then abruptly lunging ahead once a finale approaches. Westworld is almost mathematical in its narrative precision. The pace is not fast, and that frustrates some viewers. Yet the story is always moving — unceasing, purposeful, and incremental … like the original film’s Gunslinger android calmly hunting its target.

Nowhere is the show’s incremental progression more clear than in the Dolores scenes that open each hour. Every week we start with Bernard talking to Dolores and each week Dolores steps closer to true awareness. And with this episode, “Dissonance Theory,” the edges of What the Hell is Going On seem to be getting clearer. I have some theories this week that might actually be correct, plus I can’t wait to talk about that scene with Dr. Ford and Teresa Cullen. But let’s stay on our assigned narrative loop by starting at the beginning:

At the start of episode 4, Dolores is telling Bernard about the death of her parents. He offers to take away her pain, but she echoes his comments to his wife in the last episode; that the pain is all she has left. It’s interesting that both Dolores (a host) and Bernard (a human… so we assume) would use the same language to describe their internal conflict. “I feel spaces opening up inside of me like a building with rooms I’ve never explored,” she says.

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Bernard wants to help her continue, but adds, “I’m not the only one making these decisions.” He tells her there’s a game called The Maze. “The goal is to find the center … if you can do that, then maybe you can be free.” Of course, we know the Man in Black is also seeking The Maze, only he’s been warned it’s not for him (perhaps it’s only for hosts? More thoughts on this later). “I think… I want to be free,” Dolores says. It’s a very American play on “I think therefore I am” — I think therefore I want freedom.

Dolores then wakes up in William and Logan’s camp and we realize the scene with Bernard and Dolores was a flashback. But to when? She was talking about fleeing after her parents were murdered. Right after that she ended up with the guys’ camp. So when did this conversation happen? Was she talking about a previous time her parents were murdered?

RELATED: Westworld: Meet the Characters

That this opening seems to be a flashback could be significant. Because if this were a flashback… what about all the other opening scenes with Bernard and Dolores this season? We’ve been assuming Bernard has been pulling Dolores out of the game to have off-record sideline chats. But perhaps all this is actually prologue to the rest of the story? A big question I have — and, not to quote The Matrix, to “bake your noodle,” or anything — but: Are all these stories we’re seeing taking place at the same time? The show is so complex already, it would seem pretty unlikely the showrunners would mixmaster their timeline with a This Is Us-ian twist on top of everything else. But you never know.  

Anyway: William wants to continue the bounty hunt adventure, but William, concerned for Dolores, wants to quit. Logan offers to kill Dolores to solve the problem. “Can you please stop trying to kill or f— everything?” William asks on behalf of the audience. Logan lets drop some exposition: Their company is considering raising its stake in the Westworld park. Let’s put a pin in that along with the The Maze reference. We’re going to come back to it.

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HBO’s ambitious science-fiction thriller Westworld is based on the 1973 Michael Crichton novel of the same name. The series developed by Jonathan Nolan stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and more top names.
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