Westworld: Dissonance Theory

“We know everything about our guests.”

It’s been a long time since an episode of television left me feeling this confused.

Here’s what we know: Dr. Ford has been planning a new narrative. It has to do with Wyatt, a man of pure evil. Teddy knows him (as of the previous episode), and Teddy was strung up alive by him in this episode. Since the Westworld tech can implant backstories—the personal equivalent of rewriting a timeline—we don’t know long Wyatt has been around, or in what iterations. But that shouldn’t matter, since it’s the memory of him, not the factual existence, that matters for Teddy, for the backstory, and for Nolan’s own thematic preoccupations.

Here’s what we also know: Dr. Ford is still working on his project. In his conversation with Theresa, we saw him building the landscape for his new narrative. I assume that’s what the gigantic machines were doing. Digging. Digging into the maze? Digging up the church?

And here’s something I think we know: The Man in Black wants to get to a “deeper level” of the game, and that quest has put him on a trajectory to meet Wyatt.

That’s where I get confused. Is the MiB already participating in, or “playing,” Dr. Ford’s new narrative? Or is he off-book, so to speak? Is he just intersecting with the narrative as it is being constructed, almost by happenstance? Does Dr. Ford know?

Part of my confusion is due to the difficulty of discerning time on this show. That difficulty has led to some exciting internet theorizing about whether or not William is a young MiB. (I don’t think that idea holds water.) But the opening scene, Dolores’s conversation with Bernard—when did that take place? Because it sure seemed like she spent the night at William and Logan’s campfire. Do those conversations take place only in her head? Because that would mean that at least some of what we’re seeing is a projection, not a physical, carnal reality.

And that’s some crazy unreliable narration if it's intentional. I’m a bit worried, though, that the confusion of chronology is not a feature, but a flaw. Perhaps some of the confusion is either unintentional or a ham-fisted attempt to create mystery through a lack of clear storytelling. I think the next episode, simply by virtue of being next, will help clarify a few of these questions.

In the meantime, we did get some meaty examples of the hosts becoming more aware, which is to say drawing on their memories to understand their world and their place in it. Dolores’s journey is thought-provoking, and I think there’s something hilarious and sweet about how William’s white-hat instincts are possibly enabling a robot to become sentient.

(According to Logan, of course, it’s all intentional: the “people at the controls” sent Dolores to get William more excited about playing the game. But the Hemsworth sent someone to collect Dolores, which seems to prove that idea wrong. And that wrinkle means that either the controllers don’t have as much control as Logan thinks, or that there are a few different controllers with their own “agendas” [as Bernard said] at work in Dolores’s arc. And William’s arc. And possible Dr. Ford’s narrative. And Dr. Ford said he knows everything about his guests. So I’m left with more questions.)

Maeve’s journey was the most fascinating. Her horror when she sketched her brief memory of the guy in the containment suit, only to realize she’d had that dawning realization before, was incredible. So was her reaction. Her scene with Hector and the knife was remarkable not just for being the first truly erotic moment I’ve seen in this show, but also because Maeve now believes that nothing matters, and she can do whatever the fuck she wants.

That’s not a meaningless idea. It’s a line from the speech she recites to lure johns into the brothel: once she arrived in America she could do “whatever the fuck [she] wanted to.” In Dolores’s conversation with Bernard, Dolores recycled dialogue from a love narrative into a discussion of her own quest for enlightenment. Maeve is doing the same thing. They’re both following a familiar path but looking at the scenery anew.

Dolores, on the other hand, is on a brand-new path. She has left her family farm and Sweetwater for the first time (in her current memory, that is). And she’s having visions: of the young girl who told the MiB where to meet the tattooed woman Armistice, of the church that Dr. Ford walked to with Bernard, of the maze, and of her past deaths.

Even Theresa got a wacky flashback. At least we know for sure that hers was courtesy of Dr. Ford and not a glitch. (Right?) In what appears to be a hacienda that doubles as a restaurant for the guests, Dr. Ford sat Theresa at exactly the table she had sat with her parents when she visited so long ago. “We know everything about our guests,” he said (which lends support to Logan’s theory about Dolores). And he knows everything about Theresa, including her misgivings. He was so creepy that I almost forgot to feel bad for the robots doomed to a life of nineteenth-century farm labor who could be frozen at a snap of his fingers.

Speaking of creepy: the MiB has decided to play a Choose Your Own Adventure version of Westworld. Not just because he wants to honor Arnold’s legacy by puzzling out the “deeper level” that may or may not be a region in which death is possible. But also in the minutiae: the MiB is so familiar with the storylines that he rushed Hector’s jailbreak to get to the shootout sooner to get the info from the woman with the snake tattoo, Armistice. He’s gaming the game to get at the deeper game.

I said last week that I thought—if the show stayed good—we might look back at “The Stray” as the moment of transformation from interesting to complex. I still believe that, but in the spirit of the cognitive dissonance that gives this episode its title, I also wonder—if the show turns out to be a mess—if we’ll look back at some of the ambiguity in this episode, shake our heads ruefully, and laugh at our own delusions.

Reveries:

• Bernard: “The hosts don’t imagine things. You do.” Does he mean this? Or is part of his agenda to keep Elsie in the dark?

• Dr. Ford told Theresa that the board already had someone inside the park. It’s Logan, right? He mentioned that his family should invest in the park more.

• Some of the “natives” keep what are essentially kachina dolls of the techs, complete with spacesuits. Kachinas are complex and worth reading about.

• This week’s Hector shootout was set to the iconic “Habanera” from Bizet’s opera Carmen. The scores for each iteration of the shootout is such a wonderful way for the show to poke fun at the pizazz of watching a western.

I’m not going to rate this, because I want to see if the confusion is poor storytelling or a complex narrative. How many spaceman kachinas would you give “Dissonance Theory”?

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

1 comment:

Corona Zschusschen said...

Definitely a "deeper into the rabbit hole" feeling with this episode. I keep having such high expectations of this series, maybe it's unfair to have those.