Westworld: Trace Decay

“Once more, with feeling.”

Late last week, I came to terms with the poorly-named “two timelines” theory of Westworld.
For those of you who don’t know, this theory—which is really about two time periods, not alternate realities—argues that William (Jimmi Simpson) is a younger version of the Man in Black, thirty years before the Ed Harris MiB events.

I’m glad I made peace with that theory, because after this episode I’m not sure how it couldn’t be true. The Man in Black’s speech was all about how he hadn’t lived the life he had thought: he thought of himself as a good man, a good father, and a good husband who did good charity as a “titan of industry.” But his wife killed herself because of his cruelty. And because she sensed in him a potential for greater cruelty.

If we’re playing the “let’s guess the plot” game, I’d guess that means William killed Logan. As a man who loves to live in stories, William may have lost sight of who was human and who was a host. In this episode we saw him kill another host to get on with the story; perhaps he will kill Logan to save Dolores. On the level of character analysis, that would explain why, as the MiB, he is so frustrated with Dolores. He risked everything, including his sense of self, to save her, and she just went back (thanks to Dr. Ford’s machinations, of course) to being her robot self for thirty years. On the level of plot-guessing, if William killed Logan it would explain how he went from a middle-management lackey to a “titan of industry.”

But I think that’s all irrelevant. Well, not irrelevant. But not necessarily what we should be focusing on. Clue-hunting is glorified plot speculation. Doing so gives us the impression of mastery over a text—I know a fact hasn’t been explicitly stated!—but often, in fan communities, clue-hunting replaces close analysis of the text and thoughtful engagement.

Engagement with what? The ideas and challenges a story presents. Westworld is not, should not be, about who can guess what’s happening. It’s about the nature of humanity. The connection between us, as individuals in the present moment, and our memories, which are the idiosyncratic clue-hunts we regularly engage in as we try to make sense of our present selves. That Bernard is a host is interesting. That I figured it out earlier is nifty. But what matters isn’t that he is a host. What matters is what that means for our understanding of Bernard, a complex character.

We’ve seen that hosts can be just as complex, albeit more plastic, than regular humans. Bernard has the potential to fully live his memories, without the blurry nostalgia that is humanity’s burden and panacea. What matters is that Bernard, as an individual, has been manipulated by Dr. Ford’s removal of those memories; he might be more at peace without them, but he has lost the ability to relive and experience his passionate emotions.

Dr. Ford describes hosts as more than human, or perhaps more human than human. Where does that put him, given his mastery of the superhuman hosts? It’s no coincidence he quoted from Frankenstein this week: the perils overwhelming pride in scientific creation is a lesson Dr. Ford will surely have to learn soon, as he attempts to “acquire” more “dominion” over Westworld and the people—fabricated or not—within it.

Especially since Westworld seems to be going more haywire each week. So far, the only hosts who have begun to wake up and avoid detection have been Dolores and Maeve; Dolores’s dad made it less than a day before he was caught out. But Teddy’s memories are starting to come back, even without the “violent delights” passphrase to access them. He punched the Man in Black and tied him up. Will he have the self-determination to do anything more?

Too bad he can’t ask Maeve for help. With her new superpowers—I don’t know how else to describe them—Maeve has control over the other hosts. We’ve seen Dr. Ford controlling them with small hand gestures, specific phrases, and sometimes his mind (I think). We’ve seen the other techs using specific commands and futuristic iPads. But I don’t think we’ve seen anyone play Choose Your Own Adventure with the hosts. Maeve narrated the world around her, and it changed according to her will.

I would like that to be my superpower. Please.

Reveries:

• A busy week meant I was unable to rewatch this episode until Tuesday night, at which point my HBO access slowed to a snail’s crawl thanks to clunky internet. I’m sure I missed some things in my review—feel free to add them in the comments!

• We can use Talulah Riley (Angela) as an indicator of the time periods in this episode: 35 years ago, she was one of many hosts in the now-buried town in which they were trained. 30 years ago, she welcomed William to the park. In the “present day” timeline, she has been repurposed as a member of Wyatt’s brigade, and the Man in Black recognizes her from before.

• I don’t actually have much to say about Dolores’s journey this week, aside from pointing out that her question—“When are we?!”—is a pretty big clue for the two-timelines theory.

• The shoot-out scene gets funnier each time.

• So, Charlotte Hale wants to smuggle data out of the park?

Three out of four explosive spinal columns.

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?)

4 comments:

Patryk said...

I too feel that Logan should die in the park and it should be blamed on the hosts and the park regulations leading to the current safety regulations with non-bruising bullets and lumberjack licences.

One more theory I'd like to be comfirmed is that Bernard is a indeed a simulacrum but not of various emotions but of Arnold. The controllable version of Arnold who Ford wanted him to be.

I agree that the philosophical questions are even more important then plot guessing but this is one of the most satusfying plot clue hunt I have seen in years. One that actually has timely payoff (at least for now) and makes us ask questions that make sense.

Lets hope Hemsworth will unravel the board/Ford conspiracy in the last 2 episodes. Mind wiped Bernard must have raised all the red flags he could in their conversation. And somoene please tell me if he killed Elsie or just kidnapped her. Is that her clone that Ford is printing in the hideout?

Mark Greig said...

Did anyone notice when Bernard scanned Maeve's mind/mainframe/whatever in the flashback, the pattern looked almost exactly like the maze. When Teddy said “The maze itself is the sum of a man’s life” was he being rather literally?

I agree that Bernard is probably a host version of Arnold. The only time we were shown a photo of Arnold it was from Bernard's POV and he can't see things that might hurt him. If Bernard is indeed based on Arnold that means the conversations we've seen between him and Delores (which took place in Ford's secret room) were actually between her and Arnold.

One things that is bugging me about this two timeline theory, if this is all in the past what is present day Delores' doing? Is she still in her loop? Has she been quietly retired? Or is she wandering around the park reliving these past events?

Patryk said...

I think the consensus is she is wandering the park and reliving past events. That's why we get all the scenes of her being alone and suddenly William appears or the other way around like in this episode when he dissapeared for a while.

We can add to that picture scene that the picture looked photoshopped and now we saw Bernard using doctoring teqniques on another photo that. So I guess it almost certain.

Josie Kafka said...

I agree that the philosophical questions are even more important then plot guessing but this is one of the most satusfying plot clue hunt I have seen in years. One that actually has timely payoff (at least for now) and makes us ask questions that make sense.

That is a good point, Patryk. And I am grateful to the internet for their theorizing, since I probably wouldn't have noticed it and been so surprised when it was revealed that I would have to immediately rewatch the entire thing.

Mark, I'm with Patryk on this: in the present-day timeline, Dolores is making the same trip alone. (Maybe it's because I just watched Moana, but I wish she had a plucky animal sidekick.)

I'm not as excited by the Bernarnold theory because I like Bernard just the way he is, but it does seem to have legs.

Have you all read that "Bernard Lowe" is an anagram of "Arnold Weber"? We don't know that "Weber" is Arnold's last name, but there's a possible clue in the next episode title: https://www.reddit.com/r/westworld/comments/5ekrwe/is_the_title_of_the_next_episode_confirming_a_fan/