‘Westworld’ Season 1, Episode 4 Recap: Bad Hombres and Nasty Women
One scene really stood out to me on this week’s Westworld. Robo-madam Maeve (Thandie Newton), one of the Hosts in the park who is beginning to develop consciousness, suddenly remembers one of the many times she’s been killed. She also has a vision of a terrifying man in a white and red suit, pulling her away, performing surgery on her, and tossing her body in a heap of others. She draws the figure on a piece of paper, then goes to hide it under the floorboards in her room where she discovers a pile of similar slips of paper, indicating she’s played this scenario out over and over again.
It’s a haunting image, and a very Nolanesque one. Of all the scenarios that have played out through four episodes of Westworld, this one felt the closest to Memento, the Christopher Nolan movie based on a short story written by Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan. In Memento, an amnesiac named Leonard hunts his wife’s killer, fighting against his condition with a series of photographs, tattoos, and notes designed to jog his memory whenever it fails him. At the end of the film (technically the beginning of the story, because of the movie’s jumbled timeline, and yes, this is a SPOILER), it’s revealed that Leonard deliberately mislead himself in order to strike at the wrong man. Not being able to remember is bad, but not having a purpose is worse.
That makes for an interesting companion to the universe of Westworld and its Hosts who, like Leonard, are trapped in endless, amnesiac loops. Maeve’s defiant act at the end of this episode is conceptually similar to Leonard’s at the end of Memento: A giant eff you to a cruel and unforgiving universe. If they’re going to be trapped in hell, they might as well have a little fun while they’re there.
That universe is looking more and more like a religious metaphor in this episode, “Dissonance Theory,” particularly in the scenes featuring Anthony Hopkins’ park director Dr. Ford. In a scene with Sidse Babett Knudsen’s operations manager, he makes more than a dozen Hosts freeze simultaneously. He also begins one speech about the history of Westworld (and another reference to Arnold, his mysterious former partner) with the phrase “In the beginning.” We still don’t know what Ford’s new park narrative will specifically entail, but he introduced it a few episodes ago by leading an underling to a church in the middle of the desert. Clearly, Ford is a man who doesn’t mind comparisons to a higher power.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) comes back in a big way in this episode after sitting out most of last week’s Westworld, and his vast knowledge of the park and his invulnerability to the Hosts’ bullets lends him an air of the divine as well. (One of the most fascinating dynamics on this series continues to be the way the robots seem far more human than the actual human characters.) The tiniest bit of his backstory gets revealed — a fellow park guest makes mention of his life-saving foundation back in the real world before he cuts him off — but he makes major progress on his quest to find the hidden maze, and the deepest part of the Westworld “game.”
An encounter with a woman covered in snake tattoos (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) leads him to a jail where Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector Escaton is being held. In one of the coolest scenes from the series so far, the Man in Black uses an explosive hidden inside a cigar to bust Hector out of his cell. (Doing so requires special dispensation from the security team housed in the underground offices beneath Westworld; in this universe, the gods watch from below, not above.)
The mystery around the maze deepens further in “Dissonance Theory” when programmer Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tells Host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) to seek it out; he claims it’s the key to finding her freedom. That would seem to put Dolores and the Man in Black on a collision course; they both seek the same enigmatic destination. My hunch would be that we won’t see that showdown until the season finale. Giving Dolores the chance for revenge in the last episode would bring her storyline full circle, after the Man in Black attacked her in the season premiere.
I will admit I was pretty unclear, even after multiple viewings, exactly what happened to Dolores at the end of last week’s episode. Now, particularly after Maeve’s journey in this week’s Westworld, it’s a lot more obvious that Dolores’ vision of getting shot and then instantly recovering was a “reverie,” one of the supposedly tiny physical improvisations drawn from previous memories that Dr. Ford added to the Hosts’ code that started all the issues with the park’s artificial intelligence. Only the reveries are getting bigger and more pronounced for Dolores. In this case, she remembered a previous shooting, allowing her to avoid a bloody fate this time by making a quick getaway into the arms of William.
After last week’s somewhat sluggish installment, “Dissonance Theory” felt to me like a step in the right direction. I love when the show digs into its subtext about storytelling and spirituality and memory, but this week Westworld did all of that while simultaneously pushing its characters and brings their goals into focus. The stuff with Maeve reminded me of the very first sentence of Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori” short story: “Your wife always used to say you'd be late for your own funeral.” So is Maeve, and Dolores, and all the rest of the Hosts.
EPISODE RATING: 9/10
AND ANOTHER THING...
-With his leather coat and hat, Rodrigo Santoro is hands-down the best-dressed Host in Westworld. If I got one of those personal shopper setups we saw William go through at his park arrival, I’d just want this outfit. I’d look a lot less cool than Santoro, but I don’t care.
-Poor Teddy Flood (James Marsden) shows up, having survived the Wyatt Family’s attack. I’m honestly surprised, and a little disappointed, the Man in Black didn’t kill him right on the spot. I kinda wanted Teddy to die in every single episode, like Kenny from South Park.