‘Westworld’ Season 1, Episode 5 Recap: The Story of Your Life
“Smart enough to guess there’s a bigger picture, but not smart enough to see what it is.”
That’s a line spoken by Sidse Babett Knudsen’s Theresa Cullen, Westworld’s head of operations, in the show’s first episode. She’s talking to Simon Quarterman’s Lee Sizemore, the park’s writer (who we haven’t seen much of lately). Sizemore think there’s more to Westworld that meets the eye; the Delos Corporation has bigger plans for this place and its technology than a simple resort for the rich — but he doesn’t know what. Cullen dismisses him with that line.
That line sums up how I feel about Westworld these days. Clearly something is going on beyond the basic narrative (or narratives) presented onscreen. But exactly what and to what end I still haven’t quite pinned down. And instead of starting to answer some of our lingering questions about the park, its residents, and their respective stories, tonight’s episode, “Contrapasso,” actually added more mysteries to the mix.
On last week’s episode, for example, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and Hughes (Shannon Woodward) encountered a Host who’d broken from his programmed loop. On this episode, diagnostics turn up information that suggests someone is using the Hosts to smuggle data out of Westworld. It’s supposed to be a shocking moment, accompanied by a dramatic cut to black. But it mostly left my scratching my head. Who’s taking the data? Why would someone take the data? Why use the Hosts to steal the data? What did stealing data have to do with this Host killing himself? And most importantly: Why in the world should I care about this when there are all these other subplots swirling around the show? Episode 5 marks the halfway point of Season 1. We’re still introducing new subplots and characters?
Yes, we are, including significant screen time this week for one of Westworld’s low-level technicians, Lutz (Leonardo Nam), who spends most of “Contrapasso” trying to repair a robotic bird, supposedly to get a promotion. And the episode ends with Maeve (Thandie Newton), who should be in sleep mode, waking up in his lab, and telling him they need to chat. If there’s a bigger picture with this character, I definitely am not smart enough to see it yet.
Halfway through its first season, Westworld’s dogged refusal to offer any clarity to its central mysteries is starting to irk me just the slightest bit. The best scenes this week pared away all these teases of shocking revelations to come and simply focused on Westworld’s best characters, namely Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris). The former continued her journey from helpless damsel to self-reliant Western hero by ditching her powder blue dress for a shirt, pants, and gun belt, all of which she put to good use when she and William (Jimmi Simpson) were cornered at “Contrapasso”’s climax. The latter continued his quest for Westworld’s hidden maze and got some face time with park founder and director Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The Man in Black immediately recognized Ford, and delivered one of this episode’s more interesting lines: “I always felt this place was missing a real villain. Hence my humble contribution.”
Heroes and villains, and how people define themselves in one of those two categories, was a particularly strong theme on this episode. As Dolores seizes the opportunity to become her own rescuer, she says “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be a damsel.” The ongoing feud between William and his co-worker Logan (Ben Barnes) escalated further with the line “There’s no such thing as heroes and villains. It’s just a giant circle jerk.”
Dr. Ford certainly defies any such easy categorization. In “Contrapasso,” he also had a lengthy conversation with Dolores about Arnold, Ford’s mysterious former partner in the founding of Westworld. They also talked about the incident 34 years ago where Arnold and Dolores had their last contact, and Arnold died. (Or so Ford claims.) “There was no one else left who was there,” Ford says to Dolores. “No one who understands as we understand.”
That certainly seems to lend credence to the theory that Dolores was a big part of the “major incident” from 30 years earlier that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) mentioned in the pilot episode. What remains to be seen is whether any of the events chronicled on Westworld (like William and Dolores’ quest) are actually those events from 34 years ago. Five episodes in, it’s still impossible to rule this popular fan theory out. And, in fact, moments like the Host named Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) getting slaughtered by the Man in Black, and then showing up alive and well over in William and Dolores’ storyline, seem to make that argument stronger.
That sort of bums me out, to be honest. Even as I’m drawn deeper into Dolores’ evolution and the Man in Black’s quest to find the Maze, I’m worried that the big climax of the show won’t be any kind of resolution for either character (and certainly not the face-off that the violence of the pilot would seemingly demand). If Westworld is all an elaborate ruse of time manipulation, if Dolores‘ heroic journey gets erased (because, as the theory goes, her awakening consciousness is happening 34 years ago), if the characters are basically pawns in Dr. Ford’s (or show creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s) game, the finale might be very clever, but I have a hard time imagining it being very satisfying. And where would we go from there into a potential second season? There’s no doubt the show’s creators are very smart; smart enough to craft very big pictures. But big pictures need small details too.
EPISODE RATING: 7/10
-The title “Contrapasso,” according to the never-wrong Wikipedia, refers to “the punishment of souls in Dante's Inferno.” The same weekend that Inferno comes out in theaters? (Starring Westworld’s Sidse Babett Knudsen, no less.) Awesome cross-promotion.
-Dolores has had visions (reveries?) before, but in this episode she had full-on out-of-body experiences. I must confess I don’t know exactly how to read them yet. Rather than speculate and be totally wrong I’m keeping my theory to myself for the moment.
-My favorite out-of-context line from tonight’s episode: “Whoever designed this place, you get the feeling they don’t think very much of people.”
-My second favorite out-of-context line from tonight’s episode: “I’m a creepy-necro-perv.” It’s not too late to make this your Halloween costume, either.