Season One, Episode Five — “Contrapasso”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Here we are, halfway through the murky ambiguity of Westworld, and I can bet most of us are still plenty confused about who it is we should be rooting for. It’s almost as if the myriad plots themselves don’t even matter, that we should instead spend our precious energy focusing solely on the series’ more allegorical aspects — navelgazing in high-definition.
In fact, we can almost visualize each episode as a perverse painting, triptychs equal parts religious and heretical, with bodies and robots draped over each other in lurid phantasmagoria. Are Dr. Ford and Arnold opposing forces in a god vs. devil kind of way, or are they two sides of the same coin – the physical and spiritual embodiments of one force? When characters wield too much power and only sparsely engage, you run the risk of the audience losing interest in the rest of the cast, especially when the stable of characters is this expansive.
Shows like Game of Thrones may be confusing to follow because everyone sort of looks and sounds alike under stinky layers of fur and leather, but they hold an audience because each character is clearly hellbent on coming out on top. Westworld’s complacency towards its own characters requires a different viewing tactic, one in which the audience resists trying to piece together the individual connections and just allows what they represent to slowly sink in. (And I do mean slowly.)
No better example of this than seeing Lawrence pop up in multiple timelines this week. William, Logan and Dolores encounter Lawrence and assist him in a heist (which he, being a black hat, attempts to swindle his way out of). In this story, we see a much more vibrant and confident Lawrence, seemingly with nothing to lose and perhaps fewer memories swimming around his circuitry.
Yet simultaneously, The Man in Black, having gone out of his way to rescue Lawrence time and again, bleeds him like a pig for use as a blood bag for Zombie Teddy. This reinforced that all hosts are equally as disposable to The Man in Black, yet it remains curious that he specifically needed Lawrence’s blood, rather than any of the dozens of other hosts he shot along the way. I’m not crying Plot Hole, because Westworld generally does a great job at following up on these types of questions, but it does underscore the notion that you can have very few top contenders on a board – the rest are merely infantry and pawns, and the only thing relevant is the game itself. As Maeve pointed out last week, none of this really matters.
So what’s the point of watching a show in which 95% of the cast is disposable, the only thing unambiguous about the powers that be is that they are always working against you and all the important answers lie at the end of Sisyphean tasks? Some viewers prefer some uncomfortable reality in their scripted swordplay, I suppose.
“Your mind is a walled garden. Even death cannot touch the flowers blooming there.” – Dr. Ford, to Dolores.
“Whomever designed this place – you get the feeling they didn’t think very much of people.” – William.
“You said, ‘People come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.” – Dolores, to William
“Your humanity’s cost effective. So is your suffering.” – The Man in Black to Teddy.
BEST MOMENT: Dolores has a spell of crazy, seeing herself amongst the revelers in the real-world-timely Dio de los Muertos type of parade, and on the other side of the tarot table, dealing herself the card containing the maze. It was as if she needed to visualize herself honoring the dead (in this case Albert) and handing herself her own future (symbolizing her budding free will) to be able to fire the necessary shots to get started on her mission. To mix Westworld’s piled-on metaphors, she fell down the rabbit hole but finally knows what to do with her prey, rather than continuing to run around in pointless circles.
EPISODE’S MVP: Dolores, in which she puts on a pair of trousers and no longer has to be a damsel. Evan Rachel Wood has finally been able to show off some range these last few episodes, and her character is becoming much more intriguing than the broken record of the season’s beginning. Not only has she seemed to ditch her fear of sidearms, but she has begun to confront the ghosts that seem to chase her, putting her in the company of William/The Man in Black and Maeve (and to a certain extent the perennially irritating Elsie) as one of the few characters in the series who act on clear motivation.
DOWN THE BARREL:
– Felix and his partner in surgery (whose name I cannot find) are becoming more and more of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern set, though much more in the Stoppard than Shakespearean sense. In this parallel, I have no idea who would be Hamlet, but their absurdist bumbling through a drama much larger than themselves fits the bill – especially as Felix seems to have stumbled onto something important by resurrecting the songbird.
– Unfortunately we aren’t hanging around the player piano much today, but in a different brothel in a land far, far away we are treated to an orchestral version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have.”
– Your dose of imagery for the day: the goods in the Pariah brothel are painted gold, which (purposefully or not) echoes Stradanus’ many, many paintings of the inhabitants of Dante’s Inferno.
– HBO tried to pull a “No, really – we don’t just objectify women in our shows” move by showing Elsie comment on a well-endowed host. Oof.
7 out of 10
Next: “The Adversary,” soon.
Before: “Dissonance Theory,” here.