Season One, Episode Eight — “Trace Decay”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. The hosts are waking up, little by little, piece by piece. The more the park tries to erase their pain, the more Bernard, Maeve, and Dolores cling to it, because Westworld really wants to drive home that pain is the primary construct that makes us human. Say what you will about that theory — we see Maeve in a flashback, echoing the words of Bernard and Dolores, imploring the techs not to remove the memory of her daughter, because “pain is all I have left of her” — but what else could have happened to Dr. Ford for him to see humans first and foremost as vectors of pain?
One nail he does hit right on the head, though, is that people sure do get mired down in their own loops. The Man in Black has come to epitomize that, circling like a buzzard toward the center of the maze, no longer interested in returning to “real life” until he solves the puzzle. (Whether this is a lesson in futility or perseverance is yet to be revealed.) Naïve Teddy finally wakes up, remembering The Man in Black’s previous indiscretions with Dolores, and immobilizes him while deciding his next move. All tied up with no recourse but to talk, we learn far more about the Man in Black’s past than in previous episodes combined. He’s still convinced he’s one of the good guys, despite not being able to feel pain after his wife’s suicide or slaughtering Maeve’s daughter. We may have more of a handle on his backstory now, but we also know the park gets increasingly more dangerous and unpredictable the further out you get. Now, on unfamiliar turf and surrounded by Wyatt’s goons, The Man in Black’s future has become uncertain.
Dolores, on the other hand (still spotless in her J. Crew Equestrian Time Lord ensemble), has become almost entirely unhinged. She’s being chased around by her own ghosts, unsure of where or when she is. It’s all coming back to her in terrible moments – being ambushed near the river, the massacre (possibly by her own hand?) at the host training grounds. While that’s no solace for her, one thing all this skipping around has proven is that the William and Dolores story is definitely on a separate timeline than what’s presently going down at the park. Dolores’ flashback to the massacre is sparked by seeing the steeple from the white church buried in the sand, sand that has recently been removed by Dr. Ford to comply with his new, Wyatt-centric narrative. Arnold’s voices have been calling to her for a very long time, now. Hopefully she is lucid enough in the present to play a significant role in the hosts’ inevitable coup.
Maeve: “I can’t tell which is real.” Sylvester: “Well, that’s what happens when you fuck around with your brain.”
“It’s you… I thought Ford retired you.” – The Man in Black recognizes the host from William’s first encounter with the park.
“Sylvester… good luck.” – Maeve. (She doesn’t mean it.)
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – Charlotte; a phrase which should always be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s lodged deep within Hamlet’s palaverous pages. (At least Stoppard got it right.)
BEST MOMENT: It’s been a while since Westworld has roused genuine excitement, rather than patting itself on the back for solving a small part of its brainteaser. (“Dr. Ford likes hosts, but not guests. He likes dogs, but not rabbits…”) But Maeve’s Icarus moment of overconfidence and subsequent delight in circumventing Ford’s scripts gave me the feels. As she wreaks her telepathic voodoo on her fellow hosts to derail the familiar robbery, she puffs up a little more each time, more and more assured that she will not just survive, but win. It was uncharacteristically careless of her towards the end, but it also showed that the hard work of her Lazarus experiment has paid off, and that she has the potential to be an ample match for Ford, unconcerned with inevitable casualties on the way toward building her own dominion. We are somehow not too worried about her when she gets caught.
EPISODE’S MVP: Jeffrey Wright gives a fairly agonizing performance as an all-too aware Bernard, cognizant not only of his final murderous moments with Theresa, but also of his own state of limbo between the host and human worlds. Dr. Ford gives Bernie a characteristically long lecture on the blessings and curses of human emotion, which basically serves no purpose other than to draw out the suffering and overall Cartesian mindfuck he’s bestowed on Bernard in the first place. Mr. Wright glides through this scene in the throes of misery, calmly coming back to his more robotic responses when Dr. Ford says the word. Ford seems pretty confident that he is still the ultimate puppet master, but just how much will Bernard retain? This has clearly been done before.
DOWN THE BARREL:
– Some great tunes in this episode – Maeve gets an upgrade from depressive, deer-in-headlights Radiohead tracks to British takes on Memphis soul with The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”. Certainly suitable to her recent transition.
– Dolores has alarmingly low standards if she’s satisfied with the muddy curve of a dusty river to rise to her “where the mountains meet the sea” expectations.
– Before he gets his memory wiped, Bernard asks Ford if he’s ever made him hurt anyone before. Ford insists he has not – cut to Bernard’s flashback of locking Elsie in a chokehold. But why would Ford lie right before wiping his memory? He was cavalier enough to tell Bernard that life and death are small prices to pay for the dominion he will have. Was Bernard controlling Elsie for Arnold, not Ford (she, of course, might still be alive and in the service of other forces in the park)?
– The biggest reveal for me will be the explanation of how Felix and Sylvester are getting away with any of their shenanigans with Maeve. Ditching their surgical Devo suits for Mission: Impossible Business Casual should not be enough to sneak around upstairs unnoticed.
– Charlotte has quite the eye, choosing Peter Abernathy out of a long line of possible hosts to carry 35 years of code. I’m glad he’s back – the last couple episodes should be real doozies.
6.5 out of 10
Next: “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” soon.
Before: “Trompe L’Oeil,” here.