Sunday, May 19, 2024

Westworld Plays With Its Villains

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Much less graphic than last week, “Trace Decay” dealt with the reveal that Bernard was a host, gave much needed answers on the Man in Black storyline, and showed a new and more vicious side of Maeve in a solid hour.

Carrying on straight from “Trompe L’Oeil”, Ford orders Bernard to erase every possible connection they have with Theresa’s murder. Those were all pretty great scenes relying heavily on Jeffrey Wright’s acting. He starts having his mental breakdown as Ford, in a very Hannibal-esque manner, lacking any guilt or regret whatsoever, gives off a bit of backstory.

As far as we know, history is repeating itself in more ways than one. I have talked about the multiple timeline theory that revolves The Man in Black, William, and Dolores – which hardly gets disproved by this episode. However, by Ford’s dialogue, Bernard is taking on a very Arnold-like role: the two of them had issues with Ford’s intentions, wanting to shut down Westworld. In the end, both of them got the short stick as Arnold got murdered and possibly “hosted” on Bernard who himself has a turn off button.

Something that should be answered soon is whether we are getting a God-Mode-Sue trope with Ford (not quite Villain Sue yet as he doesn’t seem to *enjoy* being evil/bad). He is, after all, the creator of the hosts and seems to have the upper hand on every situation. He is big on power moves and is hardly ever coerced or efficiently threatened. His power is unquestioned and he can, apparently, pop out of the shadows whenever the plot demands it.

As Ford gets ready to erase Bernard’s memory of everything that has happened in the past day, they share a conversation where he tries to subtly tell the audience that Bernard’s son and wife are all made up for the sake of backstory. However, some fans of the show still believe that those are Arnold’s real family and the real tragedy was simply given to Bernard.

This part also possibly reveals that Bernard has killed Elsie, but I have to wonder if those weren’t just intrusive memories and an eerie sense of guilt. As Ford says, Bernard is in an unique position. He knows that he is able to forget things, and he still doesn’t know Elsie’s location. I believe it is a fake out,  especially because Ford was having one of those classic Bond villain moments where he had no reason to lie to Bernard simply because he would swipe his memory right after.

Unlike many people’s predictions, Theresa’s murder wasn’t covered by a surrogate host, but as an accident. Her data stealing device was found and painted a very villain-esque picture of Cullen. Of course, it’s all several power plays. Charlotte Hale knows what’s up and knows that Ford is manipulating her own manipulations (Clementine’s troubles), while Ford is also aware of Charlotte’s intentions at this point. Both characters are at odds with ever getting into a more brutal confrontation.

Charlotte finds Lee Sizemore and coerces him into writing a new story for Abernathy—Dolores’s pilot father—who will hold the core code of the hosts. She plays him like a harp, telling him of how Ford is lying for his own profit. In the meantime, she ends up revealing that the masked men from other story lines are advertisements for Wyatt’s coming.

Dolores and William are still traveling somewhere around the edges of the park when they find a wounded kid that tells them that Logan has been recruited (by Los Confederados?) and wants them dead. If you believe the timeline theory, then this scene felt more like a shoehorn to show how incrementally desensitized and abrupt William is becoming, much different from the William we have seen in the first episodes, in time for the Man in Black reveal.

As Dolores goes to fetch some water, she sees herself on the river, floating dead, and hears a voice—reminiscent of Jimmi Simpson’s voice through a modulator—telling her to go find “him”. Dolores believes this was Arnold’s voice and her entire episode plotline is focused on going after it.

The pair ends up walking a little more until Dolores finds her “home”, a seemingly empty city that is probably where Ford’s new story will ensue. She starts having a vision of a different time (and a slightly different haircut), when the hosts were being taught dancing. Her vision changes as Lawrence’s daughter shows up and gunshot wounds are heard. It ends with Dolores with a gun to her head. Those scenes are hard to decipher—when did they even happen? Arnold wants Dolores to remember *something*. Is it possibly the key to sentience?

Saddened that she couldn’t find Arnold at the city, they end up walking until it’s night, and end up being found by a vengeful looking Logan.

After an episode absent, the Man in Black (MIB) and Teddy make a comeback. A vital piece of information for the two timeline theory is the MIB recognizing Angela, the woman they run into. If you recall, she was the one who welcomed William in “Chestnut” only making a small appearance in “The Adversary” on the video Maeve sees of herself. Of course, we can maybe assume that the MIB, if he’s not William, has also run into Angela sometime in his life and that’s why he recognized her, but it’s much more likely that this is more proof of the timeline theory that pretty much everyone thinks is canon.

Also remembering things, Teddy is going through his own ‘metamorphosis’. We haven’t seen him being triggered the way Maeve, Abernathy, or Dolores have, so it’s believable that if Teddy’s starting to remember of his scenes from the pilot with the MIB, it’s probably an effect of the reveries, but toned down from Clementine’s grudge attack which was said to be tempered with.

So, Teddy ties up the Man in Black and ask him some questions. Gotta admit, I was half expecting Teddy to just bluntly ask him his name and his answer to be “William”, but I guess I have to wait a little longer. Nonetheless, the MIB says he is a god who will change the rules of Westworld. His wife of thirty years (Logan’s sister?) committed suicide and he decided to come back to the park in order to see if he could be truly evil. He even sounds like William in “The Adversary”: “[the park] reveals your deepest self.”

Still, the MIB came back after his wife died, found Maeve and her daughter, and killed both of them. This left the MIB empty, but that’s when he saw the potential to “awaken” the hosts. He saw the Maze for the first time with Maeve in the center as she died with her kid in her arms.

Angela tries to convince Teddy to kill the MIB, but he physically couldn’t. Then, she stabbed Teddy with an arrow and they saw approaching figures, masked and gloomy, in the distance: Wyatt’s men.

At the Mariposa, Maeve is surprised to see that Clementine was, in the end, replaced by an entirely different host. She starts getting livid flashbacks to her time with her daughter (from “Chestnut”). Then, back in the backstage, she reveals to Sylvester and Felix that she knows, somehow, about the explosive in her spine that prevents her from leaving the park. This is brand new information and corroborates Sylvester’s line from last week, that even the skin on the hosts’s backs were made to prevent their exit.

Finally going after our predictions from early episodes, Maeve is now after an army of people who can help get her outside. Originally, I believe most of us thought that, by the end of the season, most hosts would have gotten their consciousness and would barge outside on a cliffhanger. But seeing one woman’s journey is somehow more efficient and personal.

As this episode moved along, it sort of responded to some people’s apprehensions that Maeve’s storyline was being served as unrealistic. Some argued that Westworld was too highly preserved, having several cameras and devices that noticed even small changes in behavior and loops to allow Maeve’s free access and conversations with Felix and Sylvester. “Trace Decay” showed a more “in control”  Westworld Team that answered fast to her trial at escaping keeping the disbelief suspended just enough to make it real.

Her next scenes proved how changed she is now that her bulk apperception has been dialed up to 20. She realized the bicameral mind theory—she knows there is an extra mind inside her: Arnold’s. She convinced Felix and Sylvester to change up her deep coding so she can do the most, while Sylvester intends to take this opportunity to break her—this is part of the problem being addressed on the last paragraph as it’s understandable to wonder if they couldn’t have turned her new configurations back to original or break her somehow.

The two surgeons bring Maeve up to Behavior and she shuts down. Unbeknownst to Sylvester, Felix actually goes through with Maeve’s requests. She gets the upper hand and, supposedly, slashes Sylvester throat precisely where she needed to so he wouldn’t die. This showcases a more violent and villain-y side to Maeve that we are not used to. Sure, she is “our hero”, but her character is becoming increasingly greyer and crueler.

It’s also really weird that this didn’t receive attention from surveillance teams given the cameras that definitely do exist in that room, but okay.

With a transition fueled by Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”, Maeve tries her new powers of being, essentially, a backstage engineer: she can now order the hosts around at her will. However, this goes from a light and fulfilling scene to more flashbacks to her life as the Mother getting butchered by the MIB.

As she tells the new Clementine that she is escaping—possibly her mistake—starts having even more visions which leads to her killing the new host and creating mayhem in Sweetwater. This scene showed more of how even other hosts are programmed to avoid their own from escaping. Maeve ends up trapped in her bedroom, (pretending to be) frozen, while the people in hazmat suits approach.

There are also some additional scenes where Ford and Arnold are dealing with a grief struck Maeve. From the looks of it, it seems as though in that little moment of complete sanity after her daughter died, her consciousness became broken and more susceptible to acting out of her loop and coding. Maeve even repeats Dolores’s and Bernard’s lines about wanting to keep their memories of dead loved ones—most likely, something Ford has written himself.

Now, as much as I said that this was a less graphic episode, it still had its fair share of gore and violence. Just in “Trace Decay”, we saw Maeve’s flashbacking two or three times to the scenes of herself and her daughter dying with an extra lingering shot on her daughter’s corpse. Actually, mostly in Maeve’s scenes—the self contained plot—we got a man getting his throat cut and a woman piercing her neck with something violently. It shows Westworld’s commitment to “go there”, but far less than in “Trompe L’Oeil”, which is a good thing. With just two episodes left, one ends up wondering what else can they possibly do in these terms.

I also would like to point out that we are eight episodes in this show and we are still getting the same scenes like Hector and his crew getting the vault. I know that this is one of the points of the show—things repeat, the hosts live on a loop, even SNL made a great skit out this last week mixed with politics—but this would be a great time for directors to try out some new things and get creative with what they shoot. We have to see the story go over and over again, but we don’t need the same scenes on playback.

Images courtesy of HBO

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