Back in episode 2 of Westworld, one of the hosts told William that the experiences available to guests in the town are tamer, safer. The further away from the town you get, the more dangerous and intense things get.
Four episodes in, it appears Westworld is structured similarly to the park from which it gets its name: the further we get from the season premiere, the more bonkers things get. After the premiere, I complained that the show’s treatment of the Western genre was tame, square, a little hokey. By episode 4, that squareness is nowhere to be found. In its place, this episode, is a tone of pervasive dread, strangeness, and paranoia. Much of this week’s episode was committed to subjective filmmaking, scenes that left realism by the wayside to instead convey mood, or to get inside the characters’ compromised perceptions of reality.
Start with Dolores, who this week tells Bernard that she wants to be free. She’s gallivanting with William, and still a charming host—but she’s plagued by flashbacks from previous loops, previous storylines, and we sense she’s out here in the wild chasing after goals of her own. I couldn’t make much sense of her flashbacks, myself; I’m sure there are Reddit threads digging into this stuff, but I preferred to enjoy the dislocating experience of seeing through Dolores’s fragmented perception, and coming to believe with her that “there’s something wrong with this world.”
Jump to Maeve, who’s also questioning reality, but with a healthy dose of paranoia. Again we have dreamlike compromises with reality, as when Maeve’s conversation with one of her prostitutes melds seamlessly with the bloody aftermath of a guest’s shooting spree. Then Maeve sees people in suits—Westworld staff, fixing her up—and remembers them after the whole thing is over. She scribbles a picture of what she saw, then, horrified, puts the drawing away in the floorboards, only to find dozens more of the same drawing. It’s an awesome paranoiac moment, even if we the audience know exactly what’s going on.
Another major character this week is The Man in Black, still pursuing the maze, which he believes will open up another level to the park. We learn this week that what he seeks is the means to introduce real risk, real stakes into the game by finding a place in Westworld where guests can die (or by allowing guests to die all over the park, it’s not exactly clear to me). This confirms what I suspected in a previous recap: that going through Westworld in God mode has diminishing returns. Only if it’s possible for guests to get hurt or die do their choices have any real weight, any ethical consequences. The alternative is Logan’s pointless sociopathy.
The Man’s search leads him on a scavenger hunt of sorts—first finding a woman with a snake tattoo who wants to free Hector Escaton from jail. As a reward for the jailbreak, the Man in Black gets another hint: it has something to do with Wyatt. I’ll be honest: I don’t really know what’s going on here, what any of this has to do with the maze, but if Wyatt somehow holds the key, then I’m beginning to suspect that the maze is nothing but a MacGuffin that will turn out to be nothing. After all, isn’t Wyatt part of Ford’s new storyline? That would argue against the scavenger hunt ending with a secret that blows the whole park wide open—unless, of course, that’s part of Ford’s plan for the new initiative.
Ford does seem to have something major planned. We find him this week in some sort of remote complex that makes Westworld‘s metaphorical treatment of American historical atrocity explicit by having android slaves working what looks to be a plantation of sorts. Ford is godlike in this scene, intimidating Cullen, essentially stopping time, and looking every inch the privileged white oppressor. The scene ends with some kind of machine tearing through the fields, and I’ll be honest here: I’ve got no idea what’s going on. But whatever Ford’s got planned, we’re meant to believe it’s big.
Not much happened this episode, really. The chess pieces inched forward. But tonally, “Dissonance Theory” represented a huge leap forward for Westworld.
Odds and Ends
• There’s a Native American tribe in the park that has an explanation for the men in suits Maeve saw: they’re gods, of sorts, moving between worlds. This left me wondering: do the park staff know about this religion? Did they introduce it as a means of controlling the hosts? Or are the hosts spontaneously developing religious explanations for the “breaks” in their world? If the hosts have developed a religious consciousness on their own, that’s a powerful piece of evidence arguing for sentience.
• Bernard shames Elsie for seeming to think the hosts are real. But why, when he clearly shares her opinion?
• Further evidence that this episode was firing on all cylinders: the scene of Escaton coming to town, essentially a repeat of a similar scene in episode 1, completely worked where the earlier one was cheesy beyond belief and completely lacking in suspense. Even Rodrigo Santoro—yes, Paolo from LOST—killed it with Thandie Newton in the scene that brought us to the credits.