Westworld Episode Review: Dissonance Theory

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First off, I’ve been avoiding broaching a particular subject for fear of ruining or spoiling a twist that I suspected the showrunners were setting up with regard to one specific character. Plot-wise they have been implying and then inferring and then outright saying that I was wrong about this suspicion but I decided to live in denial until last night’s episode and now I feel comfortable enough letting go of my theory. If I do turn out to be right somehow, ….my bad. That being said, even though I have seen the film, it looks like we’re all on even ground now as Westworld the TV show does not appear to be in lock step with the original. Is that enough of a disclaimer? It’s going to have to be.

So in the original 1973 film there is a character simply referred to as The Gunslinger that was portrayed by Yul Brynner. No one outside of the Baby Boomer generation is going to hear that name and react at all but he was a big deal back in the day, starring in The King and I and the original version of The Magnificent Seven among others. His significance in the original film is that he was essentially the Big Bad of the park, he would wordlessly stalk guests and initiate a quick draw battle. And when things go pear-shaped (I won’t get into specifics there) he plays a big part of the finale and in the first episode of the TV show I was on the look out for an analogous character. It seemed obvious to me that this was going to be Ed Harris as the mysterious Man In Black and I don’t think I’m completely off-base assuming this. Granted, he’s invulnerable to Host gunfire. He talks about the narrative and the story lines in the park. He’s been going there for 30 years. I get it. But my suspicions were still there, I thought maybe he doesn’t know he’s a Host. That for some reason he’s programmed to think he’s a Guest to add a new layer to the game. With this theory in place I decided to shut my mouth and let it play out, no one wants to be that guy.

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An episode or two later Girls Name outright identifies The Man in Black as a Guest, ‘He gets what he wants‘ while he is massacring Lawrence’s family. Still, I held out. This felt like a casual misdirection meant to make me (yes, me specifically) drop my guard. I do not trust the park employees to know exactly what’s going on, they are clearly missing some things and only idly scratch their heads rather than raise an alarm. However, during last night’s episode we encounter the evidence I needed to finally let it rest. We receive what I’ll call independent verification that The Man In Black is indeed a Guest when two fellow Guests approach and attempt to compliment him on his life outside of Westworld. ‘I’m on vacation’, he says after threatening to cut their throats. Well. Shit. There goes that theory. It’s still possible somehow I suppose but exceedingly unlikely unless he is somehow a robot living in the real world without anyone suspecting. Based on the inferior earlier models it’s unlikely they built a flawless prototype around the same time. Moving on.

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Speaking of The Man In Black, we spent a lot of time with him this episode as he continues his search for the entrance to the Scalp Maze. I understand some of the complaints a friend brought up about the show a week or so ago. Although it looks fun to be a part of the action there is an issue with stakes. As in, they aren’t really there for anyone. The Hosts will just be rebuilt. The Guests can just stand there and get shot. I am genuinely curious about this Lawrence character, however. This is the second time this season already that he has been blindfolded and on the verge of being executed when the MiB shows up and saves him, with all the action happening off camera. It’s a bit early for motifs in my humble but this one seems too deliberate to ignore. It may be an effort to be more efficient, storytelling wise, to avoid too many gunfights that may water down the whole experience. I’m not sure.

What is interesting is what the Snake Lady revealed about his final objective, and not just that it has to do with this mysterious Wyatt character. No, what really has my noodle baked is the fact that Wyatt wasn’t a part of Westworld until the most recent update. Think about it. This maze, the map of it, the rumor of another layer of the game had to have been around for a while, it must be fully realized if it’s accessible at all. MiB expounds about it, in fact, including a pretty consistent history of park founder Arnold. But Dr. Ford only added the backstory regarding Wyatt to Teddy Flood’s lore recently (as far as we know). How has there been this other level this whole time without there being an entrance until now? What inspired Ford to suddenly change the park’s narrative in such a drastic way, a way that appears to be arcing towards this secret level? Just in case you don’t hang around through the credits to watch the sneak peek of next week, we have a real treat coming up. I can’t recall off the top of my head if it has happened before but two of the greats are about to go head to head and share the screen. I absolutely can’t wait, even if we don’t get the answers we want.

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Maeve finally gets the confirmation she’s been looking for with the help of Hector and a hunting knife. There was a truly distressing moment as she scribbles out a drawing of the engineers in hazmat suits and discovers her hiding place is already full of them. It reminded me of a particularly cool moment in Doctor Who. Basically, the Doctor and his companions encounter a race of aliens who erase your memory of them once you stop looking at them (which is probably a mercy). In order to determine if they are in trouble or not they decide to make a mark on their arms when they encounter one in order to remind themselves they are in danger. Sure enough, once they run into one of these creepers the companion looks down at their arm to make a mark and realizes there are dozens of marks already there. It’s a genuinely horrifying moment although Maeve appears to be a gutsy lady, she will be a force to be reckoned with once she gets her feet under her but it’s unclear how her revelation will persist into her next incarnation.

The creepy little Mexican girl that knows about the maze is now actively directing Dolores towards it which is an interesting revelation. Not that it’s Dolores specifically but why a Host? The park narratives are for the Guests, why put her on the trail of this mysterious end-game? Also, she’s been palling around with William and Logan for only a few minutes now and I’m already bored of it. The latter is doing a great job being a complete shit-head and I’m not going to reference the original film too many more times but I am hoping that there is some similarity between the story-lines there. That’s all I have to say about that.

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Special words of praise need to go out to Evan Rachel Wood, by the way, who is doing a spectacular job with the material. She pivots so effectively from doe-eyed ingénue to emotionless robot to confused soul becoming self-aware it’s easy to forget we’re seeing three different performances going on simultaneously. Of all the fictitious scheming and god-complexes going on within and without of the park, her Dolores Abernathy is the emotional lynchpin of a huge story that could feel like nothing more than a soulless philosophical MMORPG made for television. Which it kind of is at times, but between her and Thandie Newton it’s impossible not to feel a sense of sympathy for these two characters which easily supersedes any connection we may have for the Guests at this point. And here I thought Wood was just another bland pretty blonde actress but I recently found out that she was once engaged to Marilyn Manson for a spell which is unexpected but cool. Apparently, she a little freaky. Good for her.

I also have to unpack some hopes I had for Westworld that have been debunked in an interview with the showrunners. In the original film there were two other parks, a Roman World and a Medieval World, and I wanted to keep that knowledge to myself in the hopes that maybe HBO had the sets from Rome and Game of Thrones in mothballs somewhere but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. I am not alone, for that matter, George R.R. Martin is totally on board for a crossover. I don’t know about you but I’d spend a year’s salary to give Sam a wedgie, maybe slap around Ramsay Bolton, and follow Margaery around like a love-sick puppy. Who are we kidding. JON, I JUST WANT TO HANG OUT, MAN. I think we’ll be best friends even if you were a robot. What were we talking about again?

Bonus: Here’s our player piano jam for the week in its original form.

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