(Fair warning: This recap contains spoilers, and we must all look back and smile on perils past.)
The chess pieces all took a giant leap forward this week. “Contrapasso” delivered a stunning amount of information alongside action that was thankfully not explosive. It was also the most vibrantly designed episode of Westworld yet–a tour through old haunts and new ghost towns where the spirits are either alive or stuffed full of unstable liquids.
Let’s get started with The Man in Black (Ed Harris), who is using Teddy (James Marsden) to get to the Big Bad Wolf, aka Wyatt, a villain who he’s never faced before. After a vague encounter with the Little Boy (who really feels like a younger version of Ford), MiB cuts Lawrence’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) throat and strings him up for a quick robo-blood transfusion. It seems to help, but Teddy’s already dragging by the time they reach a saloon where Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) joins MiB for a delightful conversation about self-discovery and the nature of the outside world. More specifically, we get a glimpse of the outside world through MiB’s cynical eyes. It’s an easy life out there without danger or purpose.
But the conversation reveals the true depth of MiB’s despair. If the park is where people come to feel something, he’s an addict immune to the fix. The way he romanticizes the possibility of a deeper meaning to Westworld makes me wonder if there isn’t anything for him at the center of the maze after all.
It’s also hard to tell if Ford is comfortably in control of everything, or comfortable in knowing he can’t control anything. A mad scientist resigned to whatever chaos comes.
This episode asks us to challenge our assumptions about the world in front of us. Yeah, all the episodes do that, but this one was working overtime to present the characters’ desires in a different light than what we’ve seen so far. For one, we assume their goals are achievable. We’re so convinced by MiB’s quest and confidence that we (maybe wrongly) assume that his path has meaning. Maybe he’s painting yet another programmed Westworld adventure with his own imagination instead of standing on the cusp of discovering “something true.”
On the plus side, if you ever need to give your android an energy boost, just quote Sir Walter Scott to him, and he’ll perk right up. Ford dropping that old chestnut about smiling on perils past might indicate that he’s in no way dwelling on the events of 34 years, 42 days and 7 hours ago. After his story about the dog who didn’t know what to do after finally catching the cat, he seems unnervingly comfortable about what he’s built–why pine for discovery when you’ll just ruin it and be lost afterward? He seems to be warning all of us about the danger of chasing after a dream.
The other huge shift comes for Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who goes from observing the game from the guests’ perspective last week to joining in the game as a guest herself. She’s the one who convinces El Lazo (hello, again, Lawrence!) to let them rob the Union stagecoach, she’s the one who initiates running away when the jig is up, and she’s the one who’s experiencing a rich inner life of hallucinations in the sin city of Pariah.
But are those hallucinations some sort of ladder to consciousness? We’ve assumed that she’s on an upward trajectory toward awareness because we’ve seen the Robot Starts Thinking For Itself story so many times before, but what if it’s just another downward spiral into malfunction? Or, worse yet, what if her journey to self-awareness is all baked into the storyline crafted by Ford? What if her incipient humanity is a red herring, and her life–the one where she’s not a damsel–is still dictated by a loop someone else wrote for her?
It might be part of the plan, especially considering how cleanly she and William (Jimmi Simpson) end up in the exact place they need to be to continue the War Games side quest. Or maybe having a Host on your adventure is like inserting a cheat code.
It seems a shame to leave that hive of scum and villainy out in the desert. Pariah is a gem of a destination complete with its blood fountain, nightly Dia de los Muertos parade, and general rag-tag Eyes Wide Shut vibe. It’s the kind of town where you get living gold trophies for your conquests. And, yeah, this park was definitely designed by dudes, but we finally get a sense of the well-hung options for those who make it outside the vanilla borders of Sweetwater. Still, for all the casual nudity and deviance in this episode, everything is still shot with an anti-sex sheen to it all. Either the nudity is cold and clinical, or its a grotesque parody of sensual rhythm.
After asking Dolores if she’s alright fifteen times, William finally steps up to the plate in order to protect her. The common internet theory is that we’re witnessing him shed his innocence to become the hardened Man in Black, but I still don’t buy it. William, The Man in Black and Dolores are too clearly in the same timeline–something confirmed even further now that Dolores’ whispers bear out before they go into Pariah and backstage where she lies to Ford while revealing that it’s been three decades since Arnold’s death.
On the business end, Logan (Ben Barnes) reveals to William that they’re scouting the park as a buy-out opportunity because the park is “hemorrhaging cash”–a sentiment echoed by MiB when he taunts Teddy about the perfect mechanical parts being replaced by flimsy flesh because it was cost-effective. Not to mention the drama we saw last week with Theresa and Ford clashing over the unseen Board of Shadowy Figures who are getting tired of financial problems.
The raid on the Union stagecoach packed with nitroglycerin goes sideways because of Logan–always because of Logan–and Dolores creates the kind of bond with William that leads her to warn him about El Lazo’s double cross. The outside world is calling her, and it’s leading her to make out with William.
Once again, this feels like the kind of staged language that Screaming British Guy might have written. All of it may all be part of the game designed to give William an unforgettable vacation.
Meanwhile, in the basement of 9-to-5 horrors, Elsie (Shannon Woodward) does some Black Mirroresque blackmail work to get access to the star-gazing, head-bashing Host. She discovers some sort of laser-based hunk of technology stitched up inside of him, which really opens up the show to a totally different avenue of complication. Before this, the corporate stuff was all fairly dull, but now someone is smuggling weird weaponry inside humanoid mules?
To add to the pile, the clumsy butcher Felix programs a bird to be a bird, and, oh yeah, Maeve (Thandie Newton) wakes up backstage to freak Felix out. No doubt about it, she’s crossed over. If she hasn’t gained sentience, she’s gotta be confused as hell, but she sits there, naked, bird perched on her finger, in total control. Quite the contrast from the last time she woke up on the surgery table.
While we’ve been focusing on Dolores, Maeve might be the key to everything. At the very least, she’s a wicked game changer.
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS:
- There have to be towns on the outskirts of the game where all the Hosts live out their lives without interference by guests, waiting for seasoned players to find them.
- There’s an incinerator! Cold storage seems like an even worse idea now!
- Contrapasso is a reference to Dante’s Inferno, where sinners are punished by the inverse of their sin. So, what’s Dolores’ sin?
- “Creepy Necro-perv” is a solid burn.
- Turns out their GPS tracker is located in the Hosts’ chest cavity, which means they’re always…following…their hearts…
- But, seriously, if no one makes it to Pariah during the day, there are just rooms filled with unsweaty piles of robots humping each other?
Let’s drink to the lady in the white shoes next week. In the meantime, what did you think of this episode? Tell us below.