Westworld: 1.08 Trace Decay
After last week's big revelation, Trace Decay was a much slower affair. The plot crept forward slowly, there was minimal action, more wandering through the wilderness and political scheming at play. There was also the sense that big things were being held back to the final two episodes. But fortunately in a show the caliber of Westworld it was another very strong episode, even if there was a sense that the writers were holding back on or two cards for the finale.
I expected more from the fallout of Bernard killing Theresa. Jeffrey Wright was excellent as a self aware Benard racked with guilt over his actions, and Anthony Hopkins continued to play Ford's quiet villainy to a tee, blackmailing Bernard into destroying all trace evidence of his relationship with Theresa in exchange for wiping his memories and removing that pain. But it was all over too quickly and the impact of the manager's death felt...flat. No one seemed majorly affected by it and the acceptance of her apparent 'accident' falling into a ravine after trying to transmit data out of Westworld seemed too readily accepted. Any hope that the host being created in Ford's secret lab would replace Theresa, making a clone of her obedient to Ford's will, was quickly lost.
But the one thing I have learned with Westworld is patience. Board member Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) is already forging a secret alliance with the foolish Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman, who unfortunately remains the one weak link in the show). Hale's apparent lack of reaction to Theresa Cullen's death could quite easily be a mask. Do I think she can outwit Ford? Not a chance, but I suspect she has enough gumption to really try and the chaos behind the scenes will certainly be fun to watch. Also, Elsie Hughes continues to be 'on leave' after her attack two episode's ago. Yes she could easily be dead, but I suspect there is more of her story still to come.
For the first time, Delores's storyline seemed to lose pace as she encountered the original settlement from thirty years ago that Ford is now trying to resurrect in his new narrative. Her visions suggested that she committed the massacre; did she have a hand in Arnold's death? Assuming of course that William at her side isn't a younger man in black which could make this a vision of the future? There was another potential link to that theory as William's ruthless side, killing the injured host before Delores could help him. Is the start of the man in black's darkness? Or do they exist in the same timeframe and William is just a mirror to the other? I do feel that something really needs to happen soon to link Delores and William's quest to the rest of the running story arcs. Though these questions continue to engage and delight the audience.
Thandie Newton clearly now is delivering the stand out performance in a cast of great actors. I am completely enthralled in her quest to escape, even if she is bordering on villain herself. Her reaction to the new Clementine was a heartbreaking as she saw her world replaced around her without a batter of an eyelid. Imagine your friend replaced by someone new and everyone treating that person like the old version? That was situation she faced and it fuelled her increasing unstableness as she demanded that Sylvester and Felix remove the explosive chip from her spine and then amped up her abilities further to enable her to directly affect the narrative around her.
It was so much fun seeing her talk in the third person, a subtle direction here, a quiet mention there and that really came to the fore as Hector Escaton and his men arrived in town. "Now it's time to recruit my army." she spat with determination, having evolved beyond her settings and slashed Sylvester's throat (before Felix cauterized the wound). Could Hector's bandits, evolved beyond their settings be that army? Hosts running amok, killing guests let right and centre would make for a brutal finale, assuming of course she isn't caught first, after relieving old memories, slashing the new Clementine's throat and going on the run from the men in hazmat suits.
The revelation about her past and her connection to Ed Harris's man in black was the crux of the episode. In their pursuit of Delores, he finally opened up to Teddy and for a moment it seemed as if the big theory - that he was an older William - was true as he shared last week's comment that Westworld brings out your true self. And that might be true, though certaing pieces of evidence might contradict that. It turns out he was is a philanthropist, a great man in public but a terrible one to his family; his wife killed herself rather than be with him and his daughter won't speak to him. In Westworld he tried to embrace his darkness and be true evil, gutting Maeve and shooting her daughter, tying back to her visions / flashbacks from weeks earlier.
In Maeve's suffering he saw the true heart of Westworld, which led in turn to his quest to find the deepest levels or Arnold's maze. But as he gets closer it seems more dangerous than ever. Teddy starts to experience the same flashbacks as the other hosts - remembering the Man in Black dragging Delores into the barn from the pilot episode - and is able to physically attack him. And Talulah Riley's Angela, who greeted William in the second episode has reappeared as a victim of Wyatt before her true identity is revealed, stabbing Teddy to death as Wyatt's men close in. For the first time, I wonder if the Man in Black will survive.
The frustrations over how Theresa's death was handled aside, the real highlight of Trace Decay is where it leaves its two most powerful characters - Maeve and the Man In Black. Both face certain death, whether it is through capture and reprogramming or at the hands of hosts that can harm guests. Jeffrey Wright meanwhile gave his best performance yet as a man tortured by the realisation that he is not human and the atrocity he had committed. While parts of the episode felt as if the pace was faltering, it will likely be the calm before the storm that will be the final two episodes. Maybe I am setting up myself for a disappointment after all the build up, but evidence shows that Westworld is clearly getting a lot more right than it is wrong, making it incredibly difficult for any other shows I am watching to measure up. But what an issue to have...