Westworld: 1.04 Dissonance Theory
For the last three episodes, Delores has been stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario. reliving the same encounters over and over and over again. But it was clear from the first scene that the narrative had changed; her parents were still dead. For the first time she had moved past that fateful night which saw her mother and father killed and her assault in the barn. Her latest conversation with the Bernard Lowe in the lab was the most fascinating yet. The pain and loss she felt was all she had left of her parents, a chilling mirror to his own grief for his son, suggesting that he wasn't the only one studying her.
As we continued her ever-evolving journey, Dissonance Theory became the most Wild-West based episode yet. So much so that when we eventually reconnected with Cullen, Lowe, Ford and Hughes later down the episode, that switch to the real world felt a little jarring. The changing narrative Anthony Hopkins's god-like Ford had created was changing everything.
For Delores, that was a journey far from her home, accompanying William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes) as they went on a bounty hunt with a local deputy. We started to get some answers about this two guests, learning that this was a trip for business rather than a pleasure. I suspect they may be intrinsically tied to the board managing Westworld, Logan the man Ford later tells Cullen has been sent to assess the situation. Jimmy was very much a player in a story he didn't understand. Logan fully embraced his dark side by turning on the deputy and using their bounty to seek out the bigger criminal element, leading to the discovery of poor Teddy, beaten and tied to a tree by the mysterious Wyatt's men. This time, Teddy wasn't reset by the recurring narrative that had served him well again and again.
Delores encountered the prophetic daughter of Lawrence, abandoned after her mother's death at the hands of Ed Harris's man in black in episode two. I suspect the daughter may be another of the hosts from before the accident 30 years ago; she certainly implied that she was just like Delores. The flash to the church, glimpsed at the end of episode 2 and the men in hazmat-like suits also continued to develop Delores's awakening, Evan Rachel Wood mesmerising throughout.
Thandie Newton continued to demonstrate why she was picked for the role of Maeve as her character's mind continued to unfold. A shocking vision of fellow prostitute Clementine dead, the man in hazmat suits treading through the bodies of the dead, Maeve clutching her stomach where she had been shot led her to uncover more clues about who and what she was. Finding the fallen doll of a passing native girl, carved in the shape of one of those men in hazmat suits only fuelled her search for the truth and in the episode's most chilling moment, she went to hide the drawing she had created, only to find many more hidden under the floorboards. It seems this is not the first time she has caught a glimpse of the reality behind her world.
These stories alone would have been enough to sustain the episode but the richness of the show offered much more. Ed Harris's man in black and unfortunate (but surprisingly engaging) companion Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) continued their search for the secrets behind Westworld. Encountering a woman with snake tattoos, we learn about more about this new villain Wyatt, who butchered her entire town when she was a child. She survived by painting herself in the blood of her gutted mother and now she 'paints' herself with the blood of every one of those bandits she hunts down. Only the head of the snake, Wyatt, remains. Naturally this dark and tragic story is what interests Harris's man in black - her tattoos are a step closer to uncovering the entrance to the maze which looks to have been created by Ford's dead partner Arnold.
The idea that this place allows good people to live out their darkest fantasies is also given another delicious, ironic twist this week. One guest who has joined these bloodthirsty bandits, meets the man in black full of praise, thanking him for his foundation that saved his sister's life. Is this the sort of thing Richard Branson would do in his spare time?
It's still not clear how it all fits together yet, but we're already nearly at the half way point of season one (surely there has to be a second?). Still, it's the most time we have spent with the Man in Black, helping the tattooed cowgirl to break out Rodrigo Santoro's ruthless Hector Escaton, last seen in the pilot episode. It's an action that leads to another bloody shootout in the town, though the man in black is largely absent; perhaps he involves himself in the breakout just to create a distraction from prying eyes back in the real world?
Then we have the best scene of the episode. Cullen confronts Ford as he supervises a great a series of explosions out in the wilderness, shaping more of his upcoming narrative. Hopkins's Ford has always comes across as charming and unlikeable under that commanding exterior but all that was gone as he demonstrated his god like abilities to Cullen over a glass of wine on the veranda. The host pouring the wine into her glass froze, pouring liquid all over the table, but it was no glitch in its programming. Without even making an audible command, Ford was able to freeze every host in the area, just to prove that he had power over them...and her.
It was a scene where the most intriguing things were what wasn't said. Sidse Babett Knudsen has presented a commanding figure herself in 'manager' Theresa Cullen, but here she was visibly shaken by his manipulation, his choosing of the very table she sat at with her family when she was a kid. He knew everything about her past and used that knowledge to tell her that he was in control and no board could stop him. Whatever this master narrative is, he will tell it the way he wants to. I did wonder if there was the suggestion that Cullen was a host and didn't know it (as one of the human characters surely has to be). That would certainly be a cruel twist given how this conversation went.
The final firefight in town and Maeve holding Hector at gunpoint added a thrilling momentum to the finale, particularly when she forced him to cut her stomach where she had been shot and pulled the bullet from within. At that moment she knew this was all a game and died in a field of bullets, kissing Hector. It will be interesting to see how much she remembers when she is 'reset'. Up until now the humans - and the audience - have been ahead of Delores, Maeve and all the other hosts but that looks set to change.
Dissonance Theory was the best episode since the pilot. The sudden change in narrative stopped the repetitive nature of Westworld from becoming tired. The plans and manipulations of characters like Hopkin's Ford and Harris's man in black kept us hooked, while the artificial characters Delores and Maeve added a very human presence. The progression of the story feels spot on; we still have many questions, but we've already learned enough that it feels as if we won't be guessing four years down the line. Perhaps the clue is in that Westworld hasn't been renewed yet. Will these stories be told by the end of season one in just six episodes time? That's a mystery all in itself...