Westworld: Dissonance Theory

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Season 1, Episode 4 – Dissonance Theory

If there’s one thing this show does best it’s that it masterfully progresses the storyline in compelling increments. Each episode manages to pull the veil inch by agonizing inch both to the audience and its characters. I briefly imagined what this show would look like if, just like the hosts, the audience isn’t aware that some of the characters are artificial. What if we’re only following the characters in the amusement park and we, the audience, are slowly discovering the true nature of the world at the same time that the characters are? Similar to how Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense slowly  uncovers that he’s been dead all along, what if it’s revealed to us in a later episode that the characters in Westworld are actually robots?

It’s an interesting approach, and one that has great potential in keeping audiences hooked because of the big mystery. But of course, Westworld isn’t doing it that way. The audience already knows that some of the characters are artificial, but watching them slowly uncover the truth is utterly engrossing. I think this is an overlooked quality of the series. It’s very difficult to get audiences involved in watching characters catch-up to a revelation that the audience is already aware of, but Westworld does it so effortlessly. Watching Dolores and Maeve recover some of their memories and slowly discover that something very strange is going on around them is captivating to see.

But of course, Westworld still has other mysteries that have yet to be fully revealed. Ford’s grand plan and what the maze is remain a mystery to us. There are still plenty of questions that each episode raise and watching these plot threads slowly but surely develop over time adds to the richness of the story. I was getting a little concerned during the previous episodes about the Man in Black’s quest to find the maze. Quite a lot of the shootout scenes are consequence-free because we’re aware that there’s not much at stake going on, but this episode manages to expand the greater scope of Westworld using the Man in Black’s storyline, which is a welcome development since most of the time he seems to be operating completely independent of everything else that’s going on.

Probably the best scene of the series so far takes place in a Westworld restaurant with Ford and Therese. Therese is becoming uneasy with Ford’s ambitious plans for the park, and she attempts to steer Ford in line. The scene quickly escalates with Ford showing off his God-like powers in Westworld and tells Therese not to interfere. It’s an impressive display as all the hosts stop and move at his command while the park undergoes massive reconstruction. It seems that every episode manages to reveal more and more of Ford’s true nature, which is an exciting development since he was first introduced in the show as a genteel old man. Watching the slow reveal of his true character is gripping because Anthony Hopkins uncovers each layer with such a precise deftness that keeps you hooked every time he’s onscreen.

Another noteworthy performance is Thandie Newton as Maeve. Her character is an interesting contrast with Dolores. Whereas Dolores is slowly discovering an inner strength and resilience that pushes her to seek the truth, Maeve is already resolute and is actively seeking answers for herself. In fact, by the end of the episode Maeve is the first host to fully realize that death has little meaning in Westworld. She might not have the full context yet, but she’s ahead of everyone else. Thandie Newton’s inherent tenacity brings much-needed clarity that helps ground the series’ numerous complex plot threads. Maeve is not burdened with mysterious voices in her head or cryptic motivations. She is simply uncovering a horrifying truth in which she doesn’t have all the tools to fully understand just yet. In many ways, Newton is in charge of bringing the show back on ground whenever it reaches a bit too far for its own good, which helps balance the plentiful cast of characters.

It’s plain to see at this point why HBO is dedicating such a huge investment in this show. Casting such big-name stars in an already expensive genre series sounded superfluous at first, but it’s clear by now that Westworld is presenting a story that’s worth investing in. More importantly, Westworld tells its story in a way that is neither self-important nor pretentious, which are qualities that can easily overtake a show that’s tasked with asking abstract questions about humanity and morality. It’s a show that’s full of inconspicuous strengths. If the performances, direction, and writing were more overt, the show will not be anywhere as good as it is. Instead, it is a well-crafted piece of long-form storytelling that is as rewarding as it is impressive.

9/10

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