Westworld: Trace Decay

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“This guilt you feel, the anguish, the horror, the pain… it’s remarkable. A thing of beauty.”

Season 1, Episode 8 – Trace Decay

There is an unmistakable parallel between Ford and Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein character. Both have succeeded in creating human life in the most unnatural of ways, but whereas Frankenstein’s creation hated him for numerous reasons, Ford is in complete control of his. Following the shocking reveal last episode, it’s explained that Bernard is completely aware that he’s a host, at least when he’s allowed to think about it. This is why Bernard was such an important part in making the hosts extremely lifelike. Bernard was the key in creating the shades of emotion to the hosts, whereas Ford and presumably Arnold could only do the extremes. Apparently it takes a host to fill in the gaps and shortcomings of humans.

This reveals an important aspect to the nature of all the hosts. They’re essentially better than humans are, at least when they’re allowed to be. In another scene, Maeve discovers that her memories are not like how humans remember things. The hosts’ memories, when accessed, are complete. There are no fuzzy details or mistakes. When a host remembers an event from the past, it’s as if they’re reliving it all over again. In a previous episode Ford explains that this is where he disagreed with Arnold regarding his ambitions to make the hosts as lifelike as possible, including doing away with loops and allowing them to retain their memories. Due to the nature of the park where the hosts are mere playthings to the guests, having their memories wiped is a necessary mercy.

It’s small reveals like these that, when added up, show the true potential of the hosts. They’re not meant to stay in the park. They’re meant for something bigger and, once they’re freed from the shackles that the programmers have locked them in, could wreak unimaginable havoc in the outside world. If Bernard can be programmed to create hosts and if Maeve can control other hosts to do her bidding, then there’s no reason why they can’t literally take over the world. Escaping Westworld would just be the beginning.

I can’t help but think that Ford’s grand narrative has something to do with freeing his creations. It’s already shown that he would go to extreme lengths to protect what he’s made, but I can’t imagine that he’s happy to keep playing God in such a small sandbox. But these are all just theories, of course. Ford continues to be such a difficult character to pin down. You can never quite predict what he’s going to do next because everything that he’s done so far has been completely unexpected. Even trying to guess the extent of his ambitions is a fool’s errand, because it’s easy to both underestimate and overestimate him at the same time.

I pointed out in an earlier review that shows with long-running mysteries would inevitably do one of two things: disappoint with the reveal or drag it out for so long that the audience loses interest. I think a hint of the latter has started to show in this episode. All the mysteries feel like they’re literally one explanation away from being finally revealed, and it’s getting a little bit frustrating. Dolores and William’s journey to the church keeps getting interrupted, and once they finally do arrive, they don’t really find out anything other than more cryptic visions. Maeve’s storyline has exceeded believability regarding the security of the labs, and the Man in Black’s journey to find The Maze has gone on for too long.

But thankfully, with the exception of Dolores and William’s storyline, the episode ended these numerous plot threads with a promise of change. Maeve is captured by the lab techs and the Man in Black comes face-to-face with Wyatt at last. There are only two episodes left in the season so I’m hopeful that things are finally building up to their respective turning points. And even though this is the first time Westworld has produced an episode that feels like a filler doesn’t necessarily mean that it actually is one. I just hope that the ensuing pay off feels worthy of the dense plotting that the writers have created all season long.

8/10

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