Westworld Recap: S1E4 “Dissonance Theory”


In this week’s episode of Westworld, the narrative is really starting to coming into focus, for both us and the characters.

The theory of cognitive dissonance, formulated by social psychologist Leon Festinger, states that people crave consistency in their cognitions (i.e. their beliefs, opinions). When new information challenges an individual’s preconceived notions, it causes discomfort, which the individual seeks to eliminate by either rationalizing or altering their mindset. This is why, for example, fans of a TV show sometimes react to criticisms of that show with hostility; they’re struggling to reconcile the conflicting attitudes.

Westworld’s fourth episode takes its title from Festinger’s theory. It follows several characters as they receive and attempt to process information that seemingly contradicts their perception of the world.

First is Dolores. We meet her, again, via a close-up of her eye, in which Bernard is reflected. She tells him about seeing her parents’ murder, which we saw at the end of last episode (tellingly, she doesn’t mention the gun that she fired). Instead, they talk about feelings. Even after Bernard instructs her to “limit emotional affect”, Dolores is visibly upset – another stellar piece of acting from Evan Rachel Wood. As in their previous conversation, he offers to make her pain go away. But, puzzled, she echoes his words back to him: “The pain, this loss, is all I have left of them.”

Whereas he merely endures his anguish, though, Dolores actively accepts it, explaining, “You think grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I can feel spaces opening up inside of me, like a building with rooms I never explored.” It isn’t the response Bernard expected. Contrary to the prevailing view of negative emotions as something to be repressed, Dolores recognizes them as a natural facet of life. An android, it seems, has a better understanding of how to be human than most actual humans.

Evan Rachel Wood and Jimmi Simpson in Westworld season 1, promo courtesy of HBO

Dolores spends the rest of the episode with William, whose camp she stumbled into after running away from the bandits that killed her parents. They wind up at Lawrence’s hometown. She finds his daughter sitting by a fountain, and they talk. The word “remember” and the maze that the daughter has drawn in the dirt (the same one the Man in Black found under Kissy’s scalp) trigger fragmented visions of a white church surrounded by gravestones. Is it related to Ford’s new storyline? Again, she appears to take her rapidly changing situation in stride; when a man sent by Ashley tries to take her back to Sweetwater, where she is supposed to be, she resists him until William intervenes.

In the Westworld lab, Elsie, Theresa, and Bernard argue about what to do with the stray host that bashed its own head with a rock in last week’s episode. Such behavior isn’t totally inexplicable, Elsie says. Maybe it’s the Samaritan reflex, a byproduct of the hosts’ inability to harm people. Or maybe, as Theresa proposes, it’s a way for hosts “to avoid having to admit when they f*** up.” Yet, Elsie can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that the problem is more serious, so she’s indignant when Theresa takes over the investigation.

“It’s like everyone around here has a f***ing agenda except for me,” she fumes to Bernard, who refuses to let her share information about the so-called glitch for reasons that we can suspect but she can’t imagine. He adopts a pragmatic tone, suggesting that the hosts are so realistic they can lead people to “read things” in their behavior. When Elsie raises an eyebrow, clearly accustomed to and fed up with men condescending to her, he points out that Orion’s belt contain three stars, not four, as in the stray’s rock-carving constellation. Whether this snag convinces Elsie to lay her doubts to rest, we shall see.

Meanwhile, the Man in Black is still dragging Lawrence around on his search for the maze. He notices a woman bathing in the “River Arroyo” with a snake tattooed across her back and moves to approach her – but finds himself encircled by outlaws. As it turns out, the woman is Armistice, a member of Hector’s gang (we saw her being badass during the shootout in the premiere), and she’s looking for “something of great value”. They strike a deal: he will help her find what she’s looking for, and she’ll tell him about the snake tattoo.

Clifton Collins Jr. and Ed Harris in Westworld season 1, promo courtesy of HBO

This leads to a roughly 20-minute stretch in which we linger on one storyline. While riding in a marshal’s carriage to Ojal Prison, from which Armistice wants to him free some men, the Man in Black pesters Lawrence, who gripes that he’d rather have stayed at the gallows than be subjected to his companion’s chatter. “Choices, Lawrence,” the Man in Black counters. “You tell yourself you’ve been at the mercy of mine because it spares you consideration of your own. Because if you did consider your choices, you’d be confronted with a truth you could not comprehend: that no choice you ever made was your own.” From what we’ve seen of the Man in Black, he could very well just be toying with Lawrence; he’s heartless in that way (though we do find out that he has a philanthropic foundation in the world outside Westworld). But what if his stated intention to “set [Lawrence] free” is sincere? After all, if the hosts were conscious, it would help boost the park’s realism factor.

At the prison, guards take Lawrence to be executed by firing squad and lock the Man in Black in a cell with Hector, who makes his first appearance since episode one. Like with Lawrence, the Man in Black seems to be nudging Hector toward self-awareness, observing out loud that “you always seemed like a market-tested kind of thing.” Then, with a hint of contempt, he asks Hector about his worldview. Hector’s answer – basically, everything and everyone is doomed – does sound “market-tested”, a more concise version of Rust Cohle’s philosophy, but the Man in Black claims to agree. He proceeds to break Hector out of prison (apparently, lighting a match signals to the park employees that you want something to explode) and once again saves Lawrence from execution; the latter sequence copies the Man in Black’s earlier rescue effort, with the camera trained on a blindfolded Lawrence while bullets fly around him, off-screen.

The escapees convene with Armistice, who holds up her part of the bargain. When she was seven years old, she explains, masked men massacred her village, including her mother. In the years since, she has been tracking down the perpetrators and using their blood to paint the snake tattoo. Only the snake’s head remains, and it represents Wyatt. So, the secret level that the Man in Black wants to find is Ford’s new narrative. Even if he finds Wyatt, he won’t be cheating the game, just getting a sneak preview of its future; he, too, is confined by choices made by other people.

After the two parties disband, Hector attacks Sweetwater again. Evidently ignoring the Man in Black’s warning that “you’re never going to find [that thing you’re looking for] in that safe”, he returns to the Mariposa Saloon and runs into Maeve. They retreat into her private room and make a different kind of deal from what she’s used to: she’ll give him the combination to the safe in exchange for some answers.

Angela Sarafyan and Thandie Newton in Westworld season 1, promo courtesy of HBO

Like Dolores, Maeve continues to be plagued by flashbacks. In a particularly vivid one, she sees herself getting killed in a shootout and subsequently repaired by figures dressed in what look like astronaut suits. Shaken, she sketches one of the figures on a piece of paper, only to realize that she already has a box full of identical sketches. She shares her drawing with Hector and demands to know what it is.

Hector, oblivious to the reality of Westworld, defaults to his programmed knowledge, identifying the figure as a shade from native mythology that “walks between worlds and was sent from Hell to oversee our world.” It’s a blessing, he says, to behold it, to be able to “see the masters that pull your strings.” Maeve, however, rejects his explanation. With a cigar clenched between her teeth and a swig of alcohol, she persuades him to cut her where she was shot in her vision. He reaches inside and extracts a crushed, blood-stained bullet.

“What does it mean?” Hector asks.

“That I’m not crazy after all,” Maeve says. “And none of this matters.”

Related Story: Westworld Recap: S1E3 “The Stray”

Stray observations:

  • This week’s player piano song is “A Forest” by The Cure, in which the speaker searches for a girl, only to realize she doesn’t exist. We also hear Bizet’s Carmen during Hector’s raid on Sweetwater, a familiar yet appropriate choice.
  • Is it wrong to like Logan? Of course, he’s a terrible person (which he seems to know), but as a character, he’s kind of fun.
  • Theresa lights up during her meeting with Ford (something she only does after talking to corporate, according to Bernard), while the Man in Black and Maeve each smoke a cigar. Fire continues to be a prominent motif.
  • Thandie Newton and Rodrigo Santoro have sizzling chemistry as Maeve and Hector, even if we know the characters’ romance is as artificial is the one between Dolores and Teddy.
  • Speaking of which, poor Teddy. It seems that since we last saw him being beaten up by Wyatt’s men, he’s been tied to a tree. At least it should be interesting to see him and the Man in Black interact.