Westworld: 3 Key Moments to Contemplate from Episode 4


With the halfway mark approaching, Westworld episode four sheds light on major characters and the overall season trajectory.

Approaching the halfway point of its 10-episode season, Westworld continues to take its sweet time. Many shows couldn’t sustain such a deliberate pace without succumbing to tedium and losing their audience – and maybe that will happen with Westworld at some point. But so far, the writers (this week, co-creator Jonathan Nolan and comic book scribe Ed Brubaker) have loaded every hour with enough character details and thematic resonance that we don’t mind waiting for the plot to gather momentum.

Let’s go ahead and dive into the latest episode, “Dissonance Theory”. (You can also check out our recap.)

Maeve’s drawings

Maeve is casually talking to Clementine over drinks at the Mariposa when something strange happens. Her hearing deadens, distorting the surrounding voices so they sound robotic, and all of a sudden, she’s lying on the floor in the midst of a shootout. A man in a bowler hat aims a pistol at her and, smirking, shoots. But she isn’t dead. Instead, she wakes up in an operating room, men wearing full-body suits and clear masks standing over her. And then, several blurry images later, she finds herself back at the Mariposa, as if nothing happened.

Thandie Newton in Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

The sequence is beautifully executed, from the blood tracing the contours of Clementine’s eye to the dissolves during the surgery, but the most memorable moment comes afterward. Bewildered, Maeve hurries to her apartment and inspects her stomach in the mirror. There’s no bullet wound, though she sees a blood stain on her undergarment. She sketches one of the masked men and lifts a loose floorboard to hide the paper – only to see a pile of identical drawings already there. There is something chilling about the shot of Maeve looking down, her face claustrophobically framed by the dark floorboards; it’s almost a reverse of a certain famous shot from Breaking Bad.

We can assume Maeve’s visions are memories of the events in “Chestnut”, when she awakened while being repaired and tried to run away; that would explain why the technicians forgot to take out the bullet, as we see at the end of this episode.

As for the other drawings, the idea that Maeve has experienced this before is hardly implausible. She’s been having sporadic flashbacks ever since Dolores uttered her “violent delights have violent ends” line. Last week, the sight of Teddy triggered the memory of his body lying, lifeless, in the Westworld cleaning facility. Besides, the passage of time on this show is awfully hazy. How, for example, does Dolores get from the park to Bernard’s lab for their talks with seemingly no one noticing she’s gone?

Like other critics have mentioned, the drawings drive home the parallels between Westworld and Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento”. One line from the Christopher Nolan movie adaptation could sum up Westworld’s take on the connection between memory and trauma: “How can I heal if I don’t feel time?” It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Maeve remembers about the drawings and her subsequent conversation with Hector when she wakes up next time. How many times is she doomed to repeat herself?

Man in Black’s vacation

For its first three episodes, Westworld granted the Man in Black almost mythic proportions; he was a heartless, unstoppable killing machine whose past was as vague as his objective. Although “Dissonance Theory” doesn’t quite remedy that, with one scene, it does finally allow us to see him as a person.

While camped out for the night with Armistice’s posse, a guest nervously approaches the Man in Black and professes his admiration. “Your foundation literally saved my sister’s life,” he says. The Man in Black responds by threatening to cut the hapless dude’s throat, snapping, “This is my f***ing vacation.”

Ouch. Never meet your heroes, kids. More seriously, this is our first clue as to who the Man in Black is outside of Westworld. And he’s a… philanthropist? Does this mean he isn’t totally evil after all? Not necessarily (I mean, Donald Trump has a foundation), but it implies that his “real-life” persona is very different from the one he assumes in the park.

Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Ed Harris in Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

Leaving the guest in shock, the Man in Black makes an agreement with Armistice to break Hector out of prison in exchange for information about her snake tattoo. When she asks why he’s so interested in her tattoo, he mentions Arnold, Ford’s now-deceased partner. “I believe [Arnold] had one story left to tell, a story with real stakes, real violence,” the Man in Black explains. “You could say I’m here to honor his legacy.”

How does the Man in Black know about Arnold when even Bernard, Ford’s right-hand man, had never heard of him until recently? He may be influential enough to get free rein in the park, but he’s still a guest. There has to be something else to him. Regardless, the scene emphasizes the Man in Black’s desire for realism (though it still seems to contradict his assertion that Westworld beats the outside world because it eradicates chaos). Whether out of boredom or a more profound motivation (a death wish?), he finds the park’s simulated reality inadequate. After all, if your actions have no (human) consequences, nothing you do matters.

The Man in Black provides an interesting contrast to Logan’s attitude toward Westworld. Both understand that the park is ultimately a game, but whereas Logan relishes its artificiality, using it as an excuse to not care, the Man in Black rejects it, yearning for a more authentic, meaningful experience. Is the point of Westworld to be real or to be pretend?

Ford’s lunch

Following a pep talk from Bernard, Theresa meets Ford to discuss the logistics of his top-secret new storyline, which involves tearing up part of the park. They go to a restaurant overlooking the construction site and trade power moves. First, Theresa assumes the role of jaded yet benevolent supervisor, saying that she can convince the Board of Directors to give Ford more time to work and that they “want to protect your legacy.” In other words, he’s getting old and won’t be around much longer.

Sidse Babett Knudsen and Anthony Hopkins in Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

Ford isn’t so subtle, and perhaps for that reason, he ultimately prevails. He turns Theresa’s veiled dig at his age against her, emphasizing his role in designing “every inch of [Westworld], every blade of grass” with Arnold. Simply by raising a finger, he causes the androids serving them and working on the construction below to stand still, as if freezing time. “In here,” he continues, “we were gods and you merely our guests.” Ford not only has absolute control over the park’s hosts, but he also manages its human occupants, both guests and staff. As he insinuates with an offhand mention of Theresa’s relationship with Bernard, nothing happens here without his knowledge and consent.

This scene does for Ford what the camp scene did for the Man in Black: it distills the character down to his essence. But whereas the Man in Black seemed to gain humanity, Ford seems to lose it. Whether as part of his nature or as a reaction to Arnold’s tragic fate, Ford thrives on control, fancying himself a god and everyone else petty things that exist to obey his will. As Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson points out, he resembles the God depicted in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and indeed, Westworld appears to be setting up a rebellion, a battle between freedom and authority with androids instead of angels.

Who is Satan in this scenario? The Man in Black is the most probable candidate at the moment, but there’s also the still-unseen Wyatt or even Bernard, who has displayed more affection for the hosts than his colleagues (though it isn’t clear if that extends beyond scientific fascination). With her burgeoning hunger for discovery and self-actualization, Dolores evokes Eve, which would make the loyal yet gullible Teddy Adam.

As illuminating as the scene is, some ambiguities remain. To start with, does anyone really buy that Ford isn’t “the sentimental type”? He literally made a robot modeled after his younger self, which is pretty much the epitome of sentimentality, not to mention vanity. Also, who’s the Board representative that has supposedly approved the new narrative? Could Ford be bluffing? What other secrets does Theresa not want Ford to know?

Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO Westworld season 1, screenshot courtesy of HBO

At the end, we see a giant, wheel-shaped machine churning the earth in the construction site and causing the restaurant tables to wobble. It’s less noteworthy by itself than as a parallel to a shot in the very next scene of a rotating windmill. Symbols of progress but also repetition, the images are yet another contradiction in a show full of them, summing up the dilemma with which each character is struggling: how do I break free of the cycle? Is it even possible?

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Do you have any observations or theories? Let us know in the comments below. Westworld will return Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.