Westworld: 3 Key Moments to Contemplate from Episode 8


Episode eight of Westworld dropped plenty of new information, setting things up for a sure-to-be epic finale. We break down three key moments.

After a couple tense, twist-filled episodes, Westworld took a breather this week. “Trace Decay” focused on moving pieces, establishing the relationships and conflicts that will inform the season endgame, as well as exploring underlying themes. (If you need a refresher on what happened, we have a recap here.)

Nonetheless, even an info-dump episode of Westworld leaves plenty of room for mystery. Here are three scenes that are worth looking at closely.

Bernard struggles with guilt

“Trace Decay” opens with Ford attempting to calm Bernard down after he ordered the host to murder Theresa. The scene provides crucial insight into Bernard’s origins and Ford’s worldview. As we mentioned in our recap, though, it stands out most as a showcase for Jeffrey Wright, as the actor has to switch from emotional to impassive without missing a beat.

A common criticism of Westworld is that the show doesn’t give us any reason to care about the characters, aside from Dolores and Maeve. It’s valid criticism. In addition to keeping plot details close to the vest, Westworld is stingy with information about the characters’ histories, motives, and, in some cases, even names. While no doubt deliberate, this opacity can be frustration. Why should we invest in someone if we don’t really know who they are?

Personally, though, it doesn’t bother me. For me, the characters work partly because we know so little about them. From the beginning, Westworld has been fascinated by how stories are created, told, and consumed, deconstructing genre tropes as well as storytelling conventions in general. In this episode in particular, it plays with the concept of backstory. The backstories we know so far are almost laughably banal, from Bernard’s dead son and the Man in Black’s dead wife to Ford’s alcoholic father. And maybe that’s the point. Backstory can neatly and conveniently way explain a person’s personality and behavior. However, in truth, people are too complicated and too elusive to be defined by a single thing.

Jeffrey Wright in Westworld season 1, image courtesy of HBO

Besides, why should we need to know someone else’s history in order to find them interesting or worth caring about?

The other, probably more important reason I’m able to connect to the characters is that the actors are so uniformly good. Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton have, deservedly, received the most effusive praise, but Wright is equally impressive, infusing the mild-mannered Bernard with subtle emotion. Anthony Hopkins is suitably menacing as Ford, giving his best performance since The Silence of the Lambs. Ed Harris lends depth to the Man in Black, who could easily be a cartoonish, one-dimensional villain. And as Charlotte Hale, Tessa Thompson oozes charisma. As a whole, the cast turns the characters from enigmas into people.

Hale recruits Sizemore

In a dimly lit lab, we see everybody’s favorite pompous writer, Lee Sizemore, for the first time since he drunkenly urinated on the control room park map (apparently not a firing offense at Delos). He’s now coaching a new host, designed as a cannibal.

“The greatest shame in life is to perish without purpose,” the cannibal intones, “which is why I always consume my victims fresh”. It appears that Sizemore, in his crude way, has accidentally hit on one of Westworld’s predominant concerns: people’s desire to ascribe meaning to their existence. As Ford explains to Bernard elsewhere in the episode, the “self” is a kind of story that we construct, attempting to unify discrete elements into a coherent whole. Like any story, there must be a beginning and an ending, and both must make sense.

All of the characters in Westworld find their stories incomplete. Dolores looks backward, toward her hazy past; if she could just remember how her story began, she thinks, she would know her purpose. The Man in Black, meanwhile, is concentrated on the end, devising an elaborate suicide mission, as if a memorable death would retroactively give his life consequence. Even Sizemore is searching for something. His obnoxiousness stems not only from his general egotism but also a belief that he serves no purpose at Delos (which, it seems, is founded).

Tessa Thompson in Westworld season 1, image courtesy of HBO

Charlotte Hale takes advantage of that belief, as well as the dislike of Ford he expressed when talking to her at the pool bar, by enlisting him to help steal data from the park. She points out that Ford is almost finished with his new narrative, and the cannibal host was assigned to Sizemore as “busywork”.

“He dug up an old town on the fringes of the park,” she says, “created a horde of masked men to terrorize guests and proselytize-cum-advertise the coming of some end-all villain named Wyatt.” Might Ford intend to actually demolish the park with this apocalyptic-themed narrative? After all, he is nearing retirement. He has also said that he would destroy his creation rather than let the Board use it for their own ends.

“Even death,” Hale says, “fulfills a purpose.”

Dolores comes home

A voiceover overlaps the transition between this scene and the preceding one, in which Ford and Bernard discussed the nature of humanity. While reconfiguring Bernard, Ford assures him that it’s for the best because if the host dwells on his distressing memories, he “might get drawn back into them, lose yourself in them like some of your fellow hosts have every now and then.”

During the last part, we see Dolores and William making their way through the wilderness of Westworld. Is Ford’s voiceover just a way of connecting Dolores and Bernard? Or does it signal something else? There’s still the possibility that the hosts’ awakening is merely a stunt arranged by Ford. How much does he know about Dolores’s condition? Also, what does Ford mean by “every now and then”? That suggests it isn’t entirely unusual for hosts to pick up memories, even though they’re reset each day. The behavioral team seemed pretty baffled by the “glitch” when it first occurred, though.

Anyway, Dolores does, indeed, get drawn into her memories. Finally arriving at her home, she imagines walking into a town fully populated by hosts, who are being trained by a woman in a lab coat. We see Maeve practicing dancing (“lovely work,” the woman says). Dolores comes across Lawrence’s daughter, who inquires, “Did you find what you were looking for, Dolores?”

Suddenly, a shootout erupts, unfolding in slow-motion. Host bodies are strewn on the street, and screams fill the air. Dolores then sees herself holding a pistol and pointing it at her head. The camera cuts briefly to a close-up of the other Dolores’s eyes, before revealing that Dolores in the present is also pointing a gun at her head. Luckily, William manages to take the gun before she pulls the trigger.

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

The town has vanished; only a church steeple remains, its wood burned brown, the rest of the building buried in the ground. “When are we?” Dolores asks William, bewildered. “Is this now? I’m going mad! Are you real?”

Until now, Dolores seemed to be handling her resurfacing memories well. None of the other ones were this vivid, though. As Felix told Maeve, the hosts’ minds operate differently from humans’ minds. “When we remember things,” he said, “the details are hazy and imperfect. But you recall memories perfectly; you relive them.” Couple that with the fact that the hosts mistake memories for dreams. With that in mind, it’s no wonder Dolores is having trouble keeping track of reality.

But she is determined to figure out what it all means, which contrasts with Maeve, who decided that her memories aren’t important. A series of images – the intact church next to a cemetery, a door opening, a hand winding a wooden box like a phonograph, the maze etched in dirt – flash on the screen. Dolores realizes that “Arnold wants me to remember”. It’s a little worrying that she seems to be increasingly bound to Arnold’s will. Maybe listening to him will eventually help her become truly free, though.

Related Story: Westworld: 3 Key Moments to Contemplate from Episode 7

Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.