Westworld: Season 1 Episode 8 Review – Trace Decay
With three stellar episodes in a row, Westworld has been on a roll lately. However, while still being a good hour of television, this week’s episode does not quite match live up to the high standards set by its predecessors. Trace Decay offers up a lot of hints to popular fan theories, and we finally get some backstory on one of the show’s most elusive characters, but this might be the first time that Westworld gets too ambitious for its own good.
Below is our spoiler-heavy review.
One of the most characteristic aspects about Westworld is that the show repeatedly withholds information in order to create mystery. Whether it is about strange visions or a character’s real name and backstory, it encourages viewers to fill in the blanks, which is why the show rapidly sparked countless fan theories about what exactly is going on. It has worked wonders in creating an engaged fanbase, as it stimulates the viewers to actively think along while watching. But at some point Westworld needs to fill in the blanks if it is going to keep adding new ones. The conclusion of last week’s episode is a perfect example of this. It finally showed us Bernard’s true identity as well as Ford’s true nature. Unfortunately, this week is a little less succesful, as the show relies too much on showing strange visions that are gone the next minute, in the stories of both Dolores and Maeve. Clearly these are necessary pieces of the puzzle that the show is building, but in this episode it comes across as a bit too convoluted.
Dolores has been struggling to make sense of her visions for a few episodes now, and in Trace Decay she is nearing her breaking point. First she and William come across a group of confederate soldiers who had a not-so-great encounter with the Ghost Nation. When Dolores walks to the riverbed to fetch water for a dying soldier, she sees herself laying motionless in the water. A voice speaks to her, “Come find me”, and when she turns around the soldiers and William are gone. As she turns back again, her lifeless body has disappeared and William and the soldiers are back. This repeats itself when they reach the steeple Ford was talking about in Episode 2. One moment she sees an empty town, the next it is filled with what looks like early builds of hosts dancing (with Maeve, Angela (the host who Teddy and MiB meet this episode) and Armistice (the bandit with the face tattoo) among them). This peaceful scene is rudely interrupted by an intruder, who appears to be Dolores herself, shooting everyone before turning the gun on herself. William intervenes and the town is gone, all that remains is the church’s steeple. A logical explanation could be that Dolores has been at these locations during earlier loops, but the episode is never clear on this. Whether it is proof of multiple timeframes remains to be seen, although it strongly seems to hint at that.
The flashes are somewhat revealing, perhaps confusingly so. However, they are also something we have seen before in earlier episodes, which makes it feel like they are dragging Dolores’ story out right now. With only two episodes left, answers are hopefully coming soon, before it starts to become too repetitive.
Maeve’s storyline in this episode is another example where I feel like Westworld gets just a little too convoluted for its own good. It starts off great with Maeve using her newfound powers of manipulation on the villagers of Sweetwater, but then her memories of the Man in Black cause her to lash out at the new Clementine, for reasons she does not quite seem to understand herself. The way the MiB’s story and Maeve’s memories are combined make for exciting television, but the connection between the two is not entirely clear. What triggers these memories, the gunshots around her or for some reason the fact that the Man in Black is telling the story to Teddy? If this connection was clearer, Maeve’s actions at the end of the episode might make more sense, especially because she seemed very much in control earlier. Nevertheless, the character is still great, and Thandie Newton’s performance remains outstanding.
The conversation between the Man in Black and Teddy is most interesting part of the episode. Finally it gives us some background on the most mysterious character in the show. Apparently his wife of 30 years (a number that keeps coming back) committed suicide because of him; because of the man he is inside. So he came back to the park to see if he was capable of something truly evil, but in doing so he witnessed what he calls a miracle: after losing her daughter, he sees Maeve becoming real, if only for a moment. Pain makes us real, which is why the Man in Black makes it his mission to find the maze; to find a deeper game where actions do have real consequences. His search for Wyatt is a way for him to find meaning in his life. At last we have some clarity into why he is doing this, which makes him easier to understand even if what he does could be considered despicable.
The fact that Teddy is now starting to remember his previous interactions with the Man in Black as well makes for an interesting development. They have a common enemy in Wyatt who has now captured them both, and although he might resent everything about the MiB, he will need him now more than ever.
On the Delos side of things, nobody seems particularly shook up about Theresa’s sudden passing. It is a little jarring to see people care so little, but Theresa was probably not the most social person ever either. We do get an amazing opening scene where Ford allows Bernard to realise what he did, before ordering him to destroy all evidence. Jeffrey Wright is once again spectacular as the weight of his actions dawn on him, without him being able to explain why he did it. Having him care so little afterwards might be an oversight on Ford’s part though, as Ashley Stubbs definitely notices that something is off. It is a quick scene that does not have much of an impact on the rest of the episode, but I wonder if it might lead somewhere yet. It certainly would be interesting to see more of a concrete storyline for Stubbs, as he has been on the sidelines for most of the show so far.
All in all this was not a bad episode for Westworld. The acting, camerawork and music selection (Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black is one of the piano songs this week!) was great as always, but the plotting left something to be desired as some parts of the episode seemed to be stalling. However, that can only mean that the show is saving its biggest moments for the final two episodes of the season. All the groundwork seems to be in place, so I am confident the show will pick up again next week.
Image credits: HBO