So, You’ve Realized You’re a Robot. Now What? Westworld‘s “Trace Decay” Gives Us Maeve’s Revolution
It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another one of Teresa and Maddy’s good cop/bad cop dual recaps of Westworld. As always, Maddy is the Sylvester of these recaps, who thinks we should probably shut the whole thing down and “brick it,” but Teresa is the Felix of the pair, who has hope that we can all take down Westworld‘s most unsavory aspects and triumph in the end.
THE RECAP SECTION
Bernard and Dr. Ford sit in the hidden room of Ford’s cabin, with Bernard finally coming to terms with the fact that he is a robot and also that he just killed Theresa. Ford keeps waxing poetic about how “beautiful” the hosts’ emotions are, even as Bernard breaks down in front of him. Ford then explains that Bernard is the “co-author” of the hosts’ emotions; it takes a robot to write a robot, apparently. Bernard refuses to continue to work with Ford. But Ford doesn’t care: “Arnold felt the way you did. He couldn’t stop me, either.” [Teresa: The more he talks like this, the more I feel like Arnold isn’t real! Is Arnold just Ford’s name for a series of hosts he’s had serve Bernard’s function?] Ford then commands Bernard to continue working with him, and also, to cover up Theresa’s death. Bernard’s “reward” for completing the cover-up is that Ford will erase all of his memories of killing Theresa, and of his affair with her; he will only remember her as a “respected colleague.”
Maeve stands at the bar in the saloon and listens as the new Clementine host tries to convince a client to go upstairs with her. Maeve has trouble controlling her lack of disgust about the fact that Clem has been replaced. She then starts flashing back to her old storyline, in the farmhouse with her daughter.
Back at Westworld HQ, Maeve asks Felix and Sylvester about the flashbacks to her little girl. At first, she wants to know more about this storyline, but then decides: “No. It doesn’t matter.” All of these relationships are “a story created by you to keep me here.” She wants to escape. But she knows now that any host who tries to escape will self-destruct; one of her vertebrae has been outfitted with an explosive designed to go off if a host leaves Westworld. (Maddy: How did she find that out? It’s cool how she’s a step ahead of everyone in this scene. Teresa: I think I remember Sylvester telling her that in a previous episode.) Even if Felix could remove the explosive for her, he says, “you would still need an army to break out of here.” She picks up Felix’s tablet. It’s time for Maeve to enlist her recruits: “time to write my own fucking story,” she says.
Dolores and William ride through the valley that Dolores saw in her mind’s eye. It seems “familiar” to Dolores; she calls it “home.” She walks towards the water and finds several dead bodies strewn on the beach; hit with arrows, perhaps by Ghost Nation. One of the men is still alive and calls out to them. William accuses him of being part of the ambush after them; the dying man confirms that. William wants to keep riding, but Dolores wants to stay and help the man. She goes to get more water.
While refilling the bottle, she suddenly has a flashback and sees her own dead body lying in the water; when she turns around, the beach is empty. Seconds later, the vision dissipates; William and the boy are back on the beach. When she returns to them, the boy is dead. Seems likely that William killed him. (Maddy: Dolores is finally starting to look suspicious of William. FINALLY. Don’t trust him, Dolores! Teresa: I think he’s only just recently become untrustable. Once he let Logan get beat up, hello Dark Side!)
Charlotte, Stubbs, and Dr. Ford autopsy Theresa’s body. Stubbs says Theresa’s body was found near where the stray host was found, and that a transmitter was found near her body–it’s the same transmitter that was in the stray host’s arm, not that Stubbs knows that. Charlotte picks up the transmitter and looks unnerved. She points out that this all seems very out-of-character for Theresa. (Maddy: The use of the word “character” in this scene is interesting; it’s almost like they’re talking about Theresa as though she is a host. Teresa: Everyone who works for Westworld is a host except Ford! This was all an elaborate game all along! TWIST ENDING!) Charlotte seems to be implying that she suspects Ford of foul play regarding Theresa’s death. Dr. Ford responds by saying that he knows the demonstration with Clementine yesterday was a hoax. Charlotte silently lets Theresa posthumously take the fall for this whole thing, and she then agrees to let Dr. Ford reinstate Bernard on Westworld’s staff. (Maddy: Does Charlotte know Bernard is a host? Does anyone, other than Ford and now Bernard himself? Seems like they don’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was later revealed that everyone already knew this.)
Maeve is still messing around with Felix’s tablet. Sylvester walks back into the room, all worried, because there’s an investigation going on at the park and he’s worried that someone is going to find out about them. Maeve says she’s realized that there are some mysterious parts of her that are “dormant,” and then she asks: “Who is Arnold?” Sylvester says they can’t do anything else to upgrade her unless she goes to the “behavior” department. Maeve says they can take her there during a shift change. Sylvester looks scared, but Felix looks game.
Sylvester and Felix walk out of the room. Sylvester suggests they install a system update in Maeve and “brick her.” Felix doesn’t look amenable to that.
The Man in Black and Teddy ride along together. As The Man in Black lectures him about how Teddy is destined to be the “loser,” Teddy flashes back to a previous memory when the Man In Black called him that. The two come up on a group of long-dead bodies, flies buzzing all around. One of the bodies is alive: a beautiful blond woman, the same host who introduced William and Logan to the park way back when. But now, she’s in character as a damsel. The Man in Black recognizes her, though, possibly from some other storyline (Teresa: Or maybe from one we’ve already seen?). She tells Teddy and the MIB that Wyatt’s men did this. (Maddy: I’m surprised they left her alive, but I guess they needed a messenger.)
A huge man in a bull mask shows up and starts attacking the MIB and Teddy. The MIB overpowers him, but as he does so, Teddy flashes back to a memory of the MIB dragging Dolores into the farmhouse to rape her. Teddy jolts back into the present quickly enough to help kill the bull-man. After that, Teddy tells the MIB he just “remembered something,” then he knocks the MIB out with a punch to the face.
Felix and Sylvester bring Maeve up to behavior. Maeve selects some updates; in order to install them, she has to restart. Felix implements the update, but right before she shuts down, Maeve says: “Sylvester, good luck.” While Maeve is in shutdown mode, Sylvester pressures Felix to “brick this bitch.” Felix hesitates.
Lee Sizemore interrogates a host whom he has designed to be a cannibal. (Teresa: HOW IS LEE NOT FIRED YET?!) Charlotte shows up midway through. Lee offers his condolences about Theresa, then asks about the rumor that Theresa had betrayed the company. Charlotte shrugs it off, saying Theresa was loyal to the board. Lee is intrigued; he’d be happy to be the board’s new puppy-dog, or at least, Charlotte’s. Lee then brags that Dr. Ford asked him to create a key character for the new storyline, and Charlotte condescends to him that Ford’s new story is already done and there’s no way this character is important. Lee looks genuinely hurt by this; he believes the character that he’s working on is Wyatt. “That isn’t Wyatt,” scoffs Charlotte. “That’s busy work.” But she plans to give him a “real job.” She walks out; he follows her.
Sylvester is still trying to talk Felix into bricking Maeve. But he’s already failed. Maeve is awake. Her first action: slicing Sylvester in the neck. “You said you wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Felix protests. “You know how duplicitous I am,” Maeve smiles. She asks Felix to save Sylvester’s life; this was only a show of her power. He uses a mysterious object to seal up the wound. [Teresa: Either this is set in a future where they have Star Trek-like medical technology, or Sylvester’s a host, too! It’s like Oprah up in here: You’re a host! And You’re a host! And You’re a host!)
Maeve walks to the saloon, a spring in her step. Maeve shows off her brand new power: she can now command other hosts’ programming. It seems like things are going well… but then Maeve looks outside and sees a young girl walking by, who used to be her daughter in the previous storyline. Maeve flashes back to her old storyline in which the Man In Black killed her in her farmhouse, as her daughter watched. Maeve flashes back to the present and sends Clementine and the bartender out of the room. “Right on time,” she whispers, as Hector’s daily shoot-out in the town square is about to begin.
The background music is joyful and triumphant as Maeve walks out of the saloon to meet Hector. Maeve commands the sheriff to let the shoot-out continue. Maeve then nods at Hector, motioning him to come along with her. She also ensures none of the other hosts attack them. Inside the saloon, Hector has a drink.
Dr. Ford and Bernard have a check-in. Ford wants to make sure that Bernard is doing okay, now that he knows he’s a robot. Bernard is struggling with whether his feelings are “real.” He knows his memories are fake—his wife, his son. But, he asks, “what’s the difference between my pain and yours?” Whether it’s real or imagined, the pain still feels real, so is there any difference? Dr. Ford dismisses the question by saying it was something that Arnold also cared about. He doesn’t say how he feels about the question. Before Ford wipes Bernard’s memory, Bernard asks: “Have you ever made me hurt anyone like this before?” Ford says no. Bernard flashes back to a brief memory of himself choking someone who appears to be Elsie. (Maddy: Damn it, if Elsie is dead too… I’m going to be SO ANNOYED… !! Teresa: Patriarchy gonna patriarch until Maeve saves the day.) Ford erases the memories.
Dolores and William reach a new part of the valley, which contains a little enclave of buildings. “I’m home,” Dolores declares. When she reaches the small town, it is completely empty. She suddenly flashes back to an old memory of herself in her powder-blue dress walking through the town as it is packed and bustling with life. In the old town square, several old host models are learning how to dance as a Westworld programmer instructs them. Dolores watches in bafflement at this old, strange memory of hers. Inside the memory, she meets Lawrence’s daughter, who asks her: “Did you find what you were looking for, Dolores?” Several gunshots go off. Everyone in the town square starts dying, falling in the blaze of bullets. Dolores watches as a copy of herself raises a gun to her own head.
William runs up behind the Dolores in the present day, who is also holding a gun to her head. He takes the gun from her. She looks around her and doesn’t recognize anything. She’s not in the town square anymore. Instead, she sees the strange black scaffolding of the church jutting out of the sand. “Where are we?” she asks. Then, more importantly: “When are we? Is this… now? Am I going mad? Are you real?” William says, “Of course I’m real.” But Dolores can’t figure anything out. William looks spookily calm about this. Dolores looks at the strange black church and flashes back to her memories of the maze: “This is what Arnold wants,” she says. William takes her hand and leads her away from this place.
After nightfall, Dolores and William are still walking. William tells her they have to get back to Sweetwater, and that he’s worried since she’s so “far out,” she’s starting to “break down.” A group of horsemen, led by Logan, ride up to them in the dark. “Man, are you two fucked,” Logan grins.
Charlotte leads Lee underground, to where all of the decommissioned hosts have been lined up in storage. Lee sighs in disgust. “Even the dead fulfill a purpose,” Charlotte reminds him. (Teresa: I still don’t understand why they keep every single decommissioned host standing up in a big empty room like that. Wouldn’t it save more space to catalog them and stack them somewhere if you wanna keep them in tact?) She picks a host and starts uploading data to him. She may have picked this host at random, but we remember him: he’s the one who played Dolores’ dad in the pilot episode, one of the first hosts to lose his marbles. Lee asks what data she’s uploading; she says, “that doesn’t concern you.” She tells Lee that his job is to get this host on a train and out of the park.
Stubbs pulls Bernard aside in the hallway. Apparently, Stubbs guessed that Bernard and Theresa were having an affair, and so he’s checking to see if Bernard is okay. But Bernard doesn’t remember any of that, so he’s baffled by the question. Stubbs looks briefly unnerved as well, then asks if Bernard has heard anything from Elsie Hughes. “I’m sure she’s just enjoying her time off,” says Bernard. (Maddy: DAMN IT. Teresa: The fact that they keep bringing her up makes me feel like she’s still alive somehow. She’s been mentioned too often for her to have been killed off screen with nothing more than a flashback.)
The MIB, Teddy, and the blond lady set up camp together. Teddy and the blond lady discuss Wyatt briefly, until the MIB interrupts to say that the two of them seem to have found themselves “in a new storyline.” Teddy gets up and says to the MIB, “after all the time I’ve spent with you, I still have no idea who you really are.” Apparently, Teddy has tied up the hands and feet of the MIB. Teddy remembers seeing the Man In Black taking Dolores and demands to know where she is now. Teddy tries to beat the information out of the Man In Black, but the MIB isn’t afraid, saying: “The rules of this place hold you back. But I know how to change them … You want to know who I am? I’m a god. A titan of industry.”
The MIB starts opening up to Teddy about his life. Apparently, the Man in Black has a wife back home—or, at least, he once did. His wife overdosed on pills in the bath, a “tragic accident.” But the Man In Black’s daughter doesn’t believe it was an “accident”–she thinks her mom killed herself because of the MIB’s abuse of her. Teddy asks if that’s true. The Man In Black says he wasn’t abusive to his wife or daughter, but that Westworld was what brought that side out of him. He came to Westworld and he “wanted to see” if he had it in him “to do something truly evil,” so he found a homesteader and her daughter—Maeve and her daughter. He killed them both, “just to see what I felt … [but] the woman refused to die.” Teddy calls him a “fucking animal.” The Man In Black says he felt nothing, until he watched Maeve pick up her daughter’s body and carry her outside into the sunlight; the two of them collapsed together, dead in the field. “That’s when the maze revealed itself to me,” the Man In Black explained.
Meanwhile, at the saloon, Maeve walks off the porch, followed by Clementine. Maeve watches as Clementine gets shot in front of her. This isn’t a shoot-out Maeve can control, because it seems to be led by human guests, as opposed to hosts. Meanwhile, at Westworld HQ, the programmers have noticed that something is off about Maeve.
Maeve runs back to her bedroom and looks at herself in the mirror. She then flashes back to her previous life at the homestead, and her daughter’s death; she also flashes back to a Westworld interrogation she experienced after seeing her daughter die. None of the programmers could seem to get Maeve to calm down; Dr. Ford implements some sort of “old trick” that works and gets her to stop crying. Maeve begs Ford not to take away the memory: “This pain is all I have left of her.” (Teresa: So this isn’t the first time hosts have woken up. But they’ve been put back to sleep. What does that mean for Maeve’s current revolution??) That’s the same thing Bernard said about his son, back in the day. But, still, Dr. Ford erases her memory. Her face returns to a placid calm. Then, all of a sudden, she reaches out and grabs a scalpel and stabs herself in the neck. As present-Maeve stares at her reflection, recalling all of this, two Westworld employees show up in her bedroom to take her back to QA.
At Teddy’s campsite, the blond lady tells Teddy to kill the Man In Black, since he just confessed to killing an unarmed mother and her unarmed child. Teddy draws his gun and tries to kill him, but he can’t seem to do it. “Perhaps I can help you,” says the woman. Then, she stabs Teddy with an arrow. She says: “You’ve been gone a long time, Theodore. It’s time you come back to the fold. Wyatt will need you soon.” The Man in Black looks around, startled. Their campsite is surrounded by mysterious figures, emerging from the darkness.
THE OPINION SECTION
Maddy: I’m not going to devote too many paragraphs to my disappointment about how many women Westworld has killed off at this point, since that’s what I already devoted last week’s opinion section towards, but let’s just say I’m not happy that this show appears to have also killed off Elsie Hughes.
Based on this week’s episode, it appears as though the old Clementine has been decommissioned for good, and Theresa is obviously gone as well. Charlotte’s new plans don’t seem likely to succeed, either, so I don’t have high hopes for her survival on this show, particularly since she’s now working with the notoriously incompetent Lee Sizemore. If Charlotte plans to match wits with Dr. Ford, then she’s going to have to be a hell of a lot craftier than we’ve seen her be so far. Maybe her mission for Lee is also “busy work” for him, and she’s trying to set him up for the fall, but she seemed genuinely surprised when Theresa died, so… I’m concerned for her. I hope she has some other allies in mind besides Lee, because Lee is a fool, and I don’t think he’s smart enough to find a way to smuggle Dr. Ford’s plans out of the park. Plus, I don’t even know if that’s a storyline that I want to have happen anyway, since Charlotte’s motivation appears to be corporate and/or military espionage. Charlotte still wants to use the robots for her own ends, and I’m not in favor of that.
Although Charlotte doesn’t seem like an adequate opponent for Dr. Ford, perhaps Maeve will be! It was fun to watch her testing the limits of her new reprogramming powers, and I have hopes that she’ll spend the new few episodes slowly awakening the other robots, one by one. She’s going to have to play the long game if she wants to go unsuspected; her actions in this episode might have already gone too far, but I’m sure she’s not down for the count yet. The fact that Arnold is inside her brain continues to be the least interesting part of her story, for me, because it doesn’t quite seem as though it fits her storyline. But, maybe I’m just saying that because I still don’t understand who Arnold is, or what his long game might be.
More in the “positives” category, for me: Dolores and William’s storyline! As I said last week, their romance makes me want to barf, so I was glad that Dolores finally stopped trusting him in this episode. I’ve also started to wonder whether William is entirely real anymore, at least in some of these scenes, since there’s a lot of aspects to his behavior that seem very odd, particularly this week. His reaction to Dolores’ breakdown seemed far too calm to me. Perhaps Dolores is only imagining him, for some of these scenes. It seems possible.
Last week, I jokingly predicted that perhaps Logan would turn out to be Arnold, but this week, I started to wonder whether William was. I realize that’s not actually possible, since William had never even been to Westworld before, let alone built it himself–but maybe William is a sort of mental avatar for Arnold that Dolores has created. The William-is-MIB theory still doesn’t seem like it tells the whole story, in any case, but William does seem to be a suspicious figure in some way. I just can’t figure out why he’s even there, narratively. There must be some explanation, right? I can only hope.
We learned a little more about the Man In Black’s past this episode, but I’m skeptical as to whether anything in that story was really true, or if he was only trying to get Teddy to sympathize with him (not that it worked). I think the Man In Black wants to see himself as the hero of his own story, as we all do, but we already know what type of person he is. I believe he’s been an abuser for his entire life, and that Westworld isn’t what brought it out of him–it was already there.
In my “negatives” column for this episode: Bernard’s storyline so far is seriously depressing me, and I don’t actually like that Dr. Ford is becoming more unquestionably evil as the show goes on, as opposed to staying morally gray. At this point, I no longer understand what Dr. Ford’s motivations are. Just like Teddy kept saying to the Man in Black that he has “no conviction” (and he doesn’t!!), so too have I begun to feel like Dr. Ford has “no conviction,” and that makes it hard to understand him as a villain.
When this show began, I actually liked Dr. Ford, even though I was disappointed by many other aspects of the show (as everyone who has read my recaps knows well by now). It seemed, in the beginning, as though Dr. Ford was the person who might be on the robots’ side in the end, and who was giving them too much power because he didn’t like humans. It turns out that’s not Dr. Ford’s motivation, but instead, that sounds more like something this mysterious Arnold would do–based on what we know about Arnold so far.
So, maybe Arnold is going to end up being the actual hero of this show. The already-dead human who built free will, and thus the impetus for revolt, into the robots as a final fuck-you to Dr. Ford. I can certainly understand why someone might want to issue a fuck-you to Dr. Ford, especially now that we’ve seen how Ford has been treating Bernard and the rest of the robots and people in his life. But why is Dr. Ford like this? How did he get to this point? Is it just because he misses his family…? Because that’s the only personal detail we know about Ford so far … and who knows if it’s even real, or if it’s just another manufactured backstory that Ford built up to flatter his own ego.
A sad family life seems to be the same motivation that is proffered to us for the Man in Black’s behavior: his wife committed suicide because of his abuse, but he claims he wasn’t abusive, and that his wife’s death is what led him to bringing down his “wall” and becoming an abuser in Westworld. I don’t think we’re supposed to sympathize with this story, or even believe it necessarily (I know I don’t)–and I’m also not sure we’re supposed to sympathize with Dr. Ford’s story so far, either. The problem is that it’s not very compelling to watch these two guys when there’s no way for me to relate to their behavior at all. I’m hoping that we get some actual answers out of Dr. Ford in the future, because thus far, he’s been the master of dodging questions about himself and his own motivations. I like playing the guessing game about Arnold, but it’s only fun to play that sort of game if there’s any gray area. With Arnold, there’s still room to guess about him. With Dr. Ford and the Man In Black, it’s hard to understand their “convictions” when they don’t seem to have any. Also, watching people (usually women) die isn’t interesting for me either.
Lastly, I want Bernard to get OUT OF THERE. Especially now that we’ve already seen so many people die. Maeve (and Felix): save Bernard!!!!!
Teresa: First of all, I do NOT think that Charlotte was at all surprised by Theresa’s death. She was the one who had Theresa set up the Clementine demonstration and mess with the code, and she said that while she liked Theresa “for this job,” she didn’t like Theresa. I fully believe Charlotte knowingly threw Theresa under the bus so that the Board could do whatever it is they need to do to get data out of the park so they can get rid of Ford.
Also, as I said above, the way they keep bringing up Elsie, and the way they showed Elise being strangled, but not dying, leads me to believe that Elsie is somehow still alive.
As for the episode as a whole, while it gave us a lot more information about the Man In Black’s backstory, and a juicy tidbit of William’s blonde intake host now hanging with Teddy and the Man in Black, who recognized her as an older host (which leads many to reaffirm that William is a younger Man in Black), it didn’t have the emotional resonance that last week’s episode did. Probably because last week’s emotional resonance was firmly with Bernard realizing he was a host. This week, Dolores was breaking down, Teddy was waking up, the Man in Black was opening up, Maeve took things to the next level, Logan is back… There was so much crammed into this week’s episode that I didn’t know where to look or what to feel about anything. It was all really interesting stuff…but it was so much.
That said, Maeve continues to be the highlight of the show, and any emotional resonance in “Trace Decay” came from her storyline. We watched Maeve become the “center of the Maze” when, in carrying her dead child, she was at her most human and in the most pain. It made watching her become the host who can easily slit a throat all the more satisfying and heartbreaking, because we know that there’s real pain there. We know what she’s carrying, and we know what a burden this has been for her.
Interesting, too, as well as related, is Dr. Ford’s belief that there’s no significant difference between hosts and human beings. He doesn’t see host pain as any more or less real than human pain, which makes him even more of a monster to humans and hosts alike. It also shows how hugely cynical he is, as he believes that all humans do is run through loops. For him, it seems, the only difference between host and human is the power of control, which is why it’s so significant that it now seems that Maeve has Ford’s capability to control the hosts. If Maeve can basically become Ford, are they interchangeable? Is Ford himself merely the previous host who led a revolution, woke up, and took over? Is it Maeve’s destiny to run the park?
IS it a park? Is there an outside world at all? Am I a host? ARE WE LIVING IN THE MATRIX?!
There’s two more episodes left in the season, kids, and I think we’ll be left with a bunch more questions than answers. And thank goodness, as they’ll have an entire Season Two to fill!
(images via HBO/screencap)
Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]