TV review: Westworld – Trace Decay

Latest posts by Barry Quinn (see all)

‘Trace Decay’ is very much the calm before the storm, I feel. The latest offering of Westworld was subdued and, mostly, it rehashed previous threads without drawing anything new. There were several great character moments, but narratively, this week the show stalled somewhat.

I’m growing baffled by Maeve’s narrative. Given how much Sylvester is shitting himself, surely he would have overseen her shutdown to make sure that Lutz, who he has previously expressed doubt over, was doing it properly. It’s surprising, then, that he’s surprised himself when Maeve pops up following the changes to her programming. And, given that Maeve can still be controlled by cool electronic books that are used within the Westworld labs, why has Sylvester never shut her down completely? These questions are niggling, especially how much importance is being placed on Maeve’s growing intelligence. It’s almost as though the writers are just expecting viewers to accept these plot-holes without question. Maeve is ultimately still a Host, and she can be controlled as such, as evidenced by Lutz shutting her down.

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This can be forgiven, somewhat, by Thandie Newton’s continued excellent performance. She is vying for contender of best performance, second perhaps only to Anthony Hopkins. Whether it’s the cunning delivery of her callous attack on Sylvester, or the hypnotic state she delves into after mistakingly attacking the new Clementine, Newton excels on every level. Her breakdown over the death of her ‘daughter’ is spine-tingling, so much that it’s entirely believable, and it’s entirely believable that the Man in Black would see the human qualities that she has seemingly always exhibited. With Maeve being taken in, surely her improved intelligence is going to come to light?

‘Trace Decay’ opens in stunning fashion. Pretty much every episode prior has opened with Bernard talking to a Host – be it Maeve herself, or Dolores – but this week is very different. For it’s Bernard who is being spoken to, and it’s Ford who is communicating to him. It’s quite chilling, really. It’s startling to see this abrupt change in Bernard, who has previously remained cool and collected, and it’s even more startling when he reverts to type later after his memories are wiped. It’s clear that Bernard has discovered his true identity several times in the past, and that Ford has manipulated him countless times prior – as, perhaps, is his right as his maker? Oooh, ethical questions! But Bernard’s confusion over why he killed Theresa (she’s dead, and not coming back as a Host, boo!) also delivers another little shock – yes, Bernard killed Elsie, following Ford’s orders once more. I’m gutted. Elsie was brilliant!

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Charlotte Hale’s story isn’t all that exciting. Given that a second season has been commissioned (YESSSSSSS!) and that five seasons in total have been planned (YESSSSSSS!), it’s safe to assume that Westworld (the park) isn’t going to fall into disarray, which means that Hale is clearly going to fail in her plan of getting 35 years’ worth of data out of the park. And why does Lee just go along with her plan without question? Is it simply because he wants a fuck? I think his logic needs exploring more.

Dolores’ story is also growing stale. After starting out as the standout character, she’s quickly becoming boring. I’m not interested in her previous stories, or her blossoming romance with William. I hope she can be redeemed, but I think the only possible way to do this is for her to become entirely conscious of her stance as a Host (akin to Maeve), but given that Maeve has already adopted this role and story, Dolores’ discovery would feel like a rehashed storyline. I’ve genuinely got no idea where her story can go from here without growing even more pedestrian. At least we know that Logan isn’t dead – that’s something, right? Right?

And then we come to Teddy and the Man in Black. What starts as another dull thread (seriously, how many episodes must we endure of people just WALKING?) soon delves into the most interesting, as we finally get some answers about the Man in Black’s modus operandi. His admission about his wife does little to quell the growing theory that he’s William from the future (or rather William is the Man in Black from the past, and the Man in Black is actually in the present – you get me?) – just think back to what William told Angela back in ‘Chestnut’ about having a love back home. This love is surely the Man in Black’s wife who committed suicide after discovering how tainted he had become, right? Are you following? It’s all getting confusing.

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All hell is set to be unleashed. I’ll be surprised if Maeve survives the next episode, unfortunately, but I have a new theory to posit, one that likely won’t turn out to be true. But it’s fun to speculate, right?

My new theory pertains to Ford. I think he’s actually a Host himself, created by Arnold. I know we’ve seen a flashback of a younger version of him, but think to what Ford told Bernard here about Bernard’s wife – all Hosts need a backstory to anchor them. Maybe this is Ford’s anchor. Maybe Arnold never even existed at all – maybe HE is the backstory. Or maybe, just maybe, Ford is a Host with Arnold’s consciousness embedded within, meaning that Arnold isn’t really dead at all…

Yeah, Westworld is very confusing, isn’t it? But it’s excellent with it!