Monday, October 24, 2016

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - The Man in Black, Dolores and Maeve Search for Answers in 'Dissonance Theory'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 1.04 "Dissonance Theory"

Dolores joins William and Logan on a bounty hunt in the badlands. The Man in Black, with Lawrence in tow, finds a critical clue in his search to unlock the maze. Dr. Ford and Theresa discuss the future of the park. Maeve is troubled by a recurring vision.

Westworld has become a full-on mystery show. Whether or not that's how the creative team wants the audience to be watching it, that's how the majority of people - or at least those vocal online - are seeing it. There is certainly the evidence that Westworld is a show that needs to be solved in much the same way that Lost or Mr. Robot are. Conversation is important. The best shows foster discussion. But right now, the show is still just in full-on teasing mode. It's hinting at possible connections that will completely change how the audience sees this world. But it's still just setting those plots and mysteries up. The Man in Black is still in pursuit of the maze at the deepest level of this game. Dolores is searching for a way to be free which could also lead her to the maze. Dr. Ford's new narrative is still shrouded in secrecy as he completely destroys a portion of the park. Plus, a few of the hosts are still just slowly becoming aware that their reality isn't all that it seems. All of this is strong and intricate work. It's been a rewarding viewing experience as well. "Dissonance Theory" continues that trend. This episode has more fun with these concepts than the self-serious moments of the first few episodes. But it's also key that the show provides answers to these big mysteries. That it's not all just set up in the hopes of teasing the audiences with more mysteries than they are willing to answer.

"Dissonance Theory" spends a lot of time with the Man in Black. In the beginning, he seemed like an off character in this world. He was the embrace of the show's darker impulses that really shouldn't be highlighted. He was the show at its most nihilistic. But now, it's clear that he views Westworld as nothing more than a game. A world where he is allowed to be the villain as opposed to the outside world where apparently he is a saint. This is his vacation. He has been here so many times that he wants to uncover the next level. As he explains at one point, this world is a story and he's missing the final page. He needs to know how all of this ends. It's clear he has more information about the beginnings of this world than the average guest. He knows about Arnold and his tragic death. He suggests that Arnold created this deeper mystery in the hopes of doing more with this world he created. That's a powerful argument that fuels all of the tension in this story. But more importantly, the Man in Black just has a good time throughout his journey this week. It's fun watching him be completely surprised by Armistice, a host he has never encountered before by sheer happenstance. Plus, he has a run-in with Hector who he has avoided by choice because he feels too focus tested as a character. Those amusing reactions to the world help make the Man in Black a more interesting character even though he doesn't make a whole lot of progress on his journey. He finds a new clue that leads him to the next stage of this maze. But it's still not leading to anything deeper within this world. He's just bouncing around from host to host searching for answers.

Meanwhile, Bernard tells Dolores about the maze as well. He sees it as a way for her to potentially break free from her existence. In these encounters, she is still largely sticking to the script and providing the appropriate emotion response. But she's already starting to question her reality in the actual world. She's being taken far away from her normal loop. Stubbs and his team allow it to happen because she's being accompanied by a guest. That further shows that the programmers don't always have complete control over this world. They still just serve the guests and their desires. That makes it understandable when these emotions and questions of uncertainty rise up within a couple of the hosts. If the programmers don't notice or have to reset their memories every night, then these thoughts are allowed to grow which could be very dangerous for this world. It's still unclear how Dolores is able to talk with Bernard seemingly every night. The easy explanation is that those sequences are the ones happening out of time. That they are memories that Dolores is just now remembering because of this new trauma she has experienced. She is certainly becoming less and less connected to her reality. She sees the map to the maze as well in a vision. She gets a brief glimpse of the people behind this world. But she's still largely just on a journey with William and Logan as they go bounty hunting.

William and Logan's story is about self-discovery too. Logan is trying to pull a new personality out of William. He didn't want to go on this low-level bounty adventure. But he's fully engaged with it just to see how it changes Logan. It's clear their trip to Westworld is about business just as much as it is about family. Their lives outside the park are still shrouded in secrecy but they could become more important in the business dealings of this world. They are invested. But Logan still wants to do the right thing. He is still the white hat wearing man in this world. He wants to protect Dolores and hand the outlaw over to the law. Meanwhile, Logan wants to go full evil. He sees that as the purpose of this world. It's a game that allows its players to become the truest version of themselves. He loves how William comes alive doing their epic shootout to take down the outlaw. It's a thrilling sequence that makes both of them feel alive. Of course, it's also tense when Logan threatens to kill Dolores unless they take a turn for the evil. It shows that Logan has no interest in following the rules of what's right and wrong. He just wants to play a game and have fun. Meanwhile, William has become invested in Dolores. He has chats with her about this world and what has happened. He's forming a genuine bond with her. A relationship that is able to flourish because her memory isn't being wiped clean every night. But one that could produce interesting results if she's out of her loop long enough.

Elsewhere, Theresa has a sit down with Dr. Ford to discuss the time frame of the new narrative. She heads into the meeting as a representative from the board who has some major concerns about what Ford is up to. And yet, Ford uses it as an opportunity to show her just how in control of this world he still is. People like Theresa come and go. But Ford has been here from the very beginning and is still capable of playing God in this world. It's such a tense moment when he can get the entire world to freeze seemingly through his mind. There isn't some big phrase that starts and stops the hosts around him. It's just a way for him to show off his power. He's in control of this world. He's the one who ultimately decides what happens. He has put up with Theresa's pleasantries. But now, he's making it known that there are no secrets in Westworld. He knows everything about everyone - the hosts, the guests and the programmers. He knows about Theresa's secret relationship with Bernard. He warns her that she should be careful not to break his heart. It's a power move on his part that shows he is capable of complete and utter destruction with the snap of a finger.

Of course, it's also clear that things are happening in the park that Ford doesn't know about. Does he know about Bernard's regular chats with Dolores? Does he know about the maze? Does he know that some hosts are falling through the cracks and waking up to the true nature of their world? All of that is unclear. But it's still very effective when it comes to Maeve's story throughout this episode. She's having a recurring vision about the men who clean up whenever a guest kills a host. She's seeing that strange man. It's clear she's been having this vision for awhile now too. It's a chilling sight to see her go to her special hiding spot and discover multiple drawings of the same man. This is clearly something haunting her. She has to recruit Hector to help her get to the bottom of this mystery. She remembers getting shot but there is no scar on her body. She needs him to stab her and pull the bullet out of her belly. It's a brutal final sequence but it is successful. She recovers the bullet. It's all the proof she needs that she's not going crazy. There is more going on in this world than it appears. It's a liberating moment for her. One where she accepts that none of this is real. That's a powerful and dangerous realization for any host to come to. Plus, the programmers seem completely unaware which could be setting Maeve up for some serious importance moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dissonance Theory" was written by Ed Brubaker & Jonathan Nolan and directed by Vincenzo Natali.
  • The Man in Black runs into Teddy once again. He sees the aftermath of his run in with Wyatt. Instead of showing mercy and killing him knowing that it would reset his life once more, he decides to cut him free and bring him along for this journey. That could be the start of Teddy's own awakening in this world.
  • Lawrence remains such a skeptical accomplice on the Man in Black's journey. He continues to find himself facing death. And yet, the Man in Black never lets him die. He insists that he is freeing Lawrence from this world. But it's also just amusing to see Lawrence thrown into harm's way every week.
  • It's also fun to see the programmers exert control while also giving the guests what they want. All the Man in Black needs is one match to send a request for a special pyro stunt. He counts on it in order to break out of jail.
  • Theresa's company decides to take over the investigation of what happened to the host that went off his loop and smashed his head in last week. It frustrates Elsie but Bernard just lets it happen and hopes to see a full report afterwards.
  • Elsie really is becoming such a fun character in the behind-the-scenes world. She offers a refreshing perspective in those scenes. Smart enough to have a firm grasp on what's going on but also confused as to how everyone seems to have a secret agenda except her.
  • The blood trickling down Clementine's eye is such an effective and chilling visual. It's so powerful and unnerving. No wonder Maeve is off her game after seeing such a sight.