As we’ve discussed during our recaps of Westworld‘s first three episodes, the series is laying a whole lot of groundwork, giving viewers multiple storylines and characters to unpack. If you’ve felt the need to go back and watch an episode or two — or all three — we won’t judge. Thus far, Westworld seems to be the rare TV series that rewards multiple viewings for each episode. Maybe there are details you missed the first time around, whether it’s a line of dialogue, an object or scene that suddenly seems more significant than it may have upon first viewing.
Of course, if you’re someone who tends to retain details that feel as if they might resonate in future episodes, Westworld seems like the kind of show that will reward you for paying close attention. As popular as binge-watching is these days, we might be fortunate that each episode is available on a weekly basis. Because there’s too much that you might miss in the blur of a binge. (Naturally, there’s nothing stopping you from going to HBO GO, HBO Now or HBO On Demand to breeze through the first four episodes if you so choose. But again, there’s a lot to digest. Give yourself a chance to process all of this.)
One thing Westworld‘s writers did very well in episode four, “Dissonance Theory,” is provide some answers while also presenting even more questions. (Please indulge me geeking out over longtime comic book writer Ed Brubaker co-writing this episode with Jonathan Nolan. Brubaker, listed as a supervising producer in the opening credits, has written many great crime stories, but is perhaps best known for memorable runs on Marvel’s Daredevil and Captain America comic books. He created the Winter Soldier!)
Perhaps the best example of that is with The Man in Black. He’s been an enigmatic, seemingly evil figure through the first three episodes. He’s not content to merely play the game or follow a storyline. Presumably, he’s done that before — perhaps many times. Something keeps him coming back for more. Actually, it looks like he hasn’t left in quite some time.
Yet for the first time, we were given an indication of who The Man in Black might be in the outside world. It was a genuine surprise for someone to acknowledge that he was a part of whatever world exists outside Westworld. We know that it costs a lot of money to visit the park and the immersive Old West environment populated by lifelike robots that it provides. In the previous episode, Logan mentioned that it cost $40,000 a day.
But while traveling with a band of bandits that can seemingly help TMIB find just what the hell it is he’s seeking , a starstruck guest approaches and thanks the black-garbed man we’ve come to know as a badass for his foundation, an organization that saved someone’s life and presumably many, many others. Upon hearing that, TMIB bristles. That’s another man in a different place, and he’s here on vacation. Don’t harsh his mellow, man. There’s robots to kill and mazes to find.
Yet that brief line of dialogue opened up a whole bunch of intrigue for this character. In the first three episodes, TMIB seemed like a bully and a control freak. And really, kind of a phony. How much of a badass can you really be, how dangerous can it possibly be to take on a band of outlaws when you know you can’t be killed? Wasn’t TMIB just another guest living out some power fantasy? The fact that he wanted more, to keep pushing, to not settle for what the park gave him, indicated his greedy, controlling nature. A place that can give someone everything hasn’t given this guy enough. What an asshole.
However, what if The Man in Black is a philanthropist in the real world? OK, current events have demonstrated that foundations aren’t necessarily altruistic ventures and can be involved in many questionable activities found upon investigation. But this other guest specifically mentioned that this foundation saved his sister’s life. He was truly grateful. And he was also awed to be in the presence of someone who appears to be a big fuckin’ deal back in civilization. Yet TMIB apparently wants no part of that. Or at least wants to get away from it. Maybe after helping people, he truly needed to do something for himself and that’s what this bizarre, bloody quest of his is all about.
The other prominent storylines of “Dissonance Theory” concerned the continuing enlightenment of Dolores and Maeve, two hosts who are increasingly realizing that they have lived lives far different from the current narratives and storylines that have trapped them in a constant loop meant to service the whims of those running the park and those visiting. Bernard knows something is going on with Dolores, something that shouldn’t be happening because of strict programming. But she’s also veering far from her mandated storyline, running off with William and Logan on their bounty hunt, something that they’re beginning to notice back at home base.
But the “reveries” that have been included in the hosts’ code since the first episode, along with other forces that may be lurking underneath, are creating something that Bernard can’t understand, yet utterly fascinates him. He tries to get answers in interviews with Dolores, but seems afraid to push too hard, lest he trigger some sort of behavior that might draw attention to his investigation. (A friend of mine has a theory that Bernard might actually be a host. That looked like a stronger possibility after Dolores said she held onto emotional pain to remember loved ones, something Bernard said about his memories of his late son in the previous episode.)
Did the “reveries” unknowingly activate something, a sort of sleeper response that may have been designed by Dr. Ford’s former partner, Arnold? Does this all somehow lead to the “one story left to tell” that TMIB somehow knows about Arnold? Did TMIB meet Arnold at some point and learn something about the park that he’s so eager to find? Could that truly be the secret to Westworld, that Arnold might still be alive somewhere? Perhaps that’s what TMIB is trying to find, whether he realizes it or not. And it could also explain why Ford is so intent about creating so many new narratives and remaking the park, apparently in his own vision, something far different than what Arnold and Westworld’s corporate overlords had in mind.
Meanwhile, Maeve continues to have flashbacks associated with her repeated deaths over the repeated storylines that she’s served during her existence. As we’ve seen, these “memories” (which may imply some form of consciousness) continue to reverberate through her thoughts. (The same is happening to Dolores, who both remembers the previous version of her father and possibly a massacre she may have witnessed in a Mexican town.)
On one hand, you could say that the technicians and engineers behind the scenes just aren’t doing a good enough job of cleaning up after the carnage. Remember when Maeve was discovered to have a MRSA infection in her abdomen because she wasn’t being cleaned properly after clients had their way with her? Gross. And a story point that the writers apparently aren’t interested in dwelling on. Not when there are other foreign objects or substances in Maeve’s abdomen. She’s convinced that she has been shot before, despite no apparent physical evidence to support that belief. Is it a phatntom sensation that she feels or does Maeve literally feel a bullet shell left within her? Only one way to find out, as she employs outlaw Hector to slice open her stomach and look for whatever foreign objects might be in there. And yes, indeed — a shell was in there.
Maeve isn’t crazy. Her memories are real. Those events did occur. The technicians in hazmat suits that she remembers working on her — who are believed by the hosts to be terrible visions, the stuff of nightmares — is previous information Maeve has retained that she was supposed to forget. But judging from the other drawings she’s seen of these robotic-looking figures — and more importantly, a child’s toy version of one of these violators — Maeve isn’t the only one who has experienced visions and flashbacks of the technicians. As those memories and storylines supposedly get erased for the next loop, the images remain. And these supposed demons have become the stuff of legend among the hosts.
So who else is remembering? Could Hector help lead her to more? Will the techs and behavioral specialists constantly monitoring the hosts become aware of what Maeve is experiencing? How soon before the robot uprising?