Westworld: (S01E08) “Trace Decay”


Memory drove many of the story lines in Trace Decay, as the line between humans and hosts started to blur. It felt like a revolution was brewing for much of the episode as characters remembered past indiscretions that could lead to the downfall of Westworld itself.

The episode hit the ground running with Ford (Anthony Hopkins) sending newly revealed host Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) to cover up Theresa’s (Sidse Babett Knudsen) death. I was a bit disappointed that Theresa was not replaced by a Host, especially when the cover story was so weak. The explanation, that Theresa was trying to send data out herself in a dangerous area alone, felt like a convenient “plot hole” for Hale (Tessa Thompson) to see through.

The conversation between Bernard and Ford was a highlight. The idea Bernard was modeled after Arnold was heavily hinted at, as Ford mused that the two had the similar feelings about Hosts. Ford’s warm feelings towards Bernard were also important here, as the fondness hints to a kind of familial bond.

Just before wiping Bernard’s memory, Ford mused on his creation’s question: If both humans and hosts felt pain from the memories of what they do, what is the difference between them? Ford seemed amused by the question, but part of him also partially believed the differences dwindling in number. He acknowledged that people are driven by their memories, a back story to justify their existence.

Ironically, Ford used his memories of the conflict with Arnold to justify wiping Bernard’s memories…just as the poor man remembered attacking Elsie (Shannon Woodward). Ford knowing that the Hosts were becoming self-aware but still continuing his “narratives” made him even more disturbing. He did not want to give up his power as a god.

For Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), her memories (And the mysterious Voice, which now consisted of a blending of different people) continued to drive her to a mysterious “home” she had been dreaming about, bringing a concerned William (Jimmi Simpson) to the mysterious buried town featured in Ford’s mysterious narrative. Along with Dolores, we discovered that this town was the site of the early behavior training for the first Hosts in the park.

In a flashback/vision, Dolores saw a number of hosts dancing, including Armistice and even interacted with Lawrence’s daughter. Disturbingly, she also discovered that she was behind that shootout she had repeatedly seen. And when Dolores returned to the “present” with William, the town was buried in sand. The same town that Ford had dug up.

For a story line so packed with information and potential important reveals, it was surprisingly bland. While it was generally well done, the brevity felt a bit like a waste. As Dolores pleaded with William to tell her if all of this was real or the current time, she became an audience surrogate in a way. Yes, it was important for the show to explicitly tell us that there were multiple time lines. But it felt like a big pay off was coming, but the show could not build the bridge to it.

On the other hand, The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) story line had an amazing crossover. Maeve’s memories of her daughter and Clementine’s fate drove her to force Felix and Sylvester to alter her programming while Teddy (James Marsden) remembered the Man In Black’s disturbing past with both himself and Dolores.

While the earlier episodes of Westworld belonged to Dolores, Maeve has become the breakout character in the last few. The tough and intelligent character has gone through the wringer, losing a friend and a daughter, so getting the ability to control hosts was very gratifying. That last statement may seem like a bit of a contradiction given how much I have written about Ford’s disturbing desire for complete control, but turnabout is fair play. Maeve was the victim here so turning the tables was fitting.

It was satisfying to see Teddy get a measure of payback with the Man in Black, beating the truth out of him, but that truth was a huge revelation. We learned that the Man in Black simply killed Maeve and his daughter to prove what kind of man he is, to reveal his “true self.”

In the real world, the Man in Black’s wife may have accidentally overdosed or committed suicide. In either case, his daughter claimed that The Man in Black drove her to it because she could see the monster he thought only came out in the park. So he did the natural next step: Kill a daughter and her mother in cold blood to see if he would feel bad in the world where he felt the most alive. That he felt nothing only cements the Man in Black further as a crazed villain.

We already knew that Maeve was connected to the Man in Black thanks to her earlier flashbacks, but to know that he was behind her first “awakening” was horrifying. That so many humans knew that the hosts could become self aware but continue to do nothing about it was damning to humanity. Why would man give up the ability to be a god?

In other developments, we learned that the Man in Black knew the blonde female Host that first greeted William when he first came to the park, adding more fuel to the “William is the Man in Black” theory, though now it has become so heavy handed that I am actually doubting the theory’s validity. Logan (Ben Barnes) made his return as well, capturing William and Dolores with the Confederados. Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) was seemingly given something to do as he noticed that Bernard’s behavior was unusual.

The mysterious Maze also had a small but possibly game changing reveal. When Maeve was brought in after becoming self aware at the death of her daughter, we see an image of her mind and it looks exactly like the Maze. Lawrence’s daughter telling the Man in Black that the Maze was not meant for him makes more sense: The Maze was the key to Host self-awareness.

With only two episodes left in Westworld’s season, it felt as though the show was hurdling towards its conclusion. While the Dolores and William story line was a bit of a let down, Maeve continued to carry the show with her growing revolution.

SCORE: 8.5 OUT OF 10