Westworld is a confusing show to write about, because the temporal fuzziness that occurs around the looping narratives of the hosts and the out-of-time dreaminess that appears in the basement scenes makes it hard to say exactly what we are “seeing” at any given time. When Bernard or Ford are interrogating Dolores in that theatrically-darkened, antiseptic space, is she literally sitting in front of them, or are they logging in to the “VR tank” the jackass clean-up technician mentions to monitor her behavior coding remotely? When she sees another version of herself in the crowd, is that the robut equivalent of a hallucination brought on by the latent code Arnold left in her, or are there actually multiple copies of different hosts roaming different parts of the park? Or most pressingly, does the show think that it has confirmed the two-timelines theorizing with “Contrapasso”?
Going into the episode, I was already taking the speculation about William being the Man In Black as a given, so when Lawrence showed up as an different version of himself in William’s storyline so promptly after being exsanguinated by MiB, I took it as explicit confirmation of that theory. And I was happy to, because my hope is that once we get the first round of reveals out of the way, we can get on with some clear drama. But then I started seeing reactions of people thinking it just meant that his body was quickly collected and repurposed for a different storyline, as we know can occur. It is still technically possible, I suppose, but you still have to ignore something fundamental about how fictional narratives are constructed. It would be so simple to confirm if there were not two timelines - you just need to have Williiam/Logan’s storyline intersect or be commented directly upon by any of the underground crew. And there is no reason to play coy about any of this if it is heading for the reveal that the storylines are occurring concurrently (which is to say, no reveal at all). Letting the ambiguity hang around would only serve to distract the audience from the simpler story you were actually trying to tell, and if it’s actually some sort of double-bluff cover to distract us from another, different twist it will be edging into too-clever-by-half territory.
Plot twists have to walk this fine line. First, they should be genuinely surprising, itself an uneviable task in the age of crowdsourced television sleuthing. If the entire online world is able to get even slightly ahead of where you spaced out your reveals, your show is suddenly dumber than rocks. Conversely, you also have to play fair enough that the twists don’t feel arbitrary or turn the entire sleuthing process from a fun game to an adversarial vendetta. And that is really super easy to do, since the internet does not, generally speaking, have very thick skin.
|Hey stupid jerkshow, you think I write this blog so I can feel not smarter than my TV?|
The dual timeline theory walks that line well enough, in my opinion, but continuing to put twists ahead of characterization is starting to cause problems. The scenes of Hopkins making cryptic threats and allusions to people are cast for maximum intrigue and portent, but they don’t appreciably change anything from last week. We don’t learn any more about the human agendas being pursued, and the only real progress on the robut end is the closing moment of Maeve waking up to terrify a nonentity technician character. I say only real progress, because while Dolores has the more dramatically presented moment of epiphany, flat out declaring an end to her damselhood, it fell flat for me. Being convinced that this portion of the story is predestined to place her back in her loop for 3 more decades of oblivious victimization takes the triumphant winds out of those sails before it can really get going.
It’s not her, or William’s, fault, but being stuck in prequel does them no favors dramatically. I was more interested by her interrogation with Ford, who seems to know that she was a favorite of the mysterious Arnold. “Have you been dreaming again, Dolores? Imagining yourself breaking out of your modest little loop, and taking on a bigger role?” he taunts (emphasis added) in a manor that somehow blends kindly and malicious in that special Anthony Hopkins-sauce.
His conversation with Harris was similarly intriguing without being particularly informative. But again my sympathies tend to lie with the Man In Black’s perspective: eventually Westworld is going to need real stakes, instead of stylishly-shot portents of what those stakes might someday be. Pretty much the only action at headquarters this week revolves around Elsie figuring out that the Stray’s weird behavior was part of some corporate espionage plan to beam data outside of the park’s strictly controlled environment. As with so much, this has the basic shape of intrigue, but the motivations and power dynamics of the humans on the management side are still so opaque that there isn’t much to say about it besides “guess we’ll see.”
|Meanwhile, a week without Armistice is a week without joy|
- Logan complains to William about so much of the park being market-tested and designed by committee when entering Pariah, echoing exactly the shade MiB threw at Hector in the jail cell last week.
- Lawrence also offers William a drink on the train. MiB tells Lawrence that he knows is habits and what liquor he likes to swill. This is hardly definitive, just sayin’.
- This week in piano/classical rock covers: Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have" during the orgy scene. They do their best to make that orgy baroque and big enough to sort of justify the town's reputation as the real hub of depravity in the park, but eh. It's not like there aren't brothels and massacres and in the "safe" town too. When the whole park is designed to be a consequence-free video game, it doesn't seem really necessary for it to have its own secret Tijuana.
- When Teddy grabs Harris’s knife, it’s a rare moment
when a host feels legitimately dangerous despite all the strictures we know
still bind them from doing real harm.
Marsden does a great job in that brief moment, becoming suddenly physically
energized and emotionally dead.