Westworld And a Bit of Cognitive Dissonance

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Westworld gets a little confused about which direction it’s going, if there are things we’re ready to see or if we should stumble in the darkness of machines’ minds. Men cross over from hell to keep the people of Sweetwater in check, but who cares if a bunch of machines get blown away? So, what do you say? Wanna go black hat?

Westworld: “Dissonance Theory”

(Credit: HBO/Westworld)
(Credit: HBO/Westworld)

The Man in Black is desperate to learn more about the maze, which Bernard and Dolores both know exists. He bargains with Armistice, Hector Escaton’s right-hand woman, and offers to free her boss from jail in exchange for clues about her tattoo which may lead him to the hidden door. Maeve finds her dreams possessed by men in hermetically-sealed suits, a recurring figure documented in drawings kept beneath floorboards. Convinced of her own insanity, Maeve begins to think bigger after seeing a native child with a wooden carving that resembles her spectral visitor. As Hector lays waste to the saloon, Maeve gets the outlaw to tell her all he knows of the figure in her dreams, and learns that it’s a hellish creature sent to prey on the people of Sweetwater. Needing more confirmation of her sanity, Maeve has Hector cut into her belly and retrieve the slug buried in her body from a previous rotation.

Dolores’ own head is in need of a check as her conversations with Bernard flicker between lives lived, all that intersect at a solitary white church. But William is there to keep her safe and usher her back to town so long as he can resist Logan’s call to abandon the seriousness he awards the hosts and gives in to a little reckless fun.

Dr. Ford, who is all business, tells Theresa that she and the people at Delos who order her around should know better than to interfere with his ambitions with his park. He is a god on this small plantation and refuses to be restricted from creating on his own land. She may have thought she had the upper hand, but Ford makes it known that his willingness to be ruthless has no barrier and reminds her to mind how she manipulates Bernard’s affection in attempts to get to him.

 

(Credit: HBO/Westworld)
(Credit: HBO/Westworld)

There seem to be two main paths everyone is traveling down, that of the naive and that of the cocksure. Maeve, Ford and Dolores have all been chasing something similar, or things that are at least connected in some way. Through an epileptic flashback, Dolores, while meeting a Spanish girl, gets hints of the maze that Bernard mentions to her, which is no doubt built by the employees of Delos that Maeve now knows are actual people in sterile suits and not figments of her imagination, and it ties into the white church Ford has been hunting for awhile now.

This could mean that the self-awareness Bernard has been fostering in Dolores could be something Ford has been chasing all along, and perhaps something Maeve and the other hosts would eventually evolve to adopt anyway. We’ve seen glimpses of robots behaving badly in Delos facilities from promos and it feels like these three are bringing the people of Sweetwater a little closer to that point.

The other path is the one the Man in Black travels alone, a road that leads to a place he’s ignorant of but knows exists and will exploit his knowledge of the world around him to get there.

(Credit: HBO/Westworld)
(Credit: HBO/Westworld)

This use of a MacGuffin, the maze, frustrates me as a viewer. While self-awareness is something the show teased from the outset with its hosts, and machine evolution in general, the maze is just this thing that has nothing to justify its importance to any of the characters yet. Many people may point to Nolan’s name and say the viewer ought to be patient and expect to be rewarded like in Memento. But writing for television is a bit different in film, and the patience asked of the audience in the span of two hours is different than going through six or seven episodes to understand why something mattered in the pilot. Don’t believe me? Think back to the reveal of Cylon identities in Battlestar Galactica, how long it was teased, how the reveal was handled, and how die-hard fans reacted to that ending.

That really seems to be my biggest frustration with Westworld so far, that mystery after mystery is teased with no resolution, and any progress that’s made is overshadowed by characters teasing that they’re up to something without ever hinting that it’s worth the audience’s time to care about. Dolores is one of the only stories that gets progress, but she, too, diverges to add more mystery to something that was already mysterious. She even goes out of her way to do so, forgetting about being the sole survivor of the massacre on the ranch and going on a bounty hunt with William and Logan not only seems out of character for her but also undermines the gravity of Bernard’s head games.

(Credit: HBO/Westworld)
(Credit: HBO/Westworld)

If there’s one thing the writers are confident about, or at least want the audience to feel confident about, is the connection between William and the Man in Black. We learned from Ford just how long ago Westworld began, and now Theresa solidifies the length of the park’s existence with her story of visiting as a child. The clear message is that all this has been here for decades, time in which the Man in Black could become intimately acquainted with the park and bored with all that’s on the surface. Lines like Logan’s, telling William to “go black hat” with him and give into the murderous lust Westworld facilitates is deliberate teasing.

The problem is this character reveal, if it’s proved to be the case, is too obvious to matter to me as a viewer. And as time goes on it feels like this is a bone being thrown to sate appetites for answers solved while the slow crawl to the maze continues. But when we get there will it matter at all?

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