A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Contrapasso refers to the the Latin contra and patio, meaning “suffer[ing] the opposite.” It is a direct reference to the punishment souls would suffer in Dante’s Inferno, punishments that would occur “by a process either resembling or contrasting with the sin itself.” If in the Purgatorio there was the similar occurrence through penitence, Inferno’s contrapasso was less lenient (if leniency is a process that can be applied in a circumstance this harsh to begin with). Contrapasso was not just meant as a just punishment, it was also meant as a symbolic, poetic fulfillment of a destiny each individual freely chose over the course of their existence. In the Canto XX of Inferno, for example, sorcerers, astrologers, and other such “false prophets” had their heads twisted backwards on their bodies. As such, they had to walk backwards for eternity because magic was twisted in nature and they had used that twisted magic to dare and try to peek forward into the forbidden future. The peeks into the future (or indeed, the past) on Westworld function very much like those forbidden glimpses garnered from twisted magic, even if their consequences have yet to be revealed as being those of penitence or otherwise (although based on the cyclical tone of the series, contrapasso of the Inferno seems to be more in the line of plausibility). In a more literal sense, there is the recurring theme in the episode of the characters in Westworld committing their sins and the series asking how and if they were going to be punished for them. Will they be punished in kind? In contrast? Will there be a chance of penitence or not? But when that question of punishment arrives, what are the terms of the judgment being dispensed, if judgment is even dispensed in the first place? Who or whom acts as the judge(s) deciding between Purgatorio or Inferno? It is quite easy to imagine Dr. Ford acting as that judge, but he might perhaps become the man judged by the judges, a position he may find himself within if Arnold’s remnants remain intact.
“Contrapasso” is the first episode to not open on Dolores, opting instead for an opening with Dr. Ford having a quaintly eerie conversation with his “friend” Bill. Dr. Ford (when he was a much younger chap) and his brother wanted a dog, as plenty of young kids are wont to do. After much consternation, their father took in an old greyhound and young Dr. Ford consequently garnered the philosophy that would guide him forth forevermore. Greyhounds, he noted quietly, spent their entire life chasing circles (another echoing of the circles of Hell described in Dante’s Inferno). One day Ford and his brother took their greyhound outside, not taking full heed of their father’s warning that the greyhound was a fast dog. They let him loose, only to watch the greyhound chase their little cat and tear it to pieces. The brothers were shocked but Ford noticed that the greyhound then simply sat on the ground, unfocused. He had lost all purpose in life. He had been punished, Ford surmised, by the process resembling the sin, his insatiable desire to run and hunt. Dr. Ford, it appears, believes it is significantly kinder to simply have the hosts on a consistent loop so they never lose sight of their purpose. It’s an analogy that works until one makes the simple point that there are other cats for the greyhound to chase, other aspects of the world that can create meaning when one aspect is gone. The paternalistic attitude of Dr. Ford is one composed of an imprisonment of his “children”, not protection (the attitude echoes the parents in Dogtooth and The Monk, albeit with a different tone). It’s an attitude imbued with an exceeding condescension fitting perfectly with a wealthy white man sitting atop a world he is ardently assured he created in its entirety. It’s an attitude that it likely to lead to significantly damaging consequences down the road, contrapasso or otherwise.
The trio of Logan, William, and Dolores make their way to the dangerous town of Pariah. Pariah’s name is remarkably lacking in subtlety, but the largesse on display makes the name fitting. The golden-painted orgies seem a little unnecessary to say the least, continuing the thematic note that Westworld seems to function mostly like a male fantasy that suddenly garnered a significant budget. Sex in Westworld has largely functioned as a testament to human depravity, which is fine as a critique of that traditional male fantasy run amok. Outside of that, however, it becomes monotonous because that’s all is seemingly said about a basic function of human biology. Dolores and William being uncomfortable in that environment while Logan is getting his rocks off left and right is on par for their characters, but sex doesn’t equate to chastity and Westworld would be wise not to indulge that orthodox nonsense. Their journey to Pariah, however, was far from lax in and of itself. They ran into a band of Union soldiers on a wagon, soldiers Dolores asked be spared as her father had fought on the side of the Union. Considering that Logan was a part of their band, that request goes about as well as expected. William takes on a bit of the black hat role in a surprising twist, shooting the soldiers to save his comrades. Logan fulfills his thematic part of the title by almost being choked to death, his hubris placing him quite close to death’s door. It’s unclear to see exactly how close to death he would have come before the host would have stepped back, but it was close enough to where Logan felt the actual fear of death. That small “please” was indicative of him feeling the punishment of the contrapasso, even if his general mode of behavior returned within about five minutes of screen time. The abandonment of Logan by William after Dolores notes his predicament felt significantly sweeter as a result of any lasting remorse at that incident. That spreading shock over his face may not lead to a fatal punishment, but the sense of contrapasso feels earned and quite satisfying.
“Contrapasso”, for an episode that was largely content with table setting, burst with significant moments throughout. Dolores and William finding themselves surrounded by Confederate men ends with Dolores shooting all four of the Confederates without a hunch, leaving William shocked that she was able to do that. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel,” she said defiantly and that story may be closer than anyone around her imagines. There’s a communication with someone whom appears to be Arnold, a communication that Dolores somehow manages to hide from even Dr. Ford’s prying questions. There’s no evidence that the voice is connected to Arnold, but considering that Dolores was the last person to talk to Arnold before he died, that seems considerably likely. Arnold’s living partner Dr. Ford himself has a tense confrontation with none other than the Man in Black, the conversation between the two of them seeped in a thinly veiled respect. Beneath that veneer of respect, however, is a considerable amount of conflict centered around the maze that has become the dominant motif of the series. That simmering tension was beautiful to watch unfold, even if the wanted ends of the conflict from both sides is, for the moment, as clear as anything can be on this series. What was less clear and frankly holds my attention more than Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris sharing the screen with each other is the final sequence with Maeve and a technician named Felix. Felix is one of the most empathetic characters Westworld has given the audience (which, admittedly, isn’t that tough of a task), but he’s more importantly an empathetic human who’s curious and intellectual beyond the capacity within which he is imprisoned. He has a curiosity that is cloaked in empathy and that is crucial as to why Maeve chooses to reveal herself to him. The bird flies at last (much to Felix’s delight) and it lands right over on Maeve’s hand. Maeve sits like a regal queen, the camera framing her as heading over Felix’s stunned frame. “Hello Felix. It’s time you and I had a little chat.” Somewhere, there was the sound of the entrance to Inferno opening with the quiet fortitude of a bird’s flying wings.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Logan thinks Arnold killed himself
+“Your humanity is cost effective.”
+“No one in the real world would know.”
+“Dreams are the mind telling stories to itself.”
+“Do you remember the man I used to be?”
+“He told me I was going to help him. To destroy this place.”
+“I wouldn’t say friends, Dolores. I wouldn’t say that at all.”
+“He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.”
+Laser-based satellite uplink
+“There’s glory for a brown man who knows his rank.” Ugh.
+“Perhaps you are unraveling.”
+“Have you finally made a worthy adversary?”
+Teddy protecting Dr. Ford from Gunslinger
-The dialogue between Felix and his compadre felt quite forced in places
-The scene with Elsie and the black host with the large penis is easily the most stereotypical scene from the series so far. From a show with such ambitions and overall wit, I expect a lot better.
Episode Title: Contrapasso
Story by : Lisa Joy & Dominic Mitchell
Teleplay by : Lisa Joy
Directed by: Jonny Campbell
Sources: Inferno, Mark Musa’s notes in The Divine Comedy. Volume I: Inferno, Dorothy L. Sayers’s notes in Hell, The Cambridge History of Italian Literature
Image Courtesy: Slash Film