A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The theory of trace decay notes that memory fades as time goes on and the information found within that memory as a result becomes more difficult to retrieve. When a new piece of information is garnered, that garnering creates a “trace” of sorts, a trace which itself disintegrates over time and can only be counteracted by active rehearsing of that information. That difficulty of garnering memories is toyed with in this table-setting but tense hour of Westworld, an episode that flips the titular meaning and toys with the idea of that decay arriving with the reveries themselves. Those new reveries are corroding away and those memories that were more difficult to retrieve, the ones whose traces were designed to disintegrate, are coming back and sometimes in the most shocking corners imaginable. The hour opens with Ford taking over Bernard’s usual role, asking him to come back online. It is the cruelty from Ford that is appalling on every level as he calmly asks a man who seemed to be his protégé to live even for a moment with the memories of him murdering the woman he had grown to love, a murder committed at his command. Ford watches calmly as Bernard is torn apart by the avalanche of emotions emitting from every fiber of his being. For the audience it’s an emotional treat to watch Jeffrey Wright let loose of the calm demeanor he had espoused for so long and reveal the torrent of fiery embers he had been hiding beneath for so long. Ford wants Bernard to be proud of his emotions, to be proud of the intricate emotional programming he had been able to achieve as a host, programming that was beyond the capacity of any human. Ford believes that the pain Bernard is feeling is a deeper, more complex form of pain than what the original hosts were able to do and that should give him pride. That sadness was in part drove Arnold towards empathy, the empathy Ford didn’t share and the empathy Ford believes led his former partner to ruin.
Maeve’s storyline continues to be the most thrilling, beginning with her noting the new Clementine with a curious expression that was no doubt harkening back to what had happened to her last week. Her daughter’s memories flood through her mind before Felix and Sylvester inform her of the key danger she faces in her escape plan. There’s an explosive charge embedded within her spine, a charge that is set to detonate the moment she steps outside of the environment build around her like a cage. That presents the moment where Sylvester is concerned that they have to ensure Maeve’s decommissioning. That goes about as well as one expects to and not just because Maeve wasn’t going to perish in episode eight after the incredible build-up she’s received over the past season. But aside from one of the few obvious tangents the show has constructed, Maeve has built a relationship with Felix that he couldn’t just end. He connected with her on a level of humanity Sylvester simply wasn’t capable of doing and when the time came for the betrayal Sylvester had requested, he couldn’t do it. There’s a part of him that also wants to see where this project goes, how he could help foster a consciousness after his bird had successfully taken flight. There’s a beautiful underlying current of a solidarity between two people of color rebelling in some sense against a construction of power designed to give a wealthy white man control over a dominion of his own (a great callback to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus). Maeve quickly establishes her threat by slicing Sylvester’s neck and watching him writhe and bleed. She has Felix cauterize the wound by burning it, but the implications of the abilities she has garnered are difficult to understate. She is aware that the likelihood of her escaping even with Felix and Sylvester to help her do so is slim. She needed an army and for that to happen, it was time for her to write her own story.
Out of all of the set pieces this week, watching Maeve walk about Sweetwater and turn storylines around by using her voice was the most thrilling. The thrill was swelled by Ramin Djawadi’s triumphant score, but finding out about how her consciousness first truly broke free of her programming in hindsight provided the sequence with an additional emotional heft that Westworld has at times struggled to deliver. The Gunslinger’s wife had killed herself because, as he notes, she saw the monster inside of him. Their marriage was by all accounts an unhappy one and to see after the fact if there was any ability for him to feel anything, he attacks Maeve and kills her daughter. That profound well of grief and fury overwhelmed Maeve and it broke the bounds she was placed within. That set the Gunslinger ostensibly on the path to finding the maze, a maze that revealed itself to him with Maeve and her dead daughter lying still in the center. He makes these admissions in an admittedly surprising situation, as Teddy remembered the traces of his memory related to the night when the Gunslinger shot him and assumedly raped Dolores. Dolores herself finally finds some verve in her storyline that had begun to feel stagnant, primarily on account that she has little to no chemistry with William to begin with. Her looping travels have her cross paths with Laurence’s daughter once more, asking her if she’s found what she was looking for. Dolores is understandably bemused, looking around at the town that seemingly served as some sort of orientation space for early hosts before whatever catastrophe befell it came forth. For a split second it seems that Dolores herself was responsible for the massacre that had torn the town apart and it all becomes overwhelming to her senses. “When are we?” she screams, as if a meta question geared towards the audience. She’s ostensibly home, the home Arnold had told her would give her some answers. But Dolores has in her own mind (for the moment at least) lost the ability to differentiate between reality and fiction. The delineation, in all fairness to Dolores, appears to be quite thin.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Ford erases Bernard’s memories, but there are kernels of memories floating around there nevertheless, like him grabbing Elsie by the throat
+Dolores sees her dead body in a river
+Charlotte seeing right through Ford’s admittedly thin story about how Theresa died
+“Show, don’t tell. Isn’t that what you writers prefer?”
+“I don’t understand what I feel.”
+“What’s the difference between my pain and yours?”
+“Have you ever made me hurt anyone else before?”
+“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
+“An old trick from an old friend.”
+“This pain, it’s all I have left of her.”
-Charlotte choosing Peter Abernathy is perhaps the most annoyingly convenient narrative stunt the show has pulled thus far
Episode Title: Trace Decay
Written by: Charles Yu & Lisa Joy
Directed by: Stephen Williams
Sources: Berman, M.G., “In Search of Decay in Verbal Short Term Memory”, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition; Oberauer, K., & Lewandowsky, S., “Forgetting in immediate serial recall: decay, temporal distinctiveness, or interference?”, Psychology Review
Image Courtesy: Coming Soon