Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Westworld Episode Eight, “Trace Decay” Review

Picking up where it left off, this Sunday’s episode of the carrot-and-stick sci-fi drama that is Westworld doubled down on some of the season’s biggest ideas. While the episode didn’t offer up anything new to the genre or to television in general, it did expertly execute on themes of identity, humanity and destiny. For the most part, the episode decided to show a lot more than it teased, which was a welcome change of pace from the cliffhangers that have gotten almost entirely monotonous.

If any show wears its influences on its sleeve, it’s Westworld. The opening scene with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who have been masterfully portrayed all season, had very strong Darth Vader meets with Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars vibes. The content of their conversation, the delivery from both actors and the power dynamic was something straight out of space, and I loved it. Going forward it will be interesting to see how Ford’s house of cards holds up, but for now it seems that he is an unstoppable, God-like force in the show that is captivating to watch.

Despite destiny, be it human or otherwise, being a commonplace notion in science fiction history, what was revealed about The Man in Black (Ed Harris), Maeve (Thandie Newton) and to a lesser extent Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), on the subject was all part of the positives of the episode. Although there is clearly much more to Harris’ character than what he told the frustrating Teddy, what was said was enough to satiate the desire to understand his motives. Though the reasoning may be a little flawed and confusing, the character’s take on identity and fate are interesting wrinkles in an otherwise two-dimensional character.

A chief complaint among viewers, myself included, thus far has been the disconnect between how the show treats hosts’ relationships with their understanding of the park and how we as an audience are supposed to relate or empathize. Maeve’s actions in the park and back in the “real world” are both understandable and interesting. Watching her manipulate other A.I. against the story loops in hopes of turning the park and its overlords on their head was a uniquely cool, creative subplot with rational humanesque motivations.

Arnold’s endgame and enterprise remain moments of the show that are as frustrating as they are confusing. The show continues to herd viewer’s mindshare towards a character we haven’t even seen is perplexing at best. The showrunners have put themselves between a rock and a hard place where they either have to tell his story soon, putting into question future plotlines of the show, or risk revealing something that has been built up so much that it can’t possibly be worth the wait.

Whatever this season is building towards, the moments in this week’s episode are crucial to it. The show has introduced so many ideas, story arcs and characters that it can’t possibly deliver on all its promises in a coherent and well-paced way. The more that is conveyed about characters like Ford and The Man in Black, the more I want the show to focus on them. Dolores and Maeve’s ultimate endpoint can’t possibly live up to what some of the human character’s stories can tell, simply because of the fact that they are hosts. The best thing that Maeve can do for the show is reveal things about human nature and the world beyond the park, which makes her little more than a pawn in the grand scheme of the show. With just two episodes left in the season, the show has set up some moments in the finale that won’t come as any surprise, but that will hopefully have some nuance that the show so often only scratches at.

Grade: B-

Westworld is on Sundays this Fall at 9 p.m. (ET) on HBO, HBO GO and HBO NOW.

growell@theeagleonline.com


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