The further away from Sweetwater the Westworld guests get, the crazier things become. “Contrapasso” was the first episode to truly demonstrate what this looks like, while also mimicking the experience for the viewer: the further away from this show’s pilot we get, the more complicated and subversive things become.
Though Westworld does a good job moving along its many storylines and characters in every episode, each episode tends to have one narrative focus. “Contrapasso” belongs to Dolores, with some strong supporting moments from William and Logan, who reveal a bit more about their respective backstories as their simmering tension comes to a head in Pariah.
Though Dolores has been glitching since the very first episode of Westworld, “Contrapasso” sees her existential crisis move forward by leaps and bounds. She sees herself in a parade in Pariah, then again as a tarot card reader before hallucinating finding a string (or is it a laser-based satellite uplink?) buried in her arm. “Perhaps you’re unraveling,” she tells herself, a visual representation of the voice in her head. But is it the voice that tells Dolores to shoot those men who have William at gunpoint or does she make that choice herself? Is it Arnold who is leading her to the maze? And why is William so important to her mission? Is that Arnold’s direction or is William someone she has chosen for herself? The answers to these questions — fate or free will — make all the difference.
It’s unclear to what degree Dolores has control over her actions, but it is probably safe to say that she is being partially led. By whom? Though Arnold is the top choice, we know she has debriefs with both Bernard and, for the first time, Ford. The latter seems less charmed by Dolores’ behavior. (“Are we old friends?” “No, I wouldn’t say ‘friends,’ Dolores. I wouldn’t say that at all.”) He questions her to find out if she remembers Arnold, “the man who made you,” and if he has been speaking to her. Dolores claims that she hasn’t spoken to him for 34 years, since the day he died, but the things she says aloud to herself after Ford has left suggest otherwise. (“He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.”) #BicameralMind
The bigger revelation? Arnold told Dolores all those years ago that she was going to help him “to destroy this place.” While Ford seems convinced that Arnold failed to make this happen, I am less sure. If the recent goings-on in the park are anything to go by, it seems that Arnold placed his bets on the long game. Dolores ends the episode by breaking even further out of her narrative loop, jumping a train for the front, and continuing on her search for the maze. William and Logan may think this is their story, but they are so very wrong. This story has always belonged to Dolores.
However, that doesn’t mean William and Logan don’t get lots to do here. After a dramatic mission that sees William, Logan, and Dolores dressing up as bandits and ends with William shooting Union soldiers to save his partners-in-crime, Logan finally pushes William to the edge. He tells him what he thinks of them: that he is a non-threat, someone he doesn’t have to worry about, someone who doesn’t have it in him to compete. William, who we learn has pulled himself up to the position of Executive Vice President at their company that is considering buying Westworld out, shows some teeth. He pushes Logan into a wall and, later, when the Confederados turn on William, leaves his future brother-in-law to their not-so-tender mercies. (“Help me.” “No.”)
William and Logan weren’t the only characters who got a bit more much-needed backstory in “Contrapasso.” After the previous tease that the Man in Black is the owner of some kind of (at least partially) benevolent company that saved someone’s sister in the “real” world, we learn that Ford is very much aware of him. In fact, the Westworld creator pays him a visit. The Man in Black seems mildly disgusted by Ford, while Ford appears to consider interacting with the Man in Black as a necessary evil. (Perhaps the Man in Black’s company is a main investor in Westworld? Perhaps the Man in Black and William and Logan even work for the same company?)
The Man in Black obviously respects Westworld. He has been coming back for 30 years (might he have known Arnold?) and seeks the deeper meaning of the park, but he doesn’t attribute the park’s magnificence and deeper purpose to Ford, but to Arnold. “If you want the moral of the story, you could just ask,” Ford tells him. The Man in Black doesn’t believe that Ford can tell him the moral of the story. This isn’t Ford’s story, either, even if he has assigned himself the role of Westworld deity. The Man in Black sees himself as a quasi-creator, too, perhaps on par with Ford. He offers his critiques (“I always thought this place was missing a real villain”), implying that he has made the park a little bit better by becoming that kind of villain. Still, though, he would rather be a player and hopes that Wyatt will be the villain he doesn’t seem super interested in continuing to be. That’s not why he came to Westworld. At least not this time.
Ultimately, it is Teddy (who has replaced Lawrence as the Man in Black’s faithful host companion) who demonstrates that, though Ford might not be the Man in Black’s god, he is a god to most of the hosts in the park… at least for now. When the Man in Black raises a knife to Ford, Teddy grabs it with his own hand, seemingly proving that all of the hosts are programmed to protect Ford at all costs. Showing just how much power Ford has over these narratives and their characters, he delivers a line to Teddy that acts as a voice command, giving renewed vigor to the android who had, not so long ago, been weakly “living” off of Lawrence’s blood transfusion.
Outside of the park, a big piece of the puzzle fell into place with Elsie’s discovery of a laser-based satellite uplink hidden in the arm of the head-bashing host from Sector 14. According to her, someone has been using the hosts to draw a target and smuggle data out of the park. Might it be someone we already know? Perhaps a Logan or a William who we now know have ties to Westworld outside of their time as guests to the theme park. Are the satellite uplinks directly related to the android’s glitches? Are they part of the saboteur’s larger mission? If so, to what end?
The final shocker of the night came in Maeve’s ever-engaging ascent to consciousness. Last time we checked in with the host, she had just dug a bullet fragment out of her own abdomen. She’s made some progress since then, waking up on a technician’s slab to matter-of-factly tell him: “Hello, Felix. It’s time you and I had a chat.”
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
— “Whoever designed this place, you get the feeling they didn’t think very much of people.” — William
— It was nice to see Lawrence get new “life” as Alonzo. It would have been a shame to see him fade into the background of the theme park after the Man in Black’s decision to trade him in for Teddy, slitting his throat in front of poor Robot!Robert.
— “As another old friend of mine likes to say: There’s a path for everyone.” — The Man in Black. Is he talking about Ford here? The two don’t seem to be friends. Perhaps he is talking about Arnold.
— Seeing the Man in Black and Ford come together was jarring and got me speculating about who else might know each other in the park…
— Man in Black likes Westworld because people are mean to him, don’t treat him differently.
— Who else might know each other in this park?
— “Too small.” “What does that mean?” Did anyone else have Snowpiercer flashbacks when Ed Harris delivered this creepy line?
— The plight of the two technicians doing their job, behind-the-scenes, all business-like as they take actions that affect the hosts’ “lives” is very Joss Whedon. The more this show goes on, the more I am reminded of the fantastic Dollhouse. Theresa is Adelle, William is Boyd, Dolores is Echo, etc.
— “Your humanity’s cost-effective. So’s your suffering.” — The Man in Black
— Question to ponder: Have we already met Wyatt?
— “If you did take on that bigger role for yourself, would you have been the hero or the villain?” — Ford, to Dolores
— “You are a butcher and that’s all you’ll ever be.”
— “Guys, look like Slim didn’t make it.” — Logan
— “Your work for the revolution is not quite done yet.” — Lawrence, to his dead soldier friend. He is seemingly talking about the in-theme park war, but is he? Seems pertinent to the robot revolution slowly simmering within the theme park’s boundaries.
— “Together, I know we can find a way out … It’s telling me I need you.” Why does Dolores need William? Perhaps because of his mysterious, executive level job outside, but not totally unrelated to the theme park?
— If Dolores blew up that nitro, would it hurt William? Because it seems like it would hurt William. I guess I still have a lot of questions about the mechanics of how the guests aren’t hurt within the park, especially the further away from Sweetwater they get.
— “Everything good that’s ever happened in your life and everything rotten, this man is to blame,” — The Man in Black, about Ford
— Seriously, though, can we talk about Dolores new outfit? How excited must Evan Rachel Wood have been to get to wear pants? The costume change isn’t just a superficial thing, of course. It represents a turning point for this character and this show. Dolores is finally taking her fate into her own hands. Even if she’s getting some direction from the voice in her head, she is finally choosing what story she’s a part of. It’s a mystery-adventure, and she’s the badass heroine with nothing to lose at its center.