This Westworld review contains spoilers.
Westworld Episode 5
Tonight’s trip into Ford and Arnold’s gunslinging paradise (or perhaps Hell, as the title “Contrapasso” implies) was the most astonishing episode of Westworld to date. Intricately plotted and densely challenging, we had shootouts, betrayals, moments of robotic transcendence whereupon a host broke her “modest little loop,” and even confirmation of true artificial sentiency in Maeve. However, the layers have become so thick in the show’s multiplying mysteries that the aspect we likely all feel compelled to talk about first is “what the Hell is going on?!”
So now it’s time to break down the fan theories, and to posit my own using this evening’s numerous revelations.
Increasingly, fans continue to speculate that the show is divided into several timelines. Most notably, there is the idea that William and Ed Harris’ Man in Black are the same character from different eras: one his first white hatted sojourn into the theme park where he fell in love with Dolores just as the resort entered the precipice of Hell, and the other his umpteenth return as a cynical old man 30 years later.
This elaborate concept, as I have stated in past weeks, seems borne from fans eager to find the time-bending “twists” and machinations utilized by Jonathan Nolan in films like The Prestige and Interstellar. However, if it was not already an obvious flight of fancy, this week put some final nails in that theory’s coffin. While the Man in Black and William have never met, their stories are obviously occurring concurrently since Dolores only stumbled upon William and Logan’s campfire after she remembered being assaulted in the barn by the Man in Black. Additionally, she was only alone that night, because Teddy went on a doomed mission to capture Wyatt (a part of Ford’s “new” storyline that we’ll circle back to in this review). It is in that predicament he also was discovered by the Man in Black last week, and now rides with him—even conversing with a very old Robert Ford in a small tavern.
Finally, this week revealed that the robots the Man in Black first saw all those decades ago did not look like the robots of the current Westworld. The Gunslinger even strangely laments with a sense of nostalgia to Teddy about his preference for a more animatronic interior to the hosts, as opposed to the “flesh and blood” realism they now contain. Ergo, the theory about William/Ed Harris should be about as dead as the enigmatic Arnold. However, there is time-manipulation that, after “Contrapasso,” I am almost positive is occurring.
For the other popular fan theory holds a lot more weight with me—the one that suggests Bernard is a robot. Yet, even that is likely only half-right, because, as I am now suggesting, Bernard is a robot duplicate of Arnold!
Previously, Robert Ford told Bernard that they had Arnold’s records scrubbed from the park’s history. But this week, that information was significantly elaborated upon. We learn from Logan that the Westworld park is apparently “hemorrhaging money,” and that his and William’s company is planning what sounds akin to a hostile takeover. While that is significant for William and Logan (who we’ll get back to in a more traditional context, momentarily), Logan also spills that there is no record of who Ford’s partner was. Despite being a member of a presumably wealthy corporation, their detectives could find not even a picture or name of this mysterious benefactor. And as we later learn, the only reason that the Man in Black might know of Arnold is that he was there since the beginning, helping Ford prevent Arnold from destroying the park before it even opened.
Finally, in one of the two tremendous tête–à–tête scenes that Anthony Hopkins has with other gifted thespians, Ford passive aggressively interrogated Dolores, who has gone far off her beaten path with William and Logan. Ford used this moment to question whether she has had any conversations with Arnold, but her logs show that she hasn’t spoken to Arnold in 34 years. Yet, by Dolores’ own admission, she is lying and “didn’t tell him anything.” She confesses this to a strange voice in her head that we’ve heard whispers from since the second episode of the series.
This voice is obviously Arnold, who I suspect is also Bernard. Further, the scenes we’ve had of Dolores talking with Bernard in private are not scenes from the present, but memories of conversations three decades ago. This explains why Bernard is able to speak with Dolores on nights where she is sleeping right next to Logan and William—because she is dreaming of memories of their past rendezvouses—it is also why she is clothed. Ford demands all technicians understand that these hosts have no feelings or modesty, and that they stay unclothed. And perhaps that strictness is because his partner 30 years ago treated Dolores like she was real, like she was human, and talked to her of his dead son while allowing her the decency of her wardrobe.
Also 30 years ago, perhaps she did go through these motions after remembering her father’s death, and Arnold used those memories to get her to… well, even Ford isn’t quite sure of what Arnold planned for her. Maybe that’s why he has built an assistant and protégé who is like Arnold in every way, including grieving the loss of a dead son (Ford did mention that Arnold suffered personal tragedies in the third episode)? This is in character since Ford built a robot version of himself as a young boy that seems to aimlessly wander the park.
So that’s my big theory, and I’m sticking to it.
Yet, there was so much else going in the episode that it would be a crime to simply focus on speculation. For instance, the Dolores and William subplots jumped deeper down the rabbit hole while elevating the tension to remarkable degrees. In Dolores’ first scene, she is hearing again what I’m certain is Arnold’s voice.
But she must ignore it for the time being, because she is standing in a graveyard with William and Logan on the edge of a town called Pariah. I’m sure this visual is open to classical analysis about how Westworld is a giant graveyard for both the hosts that have all suffered a thousand deaths, as well as the guests who are likely also about to suffer one true demise by the end of the season. Still, I also think it is just a fun Western visual, evocative of the grand finale to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
As they stare down upon Pariah, the group I shall call the Logan Company also hit the same beats as Sir Alec Guinness looking at the matte-painting that was Mos Eisley in Star Wars. Apparently, we’re on the real outskirts of the park now; Logan says that while Sweetwater feels like it was designed by “committee,” he loves the ugliness of these distant places, suggesting they feel “rawer.” William later laments that he thinks whoever designed this park, and most especially Pariah, had a dim view on humanity.
This probably isn’t entirely wrong, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that Sweetwater and the more modern updates are from Ford’s sensibility, while the outer delights of the park come from Arnold’s own misery that followed the death of his child. (Perhaps this is why Ford is building his own attraction with Arnold’s fabled “Wyatt” villain? A chance to finally leave his own personal artistic mark on Arnold’s canvass?)
It is in this context where we finally see Dolores captured by other Day of the Dead dressed hosts and taken to Ford (further exemplifying that her chats with “Bernard” were not happening in the present since she was never whisked away until this point). It’s a wonderful powerhouse scene between Hopkins and Wood, and he seems all too well aware that she might still be in communication with Arnold’s distant and buried code. It’s almost as if he knows that the Dolores unit should be “retired” to the basement, but she’s “the only one left” besides himself who remembers Arnold. And in that way, it makes Ford as sentimental about her as Bern-old is in his own private audiences with her.
However, this sequence is filled with hidden, insidious undertones from which I believe “Contrapasso” earns its title. For those who might not know, contrapasso is an Italian word derived from Dante Alighieri’s fabled Inferno. Now a bit ironic because of the Tom Hanks movie in theaters this weekend, Westworld is actually much more acutely keying into Dante’s ideas. In the case of contrapasso, this was a term utilized by Dante to refer to the relationship between one’s sin and the corresponding punishment in Hell. In essence, it is a law of the nature of Hell that each sinner’s eternal torment be a counter-strike corresponding equally to his sin. Ergo, the punishment must be equal to the immoral crime (by Medieval standards, at least).
So it is in Ford’s world wherein the hosts suffer. Whereas Bernard saw them as superior to cruel humans, Ford is simply cruel to them, and Dolores, obviously being the sentimental favorite of every person who’s ever met her, is consigned to the hell of her “modest little loop.”
She is a rancher’s daughter living in the relative safety of being near Sweetwater, and thus is inappropriately placed in the circle around Pariah’s suffering, which appears to be ever closer to the ninth level where Satan resides. And Ford—the man who views her as nothing more than the gunslinger’s girl that guests “can have their way with”—is quite literally her Devil overseeing the torment. Hence, why he politely dismisses the query of “are we old friends?” In typical Hopkins classy-menace, Ford responds with a blood-curdling smile, “No, I wouldn’t say friends. I wouldn’t say that at all.”
Yet, in the here and now, Dolores is allowed to continue on her adventures with William and Logan. This means she also meets Lawrence, who is going by a ridiculous gangster name. I suppose the fact that he seemed to die the same day when the Man in Black cut his throat, and is now here to converse with the Logan Company, could feed speculation about there being two separate timelines. But I’ll just point out that there was a night between Clifton Collins Jr.’s two scenes, and now we’re simply seeing why Ed Harris’ happy-villain always liked Lawrence during past visits, and why so many lawmen want to hang him.
This also helps broaden our understanding of the park even more since it introduces William and Logan to the war subplots in the furthest outskirts. Apparently, they’re the most intense storylines available at Westworld, and Logan has always dreamed about them. They even humorously feature Jesse James-styled Confederates who never surrendered and go by the name “Confederados.” It is for their battle opportunities that Logan convinces William and Dolores to respectively betray his white hat and her Union allegiances (her daddy fought in the Civil War on the side of the abolitionists, of course).
Still, rob the Union they do in a pretty thrilling scene. The most important aspect, though, is that Dolores is no longer being treated as a host by the other robots. Rather, they are interacting with her like she’s a true guest, even suggesting that to join this fight, she needs to dress like a gunslinging cowgirl. Also quite tellingly, she is handed a gray hat. Like Ford’s curiosity about Arnold’s original designs for Dolores, we’re still not clear yet whether she’ll be a heroine or villainess.
But William does not take being in a shootout nearly as well, because after he is punched by a Union soldier, he returns in kind to shoot the soldier, as well as the one attempting to strangle Logan, and finally an unarmed prisoner with his hands up. The fact that he shot an unarmed man (robot, though he may be) and was subsequently judged as impure in Dolores’ eyes is cause for celebration to Logan. But to William, it indicates he is not quite the good man he imagined himself to be. And it terrifies him.
This comes to a head in a night of debauchery at Pariah that doesn’t feel apiece with any Western I’ve ever seen. The mass orgies in the red lit stone halls are more reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s visions of “Romanworld” from the original Westworld movie, or perhaps the fate of Romans themselves in Dante’s judging prose. Either way, it is not a place that William or Dolores (gray hat or not) would ever be comfortable in. Logan, of course, loves it and finally challenges his future brother-in-law for being a stick in the mud.
According to Logan, their frenemy relationship exists merely because Logan considers William to be a milquetoast wimp he can push over at any time. He even takes pleasure in the fact that William thanked him for the opportunity to lick his boots. This could be why Logan gets his own contrapasso when the Confederados capture him and beat him senseless.
Likely destined to be a prisoner for a day of his vacation, he is abandoned by William and Dolores, who are truly entering the “war subplots” by shooting and talking their way into Lawrence’s real motives as a Union-loving, pro-Mexican revolutionary. Even Logan has to at least smile at William exerting himself by turning a blind eye to his beating.
Yet for Dolores, participating in William’s escape is an active choice to disobey her programming by killing four Confederados and to resist her role as a “damsel.” It is her canny understanding to point a gun at explosive corpses that gets Lawrence to accept he’s defeated, and it is also what allows her to get one step closer to the maze, which presumably will hasten the fall of the park since it was “the last chapter” of Arnold’s secret stories.
Similarly, we had another tour de force scene where Ford and the Man in Black came face-to-face. Teddy is there too, but while James Marsden has proven himself to be a great contribution to the series as the classic Saturday matinee idol hero, this scene is really all about Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris playing off one another. It’s a television joy to behold.
Previously, we always suspected the Man in Black was a high-roller and frequent customer who got special treatment. Now, it appears it could have to do with more than his money since Harris reveals he helped Ford cover up Arnold’s schemes to bring down the park. Unfortunately for Ford, Harris is today working to possibly finish Arnold’s vision since he’s working his way to the hidden maze. And despite his protests, this problem why Ford is sharing a drink.
In a failed attempt to dissuade his most loyal guest, Ford wishes to stop this gun-toting greyhound from capturing its cat and destroying itself in the process. But the Man in Black, like Ford’s ill-fated dog, will keep chasing the object of its desire his whole life, which in this case is a hidden meaning to Westworld (a moral that Ford didn’t create, despite corporate PR suggesting otherwise). Still, much like discovering a meaning to life, the Man in Black’s quest could very well be setting him up for massive (and fatal) disappointment.
But there was still life aplenty going on outside of the “upstairs” part of the park. Indeed, we spent a lot more time with the surgeons/butchers that clean up the robots. This mostly seemed to set-up two scenes: the first was Elsie discovering there is in fact a corporate sabotaging mole inside Westworld. For the “stray” host that almost killed her before he committed suicide was smuggling data out of the park via a laser-based satellite uplink wired into his arm.
Some might speculate that this means that the same mole is also manipulating Dolores, her father, and Maeve to be self-aware, but I suspect this to be a red herring. Rather, this potential Dennis Nedry hidden within Westworld is a corporate saboteur simply trying to make a buck from the competitors (my money is on Lee Sizemore by virtue of his absence these past three episodes). It explains the stray and other malfunctions, but Dolores and Maeve are achieving self-awareness, which has nothing to do with stealing technology.
And on the subject of Maeve, the mostly absent android had the stunning closer of the night. For several scenes in “Contrapasso,” Maeve repeatedly ended up on the butchers’ table, each time with the implicit indication that she was intentionally committing suicide by taking out and putting in bullets, whose wounds she remembered. Finally, she revealed herself to one doctor who was trying to fix a host bird in a meek bid to get a promotion out of the basement. As he turns around and sees that not only is Maeve awake, but that she knows his name is Felix and is all too aware of their relationship, we have all we need to realize that he’ll instantly be compromised into becoming a pawn in Maeve’s bid for a likely robo-revolution.
Indeed, this fledgling Frankenstein wannabe, who was happy to only now be getting a proverbial frog leg to move with electricity, swiveled around to find the equivalent of Shelley’s Milton-quoting Monster ready to be his own personal Lucifer. It is a shocking reveal, which promises that Maeve has mostly figured out that she is, as the other butcher put it, intended to be a “sex puppet.” But the strings are cut, and she is now going to use them to manipulate other puppets to also look up.
It’s a chilling and exhilarating moment, worthy as a capper on Westworld’s finest hour yet. Maeve and revenge are going to be inevitable, but still we wonder where the maze, Wyatt, and even Bernard fit into that larger context. And to be this confused, yet excited, only showcases the series’ storytelling dexterity all the more—leaving us to wonder just exactly which way things are going to bend when the oil hits the self-modulating air conditioner.