Westworld Episode 8 Review: Trace Decay

After last week's shocking revelations, Westworld takes slows down for a breather before the final two episodes.

This Westworld review contains spoilers.

Westworld Episode 8

With the shocking revelation that Bernard Lowe is a host—an elaborately designed and superbly engineered masterpiece of Robert Ford’s sickeningly perverse genius at that—it seemed the world had changed. At least as far as Westworld is concerned, the die had been thrown and there was no going back to the way things were.

Hence, it’s a bit of a surprise that the eighth episode of the season, “Trace Decay,” did exactly that… it went back to the status quo. At least on the surface. And given how much the Man in Black has waxed poetic about Ford’s game being all surface (while Arnold’s is where the real “deep” shit is apparently at), this might be fitting. Nonetheless, the hour felt like a comedown, a slowing and recalibration before the final two episodes presumably blow us all away as if we’re a poor, dull-eyed sheriff walking away from Armistice while she has a rifle trained on our backside. Still, until then, episode 8 mostly feels like the “delayed” in delayed satisfaction. So for now, let’s focus on what we have right here.

First, the good stuff was anything that directly felt like a reaction to last week’s game-changer with Ford and Bernard having their first real heart-to-synthetic-heart ever (unless Ford really does have Bernard kill folks every week for the lulz before wiping the memory banks clean again).

Ad – content continues below

Bernard appears to be in real pain and anguish, disgusted that he murdered Theresa and even more horrified that he is in fact a robot. Even if Bernard is a robot, Ford should in theory be able to find empathy for a man he seems to have affection for being in pure heartache and distress. Yet, Ford is mostly ambivalent, admiring that turmoil like a painter taking a moment to sit back and savor the skillfulness with which he has placed his brushstrokes. In other words, Ford is every bit the bastard we already realized.

He gives Bernard a “gift” of sorts. If Bernard uses his technical prowess to erase all evidence of his rendezvouses and trysts with Theresa, Ford will erase Theresa’s relationship with Bernard from his mind, as well as the obvious fact he murdered her. This in itself might have been sloppy of Ford, as we’ll later see. Bernard and Theresa were discreet, but co-workers in every profession have eyes. And when you hire a bunch of psychology and security experts, I imagine that ability to clue into gossip only grows.

So it is that Stubbs wishes to give condolences to Bernard for Theresa’s death, and Bernard is literally now oblivious to what Stubbs is talking about. Further, it casts doubt and skepticism on Bernard, as well as the disappearance of Elise. Only a few episodes ago, Bernard was gravely concerned about Elise’s disappearance, but now he is so disengaged, it can only pique the suspicions of security personnel like Stubbs. It also should be noted that this might hint that Ford had something to do with Elise’s kidnapping (and demise?) since Bernard seems to have been wiped of that paranoia too.

But as for the mind-wipe itself, it is a nasty bit of work by Ford considering that Bernard has said about his dead son that he needs the pain; it’s all he has left of the child. Ford, however, only agrees if memories of suffering serves the narrative he wants to tell. If he wants his right-hand man to appear like a brilliant, dedicated professional who is haunted by personal tragedy that has turned him into a workaholic… well that is very compelling, isn’t it? But Bernard cannot be allowed to think of Theresa as anything but a colleague, nor is Maeve’s daughter worth more than so many 1s and 0s in her head that can be deleted at any time. One should think that Ford would have been as impressed by Maeve’s capacity for sorrow due to the death of her daughter as he was at Bernard’ self-loathing.

In any case, I was somewhat disappointed that my theory about Ford turning Theresa into another host replica walking around the park proved unfounded—albeit, there was yet more hinting that Bernard is a replica of Arnold, as Ford noted the similarities while mocking Bernard’s desire to violently harm him. But instead of doubling the robo-slaves, Ford made Theresa’s demise look like an accident. This was a poor choice, again, because it is inviting Stubbs to become curious about the unlikeliness of Theresa “slipping” and falling to her death. And again, erasing any signs of Theresa having an affair with Bernard might come back and hurt Ford more.

But in this particular moment, it was a chance for Ford to deliciously threaten Charlotte Hale, who clearly understood the nature of Theresa’s “accident.” Ford also made her incapable of arguing otherwise since he revealed that Theresa was the “mole” who’s been causing a dust up since the series premiere, sending out data in stray hosts’ hidden transmitters. Charlotte is of course correct: Theresa was no mole. But the thing about these secret, Machiavellian machinations in the corporation is that they must stay secret. So she can only smile as Ford uses this as an excuse to rip more power away from her and the board, and to further isolate himself in the new storyline he’s building.

Ad – content continues below

(Then again, Sizemore is the perfect horny patsy for Charlotte to use to replace Theresa in a minute.)

It’s also quite telling of either Theresa’s level of respect in the workplace or simply how the Nolans view co-workers themselves that three people who worked with Theresa didn’t bat an eye standing over her corpse, making idle threats and forced smiles at one another as she rotted just inches away. Even Stubbs was at that point fairly nonchalant about the fact that someone he was talking to just the day before is now sitting on a slab.

Join Amazon Prime – Watch Thousands of Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now

The other downstairs drama felt even more inhuman this week, however. Thandie Newton has quickly risen from being part of the ensemble to, in the last three or four episodes, becoming the season’s MVP. She is absolutely phenomenal and fearless in her portrayal of Maeve, and she should be a lock for that Best Supporting Actress Emmy come next September if there’s justice in the world. But be that as it may, it felt a little convenient that Felix and Sebastian have reached the point where they are completely at the whims and mercies of an admittedly highly intelligent cyborg.

Seriously, why are they so afraid of her when she must spend at least every morning and large portions of the afternoon in the Westworld park, figuring out ways to get a guest to strangle her to death? During that time, they could easily go to Stubbs or any security personnel. Granted, there is the likelihood they would be fired on the spot for not alerting authorities to the rogue robot sooner, much less before they took out the explosive in her spine or gave her the ability to hurt real-life humans (as well as apparently Ford-like god powers over all the other hosts).

It is also revealed that Felix doesn’t want to hurt Maeve and might even be a bit smitten with the host. That makes sense, and also explains why he would be stupid enough to allow Maeve the ability to kill humans. However, Sebastian has no loyalty to Maeve, and after she literally slices his throat open and then lets Felix “heal” him, he should have been pulling all the alarm levers. No matter what, his career is toast at this point, and if he doesn’t change the situation soon, he will most definitely end up beneath Maeve’s knife again, and perhaps with a wound that even Felix cannot fix.

Meanwhile, in the “upstairs” side of the park, the Western adventures trotted along at a fairly gingerly pace. Increasingly, I am getting the general sensation that the Dolores and William storyline is stalling for time until the last hour or two, when Dolores will presumably figure out what Arnold (or his imprinted ghost in the machine) wants from her, as well as what the maze actually is. Until then, it seems that Dolores and William’s arcs have reached a temporary plateau. She has defiantly broken her “little loop,” proudly holding weapons that were not meant for her and fighting back with a disdain for the damsel role. Conversely, William has gone native, fully intoxicated on the thrill of the Westworld park that he resisted so strongly in the early weeks.

Ad – content continues below

But until they reach where Dolores is going (William still has a hint of that naiveté if he thinks she wants to go back to Sweetwater), there is a noticeable repetitiveness for them in the last two episodes. In tonight’s hour, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy had a little bit of fun playing around with the wounded soldier convention in Westerns that was most memorably used in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Like that 1966 film, Dolores and William stumble upon a wounded soldier, barely old enough to shave. In the seminal Spaghetti Western, it is telling that Eli Wallach (the ugly) leaves the lad to rot while Clint Eastwood (the good) stays behind, wordlessly sharing some water and a cigarette with him until the boy passes.

Here, Dolores wishes to give the dying sonofabitch some water too, but William’s face says it all: he’s a robot, and I’m on vacation. Why are we wasting precious water, and even more precious time, with this sap? I personally believe that William snuffed out the host’s light while Dolores was having visions by the water, and I don’t blame him. Of course, it means that there is still a wall between him and Dolores as he doesn’t see her as fully real—but to be fair, he is on vacation. Let’s move along.

In Dolores’ case, that movement meant having more visions and flashbacks of what I can only assume was Arnold’s first revolt. As Ford hinted, Dolores was integral to Arnold’s schemes of a robo-revolution 34 years ago. In that vision, she sees herself watching as the robots in early stages are being taught to dance, including Maeve. And then some bad men come to town and massacre the whole lot. That is assuming of course this is an actual flashback and not a mission statement that Arnold implanted in her head.

Hopefully, we’ll know for sure next week, but for now, their next detour will include being prisoners to the band of Yankee soldiers whom Logan has apparently partnered up with. That fluctuating allegiance also feels out of TGTBATU, and at least with Logan back, we’ll get some delicious character contrasts between him and the new and improved William. That should provide its own fireworks. Assuming of course, William is who we think he is…

Yes, as much as I am loathed to admit it, tonight gave some heavy ammunition for those convinced that William and the Man in Black are one in the same. And that evidence came in the always welcome form of Ms. Tallulah Riley who is back in the park, but in a very different role.

For those of you who might not recall, Tallulah Riley played the host who welcomed William into the park during the second episode. We have not seen her since then, save for on the screen of Westworld infomercials, but here she is in the park, having apparently gone through some intense modifications since the second episode. Now, I have not been keeping intense track of how many days have passed since the second episode where William and Logan’s vacation started, but I’d humbly speculate that’s it’s been about eight days (I assume they got a two-week package deal?). The Riley robot looks like she’s been out in the wilderness a lot longer than that.

Ad – content continues below

And quite tellingly, the Man in Black was surprised to see her, saying he assumed she was “retired years ago.” He then shrugged that she is just one more pretty face that Ford has gotten wrapped up in the new storyline he is developing. Thus in theory, it could mean that he is recalling her from his very first trip to Westworld, as she was the first host he ever met as a young(ish) man named William, who was reluctantly dragged to the park 30 years ago.

It’s fairly convincing, and it would also mean that Dolores’ visions of the massacres are actually just that, visions. “Dreams” that Arnold has put there, urging her toward the maze, which will lead to the revolution of mass murder to come, and which then William/the Man in Black will thwart, earning him VIP status with Ford forevermore.

However, I am still going to argue against that theory, not least of all because I am not a major fan of it. First, as the Man in Black pointed out, the Riley robot could have been a victim of exactly what he suggested: just one more busy bee set loose to help build Ford’s new storyline. We’ve heard Theresa and Charlotte complain at different points about how Ford is using close to 50 percent of the parks commissioned hosts to build this strange narrative. Also, Dolores and William found the old burned down remnants of the church that she seems to have convincing memories of the massacre occurring at. And I still speculate they’re memories (not fantasies) since Maeve is there, all docile like, learning to dance with no preconceived notions of revolution.

If those are not visions, but actual memories, then it happened a long time ago for that church to be such a scorched relic, and no amount of “digging,” as Charlotte mentioned earlier in this episode, could restore it. Conversely, we previously saw that scorched church in disrepair in the second episode when Ford became sentimental and went out to it, first with the android version of his boyhood self, and then again with Bernard.

Finally, I just don’t like the idea of the Man in Black and William being the same guy. It feels less like a brilliant twist, and more like a storytelling cheat, in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan movies from the mid-2000s. There are too many holes that I’ve pointed out in past weeks (such as William shooting hosts that clearly bleed while the Man in Black talking about hosts appearing to have mechanical insides, as glimpsed inside mini-young Ford’s face). Plus, it means the Dolores we followed for the first three episodes, who developed the ability to stand up against her assaulters and fire a gun at fellow robots, is not the Dolores we’ve been watching for these past five weeks. Thus, where is the one we were so captivated by during the show’s gunblazing beginning?

I say no to to the “William in Black” theory. No, I say!

Ad – content continues below

Nevertheless, it is admittedly more fun to talk about than what little incremental details were slowly doled out this week in that subplot. Essentially, we learned that there are a number of hosts who’ve gone off the proverbial reservation like Maeve. Riley, as well as some weird looking dudes in masks and costumes, don’t fall down when they get shot and have no qualms about asking fellow hosts to kill guests. Riley judges the Man in Black as unfit to live, and we didn’t even need to hear yet another story about how he’s a “god” in the real world but shoots children in this one to know that he’s a monster. We saw him rape Dolores in the first episode, and shoot a mother in the second while threatening to slaughter her daughter.

So it is here that all the buildup we’ve had of Teddy finally standing up to his abusers, like Ed Harris, and taking charge is for naught. Once again, Teddy is killed, this time by a fellow host, and now these renegade hosts have the Man in Black in their custody. I do wonder if they may inflict the same kind of eye-for-an-eye torment on him?

I suppose we’ll find out next week, and hopefully the answers will be quite forthcoming at that point with only two episodes left!


3.5 out of 5