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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Dissonance Theory’ Knows This is No Longer A Game

Season 1, Episode 4 finds things getting even more existential for the hosts at the center of the show's mysteries. 

Westworld 104 - Thandie Newton Angela Angela Sarafyan as Clementine and Thandie Newton as Maeve.

John P. Johnson/HBO

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘The Stray’ Doesn’t Skimp on the Bloody Psychology

Diagnostic Report

Westworld” is in large part a show about people in search of answers, and “Dissonance Theory” found the show’s characters taking a multitude of intriguing approaches to finding them. It’s a quest-driven installment, but one that draws out some significant new information, from The Man in Black searching for a lost narrative “with real stakes, real violence” to Maeve trying to identify the masked figures who haunt her memories.

Dolores learns about the maze that might lead to freedom from both Bernard and Lawrence’s unnamed daughter (who previously pointed The Man in Black towards its entrance), but she’s also caught up with guests William and Logan, who are on their own quest through the more wild extremes of the park. And we as an audience get more details about the dearly departed Arnold.

All these narratives move along this week, along with the ever-increasing concerns of “the board” over Ford’s new storyline. But it’s Maeve’s personal crisis which serves as the episode’s dramatic climax. Begging Hector first for information about the “shades,” then for help digging a bullet out of her belly, she’s clearly on the verge of having an existential breakdown, but she gets the answers she needs: “I’m not crazy after all — and none of this matters.”

White Hat or Black Hat?

We’ve suspected since their introduction that guests William and Logan were a much bigger part of the story than your typical Westworld clientele, and this week brought some confirmation of that. The fact that William is marrying Logan’s sister was already known, but it appears that by doing so, William is marrying into the family business as well — one that has invested already in the park. “With our family, William, everything is business,” Logan says. It feels a bit like a warning.

Westworld Chris Browning

Chris Browning as Holden, Ben Barnes as Logan an Jimmi Simpson as William.

John P. Johnson/HBO

“Dissonance Theory” seemingly depicts Logan as a pure sociopath (or in William’s words, “an evil prick”) but there’s a blunt simplicity to his character that is relatively easy to identify with — if you’ve ever gone on an Xbox killing spree. Logan takes Westworld at face value, as the brochure promises, simply playing the game like it’s a game. Will that come to bite him on the ass? Perhaps. But his primary sin seems more like ignorance than willful malice.

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

We don’t get too much information about the outside world and its relationship with Westworld this week (though we do learn that when not scalping robots, The Man in Black runs a life-saving foundation). There is, however, confirmation that the park is over 30 years old, thanks to Theresa’s memories of visiting as a child (actress Sidse Babett Knudsen is 47).

READ MORE: ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Westworld’ Crossover: George R. R. Martin Pitched Idea To Showrunners

Player Piano

Maeve and Clementine’s version of shop talk, early in the episode, is underscored by an incredibly familiar tune that as of publication we have yet to identify — we’ll update this section accordingly as soon as we have an answer. Given what previous song choices have revealed about the action on screen, it’s worth paying attention to what the Mariposa Saloon chooses to play. UPDATE: Thank you, commenters and others, for identifying it as “A Forest” by The Cure.

Paired Off

While poor Teddy (words that appear a lot in my “Westworld” notes, for the record) dangles half-dead from a tree, Dolores has made quite the impact on William — “you finally have something to give a shit about,” Logan observes.

For Dolores, romance isn’t at all on the table this week, but a fascinating moment comes in her opening conversation with Bernard, when she describes her dawning sense of self as like “a building with rooms I’ve never explored.” It’s pretty language, and when Bernard asks where she got it from, Dolores tells him that she adapted it from “a scripted dialogue about love.” The idea that Dolores is somehow connecting the idea of falling in love with her own growing self-awareness and potential freedom is potentially huge, and we’ll have to see how that plays with the actual romances she’s being drawn into.

Westworld Evan Rachel Wood Jimmi

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores and Jimmi Simpson as William.

John P. Johnson/HBO

These Violent Delights

This week, we get a repeat of the Mariposa heist, with a twist courtesy of Maeve’s desire for answers regarding the white-suited figures from her memory, as well as some casual bloodletting by Armistice (who’s appeared before, but this week really gets to prove her value as one of Westworld’s most interesting rogues). The prison break orchestrated by The Man in Black, though, was probably the standout sequence, if only thanks to the (control room-enabled) exploding cigars. Thank you, “Westworld,” for not making us see the full aftermath of what happened to the smoking sheriff’s face.

This Natural Splendor

The beautiful rolling hills of Westworld undergo quite the makeover thanks to Ford’s new narrative, a brutal reenforcement of Ford’s message to Theresa: “I’m not the sentimental type.”

Best Quote

“It’s a blessing from God to see the masters who pull your strings.”
—Hector

This week, we learn that buried in the native lore of Westworld is an explanation for why certain hosts might remember seeing white-suited technicians hovering over them: The “shade” is defined by Hector as “sacred native lore,” “a man who walks between worlds — they were sent from hell to oversee our world.”

The fact that this has become a part of the world’s mythology reveals an awful lot; for one thing, it means that the host memory wipes have been ineffective for quite some time, if they’ve had the opportunity to evolve into a near religion. Hector’s explanation for accepting their presence could be something programmed into him, but it could also be another sign that the hosts are becoming more self-actualized than anyone actually realizes.

Westworld Rodrigo Santoro

Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton.

John P. Johnson/HBO

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • At the end of the episode, Logan rides off with his Easter Egg, ready for “the best ride in the park.” But we don’t see William or Dolores accompanying them. Are they simply trailing behind, or does the show have another path in store for them?
  • Does Lawrence’s daughter character also serve a role in the park’s main narratives? Or is she a quasi-literal ghost in the machine, perhaps one of Arnold’s remaining legacies?
  • The “Dissonance Theory” screener provided to press listed the episode title as “Six Impossible Things,” which is yet another “Alice in Wonderland” reference. How much further will the show be pushing that comparison?
  • And maybe this is connected to that last question: Bernard not only seems to support the idea of Dolores finding her freedom, but this week he even presents to her a copy of the same maze that the Man in Black is pursuing. What the hell are you up to, Bernard?

Final Reveries

There are countless fan theories evolving as to what exactly is happening in “Westworld,” within the park and without, but it’s the journey that remains the most intriguing component, especially as the subtle details of this world begin to stand out.

Ed Harris has been having no shortage of fun over the course of this series, but this week in particular gave him a lot to chew on, from cursing out someone who tried to bring up the outside world to every roguish moment of the prison break. And he serves as such a key figure in the show’s ongoing development: The fact that both the Man in Black and Dolores find themselves in search of the same maze highlights just how sharp the divide is between guest and host. For The Man in Black, the maze represents the ultimate adventure. For Dolores, it’s full-on freedom. The quests might be similar, but the stakes are dramatically different.

Grade: A-

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