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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Contrapasso’ Searches for Purpose in Between the Orgies

In Season 1 Episode 5, Dolores springs into action as the show's mysteries deepen and its existential questions grow. 

Westworld Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores.

John P. Johnson/HBO

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Dissonance Theory’ Knows This is No Longer A Game

Diagnostic Report

The bulk of the action of “Contrapasso” focuses on Dolores, Logan and William in Pariah, which (if you ask Aeden, Discover Westworld’s virtual host) is “the gateway to ultimate danger and sin in Westworld. The delicious orgy of decadence that awaits you is beyond any indulgence you’ve ever experienced.” There, they meet the famed criminal El Lazo, who turns out to be The Man in Black’s favorite punching bag Lawrence, and get caught up in a nitroglycerin robbery that goes south when El Lazo double-crosses the former confederate soldiers who asked for the theft.

Theoretically, it seems like a pretty straightforward day in Westworld, except something is lurking inside Dolores, and she now almost seems in direct communication with it, seeing visions and hearing voices that continue to push her towards the maze that promises real answers. And the other residents of the park seem equally restless: The Man in Black continues driving towards the maze himself, now accompanied by a worse-for-wear Teddy, who theoretically can help him find Wyatt.

Behind the scenes, Elsie continues investigating the odd behavior of malfunctioning hosts, revealing to Bernard that the stray who bashed his brains in was broadcasting satellite data out of the park. And a junior technician aspiring to a better job experiments with an artificial bird… only to be confronted by an awakened Maeve, who has some questions.

White Hat or Black Hat

This week, Dolores gets to cowboy up, and if you’re the type to read a lot into this sort of thing then you’ve probably already noted that the hat she gets is decidedly brown — neither white nor black. More importantly, in their earlier conversation Ford muses as to whether she would have been the hero or the villain, had she helped Arnold destroy the park.

“Are we very old friends?” Dolores asks Ford sweetly.

“I wouldn’t say friends, Dolores,” he replies “I wouldn’t say that at all.”

If a final standoff is coming in this show, Ford and Dolores may be the ones facing each other down.

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

Well! So it’s still not clear exactly when the show takes place, but we have a very exact answer to not only how long ago Arnold died — 34 years, 32 days, 7 hours, according to Dolores — but that Arnold killed himself just before the park opened.

For what it’s worth, the Wild West is typically defined as occurring between 1865-1895, but Westworld itself is clearly set during the earlier side of that, taking place relatively soon after the Civil War. Not that it’s striving for period accuracy, of course…

Westworld Ed Harris

Ed Harris as Man in Black.

John P. Johnson/HBO

Player Piano

Just because we don’t stop by the Mariposa doesn’t mean we don’t get some unconventional music choices. As William and Dolores stroll through Pariah, an acoustic guitar version of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” can be heard — and also again at the honkytonk where The Man in Black and Ford share a drink. Beyond the fact that it is also anachronistic (the piece was published in 1905), there’s not necessarily much to decode there. However, it is a piece used quite often by film and TV soundtracks, including quite famously at the end of “Ocean’s 11.”

READ MORE: ‘Westworld’ Featurette Digs Into the Reality Behind the Show’s Rich A.I. — Watch

Paired Off

While the ever-tragic Teddy gets dragged around the land by The Man in Black, Dolores wanders around the most explicit and weird orgy we’ve seen to date on the show (now we get why SAG had some concerns regarding the treatment of extras on set). More importantly, her ongoing quest for self-actualization now seems tied to a romance with William, also seemingly experiencing his own sort of awakening. (At the very least, he has the balls to stand up to Logan, after Logan taunted him about not doing so.)

These Violent Delights

The best “Westworld” episodes, we’ve noted so far, are the ones that manage to balance the high-level philosophy with some classic Western action tropes. This week, we get another heist, one that lets William unleash his gunslinging skills, as well as an armed standoff that lets Dolores prove herself.

However, the most unsettling violence was probably The Man in Black cutting Lawrence’s throat, if only because it wasn’t clear just what he was planning. Sitting opposite Ford, the park’s most notorious gunslinger seemed to take some pride in basically serving as a true villain. Whoever he might be in “the real world,” he doesn’t shy away from his bad behavior in this one.

This Natural Splendor

When Lutz the technician successfully completes the coding of his little bird, and it takes flight around the room, the moment is full of real joy; a striking contrast to the artificial location. And the button on the scene, with Maeve letting the bird perch on her finger, adds a beautiful beat of surrealism to it.

Westworld Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores and Jimmi Simpson as William.

John P. Johnson/HBO

Best Quote

“I imagined a story where I wasn’t the damsel.”
— Dolores

Evan Rachel Wood really blew us away this week, with an episode that demanded incredible range and commitment. From the subtleties in the shifts seen during her conversation with Ford, to her continued ascent into badassery, it’s a star role and one that’s exciting to witness. The way Wood sells this line in particular is a perfect microcosm of that, not to mention the sort of perfect “HELL YEAH” feminist moment that makes some of the show’s less progressive moments more palatable.

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • One of the things I really like about the show is that in a big crowd scene, it’s not always entirely clear how many people are guests and how many are hosts. But it’d be interesting to know what the typical ratio is. One robot to every 10 “real people”? Or the other way around?
  • Perhaps this is just on our minds because of the New York Times’ recent deep dive into the way black male sexuality has been depicted in pop culture, but was it really necessary for Elsie to blatantly objectify Bart the host’s genitalia?
  • Actor Leonardo Nam is credited as “Lutz” in this episode, but given that Maeve addresses him as “Felix,” should we assume that Lutz is his last name?
  • “Contrapasso” gave us a bit more insight into techs Sylvester and Lutz, but one major unanswered question is why is it such a big deal that Lutz wants to prove himself as a coder? How strict is Delos’s H.R. department, exactly?
  • Why can’t The Man in Black let Teddy die and start over with a refurbished version of him? Is that against the rules of the narrative? Because aren’t there not supposed to be any rules?

Final Reveries

Bookended by stories that reveal some of the cultural peculiarities about this future world, “Contrapasso” highlights one of “Westworld’s” biggest themes — the importance of purpose in our modern lives. Ford’s memory of a pet greyhound dog, who finally caught up with the prey he’d been chasing his whole life, spoke to the park’s earliest explanations, only highlighted by the Man in Black’s revelations about the world beyond the park’s borders, where human society is theoretically experiencing a golden age of plenty, but without real drive.

If you look up the meaning of “Contrapasso,” you find yourself reading an awful lot about Dante’s “Inferno” — it’s an Italian word that refers to punishing damned souls in a way that connects to the sins in question. If the sin of those who come to “Westworld” is that they have no sense of purpose anymore, then is their punishment a surfeit of said purpose, with the knowledge that it’s all ultimately fake, not real? It’s the sort of existential notion that “Westworld’s” premise enables the show to explore — and a far deeper question than whatever gets discussed on “NCIS.”

Grade: A-

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