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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Trace Decay’ Reminds Us That We’re All Just Stories, In the End

In Season 1, Episode 8, characters continue their quests forward, while host malfunctions remain on the rise. 

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John P. Johnson/HBO

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ Trades Secrets For Hard Truths and a Big Reveal

Diagnostic Report

We dive right into the repercussions of last week’s episode. Bernard deals with the anguish of Theresa’s death, while Ford marvels at the depths of emotion Bernard is feeling… before he turns them off and instructs Bernard to cover up Theresa’s death, erasing any record of their relationship beyond colleagues.

When Charlotte learns that Theresa is dead, she seems to accept (with suspicion) Ford’s story about her having slipped and fallen; however, she then enlists Sizemore to help her smuggle “35 years worth of data” out of the park using retired host Peter Abernathy. Initially, it seemed like the board was prepared to take its time getting rid of Dr. Ford. Now, it looks like the timetable has sped up.

Dolores and William continue exploring this new territory they’ve found, with Dolores tripping back to very early days in the park (days we previously got glimpses of in Ford’s flashbacks). Those days ended in violence, including Dolores putting a gun to her own head? Whatever madness ensued in this newly discovered old town, we’re hopefully due to learn more about. Meanwhile, Logan and some new friends have caught up with the pair, Logan informing William with glee that, “Man, are you two fucked.”

Maeve, meanwhile, continues her journey to self-actualization and escape, thanks to upgrades from Lutz. Inside the park, she’s tracked down for abnormal behavior (which, fair enough after she murders the replacement Clementine), and we also learn that this isn’t her first instance of abnormal behavior: She wasn’t able to shut down properly after the Man in Black murdered her and her child.

White Hat or Black Hat

So not only does Ford remain villainous in his treatment of others, but the Man in Black reveals to Teddy that despite earlier indicators that in the “real world,” he’s a man of respect and value, his personal life is hella screwed up, with his wife dead after what might have been suicide and his daughter furious at him.

This has never been a character who’s done much to elicit our sympathy, but not only do we once again watch the flashback of him attacking Maeve (in a previous build) and her daughter, but we find out that this attack occurred simply so that he could test the idea of whether Westworld truly reveals “your true self,” and if he was capable of doing something truly evil. Guess what, bro? You got your answer.

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James Marsden as Teddy and Ed Harris as the Man in Black.

John P. Johnson/HBO

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

No additional information is gleaned from this episode, about what time period we’re looking at exactly. But the Man in Black indicates that as long as he was married — 30 years — he was coming to the park. He might say that his wife and daughter didn’t know what he did while he was there… But it’s not surprising that he wasn’t able to conceal everything over the course of 30 years of visits.

Player Piano

A couple of notable music cues here, beginning with the classic Animals track “House of the Rising Sun,” which gets distorted in a fascinating way. “It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl,” the lyrics go if you’ve forgotten — just in time for Maeve’s massive change of heart.

Later, though, we get back to one of our favorite “Westworld” tropes: using songs with the word “black” in the title. Amy Winehouse lives on in the future, we learn, as we also learn that “Back in Black” sounds great even without lyrics.

Oh, and Hector’s latest robbery gets scored to a passage from “Swan Lake.” “Westworld” remains esoteric, to say the least.

Paired Off

Dolores and William remain close to each other, but it’s really the anguish Bernard feels over losing Theresa that proves the most emotionally gripping. If we really wanted to break our hearts, we’d freeze-frame through the notes that Bernard destroyed. There’s something all too sad about incinerating a love letter.

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Jeffrey Wright as Bernard.

John P. Johnson/HBO

These Violent Delights

This episode did not lack for bloodletting on so many levels, but perhaps a moment that stuck with us the most was Maeve slicing Sylvester’s throat — mostly because we didn’t know she could. Later seeing her do the same to the Man in Black in flashback triggered a whole new level of questioning; at this stage, the show owes us some deeper explanations about the safety protocols in place to protect the guests.

But beyond the surface-level violence, here’s what these bloody moments highlighted for us: Dolores has seemed to be the host on the verge of new evolution since the beginning, but Maeve may be giving her a run for her money.

Best Quote

Time to write my own fucking story. 
— Maeve

Not only is this line beautifully delivered, but it ties into later sequences, which show Maeve “building her army” by directing the course of events. It could have played a little over-the-top, having her literally narrating the actions of others, but the execution made it a fascinating twist.

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • Okay, this breaks our heart to ask, but we gotta: Did Bernard also kill Elsie? Man, that would suck.
  • If it wasn’t Elsie that Bernard flashed back to attacking, who was it?
  • And seriously, where the hell is Elsie?
  • Plenty of other questions this week, but let’s keep things simple for once.

Final Reveries

After last week’s big revelations, “Trace Decay” feels like a bit of a letdown. There’s some big plot movement, but other storylines are stalled to the point where we’re still left waiting for real answers. That said, there’s plenty of information to dig down into; information that with some additional context should become clearer. And Thandie Newton continues to blow us away with her work.

The weirdest bit of this episode is its decision to end with a dilemma that doesn’t feel terribly consequential to the overall storyline. While it’s clear that the reveal of Wyatt will play a major role in the season’s endgame, we’ve never engaged with it on the same level as, you know, anything happening to the hosts and their continued evolution.

We can’t expect major twists every week, but while “Trace Decay” didn’t feel like it was stalling, it perhaps could have pushed things further. It’s a minor complaint, though — a bump in the ride we’re still enjoying.

Grade: B+

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