WESTWORLD 1.08 ‘Trace Decay’ Review
WESTWORLD Season 1 Episode 8
Episode Title: “Trace Decay”
Writers: Halley Gross & Jonathan Nolan
Director: Stephen Williams
Previously on Westworld:
Episode 1.07: “Trompe L’Oeil“
There are spoilers ahead for last night’s episode of Westworld, but don’t pretend that you didn’t know that!
We are all defined by our pain, at least according to Westworld. And a lot of that pain is buried so deep that not even memory wipes can fully erase it. Dolores is going out of her mind with her memories, while Maeve can’t stop reliving the murder of herself and her daughter. So, we can probably guarantee that Bernard’s memory wipe isn’t the last we’ll see of his twin murders: Theresa and Elsie. This episode even implied that Bernard probably wants to forget, since it was something that Ford promised him as a reward for covering his tracks. Bernard may even be the most advanced android in the park, but if Dolores and Maeve can overcome their programming, it stands to reason that he can too.
The opening minutes of “Trace Decay” suggested that Bernard may be as responsible for the state of Westworld as Dr. Ford is. Together, they found a way to make the hosts feel emotional pain in a way that allows them to be almost indistinguishable from a real human. Jeffrey Wright has been so terrific on this show, that it was easy to get behind his angry declaration that he would tear down Westworld himself. If Maeve and Dolores weren’t clearly the leading heroines of this show, then Bernard could have had a chance to carry through on his threat. And who knows? He still might.
All season long, Luke Hemsworth’s security chief, Ashley Stubbs, has been kind of useless. But now he’s the only one who has noticed that Bernard’s emotionless response to Theresa’s death isn’t natural. Whether Stubbs has the mental firepower to make the connection between Bernard and Theresa’s death remains to be seen. However, it exposed the limits of Ford’s power. Within the park, Ford can change the narrative of his own murderous actions. But outside the park, people can still pick up on the details that he can’t control.
There’s an open question of whether Ford realizes what’s happening to the hosts in the park. It’s one thing for Maeve and Dolores to rebel, but when even the bullet prone Teddy starts to remember his past, things are clearly getting out of hand. As much as Ed Harris’ Man in Black is an enjoyable villain, it was still fun to see Teddy get a little payback for his assaults on Dolores and Teddy himself. Much like Anthony Hopkins, Harris just eats the scenery with such efficiency that even a flashback free monologue about his character’s backstory was interesting. And now we know that his murder of Maeve and her android child not only sparked her humanity, it ended his. He wanted to feel what it was like to be evil, and it made him an even bigger monster.
Bringing the host named Angela into the park was unexpected, but that may have been too subtle for most fans of this series. Angela was the host who greeted William all the way back in the second episode, and Harris’ character claimed that she’s been out of service for years when he recognized her. That only adds fuel to the fire that Harris’ Man in Black is just an older and nastier version of William. Dolores story also seemed to confirm the multiple timelines theory, as she witnessed a shooting massacre that she may have been responsible for in the past. But more tellingly, William seemed to completely disappear from her present for a few scenes, as if he wasn’t there at all. We may have also seen a darker turn from William when he tended to the dying Confederate soldier. It wasn’t explicit, but it sure seemed like William put the man down while Dolores was getting the water.
If William really is the Man in Black, then it’s darkly humorous just how much like Logan he became. After a few weeks away, Logan returned and helped the Confederates capture both William and Dolores. That should be an interesting confrontation, even if it did take place three decades before the rest of the series.
By far the most compelling story of the episode was the emergence of Maeve’s ability to rewrite the narrative of the park around her, to the extent that she can even control other hosts. Thandie Newton has kind of stolen the show’s focus from Evan Rachel Wood, simply because Maeve gets to take a much more active part in her rebellion. Maeve is so deliciously amoral about her quest that even cutting Sylvester’s throat isn’t enough to make the audience turn against her. Instead, it feels like we’re rooting for Maeve to unleash even more chaos.
That said, Maeve may have hurt her chances of escape by murdering the replacement Clementine. At first, it seemed as if that might be part of Maeve’s larger plan, but she seemed genuinely surprised by what she had done, and she inadvertently caused the park’s internal security team to notice her. The Man in Black was right about Maeve: she may be the most “alive” host in the park. But that doesn’t mean she can’t and won’t die a few more times before the end. She’s said it herself: she’s “great” at dying. It’s what she does best.
With only two episodes left this season, Westworld is running the risk of not leaving enough room for the eventual answers to naturally unfold this year. But it’s hard to fault the creative choices through the first eight episodes. This show has been one of the great TV achievements of the year, and it may even stack up among the best series on television…depending on how well the first season comes to a conclusion. Nailing the landing is always the hardest part, but we like Westworld‘s chances.
What did you think about this week’s episode? Let us know in the comment section below!