[This post contains SPOILERS for Westworld 'Dissonance Theory'.]
Exploding cigars, market-tested desperados, and women with mysterious snake tattoos. If Westworld didn't completely resemble a game after the last three weeks, then it certainly does now. 'Dissonance Theory' takes the somewhat disparate threads of 'The Stray' and before that 'Chestnut', and begins weaving them together without intertwining them entirely. The renewed focus on the Man in Black and the continued interest in Dolores's journey away from her usual loop makes for a compelling hour that pulls back the curtain on certain characters just a little bit more, just as the previous weeks have done in their usual incremental fashion. The result is some elucidation on who the Man in Black is (or at least who or what he isn't) and a clearer path for characters like William and Logan, even though the purpose of their journey remains as opaque as it was when they first arrived at Westworld.
Written by comics scribe Ed Brubaker and series co-creator Jonathan Nolan, 'Dissonance Theory' offers the most concrete proof that Dr. Ford's new narrative is as groundbreaking (literally) as was promised (and feared by Theresa and the still-faceless board), while at the same time the extent of the alterations to the preexisting individual character narratives caused by Ford's additions and/or subtractions have yet to be fully understood. In a sense, it seems as though Ford's tinkering with the world of Westworld works as a smokescreen for the ongoing changes being introduced in Hosts like Dolores and Maeve, as the two begin to deviate significantly from their usual loop, but the variation is allowed to continue as the park's staff is left to question whether or not the unorthodox shifts in their prescribed schedules is a problem best left for Theresa and QA, or if it's all a modification meant to compensate for the introduction of Ford's new story.
And again, as the show has demonstrated before, an awareness of its own narrative and ability to comment on itself is one of Westworld's greatest strengths. In that sense, the show digs deeper into the mystery of whether or not Ford is truly as omniscient as he seems to be or if the changes in his Hosts have indeed gone unnoticed by him and the rest of the staff. In a surprisingly icy sequence between him and Theresa, Ford not so humbly demonstrates the extent of his influence over the world he's created. In one fell swoop Ford manages to shove Theresa aside, while at the same time assuring her big things are on the horizon. For all his enigmatic presence and stilted talk to members of his staff who may or may not be representations of dead co-founders, Ford is one hell of a salesman. It's hard not to take his unnerving power lunch with Theresa as a flexing of his authoritative muscle and the greatest single-serving marketing campaign in the history of the park. "I'm not the sentimental type," he tells her as giant excavator works (presumably under his command) to destroy the thing he's built.
Destroy may be a strong word. Perhaps Ford really is just making sweeping changes for the better, but 'Dissonance Theory' works to make the audience question the extent of those changes and their impact on the park as a whole. Like the Man in Black, Ford's actions look like one thing but his demeanor hints at something else entirely. And throughout the hour, Westworld continues its puzzle box way of thinking by giving the audience plenty to chew on, as the incremental revelations seem only to push the viewer deeper down the rabbit hole.
Is the Show Giving the Audience Dolores's Journey to the Maze Twice?
Last week, it was posited that Dolores's storyline was unfolding in two separate timelines, a past and present. There was some evidence that this was the case, especially when she stumbled upon her murdered family as per her prescribed loop in the park. The loop unfolded differently, though, as Dolores defended herself against an assailant, and then seemingly recalled a time when the man on the porch shot her. This time, however, Dolores avoided the bullet and ran off, and either stumbled onto William and Logan's camp or was directed there as part of Ford's new narrative.
However, there seems to be a question lingering in 'Dissonance Theory' as to whether or not Dolores's journey with William is happening at the same time the other character threads are developing. It's the same question that was raised last week, but the kicker here is the added variable of whether or not what the audience is witnessing is actually the first time she ventured into the maze, kicking off the "event" from 30 years ago that was discussed in the series premiere. Given Dolores's penchant for odd reveries – like the dead bodies lining the streets of Sweetwater and the aforementioned gunshot – this could well be the case. After all, being the park's oldest Host, Dolores probably knows a thing or two about every level of the park, the maze included.
This question is raised at the beginning of the episode when Bernard discusses the maze with Dolores and tells her, "It's a very special kind of game. The goal is to find the center. If you can do that, then maybe you can be free." Now another person involved in the (supposedly) human side of the story has described the maze by referring to it as a game. This time, though, Bernard gives some indication of what's waiting for those who enter: freedom. That's incredibly vague and it still gives little indication of why the Man in Black is seeking the maze, but it does make you wonder: Is this the first time Dolores has sought the maze, or is Bernard's suggestion piggybacking on a previous experience?
Is the Incorrect Map of Orion's Belt a Clue to the Location of Westworld?
Bernard is full of insight in 'Dissonance Theory.' In addition to teaching Theresa power poses ahead of her meeting with Ford, he goes full Matt Damon in Rounders and explains that he knows what her "tells" are. But Bernard the Behaviorist isn't the only one who shows up during the hour. He is also pragmatic and knows when to let Theresa and QA take the reins on analyzing the stray that bashed his skull in last week, as though keeping that group busy with such a discomfiting sight and obvious example of aberrant Host behavior will keep them off Dolores's trail for the time being.
Not long after, Bernard drops some more knowledge, when he shares with Elsie that the map of Orion she and Stubbs found when tracking the stray is incorrect by one star. This asks the question: What was the stray making a map of, then? Given the heavy emphasis on maps and navigation in and out of various character quests, the stray's obsession with a three-starred Orion is curious. Might this be an indication of where Westworld is actually located?
Are Stubbs and the Man in Black in Cahoots?
Stubbs had little to do in 'Dissonance Theory' other than order someone to pick Dolores up from her trip off loop (suggesting she's either seeking the maze on her own or that William and the Man in Black are indeed different people) and later authorizing the use of a pyrotechnic by none other than the Man in Black. This is the second time Stubbs has given the go-ahead for the Man in Black to do whatever it is that he wants in the park. In addition to the question of where MiB got a package of exploding cigars and why he would ever think to need them, the haste with which Stubbs responds to anything regarding the black-clad vacationing philanthropist is suspect.
It could simply be that the Man in Black's civilian identity is such that anywhere he goes he's given the royal treatment – as evidenced by the guy who mistakenly sought to thank the Man in Black for his foundations role in saving his sister's life – but Westworld is too meticulously arranged for Stubbs's quick approval to not be motivated by something more than good customer service. Besides, it seems outside Stubbs's usual job description to cater so specifically to the needs of a single guest. Sure, the Man in Black is not Westworld's average guest and Stubbs's job as head of security is to monitor the interactions between guests and Hosts, but come on… exploding cigars? It's a good bet that Ashley Stubbs factors into the Man in Black's quest for the maze on a more personal level.
Westworld continues next Sunday with 'Contrapasso' @9pm on HBO.
Photos: John P. Johnson/HBO