Episode eight, “Trace Decay,” continued Westworld’s themes of memory and narrative. The world is controlled by the narrative, and the narrative is created by memory. It’s how the two blur together for both the park’s guests and the hosts, which is what is makes them indistinguishable.
The episode picks up immediately after last week’s big reveal that Bernard is a host, which Ford ordered to kill Theresa. When Bernard has a panic attack over killing Theresa, Ford tries to redirect him by telling him, “We have a new story to tell.” He means both the story he’s creating in the park and the one he’s going to make Bernard create to hide Theresa’s death.
And Bernard does. He deletes all the information tying Theresa’s death to him and Ford—where she was, that they were together. He even destroys the notes she wrote him.
And, that done, Ford erases Bernard’s memories of their affair. Now Bernard only remembers he and Theresa were only ever distant colleagues, until she went out to the park to smuggle more data, and fell and bashed her head in. To Bernard, her death is a tragedy, but not a personal one. “It’s a disappointing end to her story, isn’t it?” Ford says, and it feels like it’s both a subtle dig at the new narrative Bernard has in his mind and a meta-commentary on the plot contrivances of fiction, too. We as the audience invested in Theresa, and this is how she goes out?
(Also, the security head totally knows they were together. He knows the story Bernard is telling isn’t “true,” but Bernard doesn’t. Not anymore.)
When Bernard asks Ford if he’s ever done anything like making him murder someone before, Ford answers “no,” only for Bernard to get a flash of grabbing Elsie. It’s heavily implied that Bernard killed her on Ford’s orders, covered his tracks, and had the memory deleted, just like with Theresa. I bet anything Bernard starts remembering a lot of what Ford’s deleted before the end of the season, and his new narrative becomes about revenge.
Ford’s quoting Frankenstein, by the way, when he answers Bernard’s question about why he made him kill Theresa. Ford says, “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire.” However, Ford leaves out the end of that quote, which is, “and transmit over the elemental foes of our race.” The omitted section seems significant—it makes it seem like the means being justified are for the betterment of mankind. Where Ford breaks off makes him sound like a man interested in playing god and nothing else.
Like Bernard, Maeve spends this episode trying to ignore her memories and gain control of the narrative of her life. Characteristically, she does this in a more direct way than Bernard. Maeve basically re-enters the park as a programmer, able to get every other host to do her bidding just by telling them what’s going to happen. She narrates it all, like she’s DMing her actual life.
But all the control in the world doesn’t prevent memory from invading, and changing the narrative from the one Maeve is trying to create. She keeps flashing back to one of her other stories, where she was a homesteader with a daughter. When the techs offer to tell her why she was repurposed as a madame, she decides that it doesn’t matter. After all, it wasn’t real and it didn’t really happen to her, so how can it affect her?
It turns out that Maeve is seriously, nightmarishly wrong about that. She has another flashback to her homesteader life while in the street, where the Man in Black randomly attacked her and killed her daughter (apparently during a moral self- examination to see whether he was good or bad). The pain of her daughter’s death was enough to push through Maeve’s programming and she stabbed the Man in Black in the neck. She relives the memory in the present, slashing the throat of the new Clementine, just reinstated into the park, and drawing the attention of the rest of the town—and, more importantly, park operations.
Maeve has been the one most able to get around her programming. She’s the most in charge host we’ve got. And she still cannot escape her memories, or the narratives they make her act out.
This week we got a nice long speech from Ford about how, as far as he was concerned, there was no difference between the hosts and regular humans. Arnold’s folly was trying to find a distinction that didn’t exist. If ever there was proof of that, it came from the Man in Black.
Teddy has his own flashback, this time seeing the Man in Black attacking Dolores (remember that from earlier in the season? It feels like so long ago). So Teddy knocks him out and takes him prisoner, which is when the Man in Black reveals who he is. He says that, outside the park, he’s a good guy, a “titan of industry” and philanthropist who had a wonderful marriage that lasted 30 years and a beautiful daughter. Last year, the wife took pills and drowned in the bath. For the perfect family man, it was a tragic accident. Or such was the story he told himself.
His daughter, however, had a different set of memories. The Man in Black says that she told him that her mother committed suicide because of how awfulThe Man in Black was. That he was prone to angry outbursts and sudden collapses, and they were a miserable family. Different memories, different stories.
Dolores and Billy (by the way, I find Billy’s self-righteousness deeply annoying and I will keep calling him Billy and not William because I know it annoys him) end up at that church steeple ruin we’ve seen before, which Dolores calls “home.” There, she has some flashbacks of her very own.
One seems to go all the way back to the very beginning of the park, as the hosts and programmers mingle in the town. The hosts are learning to dance and I’m pretty sure most of the major hosts are there; I think I spotted Maeve, the bartender, Hector, and the host that first introduced Billy to park mingling about. Dolores either flashes forward or she snapped during the dance lesson and shoots a bunch of hosts and herself in the head. Like Maeve, she almost reenacts that last part in the present, but is stopped by Billy.
Dolores loses it, yelling, “Where are we? When are we? Is this now? Am I going mad? Are you real? I can’t tell anymore.”
GIRL. We, the audience, feel you on that. We ask some version of these questions every single week. We are all Dolores.
- Dolores’ shootout looks really similar to Wyatt’s shootout that Ford gave Teddy as a new part of his backstory. Hmm.
- The maze is apparently Arnold’s way of getting the hosts past the restrictions on their programming. The Man in Black wants to get there again, where the hosts can actually really hurt him, I guess.
- Not only did the trauma of her daughter being murdered push Maeve past her “do no lasting harm” protocols, it also made her able to resist many attempts to by park ops to subdue her. She even manages to ignore Ford’s (Arnold’s?) override and stab herself in the neck.
- Apparently remembering what happened to Dolores and hearing that the Man in Black killed Maeve’s kid isn’t enough to override Teddy’s programming, since he can’t make himself shoot the Man in Black.
- I guess we now know what happened to Elsie. Poor Bernard.
- You know how we know Sizemore’s a bad writer? “I always consume my victims moist.”
- Anytime someone says that the pain is all they have left of someone, they are a host.
- More evidence for the two timelines theory is that Ford is said to be “digging up an old town” for his big story. It seems likely that the town he’s bringing back is the one that Dolores and Billy find, still buried.
- Add to that the fact that the host that the Man in Black and Teddy find is the same one that greeted Billy when he first arrived in the park (and so thematically showed him the black and white hat), evidence pointing to Billy being the Man in Black is really mounting.
- Billy killed that kid by the river, right? If we’re seeing him slowly learn to be more black hat than white, that’s what makes the most sense.
- Welp, Billy and Dolores are in the hands of Logan (welcome back, king of the assholes!) and the Man in Black and Teddy are in the hands of Wyatt. Here we go.