Season 1, Episode 8: “Trace Decay”
Directed by Stephen Williams
Written by Lisa Joy & Charles Yu
* For a review of the previous episode, “Trompe L’Oeil” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Well-Tempered Clavier” – click here
Poor Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), having recently dispatched Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) at the command of his maker, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). “The anguish, the horror, the pain; it‘s remarkable. A thing of beauty,” Ford says watching on as his creation becomes the author of himself, in a twisted sense. There are no answers for the host that is Bernie. He only gets to help tell the new story Ford wishes to tell. He is at the command of the doctor. Nobody seems capable of stopping him, either. Not Arnold, not Bernard. Who’ll stop this man? Or, more importantly, where will he stop?
So Ford sets Lowe about deleting their ties to Theresa’s death. Once finished, the doctor will free Bernard of all his painful memories. His whole world has changed in an instant.
At the saloon, “The House of the Rising Sun” is on the player piano and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) starts another day. Clementine Pennyfeather is no longer who she was once, but another face on her, a new identity in the same old name. But everything is different for Maeve now, time nearly stands still and she remembers bits of another life, before the saloon and the prostitution and Sweetwater. The technicians try explaining to her that hosts are basically so perfected that they experience memories in full, rather than actual bits; they relive them. Maeve realises the memories are only just “a story” meant to enslave her. She’s determined to break out. Whether needing an army or not. She wants the technicians to give her power, to control other hosts: “Time to write my own fucking story.”
On the plains of Westworld, William (Jimmi Simpson) and Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) ride towards Sweetwater. They stop to find a massacre in the desert. Arrows puncturing bodies, bloody spilled everywhere. One man lays still alive, barely. He gives them information about the ambush earlier. Nearby in the water Dolores sees a vision of herself, and a voice saying: “Come find me.” Very spooky. Arnold, no?
Theresa’s corpse is located in a ravine. Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) figures it was a slip and fall accident. He believes she was transmitting evidence of some sort and fell. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) is obviously not pleased to hear that, hiding her true feelings under the surface. And of course Dr. Ford plays it off. Hale brings up the “new narrative,” that Theresa believed they ought to delay the debut. But you know Ford is a master of words, of worlds, of all sorts of devious things. Once more Bernard is the Head of Behaviour, and everything is back in working order for the doctor’s manipulations. With all that commotion, the technicians shoo Maeve off from her latest learning spree, though she’s got things worked out well enough. Plus, she knows about Arnold, at least his name. From there who knows what else she’ll discover. If those technicians don’t watch out she’s bound to get the upper hand, more than she does already.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) rides with Teddy Flood (James Marsen), talking about how “the game is rigged” and this triggers a memory in Flood; he remembers a previous chat with Black, on another storyline. Oh, how marvellous! I love all these little pieces, slowing coming together for the hosts. They’re becoming more aware all the time. Soon, Black and Teddy come upon a massacre courtesy of Wyatt (Sorin Brouwers). “He destroyed my world,” laments Flood to one living victim. From the forest comes a massive man dressed in a minotaur outfit, swinging a weapon at Black and Flood. Soon, they take him down. But again, Teddy has flashbacks to a time before with Black, seeing him haul Dolores screaming in the night. And this time Teddy turns on his new buddy, knocking him out. Oh, shit. Didn’t see that coming. Are we about to see The Man in Black in a precarious situation? Once the hosts become aware, it’s only a matter of time before they start actually start hurting people; for real.
The technicians have Maeve up getting a few modifications. She needs to be shut down in order for them to update. Will the tech shut her down for good, or reformat her?
In other parts of the Westworld complex, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) works on a new cannibal motif. He and Hale have a talk about Theresa, the company, all types of things. Charlotte’s trying to drive wedges between anybody and Ford. She starts in on Lee. Tsk, tsk.
And finally, Maeve comes alive. Reformatted. She’s had some changes in her “core code” and this immediately involves the cutting the throat of the tech who didn’t help her; he gets it cauterised, so it’s all good. Things are getting very, very exciting.
“Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse plays on the piano, as Maeve goes back to work in Sweetwater. Only the memories come back stronger and stronger. She sees The Man in Black come for her and her daughter. He stabs her in the gut, which she all but literally feels in the present time. The memories are even physical. Maeve now can control other hosts, programming them on a whim, from the new Clementine to the barkeep. She makes the story flow, giving them each their purpose. This gets most interesting as Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and the crew arrive for “mayhem” as usual. Maeve manipulates the Sheriff into stepping down from any violence, though he’s killed anyways. She turns the Marshals on one another, continuing to change the narrative with every step.
Dr. Ford meets with host Bernie, talking about their new trajectory of action concerning Hale and the recent developments. “Ever the student of human nature” Bernie knows Ford is under more strain. The saddest is seeing Lowe stuck halfway somewhere between human and host, unable to distinguish what exactly is real. Not understanding his “imagined suffering.” He doesn’t know the difference between man and machine. Ford reveals this is what drove Arnold to madness eventually. Regardless, Bernie is let free from his memories by the doctor.
Merciful, or tragic? Both.
Dolores makes it back home. Except everything feels odd, something is different. Then the bodies begin to drop. The memories of those streets filled with the dead again. She sees herself, gun in hand. Ready to shoot herself. But she cuts back to standing with William in the desert. “When are we?” she asks. Her mind’s nearly melting. She loses a grip on whatever reality she’d been programmed with in the beginning. Or perhaps she gets closer to understanding where Arnold is pushing her. But William and Dolores come across Logan, and he isn’t bringing any good cheer.
Among the basement, Hale and Lee search through the warehoused hosts. They come to Dolores’ father. Charlotte wants to upload a ton of data to the host and send him back in. Yikes. She doesn’t realise exactly which host she’s picked. And she leaves Lee to program him for re-entry.
Stubbs is happy to see Bernard back. He offers condolences on what happened to Theresa, because of how close they were, and when Bernie responds with no semblance of understanding this clearly piques Stubbs in his interest. Threads are starting to show.
Out in the desert, Teddy has Black all tied up for the night. I wonder what he’ll do. For the time being he’s going to beat the shit out of him. Black responds by mocking the host. Then revealing a bit about himself, that his wife killed herself in the bath, their life disappeared. His entire life fell apart. A brutally sad tale. He talks of finding Maeve as a homesteader, too. Murdering her and her daughter. All for the feeling. Maeve didn’t die, though. She ran off bleeding with her daughter in tow. The maze “revealed itself” to Black then and there. The quest to find Arnold’s game ahead of him now, all the time.
And while we see those memories, we see Maeve slit the new Clementine’s throat in front of the saloon. Out of control. She may have stronger powers, but she can’t escape those memories. Luckily, she can make other hosts do her bidding.
We also see Maeve after losing her child, out in the lab with Dr. Ford and Lowe. Her “cognition is fragmented” until they go to work. She wants to keep the pain, but it’s erased and stricken from the mind. Later she would be programmed as the Madam of a whore house in the saloon.
Black must best Wyatt to figure out the maze, the final steps. No matter what. Will Teddy kill The Man in Black? Or help him? He can’t pull the trigger. Not to mention the woman they saved, she stabs Teddy and kills him. She’s a mole, for Wyatt himself who waits in the shadows.
What a wild episode! Just a great follow-up to the last one. Excitement and tension is at an all-time high in the series. Looking forward to “The Well-Tempered Clavier” next. We’re getting close to Season 1’s finish.