Westworld S01E04: Cognitive Dissonance – Another impressive episode with quests and questions of reality

Cognitive Dissonance is the theory that human beings strive for a type of internal consistency: a consistency of behaviour, or routine, and without it they become psychologically uncomfortable. For example, if I were to give Westworld a bad review that would be a case of cognitive dissonance in my own mind. Thankfully, and unlike many of the show’s characters this week, I seem to be the only one not experiencing this in Westworld this week as the show has once again produced a stellar episode, brimming with more questions, mystery’s, and Ben Barnes acting like an asshole. As the show’s robots become more unpredictable, and the park teetering towards chaos, Westworld’s only decision whether it all ends with a noose, or a firing squad.
At the heart of this week’s episode is a quest to find the maze. Details are still sparse as to what this maze is, where it is, and what you find in its centre, but The Man in Black is getting closer, as is Dolores.

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The Man in Black has the main action set piece this week, as he gets another clue on his quest to find the maze. We find out that the maze was Arnold’s idea: information that quashes my theory that the Man in Black was Arnold, but he may be a disciple or follower of his. Through his daring rescue of outlaw Hector Escaton, with a match, a bullet, and an idiot, he’s put on the trail of Wyatt the savage enemy of Teddy, at least since last week. It brings up the question: how much of this is controlled by the park? The Wyatt’s storyline was only created last week, so why does that tie into the Man in Black’s quest that’s been going since the star of the show? Is he a pawn, or is this a game that only the richest can get into? See? Always more questions.

Dolores is having a tough time after the events of last week. The episode begins with another conversation between her and Bernard, with Dolores still reeling emotionally from the massacre of her family, and her murder of the outlaw. Her scenes with Bernard, the catch-up and recalibration, are quickly becoming one of the shows strongest assets. This is in part due to have two terrific actors working off of each other: Evan Rachael Wood continues to be the show’s MVP, and Jeffrey Wright is magnificent playing low levels of shock and curiosity as Bernard. Bernard asks Dolores if she wants him to wipe these horrible memories (something that we know is standard procedure), and Dolores refuses. In the process of feeling this loss: the loss of her family, her home, her way of life, she answers Bernard’s question with a hauntingly human response: she wants to keep these memories, to her these terrible events are final and the pain she feels is all she has left of her old life. What’s amazing about this scene, and Evan Rachael Wood’s performance in general, is that every time Dolores acts convincingly human, Wood elicits a feeling of both wonder, and horror from the audience. We are seeing, through these little interactions and details, consciousness being born. Bernard goes on to tell Dolores about a maze, that if she finds it she may get a feeling of freedom.

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Then the episode side-steps us: Dolores isn’t talking to Bernard at all, in fact she’s still with Billy, her conversation with Bernard was a dream, a piece of reality poking through her programming: cognitive dissonance. The rest of the episode gives us something we have never seen before, and certainly Dolores hasn’t experience before: a second day. Instead of waking up back at the ranch with her parents to repeat the same day over again (a day that always ends in tragedy) she has a day of the aftermath sinking in, and what an eventful day it is.

Billy and Logan have become a short hand example of the good and evil paths that guests can go down. Billy, still in the white hat, is protective of Dolores, and wants to complete his bounty hunter mission. Logan is the black hat, humouring his future brother in law by going along with this quest. In the end its Logan’s kill and fuck instincts that get the job done as he almost single-handedly takes out the entire posse. Once the criminal is caught Logan kills the bounty hunter, who Billy labels an innocent man (he really doesn’t get this whole theme park idea), thrilled by the idea of an Easter egg, as he pleads with Billy to go black hat with him. Billy reluctantly agrees after Logan holds a gun on Dolores, like all good cowboy’s it’s his chivalry that gets him into trouble. Dolores, Billy, and Logan’s plot is really just beginning, and the fact that Dolores is party of their story-line means she won’t go in for tool-up until it’s over, which is an appetising prospect as Dolores gets to find out first-hand what awful things guests are capable of without forgetting at the end of the day.

Someone else who’s having a hard time forgetting is Maeve. Like Dolores, Maeve has memories of the violence committed against her in the past: a guest who decided that he would just start shooting everyone, her peek behind the curtain, and the masked being she saw there. In one of the episodes cleverest moments Hector tells Maeve that this figure is a being that can walk between worlds. The truth of this statement is made poignant by both the mundanity of its real identity: one of the parks clean-up crew, and the religious symbolism that has become a way for the robots to make sense of it. Instead of accepting this Maeve takes the drastic measure of cutting her belly open, where she finds the very bullet the remembered guest killed her with. The irony of this is that she is killed just as she finds the bullet. Even if her memory is wiped again, there’s still the drawings under the floorboard, which, like Dolores gun, has become Maeve’s token of cognitive dissonance.

8/10 Another excellent episode teases viewers with high stakes and big questions, with almost half of the season over, the answers will come soon.

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