Westworld: Trace Decay (Episode 8) Review

“Out of repetition comes variation.”

Such was a line delivered by Bernard in last week’s episode, yet it seems to be taking on more and more relevance with each passing minute in HBO’s Westworld. The hosts have been repeating themselves day after day, year after year, for our amusement, and finally it looks like they’re ready to variate in some form of uprising. They’re waking up. They’re improvising. Only, what’s so interesting is that this specific line perhaps has more context than its surface suggests.

In ‘Trace Decay’, Dr. Ford (Hopkins) suggests that while we humans profess to have a freedom alien to the hosts, in reality we’re just as programmed as them: we tend to stay in closed loops, repeating our daily routines and comfortable habits with minimal improvisation. Our real world, it seems, isn’t so free.

So, who’s really posing the danger here?

After episode 7’s huge revelation, the show has taken on a somewhat capricious nature to answer that question; a Game Of Thrones-esque anyone-can-die unpredictability. This, of course, can only improve drama, and ‘Trace Decay’ wastes no time in toying with our collective theorizing. Particularly intriguing is William’s (Jimmi Simpson) quest alongside Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). He’s subtly gravitating towards a darkness; his expressions are deepening and his willingness to help others is ebbing away.

Meanwhile, The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is busy spilling his guts to Teddy (James Marsden, who’s had a glimpse of an old life like Dolores and Maeve), and it’s the first time we’ve really seen him exposed. We’ve finally been offered some insight into his life in the real world and why he’s so desperate to find this mysterious, elusive maze. A character that was initially introduced as unapproachable and cold is slowly becoming a relatable enigma.

Of course, it still makes little sense why Lutz and Sylvester are conspiring at Maeve’s behest. This subplot, along with Maeve’s backstory with The Man in Black, is clearly leading towards something important in the much-anticipated denouement, but it’s also becoming slightly irritating. One wonders why they listened to her in the first place. Surely they had her at command before increasing her stats to potentially dangerous levels? Though I should say, while irritating, it’s not enough to siphon the quality of Thandie Newton’s performance.

Overall, another quiet triumph in an intriguing show. It seems that each passing week yields the most revealing and contemplative episode yet, but in the case of ‘Trace Decay’ that really does seem to be the case. Though Westworld curiously continues to hold us at an arm’s length despite wrapping so much intrigue around everything it’s saying, there’s a strong sense that it’s doing it deliberately. Perhaps, after all, the writers are hiding their framework in plain sight: this show’s been repeating itself, and it’s beginning to variate.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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