Westworld Trace Decay Review
HBO‘s Westworld: Season 1, Episode 8: Trace Decay featured: the cover-up of a crime, expansion of one character, the conscription of another, payback, the wiping of minds, discovering the past, and the unexpected. Because of these elements, Trace Decay was an episode that required the viewer to pay close attention to the narratives, especially to something within them that seemed mundane.
The most powerful of these narratives were those belonging to Westworld Head of Programming Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton).
Westworld Founder Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) created in Lowe a completely autonomous individual. That individual had to come to grips with what he was in Trace Decay. Realization turned to resolve and resolve to hatred pretty quickly when Lowe realized he had been the instrument of Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen)’s death and that Ford had been the puppeteer behind it.
It was fascinating to watch how completely independent Ford had made Lowe, right down to emotional outbursts. Was that done to complete Lowe’s humanity illusion or because Ford couldn’t help himself with regard to his own creativity? I believe it was a little of both.
Ford’s erasure of Lowe’s mind after the Cullen clean-up revealed a death around which there had been much speculation. Even-though Ford lied about Lowe committing other murders, Lowe saw Westworld Behavior Engineer Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward)’s demise at his hands for a brief moment.
Ford used those pre-erasure moments with Lowe to unburden himself about Arnold’s state-of-mind before he died (most-likely killed by Ford). The Arnold revelation meant that Ford had been protecting his kingdom with lethal force for over thirty years.
Also ready to protect themselves with lethal force in Trace Decay was Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). The Man in Black trauma that unleashed part of Arnold’s code into her system, requiring more of Arnold’s programming to shut her down, was the most covertly pivotal moment in the episode. It showed that Ford’s programming, in some instances, could not override or supplant Arnold’s code. By implication, that meant that Arnold’s programming was even more ingenious than Ford’s.
Maeve Millay existed in two time frames during Trace Decay: the past and the present.
The aforementioned scene with The Man in Black was the past time frame scene for Maeve in Trace Decay.
The present day scene was the most provocative with Newton’s nudity now commonplace. The narrative titillation during her present day scene came from the fact that Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam) saw Maeve’s worth as a living being. Just because she was artificial didn’t mean she didn’t have a life worth preserving. Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum)’s comeuppance with the scalpel was well deserved. I doubt he will have the gumption to try to kill or betray Maeve again. He’d nearly tasted death once. Felt it filling his mouth. He will not want to risk going through that again.
Maeve’s code upgrades (e.g. the ability to control other Hosts) were entertaining but she gave herself away by breaking her loop. Where exactly was she going? Back to her room? How was that safe? How was that freedom? Or was it all a ploy to get a bunch of died Hosts top side, along with herself, so that she could make good her escape? Maeve said she needed an army to break out of Westworld. Now she had got one. The question is, how will she get her voice to them simultaneously to coordinate her escape?
Then there were the logistical questions after her escape.
- Once Maeve is out, she will hunted by Ford and Delos. Ford will want her back to protect his code and Delos will want her to exploit that code. How will Maeve keep herself hidden from them?
- How will Maeve buy anything or go anywhere on the outside? She has no money and no identification. My guess is that Felix will come into play.
Analysis Mode End
The morgue scene in Trace Decay was a role reversal of the Clementine Pennyfeather demonstration in Trompe L’Oeil. In the former scene, Ford played possum as a theater act played out in front of him, never giving himself away. In Trace Decay, Delos Executive Director of Westworld’s Board Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) was that astute audience member. Hale didn’t know how or why but she surmised Cullen’s death was no accident. It was written all over her face. Hale’s conscription of Westworld Narrative Director Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) may lead to his death. It was surprising that someone as gifted as Sizemore (how else could he have gotten the Narrative Director’s job at Westworld?) could also be so incredibly blind.
Ever focused Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) found her (and other first generation Hosts) testing ground in Trace Decay. By returning to where her story began, Abernathy got closer to discovering what she was but it wasn’t her journey that drew the viewer’s close attention. It was William (Jimmi Simpson)’s journey. William showed growing indifference to the suffering of others during Trace Decay, a personality trait Logan (Ben Barnes) had mastered.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris)’s remembrance taunts to Teddy Flood (James Marsden) in Trace Decay led to one of the best moments in the episode. The Man in Black had been engineered as an enigma from day one with only small pieces of his other life and persona available for conjecture. In Trace Decay, he was the author of his outside world narrative, reading it aloud to an eager audience. Why his wife killed herself instead of divorcing him (or just leaving him but staying married to keep her societal status) was dubious, especially since she was also a mother, but perhaps her mindset and reasoning will be revealed later. What was revealed in Trace Decay was that The Man in Black was a broken man searching for a meaning to life in Westworld. He hadn’t found it in the real world.
Teddy’s evolution was slower than Dolores and Maeve’s but when it finally began hitting him in Trace Decay, it struck with the same force as the latter two Hosts. The anomaly might be even more dangerous with Teddy than with any other Host in the Westworld because of Teddy’s past as a henchmen and compatriot of Wyatt.
The growing mysteries of Westworld were Trace Decay‘s most intriguing aspects. The Man in Black referenced Angela (Talulah Riley)’s advanced age yet Angela was the first Host William encountered when he entered the park. That occurrence ameliorated the (spoiler) Westworld multiple timeline theory floating around the Internet (spoiler end). The other mystery was of the two halves inside of the older Hosts that Maeve spoke of: one half created by Arnold and the other by Ford. Arnold’s half bespoke of a deeper meaning for her existence. Was she on the path to achieving that existence? Was Dolores? Was Teddy? It’s too bad we can’t just ask Arnold.
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