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I’m not sure what to make of Westworld. On one hand, it’s a series that is allowing a number of actors (Jimmi Simpson, Thandie Newton, and Evan Rachel Wood chief among them) to give interesting and nuanced performances on a level we haven’t seen from them previously. On the other, the show seems content to sacrifice strong story and narrative momentum in the hopes of keeping viewers from figuring out whatever mysterious “twist” is at the center of the show’s story arc.
I put twist in quotes for a very good reason: if the central narrative of a series rests on the writers trying to withhold crucial information from the audience, that isn’t a twist. It’s a plot point. And, in the case of Westworld, it doesn’t appear to be a very good one. For weeks, fans have been speculating as to how the dueling timelines of William and the Man in Black might relate. The leading theory is that they are the same person (a theory that is still technically in play, as the show has been very careful to keep the pair apart, aside from both characters interacting with the same hosts), which has yet to be confirmed, but I think this episode made one thing clear: the characters are absolutely operating within the park in two different timelines.
William is going through the park at some point in the past, following the death of the mysterious Arnold, but before Delos (the company I’m fairly certain both William and his brother-in-law Logan work for) took control over the general operations. The financial issues of the park are discussed as a current problem, whereas in the present, the park appears to be run relatively smoothly, although there are certainly issues between Delos and Dr. Ford. There are also clear distinctions in how violence against guests is handled in the William era compared to the present (bullets create a paintball-like bruise rather than bouncing off a force-field, a host appeared to be able to actually inflict some level of violence on Logan by choking him, etc.). And, perhaps the biggest clue that something isn’t right in the timeline of events: Lawrence was killed and almost instantly appeared again in William’s timeline. Sure, they could have cleaned him up and started his arc again quickly, but it was just too quick for the series to be doing anything other than winking that something wasn’t right with the state of things.
And that’s all well and good. I’m fine with William and the Man in Black having a connection, and existing in separate timelines. But there’s one major issue with that: Dolores. In William’s timeline, she’s discovering her sentience. She’s speaking to someone who isn’t there (perhaps something Arnold left in her code), and she’s evolving into something more than simply a farm girl. She’s growing into an interesting character. But in the Man in Black’s timeline, she’s reverted back into the damsel in distress. She’s no longer becoming someone, rather she’s still stuck in her programming. The complexity to her story comes from her interactions with Bernard and Dr. Ford outside of Westworld. It’s clear there is still something of the rogue programming left within her, but it’s not clear how much or how it can impact her character. Hell, maybe there are just multiple versions of Dolores around the park and all of them are experiencing this same awakening. But without understanding the timelines within the series, its impossible to get a full understanding as to who Dolores is as a character and what is actually happening with her.
Mixing timelines like this can work, but only if there are clear distinctions for the audience to follow. As of now, things are just too jumbled within the story to really get a strong sense as to what is happening with time, story, and narrative action, and that is a problem. I know this is by design, as the writers want to keep us from discovering the big secret at the heart of the show, but it’s time for the series to start showing its cards. So far, the cast is doing a great job getting us to care about these characters. It’s time for the writers to give us another reason to care about the narrative arc of the show itself.
— One story arc that is particularly intriguing to me is Thandie Newton’s Maeve. I suspect she will get us a number of answers next week with whatever exposition dump the lab tech provides.
— The Man in Black is responsible for saving Westworld, which is why he gets carte blanche around the park. I would love to know a bit more about his relationship to Dr. Ford, as the duo seem to be a bit frosty toward each other. Also, as we learned in last week’s episode, the Man in Black also owns a charitable foundation that is responsible for saving people’s lives. So, behind all that rape and violence, he does good things. Yeah, still doesn’t make me like him any more.
— As you might have guessed from the review, I’m quickly reaching my limit with the confusion over the arc for Dolores. I love the arc in the William storyline, but I want to know how she fits into the overall narrative of the series- in all timelines.