For those you who aren’t psychologists, or enjoy the work of Leon Festinger as a hobby, cognitive dissonance means that everyone seeks consistency when it comes to the things they believe, and if an inconsistency does occur than it must be reconciled within that belief system or purged. For example, suppose you think you’re a rancher’s daughter, or a madame of a brothel in an Old West town, and suddenly you’re confronted with memories of seeing your family die more than once, or a memory of getting shot when you bear no bullet wound.
It seems weird to say with only four episodes to compare, but “Dissonance Theory” was Westworld’s best hour so far in that it’s been the only one to balance so perfectly the three main streams of the show: the machinations of the park masters, the self-discovery of the hosts, and the Lost-like mystery chase for things like the Maze, and the significance of Arnold. Who’s to say what progress was made in answering any of those mysteries this week, but we were offered just enough to become only more deeply invested in the answers, and the whole thing was dressed in the usually sharp work of the exceptional cast, some of whom made a long-awaited return in “Dissonance Theory.” Like this guy:
For those disappointed that the show skipped any Maze developments last week, this episode was a considerable treat, for now there are two parties in search of the Maze. Bernard sees Delores again, still shaken after the umpteenth death of her parents and the only one she’s struck out and gotten revenge for. Delores feels the grief and loss, but when Bernard offers to take those feelings away, she refuses. Instead Bernard offers the Maze, and if Delores can get to the centre of it then she can be free. But what does that mean, is it a physical freedom or a mental one, and how does Bernard know about the Maze?
The topic of the Maze is curious because if we’re to believe the Man in Black than it’s Arnold’s last and greatest contribution to the park. “Arnold created a world where you can do anything you want, but you can’t die,” MiB explains, implying that the Maze, once found, remedies that oversight. That might again suggest a physical freedom where a host, free of the park’s fakery and restrictions, might be able to live, and yes, die only once. But it might just as well mean that when a host finds the centre of the Maze, it’s over, they’re shut down for good and can’t be patched up and put back again. Perhaps a few of the hosts in storage suffered such a fate.
One mystery laid to rest this week was the question of whether or not MiB is himself a robot. Another guest recognizes him because his foundation saved the life of that man’s sister. MiB shuts down any gratitude at once though because he’s on vacation, dammit! So MiB is a real boy, but that does nothing to sort out the fact that he knows so much about Arnold. Considering that Arnold kind of went mad and died in the park, it’s reasonable to suspect that the corporate bosses of Westworld would keep on the down low; insanity and death of one of the founders of your state of the art attraction definitely seems like an occasion for cover-up. Could MiB have a personal connection to Arnold? It would have to be one that no one knows about because Arnold supposedly had no personal connections, his wife and son were killed. Or were they?
In any event, the MiB was in fine form this week. To get the next clue, he didn’t have to find a snake, but a woman with a snake tattoo. To be precise it was Armistice, Hector’s lady friend. You remember Hector, he shot up Sweetwater real good in episode one and has mysteriously not been seen since. Well, not so mysteriously since his loop sees him sitting pretty in a jail cell in the desert until his people come and rescue him, but MiB, with a sense of urgency, does the rescuing this time a couple of days early. I loved MiB’s line about how Hector “always seemed like a market tested kind of thing” as a host, which is actually not far off considered how we saw him used in the pilot. Need a big finish? Have Hector roll into town to do what he does.
And so it goes this week. MiB springs Hector so that he can get the next Maze clue, and Hector and company roll into Sweetwater to do what they do, but someone in Sweetwater had ulterior motives in waiting for Hector’s arrival, someone else who was remembering things she shouldn’t. Maeve has been an interesting case the last few weeks as she’s piecing together things and memories that she ought not to, but is causing her serious discomfort as she tries to understand them. We see her lose track of herself in the moment, everything slows or becomes off-kilter just as another guests decides to do some indiscriminate killing, and then she sees them. Men in hazmat suits…
This is where more of the cognitive dissonance comes into play as Maeve discovers that not only is she having recurrent recollections of those men in hazmat suits, but the Native people are as well. She sees one of the Native children with a doll that looks like a hazmat-suited man because, to the Natives, they’re spirits from the other side that secretly pull everyone’s strings. That isn’t terribly far off from the reality of the situation, but that’s what cognitive dissonance does, makes the outliers fit the established belief system. For Maeve though, it’s not superstition, and she has to know she’s not crazy. So when she has Hector stab her and remove a bullet fragment, she knows she’s not losing her mind. But what does she do now with that information?
That leaves one last mystery to consider, Ford’s new narrative. It’s a massive, literally Earth-churning effort that is requiring a noticeable diversion of hosts and resources, but its point remains completely unclear even after Cullen’s attempt at intimidating Ford into some answers. The question I’m considering now is whether there are three objectives – Ford’s, Bernard’s and the Man in Black’s – or whether there might be just the one, the objective of the man in charge of it all, Ford. He seems all to aware of Bernard’s activities in regards to his personal life, is it possible that he might know about Bernard’s conversations with Delores as well? And where else might have MiB gotten his information about the Maze? We’ll have to wait until next week to see if the show can keep up the suspense.