The end of “Contrapasso” marks exactly halfway through the first season of Westworld, but the last two episodes have both marked such a tremendous leap in the development of some of the characters that it’s almost hard to believe that there’s only been five episodes thus far. “Contrapasso” certainly lives up to its name, “against step”, meaning that many of our key players are acting outside their established parameters, and not just the robot ones. Sure, Delores gets to have her Jason Bourne moment, but William also finally gets out of his own skin, while Ford makes a couple of moves to assert that he’s not the dotty old man of the park people think him to be.
First, let’s address the matter of multiple Lawrences. The shock of seeing the Man in Black cut Lawrence’s throat and hang him upside down for an ad hoc blood transfusion for Teddy was one thing, but the real surprise was finding out that Elizo was also Lawrence. We might have initial had the impression that Lawrence, as a type, was a stock character used to pinch-hit in various stories as an ambiguously Mexican villain, but when Elizo reveals that his name is also Lawrence, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s a glitch in the machine. A clue. That his presence in the game has some deeper meaning that’s yet to be revealed because with so much attention to detail in Westworld, how can there be multiple Lawrences?
William, Logan and Delores encounter the new Lawrence when they arrive in Pariah, which turns out to be a Mos Eisley-like wretched hive of scum and villainy, primary among them the Confederados, a group of former Confederate soldiers trying to keep Civil War alive. Elizo strikes a deal with the triad, they help him steal a Union army shipment of nitro, and he’ll help them on their way with their mysterious quest. Of course Logan loves the debauchery and its centerpiece orgy, which was like Eyes Wide Shut by way of Starz’ Spartacus, and had to be the source of all those salacious rumours about real sex on set. When Delores faints, you think at first its from over-stimulation, and honestly, who can blame her?
Instead of a secret conversation with Bernard this week, Delores was plucked from the game by Ford himself. He wants to know if she’s had any contract with Arnold, which is peculiar since Arnold is supposed to have been dead for over 30 years. At first it seems like a bit nostalgic for Ford, the way he asks Delores if she remembers the man he used to be, but Ford then segues to Arnold. Is he the voice that Delores is hearing, Ford asks her. She only recalls the last conversation she had with Arnold over 34 years ago, where he told Delores that she would help him destroy the world (meaning Westworld), but when Ford leaves her alone she seems to say to no one “He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.” We’ve all heard the expression “ghost in the machine”, so is Arnold the ghost and Delores the machine?
But that wasn’t the only “glitch in the matrix” for Delores this week as she cast off her rancher’s daughter frock and became a sharp-shooting, slacks-wearing cowgirl. The only scene better than when Delores went blank and shot four of the Confederados with four shots was when William saw Logan getting roughed up by other Confederados and pulled a Rorschach; Logan looked up at his friend and said, “Help me,” and William looked down and whispered, “No.” That was cold, but awesome because Logan’s needed the snot beaten out of him since day one, and if you tell your friend that you only keep around because he’s not a threat, don’t be surprise when he doesn’t throw you a life-preserver.
Ford had a busy week visiting old friends. He had a drink with Old Bill, his personal bar keep and one of the original citizens of Westworld who I didn’t realize in the pilot was played by Michael Wincott, a familiar face – and voice – who doesn’t get nearly enough work in my opinion. Ford tells Old Bill a story about he and his brother getting an old greyhound racing dog from their father as kids, and taking it to the park one day where it got loose, chased down a cat and killed it thinking it was the old felt rabbit it used to chase around the track. The dog, Ford recalled, looked beautiful in its pursuit, but it had no idea what to do once it caught the cat and tore it to shreds. Signs and portents here, Mr. Ford?
“Contrapasso” was bookend with loaded conversations, the end was between Ford and none other than the Man in Black himself. “Isn’t this a rare honour,” MiB says as Ford joins him and Teddy at an out of the way saloon for a drink. So they know each other, MiB even asks Ford how he’s doing in his latest park adventure, which implies that Ford might keep an eye on MiB whenever he’s in Westworld. Ford tells MiB that if he wants the moral to the story, the meaning of the park, all he had to do was ask, but MiB has his eyes on something bolder, “This place needed a villain,” he says, “it betrays a certain anxiety.” Meaning that Westworld feeds everything except an inner drive, a struggle in the face of pure survival.
MiB and Ford’s conversation was one of a couple of instances this week that gave some indication as to what the world outside of the park is like. MiB notes that in the “real world” every need is taken care of except one, purpose and meaning. Then, in the bays where the hosts are repaired, one of the so-called “butchers” that do the repairing, a man named Felix, had a gut reaction to seeing Maeve return for more repairs, another instance of a low-level person in the park having some humanity for the suffering endured by the park’s hosts. Felix’s coworker is aghast though, “The personality test should have weeded you out in embryo,” he says.
If we’re to take that meaning literally it seems to indicate that in whatever future Westworld takes place in that every person born leads a life of predestination, a society where roles aren’t chosen but assigned; the world knows what you’re supposed to do before you’re even born. It’s no wonder then that the idea of going somewhere you can become anything you want to be, in an entirely different world, would be so appealing. You can also understand MiB’s drive to shake things up because if Westworld is truly meant to be the chaotic antidote to an ordered world then it shouldn’t be so blissfully structured. If the point of Westworld is to test your limitations, then you should truly be tested.
Another subtext introduced in “Contrapasso” is the idea that there’s an entirely different struggle going on outside of the park. Logan tells William that his family’s company is looking to make a hostile takeover of the company that owns Westworld, as the park is “hemorrhaging” money. Their research has shown that there may be secrets the business is hiding, like the accidental death of a partner that was never revealed… On top of that, it seemed implied that MiB was the beneficiary that helped the park get back on its feet post-Arnold, which would answer why he knows so much about what goes on behind the curtain and his VIP status.
What’s clear now is that the answers to many of the questions are all tied to a single inquiry: what exactly happened to Arnold? He’s probably dead – biologically, physically – but what did he leave behind in the centre of the Maze, but how is he seemingly talking through Delores, the little girl from the village, and maybe even Maeve, who tells Felix at the end that they have to have a little chat. To be continued… For five more episodes anyway.