“Dissonance Theory,” the fourth installment of HBO’s proof that philosophy majors can have lucrative careers, doesn’t answer questions about its universe so much as the show complicates it further.
Everything is two conflicting things at once on Westworld. The park is a playground for visitors, and a hell for hosts; Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is a young woman and an old robot; programmer Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a park employee and also probably a damn robot. I started the episode assuming that Delos, which owns Westworld, had ultimate control over the park, and that Dolores was the furthest along in her understanding of her android consciousness; now the show’s power structure is even more of a mystery, and Westworld’s other female hosts seem more in-the-know than our heroine. Fittingly, all of the key moments in “Dissonance Theory” are sparked by twosomes. Here’s how it breaks down:
Dolores and Bernard
The episode opens with another of the show’s Dolores and Bernard Pygmalion Moments™. Here, they play pretty directly into the conspiracy-laden discussion that surrounds the show: Dolores appears to lie about shooting the gun at the end of last week’s episode, and since we see Dolores wake up with the gun after she speaks to Bernard, there are three possible explanations: Either Bernard knows that she lied, and is allowing her to believe she deceived him (maybe, but why?); or Bernard was somehow not informed about what happened to Dolores the previous evening (unlikely); or she didn’t lie at all, which doesn’t make much sense unless you buy into the theory that Westworld is showing us two separate timelines, and that new visitor White Hat William (Jimmi Simpson) is simply a younger version of the host-terrorizing Man in Black (Ed Harris). This scene transition plays into that idea, because it is possible that Bernard is questioning Dolores about a separate night of mayhem, that the scenes between the two are not always shown in chronological order. It’s a headache, I know.
The conversation plays into another popular Westworld theory, too: that Bernard could not be more of a robot if he started making bleepy bloop sounds and pulled a beer from his hollow metallic innards like Bender from Futurama. Bernard asks Dolores if she wants to erase the painful memories of the deaths of her family members. “The pain, their loss — it’s all I have left of them,” she tells him. This is strikingly similar to what Bernard said about holding onto the death of a family member to his (hologram) wife on (fake) Skype in the last episode. Bernard is our nebbish Deckard. Whether or not ’Nard is a bot, he knows about the maze that the Man in Black is tracking down — and now Dolores does, too. “The goal is to find the center. If you can do that, then maybe you can be free,” he tells her.
So now Dolores may potentially have more information about her identity and possible path to liberation than poor robot Bernard — who has given her all of this information — does himself.
Power-couple status: Only one realizes they’re not a human, and that’s not the best basis for a relationship.
Bernard and Elsie
“It’s like everybody around here has some kind of fuckin’ agenda except for me,” programmer Elsie tells Bernard. Uh, girl: Yeah. If you don’t have an agenda while working for a horrifying murder simulation multinational, what are you even doing there? Bernard warns Elsie not to consider the hosts human, considerately failing to mention the time she unprofessionally smooched a naked host. “The hosts don’t imagine. You do,” he says. If you agree — as you should! — that Bernard’s a bot, this is particularly ironic, because he’s arguing against his own worth.
Power-couple status: They’re two pawns in someone else’s agenda.
Man in Black and Lawrence
The Man in Black is on a weird buddy comedy adventure and I’m over his story line, but his escapades with Lawrence do reveal something crucial: He needs permission from Delos employees to do some of the violent shit he does. He has to request a “pyrotechnic effect” to escape from prison, and Stubbs (Luke “the other one” Hemsworth) must approve at least some of the Man in Black’s viciousness. We also learn that the Man in Black knows about Arnold. This means the Man in Black has more knowledge but less power than it originally appeared.
Power-couple status: The Jaime Lannister and Bronn of our time?
Lawrence’s Daughter and Dolores
“Where are you from?” Dolores asks Lawrence’s daughter, whose family was murdered by the Man in Black two episodes ago. “Same as you. Don’t you remember?” the girl replies, tracing a maze in the dirt with a stick. It’s apparent that Dolores isn’t the only host accessing memories and questioning her reality. This conversation makes it obvious that we don’t know which host is the furthest ahead in the Consciousness Olympics. How much does this little girl know?
Dolores has a brief terror flashback; one of her visions shows her kneeling over a grave with a cross that has DOLORES ABERNATHY written on it. Considering how deliberate Westworld’s world-building is, this is likely no mistake, and the implications are huge — it means there was another Dolores Abernathy, and that the Dolores we know has inhabited another (or many other) roles within the park in the past. Perhaps Lawrence’s daughter is the original Dolores??
Power-couple status: Two Doloreses may be more powerful than one.
Dr. Ford and Cigarette Lady
Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) takes the Cigarette Lady (Sidse Babett Knudson) (I refuse to learn the character’s name until she gets a personality trait other than “bitchily smokes”) for a pleasant, vaguely Mediterranean al fresco lunch date in the park’s mostly unexplored migrant worker zone. Except the lunch is not a meeting of equals but a demonstration of might.
The lunch fills in some of Westworld’s backstory. Ford reveals that he and Arnold had already built Westworld prior to selling it to Delos, which means the company was not involved from the beginning, and that it doesn’t necessarily understand what it has purchased. Ford freezes all the androids at the same time without making a perceptible movement, underlining the total and sweeping power he has over his creations. He has also seated his rival at the table she sat at the first time she came to the park as a visitor, to show how much he knows about every single thing that happens in Westworld. And then just to make things 100 percent obvious, he says, “Don’t get in my way.” Cigarettes is shook, as she should be — Ford’s demonstration makes it clear that Delos makes the money, but he makes the choices within Westworld.
Power-couple status: The show is setting these two up as bitter rivals, not a duo; I fear for what will happen when Cigarette Lady finds out that her lover Bernard is just a robot made by Ford.
Maeve and Hector
Maeve (Thandie Newton) has her own terror flashback and sketches the vision she remembers on a sheet of paper. (When she goes to hide it under a floorboard, she discovers a bunch of sketches with the same image, a man in a hazmat suit.) Maeve doesn’t know about the maze, but she is rounding the corner on understanding the nature of Westworld so much so that her consciousness may be more advanced than Dolores’s. Later, rogue bandit Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) tells her enough about the hazmat men to have her convinced that her world is not what it appears; she decides to cut herself open to see if her “nightmares” are real.
In the final scene, Maeve is fully aware that she’s stuck in a murderous Groundhog Day cycle, and that she cannot die, though it’s not clear if she’ll retain this knowledge. While she may not even remember her seppuku moment, she is able to temporarily control her own narrative. On this show, that’s a victory.
Power-couple status: As with any dystopian robot non-fling fling, depends on how much they remember.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.