Westworld Recap: Crossing the Threshold

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Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, Jimmi Simpson as William. Photo: HBO
Westworld
Show
Westworld
Episode Title
Contrapasso
Season
1
Episode
5
Editor’s Rating
4/5

We open in the sub-basement laboratory, where Dr. Ford is having another one of his conversations that are actually soliloquies. Tonight, he's telling Old Bill the story of his childhood dog, a greyhound who spent its life at the racetrack chasing after a furry lure that it could never catch, a little bit of fluff that became the roadrunner to its coyote. And so when Ford's brother let the dog loose at a park, it immediately bolted for a nearby cat and ripped it to pieces.

Then, says Ford somberly, it just sat there confused, like a melancholy doggy Alexander mourning because there were no more doggy worlds to conquer. "That dog had spent its whole life trying to catch that thing," Ford says. "Now it had no idea what to do," More likely, the dog got distracted by a squirrel three seconds later, but the point remains: It's hard to transcend your programming. Also, maybe don't program things to "kill" other things unless you want it to happen without the air quotes.

William and Logan arrive at the pseudo-Mexican border town of Pariah, which we're told is a city of outcasts. You don't say! Dolores gushes some more about a disembodied voice calling her to adventure (a.k.a. Arnold's voice calling her to the maze) and when William mentions "the real world," she asks what he means — the precise sort of detail the hosts are programmed not to notice. Later, when Logan calls Dolores a "doll," William asks him not to use that kind of language around her, because he thinks she understands. "Of course you do," Logan says condescendingly, like he's talking to a boy who believes his stuffed animals come to life when he's not looking.

In Pariah, they end up getting a face-to-face meeting with Slim's boss, El Lazo. (The role is filled by Lawrence, the host whom the Man in Black dragged to and fro until finally bleeding him dry earlier in this episode.) With El Lazo's blessing, they end up going on a side mission to rob a wagon of nitroglycerin from Union soldiers, which is actually fun until it goes sideways thanks to Logan's violent tendencies. Although this time, it's William who ends up killing the most people — in defense of his friends, of course. More important, Dolores gets a cowgirl outfit, and it's adorable.

Back in Pariah, the trio end up at a weirdly metallic orgy that looks like a cross between Goldfinger and Eyes Wide Shut, alongside some ex-Confederate soldiers who are their ticket to the fabled war game Logan so badly wants to play. Naturally, William decides to opt out because of good ol' conventional morality, and Logan has finally had enough.

"Don't you get it yet?" he yells. "There is no such thing and heroes or villains. It's just a giant circle jerk." He tells William that he's a milquetoast middle-manager who will never stand up for himself, and that everybody knows it. William and Dolores certainly have that much in common: Everyone believes they're built to just take it on the chin, but I suspect that neither Dolores nor William will end up sticking to the stories that have been written for them.

Westworld has a lot to say about stories, how they can serve as both the programming that constrains our lives or the means of rewriting it. Stories are powerful stuff, which is why we have to be careful with the ones we write about other people. Just ask Dolores — or most female characters in Hollywood — about what it's like to inhabit a world where you exist purely to be desired, saved, threatened, or fucked. What it's like to be the object of every sentence, not the subject.

The play-within-a-play conceit of Westworld is meant to implicate us — to reveal not only how the stories we tell as a culture reflect our beliefs, but how they affect the people we tell them about in unexpectedly real ways. If there's anything to be learned from the Ballad of Dolores and its endless refrain of misogynistic violence, it's that the stories the entertainment industry likes to tell about women — or really anyone besides the straight white men who are overwhelmingly their architects — are not only pernicious, but achingly boring. How can Dolores be content with the same tedious damsel-in-distress loop playing out over and over again for eternity? Follow-up question: How can we?

Ford, too, reveals that when he was young, his father told him "to be satisfied with my lot in life, that the world owed me nothing. And so, I made my own world." He's a writer, after all; he didn't like that story, so he told another one. He also reveals that before Arnold died, he tried to enlist Dolores in what became his final mission: destroying Westworld. "But you didn't, did you. You've been content in your little loop," Ford says. He's still curious, though: If Dolores decided to take on a bigger role, would she want to be a hero or a villain?

This question becomes relevant when things go awry at the Mexican orgy, after the Confederate soldiers discover that El Lazo ripped them off — the nitroglycerin was replaced with tequila. William finds himself cornered and he tells Dolores to run, only to see her whip out her gun and blow them all away faster than any gunslinger we've seen so far. Fun fact: Dolores is a killing machine. It's just physics, really. She's been swinging around in such a tight loop for so long that once she achieves escape velocity, anything in her path isn't going to be in her path for very long.

Also, William and Dolores make out and leave Logan to the tender mercies of the soldiers, which is great because he's annoying. They hop on a train with El Lazo and head toward "the front," a.k.a. the war game that seems to have something to do with the Maze. In the terms of the Hero's Journey, I believe this is known as "crossing the threshold."

Meanwhile, the Man in Black takes the wounded Teddy to a tavern to rest up, and who shows up for a drink but Dr. Ford himself. It's clear the two men know each other, and it's implied that the Man in Black is a major investor in Delos. Ford makes a pointed remark about the Man in Black's odd, anxious urgency to find the maze — perhaps he's dying? Either way, he's determined to find the secret ending to the game and the deeper "truth" he believes Arnold left behind. "Far be it from me to get in the way of a voyage of self-discovery," Ford says cryptically.

Finally, we learn that the young robo-repairman who supposedly "forgot" to put Maeve in sleep mode has dreams of his own. He wants to work in the behavioral department, so in his off hours he's been trying to bring one of the park's robo-birds back to life. On this particular night, he's doing his unauthorized work in a room where Maeve happens to be lying on a slab. When the bird finally flutters to life, it soars across the room and lands on her finger; she is very much awake, and she'd like to have a chat.