Despite being called “Decoherence,” this is a relatively straightforward episode of Westworld — one that’s largely about the characters left behind by last week’s apocalyptic brouhaha, and catching us up to where things stand with them. And that includes folks like William, whose story one might have thought had reached something of an endpoint. Instead, it’s time for a deep dive into him as a person, with assistance from his past lives (including a very welcome cameo by Jimmi Simpson).
Things begin with Maeve still firmly under Serac’s control, waiting for her new body to be loomed after dying at the hand of Dolores in episode four, and keeping busy by imagining her reunion with her daughter, as well as fighting Nazis. But then the field expands to check in on William, trapped in the mental health facility to which he was sent, though things become chaotic once the ripple effect of Dolores’s data release spreads to them.
While William’s psychologist dies by suicide after getting a copy of her profile (as well as getting a text from her partner disconnecting her from her children), there are still enough professionals around to keep seeing to his treatment. The device that’s implanted into William’s mouth, by the way, is something you can read all about on the Incite website — it’s what interacts with the “limbic tabs” we’ve seen people, including Caleb’s mother, take over the course of the season. This technology’s ability to control a person’s basic biology was shown earlier, when thugs were torturing Caleb by activating his own grill and ramping up his heart rate, and the smart bet is that this technology is likely a key part of how Serac plans to reprogram people who don’t fit into his system. In William’s case, though, it means a trip down memory lane, returning to his youth spent absorbed by books, an abusive father, and his own inner darkness.
Interlaid with all this is Serac’s officially successful effort to take over Delos, scooping up all the data, destroying almost all the hosts, and attempting to root out any potential Dolores clones. “Charlotte,” as one of said Dolores clones, goes lethal to complete her mission, but to be fair, Serac started it by literally assassinating a board member right in front of her (his agents scooping his body into the trash can like a sack of recycling).
Maeve, in her simulation, is keeping busy murdering Nazis, and doesn’t lack for company thanks to Lee Sizemore’s recreation hanging around the Warworld bar, as well as Serac making good on his promise to bring in some help for Maeve: specifically her dear Hector, whose memories she restores with a touch. And for a brief time, Maeve seems to have full control of her bubble, getting the opportunity to interrogate a replica of Dolores — further set-up for the oncoming Dolores versus Maeve showdown that this season feels like it’s been building toward.
No longer in control is “Charlotte,” once Serac unmasks her in front of the board. While her mind might be Dolores’s, as implied by previous episodes living someone else’s life has an effect on you — which is why she makes protecting Charlotte’s ex-husband and son a priority, once her primary mission is fulfilled. And that, it turns out, is what gave her away: Caring about her son and his father is something the original, far more ruthless Charlotte would never have done
However, “Charlotte” had a plan in place, thanks to an aerosol agent that kills everyone who is physically in the boardroom, as well as some badass fighting skills and a riot robot that gets her out of the building with only a few major wounds. Before she does so, though, she makes the choice to squish Hector’s memory core (who knew the spheres were squishy?), bringing about one of the show’s few real and rare deaths, and a truly devastating moment for Maeve. She’s restored to a new body by the end of the episode, but his death will clearly stick with her.
The major MacGuffin of the season remains the encryption key to Robot Heaven, held by Dolores alone, and “Charlotte” isn’t going to make it easy for Serac to get it. The problem is, “Charlotte” has her own grieving to do now, after a bomb explodes in the car containing her, her ex-husband, and her son, just moments after she’d said “trust me, I can keep you safe.” The episode ends with her scorched beyond recognition, watching the people she’d come to love as family burn, and it’s just brutal.
Meanwhile, William, having beaten the crap out of his past selves, seems lost — but gets found by Bernard and Stubbs, who were able to find him thanks to a tracker implanted in his blood. William has set himself free from his past, but only after literally tearing his past selves apart, and might now be the most dangerous variable in this game. In a show filled with murder robots, that is saying a lot.
These moments of tragedy aside, the unfortunate thing about “Decoherence” is that when it’s not consumed by William’s journey of self-discovery, it’s mired in table-setting. However, this is understandable, given that after this, there are only two more episodes left in the season, and that table needs to be set for what will hopefully be a satisfying final meal.
The Questions Beyond
• “If we changed ourselves just to survive, would it even matter if we did?” This is the sort of deep thought that was of course written and produced before ::handwave:: all of this — but does feel highly relevant to today, as we ask questions about just how much about our world is going to end up changed by everything that’s happening now.
• This is a touch the show has used before, and it’s always fun: When Maeve is inside her simulation, the aspect ratio on screen changes to a more traditionally cinematic one, a powerful reminder that we are in a different realm.
• Pneumatic tubes! Love that the future hasn’t forgotten about them.
• The first clue that all was not as it seemed with William’s “group session” came courtesy of that quick cameo from Jonathan Tucker, who we last saw as Major Craddock in season two — just one of William’s many victims over the years.
• The graffiti outside Jake’s apartment, invoking the memory of Arnold’s maze, is a fascinating easter egg that maybe doesn’t quite make sense. How did that image get into the public consciousness? Is it a clue to bigger secrets, or just Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan messing with us?
• Seeing the full damage to William’s hand is pretty horrific — and honestly, it’s kind of surprising that he hasn’t gotten a robotic replacement. Then again, after the massacre, William might have some new feelings about robotics…
• Last week I posited the theory that Westworld is setting us up for a stealth series finale. Nothing about this episode gave me any reason to believe otherwise.