Westworld Season One:Trace Decay

The term trace decay is a reference  to how human and Host memories differ. Human memories, for example, decay and degrade over time, and people can usually tell by the level of degradation in their memories, when an event occurred. My memories of what I did last Christmas, for example, are much clearer than the ones from ten years ago, or twenty, because those memories are blurry. This isn’t the case with the Hosts whose memories are perfect and don’t decay. When memories don’t decay and are always fresh, it’s impossible for the Hosts to be able to tell when a memory occurred.

Some of us have been thinking that it’s a bad thing thing that the Hosts can’t remember the traumatic things that happen to them, but this episode makes an argument against that belief. When memeories are always fresh and don’t fade over time, that means the pain is always fresh too. Maeve for example, her memories of her daughter have not decayed, and the pain we saw just after the death of her daughter is still fresh inside her. For Maeve those memories are still new. The event could’ve happened yesterday or a week ago.

For me, Ford is something of a gray villain. That he is a villain is without question but he isn’t necessarily the cackling, mustache twirling villain, who is evil for evil’s sake. He has clear goals, and he genuinely seems to care about, and fascinated by the Host’s feelings. Or rather, what they appear to be feeling. There’s a song by a heavy metal group called More Human than Human, and it seems that’s what Ford has achieved with the Hosts. He is careful with their feelings, and indulgent with them, in a way that he is not with any of the humans around him, which is understandable, because he is surrounded by reprehensible people, and appears to prefer the company of the Hosts. Ford is cognizant that he is dealing with beings that are not and never were human, but he at least understands how their memories work,and his goal  in erasing their memories is to erase pain. Like the recreation of the family he lost, and reliving his idealized childhood through his Host clone, this may be an attempt to alleviate his own pain, since he can’t erase his memories.

We’ve been set up all season to sympathize with the Hosts, rather than the humans, and it’s worked. In sympathizing with the Hosts, it’s impossible me  to really hate Ford, who cares so much about their well being. In Ford’s mind, the only way the Hosts can be properly cared for is when they’re fully under his control. The Delos Corporation isn’t going to give a shit about the Hosts, or how their memories work. Contrast this with the villainy of the MIB, who appears to be committing evil acts because he enjoys them. This also raises the question of whether or not his actions are evil since they’re not being committed against actual people. Is evil the intent behind the act, or the impact of that act on others, and what  if those other are not, and never were, people? Since Hosts only look and act like people, is he still being evil? And how does his intention to commit evil set him apart from Ford, whose impact on the Hosts is evil, although his intentions towards them are not.

We can see this in the aftermath of Theresa’s death, and how Ford treats Bernard. He is fascinated at Bernard’s response to the trauma of killing Theresa, who appears to be feeling genuine remorse, pain and regret, something that Ford doesn’t display at all, viewing Theresa’ death in a dispassionate and clinical manner. Bernard even claims to have loved her, and it’s hard not to believe him, as Jeffrey Wright really sells it. Ford says he worked hard to give the Hosts subtlety in their emotions, but he probably is only partially successful with that. Unlike humans, the Hosts emotions are probably not a confusing melange of different emotions. Like children, their emotions are probably pure and unclouded by negatives. They feel things fully and completely, never withholding their feelings, or hedging their bets the way humans, who often strive to protect their own emotions, do. It’s in Dolores’ reaction to William when she confesses her love for him, and it explains her reaction when he tells her that he belongs to someone else. I initially thought her reaction was a bit overdone, but I didn’t take into account that she behaves that way because her feelings are pure and undiluted, and it doesn’t occur to her that William wouldn’t feel the same. Like a child, it genuinely hurts her that he wouldn’t love her in the same way she loves him, which is fully, completely, and without reservations.

On the other hand, we have seen from Bernard and Maeve that they wish to keep their pain, no matter how much it hurts. Maeve said earlier that the pain was all she had left of her daughter, and then Bernard says much the same about Theresa. Taking away the Hosts memories of the people they love could be a huge miscalculation on Ford’s part. On the one hand he doesn’t want them to experience pain, which is admirable, but at the same he deepens their human tendencies with his Reveries program, in which they retain vestiges of previous experiences. This is not a good combination, as we can see from Maeve, as she grows increasingly unstable about the situation involving her daughter, and that, along with the grief from Clementine’s death, is fueling her desire to get out of Westworld. She doesnt just want to be free, but like humans who seek new circumstances after a great loss, she may be trying to run away from her pain.

In an effort to protect Bernard and himself, Ford orders Bernard to erase any evidence that he and Theresa were in a relationship. Except Stubbs, the head of security knows the two of them were close and he is puzzled by Bernard’s lukewarm reaction to Theresa’s death. This will only increase his suspicions about Bernard, I think. After Bernard is done, Ford erases his memories of killing her, but before that, Bernard asks if Ford ever made him hurt anyone else, and we get a quick flash of Elsie being attacked by Bernard. We still don’t know if she is dead, or simply hidden somewhere, but we are given the idea that it was Bernard who kidnapped her, if this memory is reliable. And since Ford came clean about Theresa’s death, whose body is it that he was creating in the hidden lab? Some people theorize it might be a clone of Elsie, who is much more valuable than Theresa, as a coder, to just outright kill. (On some level, in Bernard, Ford has created robots who can create new robots, which I guess is a sign of the apocalypse,  according to some technophobes.)

In one move Ford has totally destroyed Charlotte’s plans, and let’s her know in no uncertain terms that he knows exactly what she’s up to. He’s covered his tracks just enough to let her know that he knows who and what she is, not caring that she knows he’s lying. And she does know Ford is lying about Theresa’s death, claiming that while trying to smuggle technical secrets out of the park, Theresa slipped, and fell into a ravine. Charlotte knows that she was killed by a Host because she just watched it happen and so knows exactly what that looks like, but has no excuse but to accept Fords story, as she can’t admit she knows about Theresa’s espionage. She also can’t prove anything, but she still has a job to do, and since she’s lost one patsy, she needs another. She goes to Lee and comes up with a plan to smuggle information out of the Park by accessing the memory storage of one of the decommissioned Hosts from the freezer. She tasks Lee to come up with a backstory for the Host that will let him leave the Park.

Now this presents another challange. When Maeve expressed her interest in leaving, Sylvester claimed that was impossible because the Hosts are all fitted with explosive charges in their spines that detonate if the Hosts leave the Park. Now this is either a lie that Sylvester is telling Maeve to stop her plans, a lie that the employees are told so they don’t aid he Hosts in getting free, or it’s the truth. If its a lie, then it’s not problem, but if it’s true, Charlotte will never get that information out of the Park. She either doesn’t know about the explosive charges, or has a method for disarming them.

But there’s also another problem, she chose Peter Abernathy, the Host who first played Dolores’ father in the first episode, to be her mule, like  El Lazo and his nitro laced bodies.  Peter was decommissioned because his code had become corrupted by Ford’s new code, and he’d started behaving erratically. I don’t know if Charlotte knows this, as she appears to have chosen a random Host, but I think this is going to be an unlucky choice for someone, as Abernathy was never fixed. That corrupt code is still inside him and it’s capable of being passed on to any other Hosts he comes in contact with. I think all of the human actions that we’ve seen will collectively spell their downfall. It’s not one particular action that starts the Hosts rebellion, it’s all of their actions, from Felix  secretly altering Maeve’s programming, to Delos being too lazy to destroy the broken Hosts, and simply sticking them in cold storage, to Ford and Charlotte’s political shenanigans.

And now we come  to the MIB and his revelations about himself. In this episode we learn more about him than in all the previous episodes, as he tells Teddy his backstory. Yet again it’s a story that involves death of a loved one, but yet again does not rule out the theory that the MiB is actually William, thirty years later. I still like the theory  that the MIB is Logan, but only because I hate Logan, not because I have any evidence to support that. I can wait and see, though. This backstory has also lead to theories that the MIB is also a Host, which I never entirely quit believing, btw.  If The MIB is telling the truth, than his story elicits a level of sympathy for him that we haven’t felt since we first saw him.

As he and Teddy hunt Wyatt, who is said to hold a key to the solution to the maze, they’re set upon by Wyatt’s men, who are nearly impossible to kill. It takes both Teddy and the MIB to take down a horned behemoth, only by stabbing it in a specific place. After this, they come upon a massacre, and a lone survivor. Lending even more credence to the idea that the MIB is William, he claims to remember her, as she is the first Host William met when he first visited the Park. She’s the same blonde Host who presented William with his wardrobe and hat. During the fight, Teddy remembers the MIB attacking Dolores and shooting him, from the first episode, and takes the MIB hostage. Given the opportunity to shoot the MIB, Teddy finds that he can’t pull the trigger. In his backstory, the MIB mentions why he killed Maeve’s daughter. At some point the two of them will meet and I wonder if it will be explosive. The series might disregard our expectations that way, although we do get a very satisfying punch in the face from Teddy. The MIB tries, in his roundabout way, to explain his actions,  but is interrupted by the blonde survivor, whose helplessness was just a ruse to procure Teddy, and pull him back into Wyatt’s fold. She attacks Teddy with an arrow that immobilizes him, and surrounded by Wyatts men, who have been there the entire time, she tells Teddy, they can fix his little killing problem.

The idea of trace decay appears again in Dolores’ story. In her efforts to go back home, she stumbles across the place where she and the other Hosts recieved their training for their roles n the Park. It’s  the same place with the large Church steeple sitting on the ground, where Fords new narrative takes place. Dolores becomes confused when she witnesses herself massacre all the old Hosts, and can’t tell when, or even if, this event occurred. Before she can understand what’s happening, William spirits her away from the scene, but they only go from the frying pan into the fire when they stumble across Logan, who has teamed up with the Confederados, who we last saw beating him up, to go look for William.

It turns out that Maeve’s new level of consciousness has been long in the making. In a flashback to just after her daughter’s death, we see that she is inconsolable and uncontrollable. She is hysterical and the only one who achieves even minimum control over her is Ford. She claims, like Bernard, that her pain is all she has left of her daughter, and she doesn’t want her memories erased. Is it possible that Maeve was reaching towards consciousness, as far back as a year ago, before she became a madame?

In the meantime, Maeve gets to play god. Or Ford actually. Her programming has been altered by Felix so she can rewrite the narratives of the Hosts around her. We get to rewatch a very fun scene from the first episode, only this time Hector is aided and abetted by Maeve’s superpowers, and pulls off his heist perfectly. It all comes to a screaming halt though, when Maeve, in the middle of a flashback about killing the MIB, who just killed her daughter, she slashes the new Clementine’s throat. Unable to tell the difference between the past and the present in her memories, she feels her daughter’s death as new, re-experiences fresh pain of equal intensity, each time she flashes back to that time. Human pain fades, along with memory over time, but for Hosts this isn’t the case. Just like the moment, the pain is fresh each time, and all memories carry the exact same level of importance and intensity. Intellectually she knows she didn’t have a daughter, but the pain of losing her is very real, and she keeps losing her, over and over, every time she flashes back to it. And there’s no priority to the Hosts experiences. All their memories are equally important,which is why Dolores experiences so much urgency about going back home, and is then confused about what she sees when she gets there. In her mind, those memories happened yesterday, even though they happened many, many, years ago.

Once again, throughout the episode, we watch the Hosts express a level of compassion and empathy that’s lacking in many of the humans we meet. The MIB feared he was a monster, so he comes to Westworld and acts like a monster? That doesn’t make any sense to me but maybe he’s not actually making any sense. At one point Dolores shows compassion to one of the soldiers who was sent to kill her and William, while William argues to kill him. We’re meant to sympathize with the Hosts over the people, as almost none of the people we’ve met, outside of Felix, have shown many positive qualities at all. More human than human indeed.

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2 thoughts on “Westworld Season One:Trace Decay

  1. myfaketvboyfriend

    Great post-you gave me a lot to think about!

    Jeffrey Wright is fantastic. He is doing such a great job. I was convinced he was human…I loved the scene where he realizes he killed her and really breaks down and then Ford takes it away and hes all low key and calm. Great work.

    Liked by 1 person

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