It’s easy to forget that HBO’s Westworld is only 4 episodes in. The multi-faceted/layered/philosophical explorations have drawn us in and kept us intrigued, but like the train that rolls into town with new guests, it may run out of steam without something else pushing it forward. Not only does Dissonance Theory not uncouple it’s cars before turning at the junction, we can glimpse the next station.
Therefore, it’s a pleasant surprise to actually see something more like a western. Yes, we’ve seen the dusty town, sipping whisky in saloons and weather-worn men draw on each other, but Dissonance Theory really takes the genre for a spin. While we see henchmen dispatched with a bang and an unflappable one-liner, there’s also a violent liberation from a gang of kidnapping marauders and, most entertainingly, the Man in Black stages a jail break. It’s the kind of set piece that would slot itself comfortably in the chamber of a Sergio Leone film. Not only does the Man in Black take a moment to parlay with the outlaw, Hector, before springing him, but he confidently swoops in to save his sidekick. Even Lawrence’s deliverance is a cheeky repetition of when our Man in Black saved him from execution by noose: a slow zoom on a blindfolded Lawrence while we hear the sounds of would-be executioners blasted away.
It’s not all clinking spurs and cigar chomping, though; we get some tantalising new threads. While Ed Harris’ Man in Black knows something about co-creator Arnold “You ever heard of a man named Arnold? You could say he was the original settler in these parts,” we also catch a glimmer of who he is in the outside world. “Your foundation literally saved my sister’s life,” says another guest breaking character and while the response is the kind of terse death threat we’ve come to expect, there’s the notion that he may not wear that black hat in real life.
Similarly, where Anthony Hopkins’ Robert Ford showed us a glimmer of malevolence when he chastised an employee for looking at the robotic hosts with a modicum of humanity, we see his wonder disappear and replaced with knowing omnipotence when he turns the table on the corporate guardian Theresa Cullen.
For those still in search of a theological fix, Maeve’s existential enlightenment has evolved to fevered dream. A rendition of “A Forrest” by The Cure plays as Maeve remembers a hazmat-clad Westworld physician operating on her. “Come closer and see/See into the dark/Just follow your eyes” the song suggests. If not religion, there’s certainly a proposed notion of worshipping the things primitive minds have difficulty to understand. A Native American child drops an unsettling rendition of the same figure that haunts Mauves dreams: The “Man Between Worlds”. The climax to episode 4 is actually something that marries both the devices of a western and the philosophical intimations the series has made. Maeve slowly delivers the safe combination, one number at a time to Hector. All the while lawmen try to bust the door down. They take their time until she cuts her scar-less stomach open and Hector pulls out a bullet. “I thought I was crazy – but I got shot, here,” she says. “And this [Man Between Worlds] was standing over me. And then it was as if it never happened.” She knows as well as we do, that it did…maybe Hector does too.
4* – Once Upon A Time In The Not Too Distant West