Westworld kept its audience wildly speculating on its direction and the meaning of its themes. While moments of action were interspersed with its weighty concepts at the start, they were (intentionally) still the played-out beats of John Ford movies. Something familiar to enticingly comfort the new guests arriving at Sweet Water – and perhaps even us – before turning the tables. Then Episode 4 brought a bit more Leone: Jailbreaks and last minute saves from firing squads. With Westworld’s 5th instalment, it seems our tumble down the rabbit hole has come to an end and it’s time to really take a look around West-Wonderland.
Thankfully, the mid-point of Westworld’s Season 1 is a perfect storm of narrative, western-wish-fulfilment and tantalising discovery. Logan and William’s new found mission bring them to Pariah: a town not unlike the Ancient Rome-themed world in the original film. It’s still a familiar frontier town, but with a heavy dose of the kind of debauchery we’re more familiar with in an episode of Game of Thrones. If Sweet Water is the PG-13 introduction into Westworld, Pariah is indeed rated “R”. Women stalk the street in nothing but gold paint and the evening’s entertainment is a feast including a heavy helping of orgy. Although William has recently earned his spurs when saving Dolores from hijacked Union Men, neither are interested in indulging the delights laid out before them. Westworld clearly doesn’t need to indulge the sit-com staple of will-they-won’t-they, but while they speak, the hall’s orchestra play a subtle rendition of Nine Inch Nails “Something I Can Never Have“. If the portents of the previous episodes cover songs are anything to go by, this is no accident, but could be a reference to William’s barely hidden desire or Dolores’ searching for a world she can’t yet be sure exists? Either way, Dolores’ awakening is not only breaking free of the confines of her “damsel” programming, but it’s also breaking free from the programmed shackles of her creator. Not only does she manage to be pretty handy with the iron in her holster now, she withholds the answer to Bill’s direct question back in the lab. You can’t begrudge Dolores’ indiscretion – her emancipation is just as much a liberation for us!
Meanwhile, the Man in Black’s search for the maze not only gives him a new sidekick for his quest, but also an audience with the increasingly malevolent Bill. While the exchange is a thinly veiled chess game of wills, Bill makes it clear he won’t stand in the way of the Man in Black. However, there’s a subtextual warning of “what then?” running through the whole episode. The Man in Black may have mastered the mechanics of the park’s narratives, but if he does discover, what he’s convinced is, the end game, what does he do then? If Dolores unravels the tightly controlled plot around her and makes it into the real world, will she survive a world amongst the guests she has become to distrust? What will Maeve ultimately gain from determining the mystery of the “Man Between Worlds“? Sadly, the answer may be in Bill’s childhood story – the greyhound who finally catches the thing it’s chased all its life. Then sits in existential uncertainty while onlookers watch in horror.
While these things may not be something they can never have, maybe it’s something they shouldn’t have.
5* – Dolores got her guns