With just two instalments left for the first season of Westworld, Trace Decay was a tantalising peek into the tangled circuitry of the park’s past and future. Dolores and Wills’ odyssey take them to the town Ford has previously looked upon as his magnum opus and Theresa’s demise was turned into a chess-like exchange between Ford and Delios’ boss Hale. More importantly was the Man in Black’s campfire monologue, which showed just how knotted some host’s past were with his. Teddy remembered the Man in Black’s interference at Dolores’ farm from the pilot episode, but more importantly was how Maeve’s flashbacks were entangled in making what we now know as the Man in Black. The croakey, matter-of-fact account of his near-sociopathic epiphany showed a man rotting from the inside out. The perverse satisfaction of baring witness to the Man in Black’s murderous self-examination underlined everything about Westworld and its ethos of showing us who we really are.
Yet still, with all the efforts to keep the narrative wagon rolling on, Westworld deftly handles its philosophical comparison of humanity and AI. Where we have examined the ideas of perceiving the reality we are presented with and the profound effects this can have, Westworld’s eighth chapter examines the idea of how much our makeup is owed to our memories and experiences. The title, Trace Decay, is the theory that memories become less accessible (or in the hosts’ case retrievable) with the passing of time. How much then of what we remember is owed to our makeup? Ford seems confident that we owe nothing, “…no inflection point at which we become fully alive…No, my friend, you’re not missing anything at all.” Bernard isn’t entirely convinced that he’ll still be the same once painful memories are removed. While Bernard may be more at peace with the murder of Theresa gone from his mind, any choice has been completely taken from him – even if it were to seek retribution further down the line. Seemingly, Ford’s motivation is that of control, “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the the dominion I should acquire,” The quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is startlingly poignant when you consider just how malevolent he has become. Even when we see the same memory-deletion trick pulled on Maeve, following her monumental run-in with the Man in Black, it still left a trace that with the mildest nudge has brought her power unimagined in the park. As painful as those lingering memories were, they have served to emancipate Maeve and maybe others soon enough. The lines of morality quickly blur if you speculate on whether we are better off without traumatic experiences or if another person has the right to make the decision on our behalf. However, Ford doesn’t distract himself with the morality of the decisions he makes to allow control over his dominion.
5* – Partial Recall