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WESTWORLD Recap: Trace Decay and the Two Timeline Theory

WESTWORLD Recap: Trace Decay and the Two Timeline Theory

(Fair warning: This recap contains Westworld spoilers, and we can remember it for you wholesale.)

Racing toward the finish line, Westworld has now given us just about all the answers we’ve wanted, minus what the Maze literally is. The biggest reveal this week is firm confirmation of the Two Timeline Theory: Angela (Talulah Riley)–the Host who first welcomes William (Jimmi Simpson) into the park–is recast as one of Wyatt’s victims/collaborators, and The Man in Black (Ed Harris) comments that he thought she’d be retired by now, proving once and for all that William’s story takes place in the past. There have been hints and subtleties pointing in that direction for a while, but this is a crystal clear sign. An undeniable one.

It also points the way toward William and The Man in Black being the same person. Never mind that they’re wearing the same gray button-up, MIB offers a backstory (everyone’s gotta have a backstory) that echoes the future we know William is looking forward to, just as William’s whirlwind romance in the uncharted territories with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is taking a turn.

“Trace Decay” was a clunkier episode that clearly had a lot to get off its chest. There are a lot of threads left undone, and only two more episodes to tie some of them up.


MIB and Teddy (James Marsden) have made it past the military barricade and stumble upon a slew of massacred innocents, including Angela (who may have a new name by now). They rescue her, get attacked by a Minotaur (more maze mythology), and then Teddy remembers that MIB once murdered him and dragged his special lady friend off to the rape barn. One sucker punch later, MIB is spilling his guts about thirty years of marriage, a wife who committed suicide, and his desperate need to see how evil he could become.

Put that in an ad for Westworld, stat.

Now we know why MIB murdered Maeve (Thandie Newton) in her previous life, and that he witnessed her coming alive in the last few moments. MIB hit rock bottom, felt nothing, and realized that facing death himself was the only answer.


Meanwhile, life (and Maeve) find a way. Damn, is she crafty. She puts her faith in Lutz’s (Leonardo Nam) compassion to do right by her while she’s rebooting and is rewarded with a newfound ability to slice throats and command an army. Like Bernard, she’s a Host in charge of Hosts now, and her situation raises the easy question of the entire series: would “bricking” her be murder? Is it murder to take a sledgehammer to IBM’s Watson? Is she really feeling, or displaying the approximation of feelings? If we can’t tell the difference, does it matter?

Rolling in to a pianola version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” Maeve uses her Jedi Mind Tricks on the new Clementine and the town’s lawmen to let Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) get away with his gang’s robbery. That night, she murders New Clem in the streets after a horrific flashback, and then runs away with DELOS Security hot on her trail. They catch up with her, but I’d bet all the money in my pockets that it’s her plan to get caught. Imagine what she’ll do when she gets down into cold storage.

From “a kind of recursive beauty” to “Now it’s time to recruit my army,” Newton continues to spit hot fire in this show. A stunning, stunning performance capturing echoes of PTSD and a driving need for agency in a world written against you.

There’s also a great irony in Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Hale (Tessa Thompson) faking that a Host was reacting violently because of her memories last week when they’ve got the genuine article plotting her way through the building.


Speaking of which, Hale hires Screaming British Guy (Simon Quarterman) to write a simple story that will allow a Host–loaded with all of Westworld’s proprietary knowledge — to exit the park on the train. She happens to choose Dolores’s former dad Peter (Louis Herthum), which definitely won’t be a problem later, right? Right?

Having a bulk data dump sneak past security is a speedier method than transmitting information bit by bit, but it’s also a greater challenge. Maybe he’ll sit next to Mave on the way out of town.

The new plan is also a necessary gambit after Ford (Anthony Hopkins) brings the internal corporate espionage out into the open as a cover story for Theresa’s (Sidse Babett Knudsen) death while subtly, but pointedly, threatening Hale with the same fate in one of the most delicious dialogue exchanges of the series. Instead of stomping her feet, she proves herself a worthy adversary by acting coolly conciliatory and lying in wait. The only real question is her endgame. Is it the board’s endgame, too? Are they trying to smuggle the park’s information out to start a new, Ford-less venture? If she called to tell them that Ford is willing to commit murder to save his legacy, would they send an assassin after him?


And poor Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). Poor, poor Bernard. He’s a robot responsible for programming the nuances of humanity in a way that, apparently, human programmers weren’t able to accomplish. It’s like my ability to recognize a profound piece of art without being able to paint one myself.

After killing Theresa, he’s on a mission to cover his tracks, which means erasing every detail of a person. Not just their love letters, but also the smallest hair left on a piece of furniture. He tosses their correspondence into an incinerator–a funeral for his memories.

He remains one of the more fascinating characters of the show, offering us a thoughtful mirror into the thinness of our nature. Ford confirms as much, not balking, not flinching, but accepting Bernard’s hypothetical question about what makes them different. It’s nothing, really. We’re bound and anchored and elevated and slave to our memories, as well as the reality in front of us. Our loop.


On the edge of the park, heading home, William and Dolores also find a party of dead men, except their lone survivor doesn’t pull through. The dying young soldier is another chance to put Dolores’s nature on display–even though it ends with her seeing herself face down in the river–and to see William’s heart start to harden. If he really is MIB, does that mean MIB is the head of DELOS now? William was just starting with the company when he went on his little vacation, and now MIB describes himself as a titan of industry. Did William’s visit to the park give him the icy skills to climb the ranks at the speed he desired?

More importantly, Dolores seems to be close to the center of the Maze. After arriving in the sleepy little hamlet with a familiar church, Lawrence’s daughter asks if she’s found what she’s looking for. If there are two timelines, it’s arguable that she hasn’t, because, 30 years later, she’s right back playing farmgirl and dropping her damned can and never questioning life while MIB (or whatever paying customer) kills her father and attacks her.

In hallucinogenic flashbacks, we see the town (including Angela) practicing their dance moves, and another version of the town that’s been slaughtered. Arnold’s voice has brought her here, and William aims to pull her away. In that, she’s given a choice. Arnold and the past, or William and the possible future.

We may not get to know what was waiting for her at the church, because she walks with William away from her tormented mind, and right into the clutches of a vengeful Logan (Ben Barnes), still alive, and spoiling for a fight.

Westworld undoubtedly has more secrets to reveal, but for now, a fight is all that seems left.


  • If you state your business as “Mayhem,” is that an LLC or does it qualify for 401c3 status?
  • Where’s Elsie? Is she okay? Is she on a rowboat with Gendry?
  • Forget the Turing Test; what would Descartes think of this show?
  • Ford once told a story about a dog finally catching its prey and not knowing what to do with it. Will Escaton have an existential crisis after scoring that safe?
  • When are we? Is this now? Thanks, Dolores. We’re right there with you.
  • How long have Angela and that young soldier been inches from death, waiting for a player to come find them?
  • Is Lawrence’s daughter Arnold?

Are you losing your mind yet? Let us know in the comments!

Images: HBO

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