Westworld Season 1 Episode 8: Trace Decay Review

From the start, Westworld has been a strong show because of its characters. People like Delores, Maeve, the Man in Black, and Bernard are all there to generate suspense and keep the story moving. As the show has progressed, however, it seems their immediate importance has dwindled. Westworld is a suspense thriller that relies on a certain amount mystery to keep the audience engaged and coming back for more. This has prevented the show from answering major questions throughout the season and in turn the importance of many characters’ immediate actions to feel unimportant. In other words, the characters of Westworld no longer feel independent to each other, but instead, just pawns used for getting to the main point.

Let’s look at Dolores for example. From the beginning the show wanted us to believe she was the most important character in the story. She still might be, but as the season has progressed her story hasn’t. This week, and like many others, she was there to simply tease the audience and leave us wanting more. She and William stumble upon a group of men who were killed by the Ghost Nation and only one survived. Dolores insisted they care for the young man but he still ended up dying. They went on to find a town Dolores recognized from her past, a place she called home, but only she can see it. To William, it was just a field of sand.

We have already seen that Dolores is remembering things from her past and this week went a long way to reaffirming it, but it didn’t offer us anything new. Dolores’ story hasn’t progressed in a few weeks and now it just feels like the show is forcing her in until a big reveal at the end. She is no longer an interesting character with a story to tell. She is simply there to stall for time until things escalate at the end of the season.

Another story arc that has stalled is the Man in Black and this week was a perfect example. Early on he was one of the eeriest and intriguing characters because we didn’t know anything about him or what he was up to. Since we have discovered his hunt for the maze, though, he hasn’t been nearly as interesting. He is now used to fill screen time as he wanders through the desert and gets in the occasional gunfight.

That being said, he was still the best part of Chapter 8. The monologue he gave finally allowed the audience a look into his personal life and it’s as depressing as one might have thought. Between his wife’s suicide and his daughter’s disconnect, his life is filled with tragedy. He originally came to the park to see if he could feel anything for his actions, whether it be guilt, anger, or even happiness, but he hasn’t and that’s why he’s after the maze. In most cases, this information would have been revealed early on to give a reason for the character’s actions, but Westworld kept us in suspense and used it when the character was at its lowest point. The problem with this is it doesn’t give the audience time to connect with the character or even allow them time to justify his previous actions.

In general, Chapter 8 of Westworld failed to make any real progress. Instead, it succeeded in leaving us with more questions. This week we also saw Ford keep Bernard’s memory of Theresa so he could cover-up what happened to her, only to erase it later. This was interesting because it showed us that Bernard and other hosts can have feelings such as pain and regret but it still left us wondering what’s to come with his character. We also saw Maeve use her newfound powers to continue intimidating Felix and Sylvester, as well as to control other hosts. What these two storylines did was prolong suspense and reiterate what we already know.

I’m not saying building suspense and leaving the audience wanting more is a bad thing, but too much of it and the audience will start to get bored. My biggest fear is whatever we are building to won’t be big enough to justify the lack of progress thus far. The last thing I want is to feel disappointed at the end of the season because I know Westworld has the potential to be a great show. A show like Game of Thrones is great because it has a few episodes throughout a season that answer major questions or really propel the story, it doesn’t just wait until the last one or two. Westworld, on the other hand, is clearly building to a big finale that may or may not be as big as we are hoping.

Score: 7/10

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