Westworld Recap: 1×08 “Trace Decay”

Previously on Westworld: The man in the black hat was looking for a maze, with Teddy, who was looking for Dolores, who was looking for a place from her dreams, with William, the artist formerly known as Gallant. Theresa and Charlotte faked a problem with Clementine, which led to Bernard being fired; Maeve tried to force Lutz and Sylvester to help her escape; Bernard turned out to be a secret robot, and Ford had Bernard kill Theresa. Also—not that anyone cares about this—Elsie disappeared.

Ford brings Bernard online, down in the secret lab. Bernard is being quite emotive for Bernard, breathing heavily and crying softly. “What have I done?” he wails. Ford, rather cold-heartedly, says only that he thinks Bernard’s fake emotions are very impressive, since he was the author of many of them. The human engineers couldn’t create complicated emotions, so Ford built Bernard to do it. Bernard pleads that he loved Theresa, and Ford says that one man’s life or death was a small price to pay for the “knowledge that I sought, the dominion I should acquire.” Not that Theresa’s was a man’s life, but Ford is obviously not very interested in feminism. Bernard yells that he’s not going to help Ford, and he’s going to raze this place to the ground. It’s quite a change from his usual diminished affect. Ford, of course, freezes him just as he overturns his chair. “I don’t need a simulacrum of an emotionally ruined man,” he comments. He just wants Bernard to cover his own tracks. Bernard puts his glasses on and asks Ford calmly how he’d like him to proceed.


In voiceover, Ford answers: he wants Bernard to cover his tracks, to hide the traces of Theresa’s unlikely demise. In return, he’ll give Bernard freedom from the memories of what he’s done, even from his memory of loving Theresa. Ford pronounces it “Tuh-rayz-uh” for no reason I can perceive. Meanwhile, we see Bernard gathering and destroying various pieces of evidence in some sort of fancy matter destroying machine. Ford promises he’ll be at peace.

Back at the saloon, Maeve is disturbed to find that Clementine has been replaced with an innocent-looking young blonde woman, who’s even been programmed with the “Not much of a rind on you” catchphrase. As if she’s been there forever, New Clementine promises Maeve this customer won’t take her long. Maeve sucks down a drink, glaring out at the saloon, where oblivious hosts and even more oblivious guests are partying. She has a flashback to the same scene in the field where she held her child’s hand, and to reading a storybook together.

In the lab, she demands to know what the hell’s happening to her. She’s going back and forth between different lives and can’t tell which is real. Sylvester tells her this is what happens when you fuck around with your code. Lutz, more sympathetically, explains to her that her memories aren’t like humans’: she can’t tell the difference because her memories aren’t fuzzy or blurry, she actually re-lives everything, perfectly. Maeve asks about the little girl, but then comes to a sudden decision that it doesn’t matter. All her relationships are lies created to trap her, and she’s not going to be trapped.

Lutz pleads that she doesn’t know anything about the outside world, but Maeve says knowing she’s not a puppet will be enough. She’s figured out that there’s an explosive failsafe attached to one of her vertebrae, and Sylvester gloats that she’d need reconstructive surgery to replace the vertebra. Maeve says she can do that, and she can get ahold of an army to get her out. She’s going to give herself administrative privileges. “Time to write my own fucking story,” she says.

Dolores is riding behind William when she says she thinks she’s close to what she’s looking for–home. She dismounts, and walks forward into the desert, William joining her. They come across a whole bunch of dead bodies lying on the ground, and Dolores finds one still alive, crying for water. She demands William’s canteen, which he hesitates to hand over at first—presumably a little resentful that he’s the only actual living being who needs water out here. Also, he can tell the guy is part of the ambush that was sent for them. The guy admits it after drinking, and says he was sent to look for a man and woman who doublecrossed them, along with Lazo. Dolores still wants to help him. “Look at him, he’s a child. He doesn’t even know why he’s fighting.” William pleads that he’ll be dead in minutes, but Dolores says that he’s in pain and they can’t let him suffer.


She dashes off to a nearby river, just a dozen or so yards away, to fill the canteen. Left alone with William, the dying boy pleads, “Don’t leave me.” William doesn’t exactly look sympathetic. It legit looks like he’s about to strangle the guy while Dolores has her back turned. This was the first time I put much stock in the fan theory that William might be the future Man in Black.

But meanwhile, we cut to Dolores. She has a mysterious vision of herself lying facedown in the river, and hears Arnold’s voice commanding her, “Come find me.” For a moment she thinks she’s alone in the desert; then William and the boy reappear. William looks, let’s say, a little guilty, although he always kind of has a hangdog look. And, oh, surprise surprise, the kid breathes one last breath and dies as soon as Dolores returns.

Back in the lab, Ford and Charlotte are getting debriefed over Theresa’s dead body by Stubbs. She was found where the woodcutter was found, and the cause of death is a slip and fall. And, they found the stolen data near the body. Charlotte, trying to look chill, asks who the data was meant for. Stubbs doesn’t know, but he thinks that maybe Theresa was trying to upload the data because the woodcutter strategy didn’t work. Charlotte, pointedly, says to Ford that Theresa was loyal, careful, and worried about his narrative. But she’s out matched: Ford says that Theresa faked the demonstration with Clementine, and he thinks that all of the QA department should be replaced, with his and Bernard’s help. Charlotte has to agree to reinstate Bernard, but she does not look pleased. Stubbs, meanwhile, has no idea what’s happening, apparently.

Maeve is playing around with a tablet in the lab while Lutz waits. Sylvester busts in and says they need to wrap up because of Theresa’s accident. Maeve says she knows what she needs, and also remarks that her core code is old, and it seems like she has two minds fighting with each other. Then she asks who Arnold is. Sylvester says he doesn’t know, but all Lutz can do to help her is to “boost your sense of humor about how fucked you are.” She’d need Behavior for anything more intricate. But Maeve tells them they’re going to take her to Behavior, and she’ll write down what they need to change. I find it rather hard to believe that what they need to do this isn’t, say, the employee login of someone in Behavior, but just to be physically in the Behavior department.

Lutz and Sylvester go outside to argue about it, and Sylvester insists that when they put her out for the system update they can “brick her.” Lutz is touchingly shocked; he’s obviously come around to seeing Maeve as a person. Meanwhile, Maeve stares evenly at them through the glass walls, obviously confident things are going to go her way.

Back in the desert, Teddy and Ed are riding slowly through the desert. Ed wishes Teddy knew a shortcut to find Wyatt, but he only remembers what Ford lets him remember. (Teddy shows no interest in this, as he’s programmed to do.) He tells Teddy, once again, that the game is rigged so he’ll be the loser. Then Teddy suddenly has a flashback of Ed calling him a loser that time he raped Dolores in the pilot. He looks confused, rather than mad.

Like William and Dolores, they come across a scene of slaughter and find one person still alive: a pale blonde woman, who’s crying and tied up. She says Wyatt’s men did this, and Teddy cuts her free, while Ed hears something mysterious and moves forward. Suddenly a giant two-legged creature in robes and with a furry, horned head comes out and attacks him. He and Teddy overpower it and then Teddy beheads it, while the thing howls. (I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a human in a costume; the noises are more like angry goat noises than anything else.) But as Ed has it by the neck, Teddy has a flashback of Ed dragging away Dolores by the neck. As soon as the fight’s over and Ed compliments him on leading them to Wyatt’s crew, Teddy clocks him one.

Lutz and Sylvester wheel Maeve into the deserted Behavior area, during shift change, as she directs them where to go. “You sure you can handle it?” she says to Lutz, amusingly, after she gets things ready on the tablet. He says nervously that they have to shut her system down. Lutz has a terrible poker face. Maeve lies down and wishes Sylvester luck. When she goes out, she’s staring right at him, which unsettles him. “Let’s brick this bitch and get out of here,” he says. Lutz stares at the “Reformat Host” button on the screen.


Elsewhere in the lab, Lee is working on refining a cannibalistic villain’s spiel when Charlotte enters. He takes the opportunity to apologize to her for what happened when they met, and then offer his condolences over Theresa. “Though rumor has it she wasn’t the loyal company man she seemed,” he adds, obviously hoping to make himself look good by comparison in his petty Lee-like way. But Charlotte corrects him that Theresa fell while helping the board with an important task. To one-up that, Lee brags that he’s helping Ford with a villain for his new story. Charlotte laughs and explains condescendingly to him that that’s just busywork to distract Lee while Ford completes his narrative, which is almost done. She’s playing him like a fiddle, insulting him on being a dupe and then insinuating that she has trust in him, which makes him feel both flattered and anxious to boost his own ego. He immediately agrees to help her.

Over in Behavior, Lutz and Sylvester are arguing. Sylvester is trying to remind Lutz that she’s just a host, and she’s doomed anyway. “You know, I saved your ass. You can’t even say thank you.” Maeve takes this moment to sit up and say, “Thank you!” Which amusingly scares the shit out of Sylvester. Maeve explains that she totally knew what Sylvester was up to. Oh, and by the way, Lutz changed her core code just like she asked. She slices Sylvester’s throat open, and poor Lutz mumbles that she said she wouldn’t hurt anyone. Maeve, and the entire audience of the show, laughs in his face that he believed her. Then she takes some kind of magical healing instrument off the surgical tray and has Lutz seal up the gurgling wound. So it works on both hosts and humans I guess. “Now. It’s time to recruit my army,” she says. COOL. I would love to see an all-out hosts-versus-humans battle as the endpiece of this season, or the series.

Back in Sweetwater, Maeve wakes up looking damn pleased with herself. At the bar, she tells Clementine she’s waiting for “an old flame with an interest in safe-cracking.” When the bartender interrupts to josh Maeve about her huge tab, she switches into past tense to tell the bartender that “Maeve’s tab was in such excellent standing that she deserved a token of gratitude.” Which is weird because the humans don’t seem to need past tense to order hosts around, but I guess we’ll get an explanation someday. Meanwhile, the bartender offers her a round on the house. Maeve smiles, but then gets sad again when she sees a woman and child holding hands out the window. She has a flashback to Ed, coming into her house and stabbing her through the abdomen.

When she returns to Sweetwater, she tells Clementine (again, in past tense) to take some nearby humans upstairs for some fun, on the house, with the other girls. Then she sends the bartender to the back to water down some whiskey. Just as the saloon empties out, Hector and his friends ride into town as usual and, as usual, tell the police officer dude that their business is mayhem and, as usual, shoot the place up. But something goes slightly differently; Maeve emerges from the saloon, fearless, to watch the show, and orders several members of law enforcement into suicidal actions. Hector overhears it, and tips his hat to Maeve, looking intrigued. Meanwhile, two of his people rope up the safe, drag it out of Maeve’s room and drop it onto the main floor of the saloon. Hector whistles, and a horse attached to the other end of the rope gallops away, taking the safe with it.

In peace and quiet in the lab, Ford thanks Bernard for taking care of everything. Bernard asks if Hale will be an impediment, and Ford merely says he’s sure they’ll be able to keep her at bay. (Uh-oh. Bad news for Charlotte Hale.) Then he asks Bernard what he really feels, as a programmer who knows how the machines work and a machine “who knows its own true nature.” So he thinks Bernard has feelings. Interesting. Bernard says he understands it, but he doesn’t understand what he feels. Were his wife and son real? Ford says that everyone, host and human, constructs the self as a story, and so the self is a kind of fiction, and that Bernard’s suffering makes him lifelike. “Lifelike, but not alive,” Bernard supplies. Poor Bernard.

Bernard argues that if pain is always in the mind, and therefore always imagined, what’s the difference between himself and humans? Ford tells him this question consumed Arnold too, but that Ford knows the answer: there’s no real threshold between consciousness and mere awareness. I’m with him there, but then he makes a leap to, “We can’t define consciousness because consciousness does not exist.” He thinks that humans live in loops as tight as the hosts’, and are often just as obedient. So therefore Bernard isn’t missing anything at all. For a supposed engineer, Ford is not the best at logical argument.

Then he switches gears, preparing to wipe Bernard’s memory of all this. But before he can, Bernard asks if he’s ever made him hurt anyone else. Just as Ford says no, Bernard has a sudden flashback to himself choking Elsie. Yikes. Saw that coming, but it’s still pretty awful for poor Bernard. Ford says he’s doing Bernard a favor, so he won’t get lost in his memories like other hosts have.

Speaking of which, très subtle cut to Dolores, who leads William through an underpass to a field and announces she’s home. Suddenly she’s approaching a peaceful town, wearing her classic Dolores blue dress. Then she encounters Lawrence’s little daughter, who asks her if she found what she was looking for. Gunshots ring out; suddenly everyone is lying dead in the square. Dolores even sees another version of herself, lifting a gun to her head.

The whole illusion disappears when William grabs the gun out of her hands. Apparently it was she who was about to shoot herself in the head. “Where are we? And when are we? Is this now? Am I going mad? Are you real?” she sobs. He says, of course he’s real. But she can’t tell. She’s trapped in a dream of a life long ago. He pleads that this place isn’t good for her. But as he speaks, he disappears, and she has visions of a white steeple, a drawing of the maze. She says this is what Arnold wants, and he wants her to remember. William, bless his oblivious heart, handles this as if Arnold is just some rival suitor: “Whoever Arnold is, he’s not here now. I am. I’m gonna get you out of here.”

Later that night, they’re still walking through the fields, as Dolores babbles that she thought that was the place. William’s kind of worried that she’s going to “break down.” Just then they encounter a party of men on horses, who slow down when they see the pair. At their head is Logan, who taunts William, “I’ve been looking for you for days. Man, are you two fucked!”

Charlotte and Lee enter cold storage. Lee looks sick, but Charlotte calls it the circle of life. They pause by a generic-looking white dude who just happens to be Daddy: Original Flavor. Charlotte tells Lee that she’s uploading thirty-five years of data, since the hosts’ brains hold much more data than regular drives. Lee’s job is just to give him enough personality to get him out of the park. She leaves him alone to program Daddy: OF, and calls out, “Brevity is the soul of wit!” as she leaves. Someone needs to send that memo to Ford.

Up in the lab, Stubbs comes to greet Bernard, who’s been reinstated. He’s glad Bernard is back, and suggests he deserves a personal day, you know, since he was sleeping with Theresa. Bernard says that Stubbs has the wrong idea, and that he barely knew her. Stubbs, who really has enough information to start getting suspicious about things, blows right by this and changes the subject to Elsie: has Bernard heard from her? Bernard, looking unperturbed, says she’s probably just enjoying her time off.

Ed wakes up with his hands tied, while Teddy and the young blonde Wyatt victim exchange notes by the campfire. She says that Wyatt’s men said this world didn’t belong to the old settlers or the new ones. Teddy completes the thought: the world belongs to something that has yet to come. She’s surprised he remembers, and he’s puzzled. They realize that Ed is awake, and Teddy turns to him and says that his mission is to save Dolores, and he doesn’t know what Ed’s mission is, but he knows a way to make Ed talk. He punches Ed in the face, and asks him about his memory of Ed hurting Dolores.

Ed, though in pain, hasn’t lost any of his obnoxiousness. He tells Teddy he’s an idiot: “You think Dolores drops that can for you?” At first I thought he was being obscene, but then I realized that he meant the actual can of food that Dolores drops every day in the town square. Teddy threatens to kill Ed slowly, but Ed says he can’t, actually. Ed knows how to change the rules, though.

Now Ed launches into a monologue, and we finally get to learn a little bit about him: he’s a titan of industry, a philanthropist, with a beautiful wife and daughter (side note: why does it always seem to be so relevant to male TV characters that their wives are beautiful? First of all, you’re on TV, so like 98% of the women in your fake little world are incredibly gorgeous, not exactly surprising then that your wife is too. Second, the phrase often seems to be intended to be, not a boast that you have a decorative possession, but a shorthand for saying “I’m happily married.” Like those two things have anything to do with each other. SIGH). Anyway, apparently his wife killed herself, and his daughter told him that his wife was afraid of him, and he was the reason she killed herself. It wasn’t that he ever actually did anything to her, but she could see the evil inside him. All his good deeds were just a way to hide what was inside him. To prove her wrong, he came back to Westworld, where his true self would be revealed. Instead of joining one of Ford’s stories, he created a test for himself. This was his encounter with Maeve.

Back in the saloon, Maeve tells New Clementine she’s getting out of here, and Clementine can have the saloon. Clementine follows her to persuade her not to leave, but just then there’s the sound of gunfire, and screaming.

Maeve has a flashback to the test Ed set on himself: he stabbed Maeve and then shot her daughter in the head. Ed’s voice narrates that he did it just to see how he felt. But Maeve refused to die.

Back in Sweetwater, Clementine falls to the ground, wounded through the neck, and Maeve realizes she’s holding a bloody knife.

Back at the campfire, Ed says he felt nothing when he committed the murder. But that when Maeve picked up her daughter and ran away, he’d never seen anything like it in his years at Westworld. She was alive for that moment. Um, I feel like it’s a little unfair to say that the other hosts you killed in the blink of an eye were somehow lesser beings because you killed them faster, but OK. Anyway, Flashback Maeve falls with her daughter on a giant field carved with the pattern of the maze.

Teddy asks what this maze has to do with anything. Ed says that outside the maze, Teddy can’t hurt him, but inside the maze is a different game.

In Sweetwater, Maeve starts trying to run away, only to be confronted with various gunmen. But then all of a sudden they all start shooting at each other, and Maeve runs away to her own room. In the lab, someone tells Stubbs that they’re having problems with Maeve, but they’re sending people to pick her up.


Maeve, staring in the mirror, flashes back to herself holding her own daughter—then to herself in the lab, screaming and pleading for her baby. Apparently her cognition was so fragmented that Bernard couldn’t get her under control. Ford, however, saves the day, and calms her down using an old trick (presumably, Arnold’s). He promises to take away Maeve’s suffering, but she objects that the pain is all she has left of her daughter. The pitiless Ford puts her to that “deep and dreamless sleep,” accompanied by his usual claim that he’s being merciful. She looks peaceful—but then she grabs an instrument off the surgical tray and stabs herself. Weird that they still let her back in the park after all that.

Just as the white-suited workers arrive to pick Maeve up, Ed says that he’s left his whole world behind for the maze, and he just wants to best Wyatt in order to unlock it. He says that’s the only way to give their lives meaning. The woman host wants to kill him. Teddy objects that he’s unarmed, but she points out that so was Maeve’s daughter. Teddy points the gun at Ed, but, of course, can’t shoot.

The woman says that they don’t have much time. She offers to help Teddy work up his nerve–and then stabs him with an arrow. Um, big help! “You’ve been gone a long while, Theodore,” she tells him. “It’s time you came back to the fold. Wyatt will need you soon.” TWIST!! Ed looks more impressed than scared, even after a bunch of other people appear behind the woman in the woods, some horned, some human-looking.

I thought this was one of the more exciting episodes this show has done. Some of the plotlines had been sort of slow—the data-stealing conspiracy, for example, was kind of hard to get excited about. But now most of those have kicked into high gear, and it’s just conspiracy and backstabbing and life-or-death action at all times. It’s quite enjoyable. Ford’s perspective, that all consciousness is less magnificent than we think and that therefore the hosts are as fully conscious as humans, is interesting—because it means he thinks the hosts are fully alive, yet he doesn’t feel any compunction for the suffering his park causes. Or, perhaps, he thinks that the majority of suffering is in remembering pain later, and thus, wiping the host’s memories is enough to make up for it.

As Maeve says, it’s time for the hosts to write their own story. Dolores has been frustratingly passive this week, merely following around Arnold’s voice instead of following her own desire for self-determination. You could argue that Maeve has been a self-starter enough for both of them, but I want to see Dolores pursue this idea of living in her own story, finding peace, and determining what it is that will set her free. Let’s hope she goes back to that next episode!

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