What is Westworld? Is it generally a smart show that hides heady themes in a pulp fiction backdrop? Or does its Hollywood sheen and swagger make it appear to be smarter than it actually is? The shallow and slow ‘Dissonance Theory’ suggests it’s the latter as the science gobbledygook remains nonsensical. Maybe Westworld doesn’t know what the hell it’s talking about.
After the first two episodes presented the show’s mission statement to reflect humanity so well and crafted relatable characters, this fourth episode is content with letting the quality slip. ‘Dissonance Theory’ stitches the multiple storylines together without really furthering any of them. Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) are remembering more and more but are still not doing anything about it. Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Ford (Anthony Hopkins) have graduated from butting heads to threatening each other and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) continues his mission to complete the game.
The Man in Black has been a cold-hearted enigma and whilst Harris oozes menace, his character has remained two-dimensional. Here, a little more information is unspooled but Harris is carrying the character and without him, the Man in Black would just be a twisted diversion. The writers’ decision to push him into the spotlight reveals the emptiness of this episode because nothing new is said. He is there to rape and pillage because, like the rest of the guests, he needs to sate his dark side. He lacks any metaphorical power and whilst he succeeds as a Western trope, he fails at being a sci-fi trope.The swing from sci-fi to Western may lose the hidden meanings but it does allow for some good-old-fashioned swagger. On his mission the Man in Black crosses paths with Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) a swashbuckling outlaw who just injects some fun into proceedings. He’s been AWOL since the opening episode’s climatic shootout as he waits for his storyline to loop round. He is a fun character who looks amazing and says cool things but his reappearance reveals Westworld has lost its weirdness. The reenactment of the shootout is bland and the culminating revelation just suggests the show is running out of things to say.
For the first three episodes Westworld had a strong dramatic metaphor but here it is hard to determine what this episode is about, what it has to say. There are half-hearted hints about playing God but this is nothing new. Ford may be a merciless God but he’s just following in the footsteps of other sci-fi A.I. creators. The attempts at including a metaphor just seem tacked on in an effort to make this episode about something other than robot cowboys.
There is an old adage that if what you’re writing about is what you’re actually writing about then you’re in trouble. Well, from the evidence presented in ‘Dissonance Theory’, Westworld is in trouble.