If you had episode five in your office pool, congratulations. You’ve won whatever prize comes with guessing which episode of “Westworld” would be the first to open with something other than Bernard speaking to a semi-conscious Dolores. Call your mom. She’ll be so proud.
“Contrapasso” begins, in fact, with a very different duo — Ford and Old Bill. You will recall from the extensive notes you’ve been taking that Old Bill was the second host ever built. There have been strong implications, particularly in this week’s episode, that Dolores may have been the first, though no confirmation. (Stubbs’ claim in episode one that Dolores is the oldest host in the park should be taken to mean that she is the oldest active host.) Regardless of who came first, Ford and Old Bill share a drink, one that leaves a wistful Ford visibly dissatisfied and that seems to exist primarily to set the table for a Ford-heavy episode. Also to have Ford tell a story that is a little bit like the plot of “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Between Santa’s Little Helper and Ford’s dog, it’s been a big half-century for fictional TV greyhounds.
Cut to Dolores standing in a graveyard, hearing — as Dolores is inclined to — voices. She’s hallucinating again. In the moment she’s actually standing in said graveyard with Logan, William, and the generic robot gangster whose name I won’t bother to recall until the show proves to me that doing so is worth the effort. The voice she hears sounds like Bernard’s. Or is it?
Anyway, the gang of four is at the doorstep of Pariah, an outlaw village that Evan Rachel Wood described, when she spoke to Variety this week, as “the Vegas of Westworld.” It clears that bar by a mile. Pariah appears to be where those orgies that SAG-AFTRA warned you about happen. It also is apparently the home of Lawrence, whom we just saw get drained of blood and killed by the Man in Black.
Yes, the MiB-Lawrence bromance — or as close to a bromance as you can get when one party has killed the other’s wife — ends tragically as the former sacrifices the latter to keep Teddy alive. MiB had been convinced that Lawrence was needed to reach the Maze. Now he’s convinced that Teddy is the necessary one, and that Lawrence was needed simply to donate blood. And he didn’t even get a sticker.
Back in the luxurious basement offices of Westworld, we get a Dolores-Ford conversation that functions as an aside from the Pariah storyline. The timing feels even more off than in the Bernard-Dolores conversations we’ve seen. If Dolores is in Pariah, where and when is this conversation happening? (More in a moment.) Regardless, we get some key info here. Ford interrogates Dolores about when her last conversation with Arnold occurred. She answers 34 years, 42 days, and seven hours ago, the day Arnold died. She also reveals that the last thing Arnold said to her was that she would help him “destroy this place.” Later, when Ford leaves the room, Dolores says aloud, “He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.” We already established in episode two that Westworld is pretty lax about office surveillance, so fine, we’ll give Dolores a pass on the potential security breach.
Looking for more Ford? You’ll get it when MiB and Teddy, pumped full of Lawrence’s blood, show up in a bar and get a surprise visit from the man himself. Among the things we learn: MiB has a much higher regard for the late Arnold than for Ford; The urgency with which MiB seeks the Maze may betray some unnatural motivation; and the big one, MiB claims that Arnold’s death almost sank the park — “Almost, but not quite, thanks to me.”
So MiB saved the park. Meanwhile, back in Pariah, we learn that Logan’s family business is looking at taking over as the park’s principal owner, as the place “is hemorrhaging money.” A lot happens in Pariah, but the most important thing may be the discovery there of Lawrence, who shows up shortly after we saw MiB kill him. When Clifton Collins Jr.’s mug first appears in Pariah, answering to El Lazo, there are at least two possible explanations. One is that, as many fans have theorized, “Westworld” is a story being told on multiple timelines separated by long spans, but differentiated by no storytelling cues. The other is that multiple hosts share the same face. The latter appears shot to hell toward the episode’s end when, after a falling out with Logan and some gunplay with the local bad guys, William and Dolores hop a train and find El Lazo on board. A détente is negotiated and El Lazo declares, “Now that we’re all friends, you can call me Lawrence.”
Is it possible that there are two or more versions of Lawrence running around in the park at the same time? Absolutely. “Westworld” has worked hard, after all, to make us understand that anything is possible within the confines of the show and the park. But if Nate Silver had developed a statistical model to determine whether that or multiple timelines were the more likely answer to the El Lazo question, multiple timelines would be ahead 89% to 11%. That said, count on plenty of October surprises as the season progresses — even if the next episode airs in November.
• Anyone watching this show who also read 1980s Chris Claremont “X-Men” comics and saw the first two “X-Men” movies could write a very long essay about why James Marsden as Cyclops and James Marsden as Teddy are similarly perfect casting choices.
• Elsie still feels like she’s in a whole other show. Comic relief only works if the character behaves as if she could plausibly exist in the world of the story. Elsie doesn’t. Whatever future “Westworld” takes place in appears to be one in which all humans save Elsie are incapable of smarm, yet all humans are weirdly tolerant of Elsie’s smarm.
• Related to the above: Did the discovery that someone outside the park is stealing data via weird laser implants in the hosts underwhelm anyone else? Without knowing anything about the world beyond Westworld, this feels low-stakes.
• Wood said that Dolores and William would make their romance official this week, and they certainly did. Dolores also upped her hallucination game and delivered one of the episode’s best lines: “You said that people come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.”
• Wood also promised that Dolores would finally get a change of clothes this week, and the show treated it with a seriousness that felt over-the-top funny and also appropriate.
• Oh, the final scene. It was cool to see a new, potentially important character emerge in the form of Felix, particularly because he provides us with a thus-far unseen serf’s-eye view of the bowels of the park. And Thandie Newton pulled off that cross-legged cliffhanger with aplomb.
• In other Felix news, when his red-haired frenemy tells him, “Personality testing should have weeded you out in the embryo,” that was either a bad throwaway joke or a major hint at how the world outside the park operates.
• Finally, one scene of Bernard talking to Elsie is insufficient Bernard. This was possibly the strongest episode thus far, but it needed more Jeffrey Wright to put it over the top.