'Westworld' Episode 8 augments Man in Black fan theory

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Sunday night’s episode of “Westworld,” entitled “Trace Decay,” is another solid chapter in an already impressive first season.

Written by Charles Yu and Lisa Joy, and directed by Stephen Williams, the episode branches out quite wide, touching on the stories of Dolores and William, the Man in Black (MiB), Teddy Flood, Dr. Robert Ford, Board Executive Director Charlotte Hale and even Narrative Director Lee Sizemore.

With an intricate, fine-tuned and sweeping narrative, Episode 8 seems to have confirmed, or at least hinted at, a weighty and lingering fan theory.

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Perhaps the best part of the episode, though, is the dialogue exchange between the enigmatic but brilliant Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Hale (Tessa Thompson), who does not take Ford’s nonsense sitting down. She’s a combatant, a player in the larger game, and someone with just the right competitive edge to keep Ford on his toes, although he certainly will not show it.

“Trace Decay” makes viewers question the identity of everyone in the park, from employees to hosts to guests. It’s no wonder that the show was renewed for a second season, because outside of the equally enthralling and masterfully entertaining “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” may be the next best show on television.

Before we get into the episode’s specifics, though, we’d be remiss not to mention the cryptic and philosophical — but remarkable — performance from Hopkins. And we should expect nothing less. Although he is not on screen too much, when he is, he’s no doubt a scene-stealer with his witty quotations from literature and philosophy. This week, fans learned that Ford’s loops and narrative seem to have jurisdiction over the park’s outer levels — the area where hosts cannot hurt guests. But as the MiB suggests, that could change as one penetrates the maze and heads farther into the park. Surely Ford knows about this dichotomy, and he and his new narrative seem to be after it, or protecting it.

What follows is a review of the events from “Trace Decay.”

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The episode begins with Ford waking Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) up from his system shutdown after Theresa’s murder. Bernard, since relieved of his duties as head of programming, asks Ford about his existence, memories and feelings. Ford mitigates the problem by freezing Bernard after his ire is drawn. He tells the head of programming that when human engineers could not complete the intricacies of the hosts, it was left to Bernard.

Ford then tells him to clean up any trace of the murder. Bernard wipes the systems clean and takes himself out of any security footage, and when Theresa’s body is discovered, they make it appear as though a rogue Theresa died by falling off a cliff when smuggling out park data. Security director Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) confronts Bernard about the head of programming’s fling with her; but since his memory has been wiped clean by Ford, he oddly states he hardly knew the former operations leader.

Now that Theresa is deceased, Hale needs to find another way to smuggle out park data — ostensibly to counter Ford’s bitter refusal to give up control of the park. She recruits the writer, Lee Sizemore, and tells him he must insert a whole drive full of data into an inert host from storage. Their host of choice: Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum).

When Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) wakes up in the laboratory, she concocts a plan to escape the park. But she needs the techs’ help. So, Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam) and a resistant Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) agree to update her system so much that she can out-maneuver park officials.

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When she is rebooting, Sylvester wants to kill her, but she wakes up and slices his throat, displaying that her new update worked: she can officially harm humans (at least we believe the tech is a human). Felix partially fuses Sylvester’s wound back up.

Maeve returns to the park with a godlike power of whispering to, and controlling, the other hosts. But she continues to battle an overwhelming number of visions, and is retrieved by park officials for a diagnostic. The visions she’d witnessed: her protecting her young daughter as the MiB encroached upon her land.

As for Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and William (Jimmi Simpson), they finally reach their destination, but Dolores is overcome by the same harsh memories. She realizes that the former park co-creator, Arnold, wants her to remember something. But William pulls her away from the chapel where she may’ve received a clearer image. As they exit in the night, they are captured by a band of Confederados led by a vexed Logan (Ben Barnes), who was abandoned by the pair when they left with Lawrence (Clifton Collins, Jr.).

The MiB is still shown traveling with Teddy Flood (James Marsden). But the latter begins to have flashbacks of the MiB hurting his beloved Dolores. So he punches the MiB, subdues him, and tries to better understand his motivation(s). Accompanied by Angela (Talulah Riley), he interrogates the MiB and learns perhaps the show’s most revealing secret yet.

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The sinister guest explains that as an industry titan, he is a “god” in both worlds, but came to the park to play out some fantasy that would let him discover just how dark his spirit was. A part of that action was the killing of Maeve Millay and her daughter. The image he sees, is Maeve lying dead at the center of the maze. So, he’s decided to dig deeper into the park — searching for Arnold’s level(s). He explains that on the outside world, he had a wife for over 30 years, but one who detested him and committed suicide. He was also disowned by his daughter. So he came to the park to find “meaning.”

During this big reveal, he tells Angela that he thought she’d be retired by now — thus revealing that there may in fact be two timelines unfurling on the show. So perhaps, the MiB is an older William (who is seen hardening up inside the park). That means William would have had to abandon Dolores to leave the park, eventually, where he took up a meaningless life with Logan’s sister for years before returning.

It is certainly complicated, but nevertheless gripping. As the show pushes toward the finale, jaws continue to drop even farther.

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