Posted on Monday, October 31st, 2016 by Jacob Hall
“Contrapasso” may be the most plot-heavy episode of HBO’s Westworld yet, driving nearly every storyline forward while introducing new characters and new mysteries. Important characters share the screen for the first time while others make decisions that literally change the very nature of their existences.
Let’s dive in and poke around. We have a lot of ground to cover.
Okay, Let’s Talk About the Westworld Timeline
After the events of “Contrapasso,” I’m more or less convinced that the speculation amongst viewers is true – we are watching two separate timelines unfold and sometimes only a basic edit separates scenes that take place decades apart. Someone out there will attempt to assemble a timeline, to puzzle out what falls where and how everything lines up and so on. That someone will not be me. The question I’m more interested in now is less about how the pieces align (I’m certain the show will reveal its hand soon enough) and more about why showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are telling their story this way.
Let’s start with the core of this whole thing: the theory that the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and William (Jimmi Simpson) are the same person, separated by thirty years and half a lifetime’s experience. For those who care to take notes, the evidence piled up in favor of this throughout “Contrapasso,” from the Man in Black’s big conversation with Dr. Ford (more on that in a bit) to the strategic placement of Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) in two distinct roles. So let’s say this is true. Let’s go ahead and assume that they are the same person for the sake of argument and discussion. Let’s go ahead and say that the good-hearted William, who grows sick to his stomach when he’s forced to pull the trigger on an unarmed Host, grows into a guest who indulges every sick whim that comes his way. Let’s roll with that.
And if this episode does tip its hand toward this being the truth, it would certainly be appropriate because this is an hour about transformation, about the long paths we take toward the destinies we don’t even know we’re reaching for. This could certainly apply to William, the naive guest who has fallen for a host after being dragged on a vacation that is of little interest to him. It could apply to the Man in Black, who is nearing the end of a thirty-year mission whose conclusion remains a big question mark. It most obviously applies to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who has snapped out of her loop and has started to make choices that directly contradict her role in Westworld’s makeshift society.
Time does not exist for the hosts, who die on a regular basis and come back to life the next day after getting a once-over from a few (often incompetent) technicians. They live in their bubble of existence, waking up and only remembering a life that never actually happened, losing new memories because they need to be a clean slate by necessity. They’re theme park attractions. Rides. Everyone wants to ride the Cyclone, not a refurbished Cyclone that is a little different every time you visit it. Westworld‘s loose timeline, its willingness to (seemingly) jump across years with a single cut, is a reflection of this perspective. When you do not experience time, time has no meaning. Time is an illusion. When you cannot comprehend time, like Old Bill in cold storage, you wake up from your slumber and start drinking and remain blissfully, painfully unaware that it’s been a long time since you’ve mattered. Westworld is a show that is firmly on the side of the robotic Hosts and its treatment of time and continuity is a reflection of that.
But then you see Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) drinking with Old Bill, telling stories of the family greyhound that killed a cat and didn’t know what to do with himself after he got what he wanted. Ford has gotten what he wanted. He built a world. He is that world’s Lord and God. And yet, here he is, sitting in cold storage, sharing a drink with a stuttering robot. Even as the future looms large, as the endless impossibilities rear their heads, he’s still stuck in the past. Because 34 years can also pass in a blink of an eye and unlike the hosts, Ford remembers each and every one of them…and wonders where they went.
Who Employs Logan and William?
With each passing episode, we have learned more about why the sweet William and the debauched Logan (Ben Barnes) are on vacation together. First, we learned that they are not friends. Then we learned that William is set to marry Logan’s sister in the near future. And now, more details have unfurled into the narrative: William works for Logan and has been promoted to executive vice president, a position he only earned because Logan assumed that he would never evolve into a threat and would always remain a passive and non-threatening stooge. This view also extends to their personal lives, as Logan makes it clear that he has little respect for William and assumes that his sister doesn’t either.
Of course, this all climaxes with William leaving Logan in the hands of the vengeful Confederados, refusing to help him escape from a particularly brutal slice of Westworld role-play before feeling the scene with Dolores. William has finally embraced the game of Westworld by letting it get personal. His journey of self-discovery, his adventure, begins not with the decision to become someone else, but to embrace who he truly is within the confines of the park. In William, Dolores has found the perfect ally in her quest for the maze, a man who doesn’t want to play make-believe and who has let his vacation take a very personal turn.
Of course, all of this is interlocked with a few more mysteries about William and Logan. We know that they’re checking out the park because their company is considering buying it. We know that the park is hemorrhaging money. We know that their company is aware that Arnold existed, that he died (in an apparent suicide) and that Westworld is in a “free fall” because of his death. If the timeline theories are accurate and if the misadventures of Logan and William are actually taking place 30 years in the past, we could be looking at two representatives of Delos, the company that operates Westworld in the “modern” scenes. And if that’s the case, we may know why the Man in Black, the humanitarian in the real world and violent psychopath in the park, is able to get away with everything he does: he probably sits on the board of the company that runs the park. Not bad for a guy who was promoted to executive vice president by a boss who thought he was a loser.