Disclaimer: This review discusses plot points and possible spoilers
I typically watch Westworld late at night, usually after a long day sometime in the middle of the week. As a result, I often find my tired mind drifting off, which is hardly ideal for a show that punishes attention lapses within seconds. When this happens, I usually give myself a shake and rewind the video until I’ve regained my thread again. I had to do it four times this week.
What on earth is happening? The series is already starting to rival Game of Thrones in the number of stories it is balancing, and it is only four hours old. In a tantalizing reveal, it turns out that the Man in Black is some kind of philanthropist in the real world. We find out that his mysterious game-within-the-game is somehow linked with Ford’s late partner Arnold, and this quest is now leading him to the evil Wyatt. William and Logan seem to have some kind of business interest in the park, and the duo are now splitting up. Old hand Logan is delighted at discovering a new easter egg in the narrative, while the kind-hearted William will stick it out with Dolores. Ford has enlisted earth-moving equipment, presumably to make earth-moving changes to the park narrative. He reveals a chilling omniscience by hinting that he has been watching Theresa since she was a child, and then flat-out telling her he knows about her affair with Bernard. Meanwhile, Dolores seems to be gaining human qualities at an exponential rate. Even Maeve has begun deducing the nature of her reality. Phew, there is a lot going on.
It’s not just the plot that is getting heavy. After touching on the idea of the bicameral mind last week, Westworld hints at another psychological theme this week by titling Episode 4 ‘Dissonance Theory’. This is a reference to Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. According to Festinger, cognitive dissonance is “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.” The idea is that when humans experience dissonance, they will do things that they think will help them minimize, remove or avoid this troubling feeling of contradiction.
The title’s most obvious connections to the episode are Dolores and Maeve. Their increasing awareness of both virtual and real worlds is causing them great distress, and leading them to behave erratically. The problem is, they aren’t supposed to be human, so how have they gained the human trait of dissonance?
It’s great to see such a high-profile show using sophisticated storytelling to explore complex ideas, with full confidence that the audience will keep up. Rejoice, for we are truly in the golden age of television.
Overall Rating: 4 / 5
PS: I was tempted to add half a star just for Anthony Hopkins, who showed he can still be utterly frightening at 78. I fanboyed completely at his Hannibal-like aura in that sinister restaurant scene.