‘Westworld’ Recap and Reaction: “Trace Decay”

Danielle Ryan

It looks like Westworld is staying true to its source material. The HBO series has taken a very different route than the 1973 film it’s based on, but it appears that a showdown between the robotic hosts and humans is imminent. Last week’s “Trompe L’Oiel” revealed that one of the humans wasn’t so human after all. This week, Maeve, Teddy, Dolores, and Bernard all get a chance to deal with the memories they’re suddenly having. There’s a lot to unpack here, so for a more in-depth play-by-play recap, check out the Westworld wiki page on the episode here.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!


Westworld has been pretty clever with its episode titles, and this week is no different. Trace decay is the idea in psychology that memories leave a trace in the brain, either in some physical or chemical change to the nervous system. Forgetting occurs as a result of the automatic decay or fading of the memory trace. “Trace Decay” is all about memory and remembering that which was supposed to be lost, in particular for the hosts. As they begin to remember the events that have been erased from their minds, each host has its own existential crisis. Heady stuff, but brilliant.

This week starts us off with Bernard trying to handle the fact that he killed Theresa. He loved her, and tells Dr. Ford that. After some deep soul-searching, Bernard is cut off by Ford, who instructs him to cover his tracks and remove all evidence of his relationship with Theresa. Bernard does so and Dr. Ford erases his memories of their affair and the murder. Right before Ford can hit the erase button, however, Bernard asks if Ford ever made him kill anyone else. Ford says no, but Bernard remembers strangling poor Elsie. Just as he remembers, Ford hits erase and Bernard is back to being pleasant and subservient.

The problem comes when Ford reinstates Bernard as head of behavior. Stubbs sees Bernard in the hallway and offers his condolences regarding Theresa. Bernard doesn’t understand and tells Stubbs that he and Theresa were only colleagues. When Stubbs brings up Elsie as well, Bernard seems especially confused and hurries off to get some work done. Bernard is smart, and it won’t be long before he starts putting the pieces together and remembering more. When he does, Ford is in for a reckoning.

Pictured: hell on heels.

Bernard isn’t the only one Ford should be worried about. Charlotte Hale knows that Theresa’s death involved foul play. Hale is one smart, tough cookie, and she doesn’t believe for one second that Theresa simply slipped and fell, which is how Ford explains it. She enlists Lee Sizemore in her mission to take out Ford. Now that Ford has displayed the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to keep the park under his control, Hale is ready to step up her game. She’s one devilish adversary, and it will be interesting to see how she and Ford’s game with one another plays out.

Up in the park, Dolores is having cognitive issues of her own. She has dreams that feel so real she can’t tell the difference anymore, and has no idea what reality she’s currently in. Fans of the “Man in Black Theory”, in which William is actually the Man in Black and there are two separate timelines, have a bit more to go on now. William has never been shown alongside Teddy, Ford, or the Man in Black himself, so it’s entirely possible that the theory is right. Dolores’ inability to separate past from present is another tiny piece of the puzzle. The theory is still fairly unlikely, however, as Dolores didn’t have major issues with cognitive dissonance until her “father” woke her up, and that clearly happened in the show’s “present”, as she turned around and woke up Maeve. Someone should probably chart all of these timelines out.

Dolores’ daddy isn’t out of the picture yet, either. In part of her attempts to undermine Ford, Hale and Sizemore pick out one of the hosts in cold storage for a special mission. They end up selecting Peter Abernathy, whom they think is ideal because he’s been lobotomized. Unfortunately (for them), they don’t know his history as a unit with the ability to see past his programming. This could get very, very ugly.

Mind control powers are kind of awesome no matter who you are.

Another strike against the survival of the humans is Maeve’s newfound superpowers. After having Felix tweak her performance capabilities last week, she wants more. She asks Felix to unlock the abilities just beyond her grasp. He agrees, but Sylvester tries to talk him into “bricking” Maeve while she’s under. Of course, Maeve sees through this ruse and leaps off the table in Behavioral, freshly unlocked by Felix. She slices Sylvester’s throat with a scalpel. The coding that prevents her from hurting humans has been removed, and she’s more than willing to abuse her newfound power. Then again, she believes they need Sylvester and has Felix close his throat wound up.

In addition to being able to kill people, Maeve can now also change the loops of the hosts around her. With simple story suggestions, she changes the narrative and Hector and his gang can finally steal the safe after countless loops trying and failing. Later, she accidentally kills the new Clementine while having a flashback to the Man in Black killing her daughter. She manipulates the hosts around her to create a diversion and escape, though the park staff come and retrieve her. She’s not about to let anyone mess with her code, so her planned escape is going to have to be sooner rather than later.

This week, Teddy also unlocked the ability to remember past lives. He remembers the Man in Black taking Dolores into the barn, and knocks him out and ties him up. Host Angela is with him, though instead of being a service bot, she is now a host with implanted memories. The Man in Black makes a crack about her still being here (another point for William/Man in Black theorists).

The Man in Black reveals that he is a titan of industry, but that his wife killed herself and his daughter blamed him for it. He decided to come back to Westworld and try to be evil and try to discover the meaning of it all. Ford’s game is of no interest to him, but Arnold’s is. This gives even more credence to the popular fan theory, as Dolores first reveals Arnold’s existence to William this episode. It’s also entirely possible, however, that Logan is the Man in Black, given his black hat tendencies…

Regardless of who the Man in Black actually is, there’s going to be some serious blood on the hosts’ hands soon. If Westworld follows the Game of Thrones pattern, next week’s penultimate episode should be a wild ride.

Best Moments

  • Maeve leaping off the table and slicing open Sylvester’s throat was surprisingly satisfying. Her entire arc has been great to watch, and this week she really proved how resourceful she can be. You go, girl!
  • During one of her dream sequences/memories, Dolores sees Lawrence’s daughter who asks her if she’s found what she’s looking for. It’s creepy and subtle and just one of many layered clues to all of Westworld‘s many mysteries.
  • Teddy knocking out the Man in Black was well-deserved and pretty satisfying, given Teddy’s past inability to act.
Danielle Ryan
A cinephile before she could walk, Danielle comes to Fandom by way of CNN, CHUD.com, and Paste Magazine. She loves controversial cinema (especially horror) and good cinematography; her dislikes include romantic comedies and people's knees.
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