Westworld: “Contrapasso” Season 1 Episode 5 Review

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Reviewing Westworld, I’ve tried to stay away from fan theories in the hopes of the show revealing itself as it intends to be revealed. Right or wrong, theories loaded with evidence but nary of confirmation can be a distraction from what’s actually going on. That said, “Contrapasso” plays with time in a way that feeds into the theory that what’s being presented isn’t all happening at the same time. Between Dolores’ conversation with Dr. Ford and Lawrence’s very quick reanimation, the question of when everything is going on has suddenly manifested itself in my brain.

It would surely be an ambitious storytelling maneuver, especially if the Man in Black ended up being someone we know as another character. For example, William’s arc took some dark turns this week. While on a heist for Lawrence, he kills an unarmed host in a gun fight. He later attacks Logan after he insulted him and left his friend to be beat up by a dangerous group of hosts after they got double crossed. Maybe his white hat turns black in a few decades. Or maybe Westworld just wants you to have no idea what’s going on. This game the show is playing with its audience is fun, but it’s also one of the only things really keeping the show afloat, along with strong performances and production values.

But I realized something while watching “Contrapasso.” Human or not, point a gun to most of these characters’ heads, and I feel nothing. The Man in Black is a fun force to watch, but if Dr. Ford killed him in that saloon, there would have been nothing to feel. The exception is Dolores, for whom the writers have managed to find pathos. But one character in a cast this sprawling isn’t enough, especially when you consider how talented these actors all are.

It also hurts when you get episodes like “Contrapasso” that do too little to advance the plot. If you think about what happened in this episode, you get a lot of teasing. William, Logan, and Dolores’ quest had some fun Western moments, but also was the equivalent of watching a friend play a video game. These in-world “attractions” have no actual stakes. Then there was the big meeting between the Man in Black and Dr. Ford, which director Johnny Campbell dressed up as a meeting of titans. It makes sense, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins are actual titans in the acting world that play their roles well here, though most of their material so far is fun scenery-chewing that hasn’t had much dramatic heft. This scene sets up a rivalry with an empty conversation of senseless teasing and references to an undisclosed backstory. There needs to be more. More substance. More emotion.

But maybe expectations for Westworld are working against it. There’s still a whole second half to this season. Still, if little was to happen in these first five episodes, they could have spent more time working on character. Now it feels like time poorly spent. Westworld definitely has time to right the ship, but there’s a sense that the show could end up being an empty disappointment. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty

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