Westworld Recap - S01E04 - "Dissonance Theory"

Cognitive dissonance is a state of mental stress born out of two conflicting worldviews held at the same time in an individual’s mind. It was described in Leon Festinger’s theory, which is focused on the human drive for internal consistency. And it’s a state familiar to Westworld’s two awakening Hosts.

(Spoilers beyond this point.)

Towards the middle of the episode William, one of our two recurring guest characters, accuses his companion Logan of becoming evil the second he leaves society, trying to kill or screw everything he meets. Logan – who, as it turns out, might be part of William’s family, which explains why the two can stand to be with each for more than five minutes – retorts that the Hosts aren’t real and that it’s all a game. He is a little right; he doesn’t have any reason to think any of the androids are anything more than things, no more living than NPC in a video game. Of course, it doesn’t make him any less evil. A person who is able to hurt something this indistinguishable from a human without a hint of doubt simply cannot be considered a good person. But, because he has a clear idea of how the world works and hasn’t experienced anything that would shake it, he’s okay with everything he’s doing; or at least, he has an excuse for his deeds.

Conversely, the two awakened Hosts – Dolores and Maeve – are in internal conflict, and they both handle it very differently. Dolores is calm about it, still confused and shaken after every instance her original programming comes into conflict with the new, more self-aware code, but she’s overall doing okay. It likely helps that she isn’t alone: in the park limits, she has William, still unaware of the growing pains she’s experiencing, but still able to ground her, allowing her to deal with her new experiences.

And on the outside, there’s Bernard Lowe, head of behavior department. As we’ve been slowly discovering for the past two episodes, Bernard’s been aware about Dolores’s awakening for a while. But instead of reporting it to appropriate personnel, he’s been interacting with her, conversing, exploring how she’s dealing with her new awareness. His empathy and interest are likely related to the loss of his son, Charlie, a few years ago. As he explained his divorced wife last episode, he’s been stuck in a routine ever since that event, like a Host following its programming. That grief probably made him more responsive to helping a being undergoing confusing changes on the road to a new personhood; it's a second chance at parenthood he lost. And with two people helping her, Dolores is likely to grow up healthier, much like a child growing up in a caring environment is more likely to grow up as a good person. It’s an old sci-fi story trope that A.I.s are humanity’s children.

Maeve, on the other hand, is the child left in a harsh, destructive environment, having to do all the growing on her own. Plagued by confusing memories of multiple demises and weird looking people (the hazmat suit-clad park staff), she undergoes her own search of knowledge. She finally learns the nature of her reality, or at least, an approximation her original programming can handle. And along with it, she develops a nihilistic attitude, of a world that doesn’t matter. It would seem she will be the force of rebellion against humanity, and there’s certainly poetry in a black sex worker bringing down the system that forced her into a role and shaped her entire reality.

And yet, all that development would’ve been cut short very soon. The park security is very trigger happy and distrustful of Hosts, and bright minds like Josie are already connecting the dots, and Dolores leaving her routine already raised a few red flags. But with the new storyline Dr. Ford is developing disrupting everything, the brewing conflict at the upper echelons, and the mayhem caused by the Man in Black’s search for new challenges, a game with higher, life and death stakes... it’s easy to see how two androids are becoming a little more human.

And with that, the first act is over; how it will develop, we’ll see next week in "Contrapasso." Or at least, you’ll see; due to personal reasons, I won’t be able to cover it. But not to worry! Adrian has agreed to cover for me, and I’ll be back in two weeks, with "The Adversary." I’ll see you then.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy demisexual lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.