Contrapasso is a punishment described in Dante’s Inferno, incurred in the 8th circle of Hell, where the heads of the condemned are twisted around to face their back, preventing them from moving forward where they wish to go, forcing them to walk backward instead. Westworld is a series rich with allegories sprinkled throughout, and the concept of hell is one that can be keenly felt in most of the character arcs at play in S01E05 ‘Contrapasso.’
(Spoilers beyond this point)
In particular, the conversation between Robert, The Man in Black, and Teddy seems to be an overt parallel to God, Satan, and Man.
The Man in Black, on his quest to find the labyrinth (some kind of hidden easter egg in the game of Westworld) stumbles across Teddy, who had been left to die in the wilderness. The Man in Black believes in providence, and seeing a larger role for Teddy in his quest, cooly opts to sacrifice Lawrence to keep Teddy alive. Teddy is a kind and moral hero by programming and wouldn’t normally align himself with the Man in Black, so he lies to Teddy, and tells him they’re on a quest to save Dolores from Wyatt. For Teddy, ‘Dolores’ seems to be the magic word.
As Robert and the Man in Black parley and trade jabs, Teddy is out of his element. He can’t understand what they’re talking about; in fact, he’s programmed to tune most of it out, and spends the scene looking lost and forlorn. Robert has no particular feelings towards Teddy, other than perhaps a passing pity, leaving him with a reset/recalibrate command disguised as an afterthought of a blessing. “Mr. Flood, we must look back and smile at perils past, mustn’t we?”
The Man in Black regards Teddy as little more than a utilitarian pet, bouncing ideas off him he knows he can’t comprehend, “You know why you exist, Teddy? The world out there, the one you'll never see, was one of plenty. A fat, soft teat people cling to their entire life. Every need taken care of except one: purpose, meaning,” which dovetails with Robert’s personal story about the family pet greyhound. While Robert still finds the greyhound's pursuit of a cat to be the most beautiful thing he ever saw, the saddest moment was yet to come. When the dog horrified everyone by tearing the cat apart, the dog was left confused, having chased felt decoys all its life, and now left with nothing more to chase, no longer with a purpose.
Perhaps that is why Robert, god of Westworld, created his park: to grant its guests something to quest after, like the Man in Black. Yet considering how most guests use the park to hurt others or degrade themselves, one might be reminded of the thought experiment which posits that suffering is an integral part of the human experience. That if misery were largely absent, we would miss it and ultimately tear ourselves back down. Indeed, Westworld seems to be a new hell, created to mete out pain as pleasure. Only in this hell, the robotic hosts are the condemned and the humans are the demons. Calling back Peter’s omen to Dolores in S01E01 ‘The Original,’ “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
Fortunately, Peter’s words of warning stuck with Dolores and were passed on to Maeve, who are very quickly becoming self-aware and are effectively changing the rules of an infernal game they never asked to be pawns in.
Maeve begins piecing together her unauthorized recollections of Westworld’s hazard suit technicians. At the end of S01E04 ‘Dissonance Theory,’ she learned from Hector that sacred native lore referred to them as "the man who walks between worlds. They were sent from hell to oversee our world.” This is a remarkably astute observation from the Native Hosts (can we get some excellent Native characters in Season 2, please?), but it’s perhaps safe to assume the idea was purposely programmed in as an explanation, as they did with the concept of dreams and nightmares.
Ultimately, at the end of the episode, Maeve uses her trick to wake herself up, to visit the real world (what she thinks is a dream as she’s been told, or hell as she’s seen with its dark corridors and bloody bodies, or something else entirely) and demand a chat with Felix, the “butcher” who aspires to be a technician. Interesting side note: his co-worker insinuates that Felix has a fixed role, by birth even, as he makes a snark about how a “personality test should have weeded you out in the embryo.” Is the real world outside of the park engaged in eugenics? I can’t wait to see where this new thread leads!
Dolores is on a similar journey, but rather than being as astute and direct as Maeve, Dolores is assailed by strange voices and hallucinations of a kind. A voice in her head, tells her to “find me,” and another time, it’s Robert’s voice who orders her to sleep. Soon, he’s interrogating her, asking if she’s had strange dreams encouraging her to leave her “modest, little loop.” He asks, in a curiously-stated way, “Do you remember who I used to be?” and when she says she doesn’t, asks if she remembers her creator, Arnold. Robert insists that Arnold still exists, deep within her mind, “perfectly preserved.”
According to Robert, the voice telling her to find him is Arnold’s, but despite Robert’s questions, Dolores is able to keep secret the voice and her efforts to break free from her loop. Her journey with Will and Logan is working. Her ability to kill a fly, then her attacker, has evolved further, allowing her to kill Will’s attackers with uncanny efficiency. “You said people come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.” Brilliant.
Lastly, as our heroes are on their way to escape their loops, twist their heads back into place, and start walking forward, Elsie, the behavior technician, has discovered an antenna for a satellite uplink inside the body of the host she tracked down with Ashley. Elsie believes someone is transmitting confidential park data to someone on the outside! Dolores also saw the same antenna in her own arm during a hallucination; are these the decades old machinations of Arnold or something else entirely?
Adrian Martinez is a graphic designer, comic book letterer, hobbyist writer, and all-around geek living in New York City.