Lord Castleton will come along later with his thesis on this episode of Westworld, but I wanted to quickly help shape the narrative on “Trace Decay” because it involves a lot of theories that have been percolating for weeks.
The biggest is this: There are three timelines and not two.
There is the original timeline from 35 years ago, where the hosts were more rudimentary. In this timeline, Dolores killed a bunch of people in a massacre (including, perhaps, Arnold) in the town square with the church before blowing her own brains out (hence, the flashbacks to the gravestone for Dolores). That section of Westworld was then removed from the park. That timeline is represented by the host in the middle picture.
Five years later, that same host (on the left) is re-assigned onto the welcoming committee, as the woman who ushered William into Westworld. William meets and falls in love with Dolores, they travel through Ghost Nation, and they find themselves back in the place where Dolores killed all of those people before turning the gun on herself. When Dolores and William return, that section of the park has been removed. This is also where the White Hat William starts to break bad, evidenced by his decision to snuff out the life of the young man Dolores tried to save.
Thirty years later, William is now the Man in Black. There was a lot of evidence suggesting this before the episode, but last night’s episode all but confirmed it. After his original adventure with Dolores, William returned home, married into a very wealthy family (the Delos family, perhaps), which owns not only Westworld but some other parks. He’s also a philanthropist. However, the darkness that seeped in on his first trip to Westworld has taken hold. His wife sensed it and killed herself. So, William returned to Westworld in order to find some deeper meaning to life at the center of the maze, perhaps the same “deeper meaning” Bernard suggested separated humans from hosts, but that Ford dismissed as nonexistent. Last night, he met that same host again (she’s on the right), and she appears to be in cahoots with Wyatt.
Ford’s new narrative also appears to involve recreating the original Westworld town square with the church (hence the steeple that Ford showed his younger host self). I’m not sure how present-day Dolores or the maze plays into that yet, but there are some theories surfacing now that even suggests that Dolores is Wyatt (I remain skeptical of that one. For now.).
There are still a number of unanswered questions, but I think we can at least determine almost definitely that William and the Man in Black are the same person, and that we have been watching at least three timelines unfold (or more accurately, at least four, since William/The Man in Black killed Maeve and her daughter in another timeline). What I can’t decipher is which timeline we were in when Dolores uttered the “violent delights” line to Maeve and woke her. That seems especially crucial now.
Don’t expect full resolution to those answers this season, either, because Ed Harris has signed on for a second season of Westworld.