Again, I did a little research on the title before watching the episode “Trace Decay.” Super reliable Wikipedia gave me the incredibly simplified — but also comprehensible — version of trace decay theory. Essentially, the theory implies that memory leaves some sort of trace, be it physical or chemical. What a clever way to incorporate a shit ton of foreshadowing in the title. As I mentioned, many things are hidden in plain sight.
The episode opens on Bernard, who is struck by grief — grief that he killed Theresa, grief that Ford told him to do it, and grief that he is a host. He is horrified by her murder, which was committed by him (but inflicted upon by Ford) no less. Ford is uncannily stoic during this entire ordeal, and it makes me question how much Ford has planned or knows. While Bernard suffers, Ford calls his range of emotions a beautiful thing, and that perhaps he and Bernard have indeed been able to capture one elusive thing: heart. He seems at peace with the way of things, which for me, means he is aware. But of what?
Ford explains his rationale behind Theresa’s murder, and drops Bernard a quote from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein:” “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire.” I think the parallels are extremely obvious and I’m just going to leave it at that. Ford promises Bernard that once he commits to being his true self (which is??) and covers up Theresa’s murder, he will wipe his memory of her, allowing him to be at peace. Can we ever be at peace if we have memory, and if we have memory, will be always have grief?
The next scene cuts to Maeve in the saloon, who is clearly not at peace. Her self-awareness has alienated her from other hosts, including the new Clementine, whom Maeve sees as an impostor (oh, the irony). While plotting her next steps, she witnesses a child walking by, which triggers memories of her and her own daughter. Although that past life has been “wiped” from her memory, traces of it clearly exist within her. She almost asks Felix to find out where her daughter is, but she chooses not to know. Instead, she is ready to “write my own story.” Do we need to be ignorant to move forward?
We then are brought back (online) to Dolores and William, who are searching for the town in Dolores’ mind. They come across a beach massacre of Confederado soldiers, who originally intended to ambush them. William treats a dying boy with hostility, whereas Dolores pities him and immediately fetches water for him. There is irony in a host showing more compassion that a human being, prompting us to reconsider how different are we, if at all, from the hosts. While by the river, Dolores’ memories momentarily pull her into another life, one in which she sees herself dead in the water. A voice — a blend of male and female — tells her to “come find me.” Although we know Arnold is in her head, what is the second voice she is hearing? Meanwhile, we can tell by the look on William’s face that he is contemplating killing the boy; his attitude begins to shift towards a darker narrative. He doesn’t have a white hat anymore.
Meanwhile, Hale plays chicken with Ford as Stubbs explains Theresa’s cause of death and her disloyalty to the company. It is evident Hale knows Ford played a hand in her death, but since she cannot prove it, she continues playing the chess-game of power with him. She recruits Sizemore to help her smuggle core codes out of the park, and the host she chooses is none other than Abernathy.
Maeve is yet again with Felix and Sylvester, and she demands they change her core code to allow her more power and control. Sylvester chastises her, telling her that the way she operates is so deeply burned into her core code, there is no changing it. This almost sounds like a negative statement, but in reality, it works in Maeve’s favor. It is no mistake Maeve remembers her past life, or that her memory is continually preserved. She is, like Dolores, one of the oldest hosts in the park, and was most likely built by Arnold. I think there is much more at play here than a host glitch. Maeve says so herself, when she remarks that there are “things in me, that I was designed to do, that are just out of my reach. They almost seem to be dormant.” She then asks who Arnold is, and if that doesn’t spell it out for you, you’re not playing enough attention. In order to make the modifications in her code, the shades agree to shut her down, but Felix deviates from their plan of wiping her memory clean — he preserves it. So when Maeve wakes up, Sylvester is nearly scared to death, but Maeve beats him to the punch by slicing his neck. She orders Felix to save him, and in a very ironic way, he does her bidding. Maeve exercises her new power in the park, which allows her to control other hosts. She has a bit of fun, and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” emulates Maeve’s true self.
However, things get out of hand when she is triggered and remembers how she and her daughter were killed — by the Man in Black. The Man in Black explains his murder of Maeve and her daughter while Teddy has him tied up somewhere near Wyatt’s camp. We learn that the Man in Black has been playing in the park for over 30 years, and in an attempt to feel something, he murders Maeve. He notes, though, that after he killed them both, Maeve was alive — even just for a second — as she carried her daughter outside and collapsed on the maze-engraved ground. The moment Maeve attacks the Man in Black is when she slices Clem’s neck in real-time, in front of everyone in Sweetwater. She, like Dolores, is struggling to separate her memories and reality.