Before the show began, reports came out that Westworld required extras to sign consent forms stating they “may be required to perform genital-to-genital touching … contort to form a table-like shape while being fully nude, pose on all fours while others who are fully nude ride on your back” and “have genitals painted.” In the show’s fifth episode, we finally learned why: There was a major orgy with people painted in gold going to town on one another.

Debauchery masquerading as art has practically become a premium cable staple. Recall similar orgy scenes in True Detective, Game of Thrones, Sense8, Penny Dreadful, and of course, True Blood. There was even an orgy of sorts in The Affair.

But forget the genitals and people standing like tables; the body paint was the most important part of that crazy description. And believe it or not, it ties into Westworld’s improbable but ever-present feminism.

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores on Westworld
Dolores isn't a fan of orgies

It may seem silly to search for the deeper meaning of Westworld’s orgy, but “Contrapasso”‘s sequence was far less of a “because we are cable TV and we can” bacchanal and more of a literal bacchanal (as in the literary-historical sense).

Bacchanalia, which trace back to Ancient Greece and Rome, were celebrations of the wine god Dionysus or Bacchus. Curiously, they began as secret, female-only affairs. Naturally, when they expanded to include men and grew a reputation as hotbeds of debauchery, the Roman Senate cracked down on them in a display of their own power, a suppression of female power (as women had leadership positions), and a suppression of class revolt (as slaves were among their ranks). To have a bacchanal after that, then, was a sign of both defiance and populism.

Painting its naked figures gold like Grecian statues and pairing them with lush Roman decor is a pointed nod to the bacchanalian roots of orgies. They have the same visual cues as the Oracles in Joss Whedon’s Angel, the ridiculous erotic oracle scene in 300, and the partygoers in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Not every self-serious orgy sequence works. But for a story about androids who are raped and enslaved by humans and regularly made to forget, the history of bacchanalia adds an intriguing layer to Westworld’s narrative maze.

As Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores observes the sexual acrobatics from afar, she looks confused and disgusted because she is programmed to be a demure farm girl. Logan (Ben Barnes) even says at one point, “Who the fuck cares what Dolores wants? She’s a goddamn doll.”

But later in the episode, after observing the orgy, she shoots a gun and says, “You said people come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story in which I didn’t have to be the damsel.” Put alongside the context of the formerly female-run bacchanals that the Roman Senate suppressed, Dolores’s awakening takes on a fascinating new light.

Photos via HBO

Lauren's writing has appeared on The Huffington Post, Page Views at The New York Daily News, and 20SomethingReads at The Book Report Network. She has also interned at The Overlook Press and Cosmopolitan. A Dartmouth grad, she lives in Brooklyn.