Explainers

‘Westworld’, Explained

March 31, 2018
16 min read

With the influx of bigger and better stories on television, we have a handful of shows that challenge the imagination of the viewers. HBO’s ‘Westworld’ is another entry on the list. A reboot of 1973’s classic film, it was developed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, with J.J Abrams as its Executive Producer. With the names of such filmmakers/storytellers associated with it, it was no surprise that ‘Westworld’ turned out to be an elaborately constructed brainstormer. It takes place in a theme park which is filled with android ‘hosts’. Rich people pay to indulge in the storylines, pleasures and other treats catered here. They are referred to as ‘guests’. While all seems under control, things begin to go awry, one host at a time. We follow the stories of various hosts and guests as they discover the true meaning of the park.

The first season was an enthralling and intense ride. We soon discovered that every line, every action, and every person has a meaning in this story. The storytellers, Nolan and Joy, indulged the speculations by the audience and continued to amaze, one episode after another. With the second season set to premiere next month, it is high time to revisit ‘Westworld’. And for sure, this time around you’ll discover something that you hadn’t paid heed to before. This is the beauty of ‘Westworld’. Every re-watch will unveil something new. While the finale left us with some staggering questions, it also did a good job of tying up some loose ends that had been dangling in front of us since the beginning.

If you haven’t yet seen the show (which is a shame!), you should leave this post (like NOW). If you’re still here, then here is a look at some of the plot theories that the first season of ‘Westworld’ left us with.

VIOLENT DELIGHTS AND VIOLENT SPOILERS AHEAD!

What Is the Maze?

Let’s begin with the one question that haunted us and the characters in ‘Westworld’, the most: the maze! Ever since the Man in Black (MIB) tore off the skin from Kissy’s head in the first episode, we wondered what it all meant. As we moved further down the storyline, the question kept creeping up again and again. What/Where is the maze? And then the MIB was told, repeatedly, “The maze isn’t meant for you.” This sentence made one thing clear. The maze was meant for the hosts, not the guests. For the most part of the show, I thought that the maze was some material place that would unlock a way for the hosts to get out of the park. However, by the end, it was pretty clear that it is more about an inner journey than an outer one.

As Arnold was captivated by the thought of invoking consciousness in the hosts, he believed that it was a pyramidal journey. Later, however, he realized that the path was “not upward, but inward.” And that is what the maze was all about. For the hosts to become fully aware of their existence, they had to begin with memory; then came improvisation. Next was self-interest. Two lead characters, Dolores and Maeve, are shown to go through these three steps. They both begin to remember their past roles in ‘Westworld’. Improvisation comes from their ability to break the loop that controls their storylines. And both their self-interests wreaked a ton of havoc on everyone, in the last episode.

Why Is the Man in Black After the Maze?

The MIB has been in and out of ‘Westworld’ for about 30 years. This means that he must know every place, storyline, and host better than anyone else. We are also aware of his obsessed and sadistic nature. As he says, “I didn’t come here because I wanted it easy. I want you to fight.”

But later, he mentions that he has grown tired of the hosts being programmed to lose. He wants a proper challenge, and he asks Ford if he has finally built a worthy adversary for him in the form of Wyatt? He, too, believes that the maze will lead to something that’ll allow the hosts to be able to fight back. Maybe he doesn’t take it in the terms of attaining full consciousness, but he wants “to free” the hosts, so it can be a fair fight. In the end, when he is shot by the advancing robot army, he smiles because, now, he has what he wanted.

Who Is Dolores Talking to in Her Head?

After the concept of the maze is cleared out, this one seems a pretty obvious thing. While devising the steps to attain consciousness, Arnold used his voice to guide the hosts in furthering their journey. As explained by Ford, the early humans thought that the voice inside their heads was the voice of God. But actually, it was their conscious mind. Something similar is needed to bring out the consciousness of the hosts. So, the voices that Dolores hears inside her head are Arnold’s. BUT, there is another critical turn to this. In the finale, after Ford leaves Dolores in the secret facility with a gun, she has another one-to-one with Arnold. Only this time, she realizes that the one she is talking to isn’t Arnold, but herself! So, even though she had been hearing Arnold, it was her conscious mind prodding around.

The Bernard and Arnold Arc

One of the major revelations of the season was Bernard’s identity as a host. The next twist that followed quickly was Bernard’s semblance to Arnold. After Arnold’s tragic death, Ford built Bernard in his image to get his lost friend back. Because Ford built him in his secret facility, and we knew that some hosts are unregistered, it was easy for Ford to hide Bernard’s true identity. Also, no one really knew Arnold. People had only heard of him, some just knew his name, but no one really ever saw/met him. The company had wiped out his records, so he wasn’t an easy man to find.

The clue about Bernard was mainly in the way Ford talked to him. He always seemed to know exactly what was going on in his mind, he knew of Bernard’s and Theresa’s relationship, and Bernard was very loyal to Ford. But these things could’ve been easily brushed off. The real thing came when Bernard found Ford’s secret site.

Earlier, Ford had shown a picture to Bernard where he told him about Arnold. Bernard, hence we, saw two people in it, one was Ford, the other, supposedly, Arnold. But, when Bernard discovers Ford’s secret childhood-memorial home, he sees that man and asks “Are you Arnold?” But that man is revealed to be Ford’s father. Also, when Bernard enters the room, Ford wasn’t there. And then suddenly, he appeared out of nowhere. At first, I thought he must have been behind the door. But when Theresa visited the house, we saw that there was a door that Bernard couldn’t see, because as a host he was programmed to not see the things that would trigger an existential crisis in him. So, maybe Ford was behind that door, and he came out when he heard Bernard.

The Timeline

With Jonathan Nolan at the helm, it was expected that things wouldn’t be as simple as they appear. And perhaps, this is why we were able to deduce a few plot points, as early as the second episode. If you hadn’t been too analytical about everything you were seeing and were staying away from all the heavy discussions that flooded the Internet, it might have come as a shock to you that William and MIB were actually the same person. This clearly created a partition in the two storylines- Dolores, William, Logan and the rest of the people! To be more accurate, it wasn’t two, but three timelines that were put in front of us. Chronologically considering, the story would have unfolded in the following sequence:

Arnold and Dolores

Early on in the show, we were shown that Bernard (who we didn’t know was actually Arnold) having secret sessions with Dolores. So, bring together all those sessions, and every single one of them happened before the park was even opened, about 35 years ago. Add to that the church scene where Arnold explains the concept of the maze to Dolores, and later when the massacre happens where Dolores shoots Arnold, then Teddy, and then herself. Once you know about the Bernard and Arnold arc, it gets pretty clear.

Dolores and William

Now, this was the tricky part but the creators pulled it off with the perfect use of camera and all the tricks in their bag. This part happened 30 years ago, the time when the park has just opened. It is shown that Logan and William had come here to have a look around so they could decide whether or not to invest in the park. All the times we saw the three of them, we were back to the beginning. Now, why this became so confusing was because of the fixed storylines of the hosts. But, this is also where the clues were staring us right in the face.

When Logan and William are hanging around Mariposa, we see Clementine in the picture, but not Maeve. While the other times, Clementine and Maeve’s story was generally in the same picture. That was the first hint then. When Logan and William arrived, Maeve was in a different storyline.

Rewind a bit and there is a much subtler hint that greets you. It’s the ‘Westworld’ logo. It is clearly different from the one we see in the ‘present’ time. For example, when Maeve is walking around with Felix, the logo that appears on the screen is different from the one that Logan-William timeline had. Another hint that stretches out later in the story is Angela, the girl who receives William and takes him through changing clothes and choosing the hat process. Later, as Dolores flashes back, we see her with other characters, learning to dance, and going mad in the church. She also appears as the spy for Wyatt. And the MIB even acknowledges the fact that she has been there such a long time, he thought Ford might have retired her by now.

The next was the absence of Hector from the wanted posters. Every time we see Teddy step out of that train, we see the same set of people and surroundings greet him every single time. There is a sheriff asking people to join him in going after Hector. But, when Logan and William step out, there is no Teddy (but, that is understandable), and they are asked to join in a different mission by a different person. Considering the narratives remain the same for long periods of time, the sudden change doesn’t seem right. The difference in the narrative of Lawrence provides another glitch. He is in a different storyline when the MIB captures him. And when he is bleeding to death, in order to revive Teddy, we, immediately, see him appear in William-Dolores storyline as El Lazo.

Dolores in the Present

When Dolores runs away from the ranch after watching her (new) father shot to death, she is alone. There is no one with her. This fact was hinted when in the control room, an employee comes up to Stubbs and tells him that Dolores has deviated from her storyline. When he asks if she is with anyone, the reply is “uncertain.” Even though immediately after, we see someone come up to Dolores, trying to take her away when William interrupts, it is not the same time. So, if she is alone then why is going along the same path as William-Logan’s. Simplest explanation: she is retracing her steps.

Dolores has been on this journey a couple of times now. Three, to be exact. The first one was 35 years ago, where she met Arnold who realized that Dolores had attained consciousness. Almost! The next time was when she was with William. She keeps telling him that she has seen it before, that she has been there before. Well, that’s Memory for you, Dolores! The last time is now. Because the maze is the same, the path is the same. And she has been through this path before, so she knows where to go, how to go. The times when she is with William and others, and she zones out for a split second and we see her alone, that is the real thing. The rest is the memories playing out in her head.

Who is Wyatt?

Dolores. This one was made pretty clear by the end. Arnold and Ford were developing a new storyline where they created a villain named Wyatt. But then, Arnold realized the hosts’ ability to attain consciousness, and he came at crossroads with Ford about the future of the park. In the end, he uploaded Wyatt’s personality into Dolores who then shot him dead, while taking down the rest of the hosts with her. Now, Wyatt and Dolores were practically the same person from the beginning. But, like we have seen in multiple personality characters, one personality was dormant. Dolores was, essentially, the girl next door, but there were instances when she broke character and attained some of Wyatt’s traits.

In the scene where Teddy teaches Dolores to shoot, she is unable to pull the trigger. We know that some hosts aren’t programmed to shoot. Dolores is one of them. Yet, when Rebus tries to rape her, she is able to shoot him. She shoots the men in Pariah and says that she “doesn’t want to be the damsel anymore”. And at last, she fights with the MIB like she has been trained to do it or something. That can be explained by her switching on and off into Wyatt’s personality that was fed into her brain and allows her to do all this. How much of Dolores and how much of Wyatt she will be in the next season will be a titular storyline.

These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

We first heard this in the first episode when Stubbs asked Dolores what her father had said to her. And it is after this that we see the changes in Dolores, staring with her swatting a fly. These were also Arnold’s last words before Dolores shot him. We know that robots are controlled by voice commands, so maybe this was some sort of command from Arnold to shake the awareness of the hosts. Dolores repeats these words to Maeve, and after that, she breaks out of her loop and creates a ton of mess. But, this theory isn’t really confirmed. Especially in Maeve’s case, where we got to know that her escape plan was already mapped out (by Ford?) and that she wasn’t doing it out of free will.

Maeve’s Decision

So, if all was as programmed for Maeve, then was she really on the path of attaining consciousness? Now that we think of it, her storyline seems an elaborate plan by Ford to keep the cavalry busy while Dolores, and the rest of the robot army, created a bloodbath in the park.

Also, we know that Ford is basically a god when it comes to ‘Westworld.’ Even Charlotte, Theresa and rest of the board couldn’t budge him if he didn’t want to. Then how could Maeve pull-off this escape, right under his nose? Unless he is the one who planned it. It is revealed in the last episode, by Bernard, that Maeve’s fate was pre-planned, but before he could go further, Maeve broke the tablet. In the beginning, we thought it was Arnold messing with everyone’s brains, but later Ford tells Bernard that it wasn’t him. “He didn’t know how to help you.”

So, this means that Maeve is just another host. BUT, then she broke her loop. When Bernard tells her of the plan about her, he continues to say that she will leave on the train and when she reaches mainland… he was interrupted after that. So, this meant that Maeve’s loop required her to leave ‘Westworld’. But she didn’t. This means she broke her loop; she made a decision. And who without consciousness can do that? Perhaps, it was Ford’s plan all along, to provide a blueprint to Maeve, to give her crutches, so she could finally stand up for herself. Perhaps he chose Felix to help her. (This can explain Felix’s unexplainable motivation to help her.) Maybe that’s why Felix gave her the coordinates of her daughter before she boarded the train. To bring her to crossroads, to make her choose.

What Is Ford’s Endgame?

So, Ford had been running the game all along. But why? What did he want? (As Hector puts it) Mayhem! This is what happened in the end, though! Upstairs and downstairs. It was a bloodbath. For a master puppeteer, we can assume that Ford knew he was going to die. He planned the last story, the whole going away party, the gun in Dolores’ hand. For someone who wanted to tell a story, he must’ve wanted a dramatic out. He knew the board wasn’t going to let him continue, so he decided to take it (the board and the park) down with him. (As Charlotte had mentioned before.)

Another perspective (Ford’s) dictates that he had come to realize Arnold’s hopes for the hosts. As he tells Bernard, it was after losing Arnold that he released what it meant. He knew that the hosts needed time to break through, and maybe he was at it for 30 years. Dolores was the key to it. Arnold had a special interest in her, and Ford might have realized that her consciousness was necessary to kickstart the game plan. Dolores had, even, been close to cracking it before, when she had been there with William. And this time, she had done it. Again! We can expect her to be the leader of the robot army in the next season. As she once explained to Teddy, “wherever the steer goes, everyone follows.”

Read More: American Psycho, Explained

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