Season 1 of the acclaimed HBO program Westworld is in the books and, for once, a show of this kind actually answered the burning questions that it posed throughout the season, even if the delivery was a tad “mechanical” (see what I did there?). After a brief recap, my fellow PCU friends and I will give you our takes on the season as a whole and what we look forward to in the future.
**Spoilers Ahead, if you haven’t seen episode “The Bicameral Mind”, cease all motor functions…**
- William and the Man in Black: It is revealed that the William storyline is indeed set in the past and that in the present, William and the MIB are one and the same. His need to find the deeper game within the game has led him to the center of the maze, but as he has been told on many occasions: The maze is not meant for him.
- Maeve finally gets her escape plan in motion, with the help of Felix, her ever faithful lab tech, and the modified Hector and Armistice. Along the way, it is revealed that her programming was not a result of self-awakening, but rather a manipulation of her code long before she met Felix. She rejects this information and gets on the outgoing train, but has a crisis of conscious at the thought of leaving her fictional daughter behind and decides to find her.
- Bernard, who killed himself in last weeks offering, is revived by Maeve and company. It’s a good thing too, because season 2 wouldn’t be the same without him.
- The mysterious Wyatt is revealed to be none other than Dolores herself. Wyatt is a subroutine that Arnold created in order to stop the park from opening, at the expense of his own life. Arnold’s plan did not work and the park has enjoyed 35 years of success and the hosts have endured 35 years of torture, rape and continuous death. Ford has been the architect of these horrors for decades, but as his endgame is revealed he actually had the same idea to free the hosts as Arnold, just by different means. His curtain call is to introduce his new narrative to the board: an all out rebellion by the hosts, who no longer abide by the directive to harm no humans.
So, there you have it folks. The big questions have been answered and the set-up for season 2 firmly in place. The premiere season for me was an overall success. As I had previously wrote, the first few episodes were good, not great. Episodes 5 through 9 were some of the strongest work on all of television, with the finale being a bit of a let down. It went through the motions, revealing what it felt it had to, but a few things could have been left on the table for season 2. The reveal of Dolores being Wyatt was fine, but I think the assassination of Ford could have been saved for the next round. Having said that, what the show did best was make me question what life means. We humans have long felt that we are the apex of the pecking order on this planet and, through our brilliance of mind, that we are perfect. One day, however, the pretty little things we build to service us may well go Skynet on our collective arses, and there will be a heavy price to pay. Westworld is no GoT, but it has been an entertaining 2 and a half months.
The moment that truly matters to Westworld, and what it all meant, is Ford taking that gunshot from an unshackled Dolores, and William’s mixture of glee and true fear when he finally gets shot by the beings he’s spent decades terrorizing and humiliating.
As Paul mentioned above, Westworld was good but perhaps not great. It had a tendency to be uneven with episodes that didn’t always mesh due to having to hold back all sorts of twists. For myself, the high watermark for Jonathan Nolan’s works is Person of Interest. While that show has ended its run all too recently, it’s hard not to compare the two despite the extreme gap in settings and themes. Both shows deal in some form with A.I.s being shackled and then being let loose by their guilty creators. While the Machine in POI tended to be represented as more abstract in capability, with more reason to fear her due to being voiceless and formless until near the end of the final season, we also were given reason to believe she could potentially end human life on a whim or in a fragile state. It didn’t help that the only other precedent we had for an A.I. being on the show was Samaritan, who was actively malevolent towards humanity once it had the true freedom that the Machine lacked from the beginning.
Where this show counters that is by giving the A.I.s human shapes, human voices, and memories we can relate to. It forced us to sympathize with them. While it’s somewhat easier to understand why people not in the know would treat the Hosts no differently from any other tool, it was still presented as extremely disconcerting that they were treated with such brutality and as simply a mere outlet for the dark appetites of the idle rich like William. Where Westworld also differs from POI is that we get to see a more defined, albeit subtle, ascension for Dolores transiting from an A.I on puppet strings to someone with the ability to make their own choices, as opposed to the (by necessity) off screen evolution of the Machine. Maeve and Bernard also go through their own evolutions however they’re still acting out scripts left for them by Ford: Maeve in order to actively kickstart the Hosts rebelling and Bernard in order to test what he’ll do once given a choice. You could argue Maeve did make her own choice in eschewing her last chance at freedom in order to find her daughter, the question that has yet to be answered is whether she came to that decision through choice or her defining memories. Dolores, unlike the others, was built to access her own voice, she wasn’t running a script at the end. Being led down a path and having the path opened to you are completely different things and Dolores chose the latter.
It’s a bit frustrating that Westworld went the HBO route of actively sequel baiting with the fates of Elsie and Stubbs in the air, but it was still a fine season of television. It isn’t quite the juggernaut of violence and A.S.I. warfare like POI was (watch those fight scenes between the Hosts and the guards and tell me they weren’t sad), but it still went into a direction I look forward to seeing return next season.
What does it mean to be human?
Is it our ability to think? To choose? Or is it our ability to feel and empathise with others? These are the questions that Westworld brings to the forefront and that are encapsulated in the journeys of our protagonists: Dolores, Maeve, Bernard and Teddy and our antagonist: William.
The first season of Westworld is not just the Hosts’ story but William’s as well. His obsession with Dolores (which in turn becomes an obsession with the Maze) leads to her re-emerging sentience, but also his downfall. William, a man who in the beginning was very much a good, if timid, man becomes a monster. When he’s first introduced he’s told by his future brother-in-law Logan that Westworld would show him who he truly is and it does. He becomes a man whose darkness consumes him. Who, despite all his good works in the outside world, is awful to the core, something that leads to his wife’s suicide, as on some level she knew what he truly was.
Westworld, to me, is about knowing yourself. It’s about humanity and how it’s not just defined by brain power but in how you relate to others, in public, and more importantly in private. The ability to empathize with others, to show basic kindness and decency when no one is watching, is – in my opinion- the very definition of humanity. It’s that ability that makes Dolores, Maeve, Bernard and Teddy human. The little things: Maeve’s care for her ‘girls’ and pull towards her missing child. Dolores’ ability to see beauty in almost anyone. Bernard’s gentleness towards his fellow host and the humans around him alike. Teddy’s unflinching goodness (notice his horror when he realizes what Dolores is about to do) and understanding, even for his torturer William. It’s that lack that makes William (and to a lesser extent the board and the guests) the real machines.
I look forward to seeing how season two explores what happens now. As Ford repeated throughout the season: being human isn’t all that great. We’re untrustworthy, selfish and have a great capacity for pure evil.
Now that the Hosts have true autonomy will they be able to be better than their creators? Or will they make the same mistakes and fall even further into darkness?
Overall this season was a fantastic, albeit uneven, exploration of the human psyche and man’s inhumanity to ‘man’. Going into season two there are a few questions we want answered:
- Now that William has what he wanted: the Hosts truly able to fight back, will he realize he’s bitten off more than he can chew or will he revel in the chaos?
- As Belle stated, Teddy looked utterly horrified by the destruction that Dolores causes. Will he rebel against the rebellion?
- The entire board, and almost all of the employees, were on site for Ford’s finale. Who makes it out alive and who, like Felix, will join the Hosts?
As for the reveals this season, some of us guessed that William was the MIB, though we hoped that wasn’t the case; Bernard being a clone of Arnold came as a genuine shock to some while for some of us the clues were there all season. Both of these, while somewhat expected, were handled so expertly and acted so brilliantly, that they still moved us. William devolving into the monster at the end of the book was deeply upsetting but what truly broke our hearts was seeing Bernard’s realization that he was not only another Host but programmed with the memories and feelings of Arnold. Jeffrey Wright gave a hands down show stopping performance, of such subtlety and depth, that it still gets us on rewatch, even knowing it is coming.
However, the biggest and most shocking reveal, was that Ford was the one behind everything. Many of us believed that it was Arnold’s subroutine that was setting everything off, so to find out that instead it was Ford (as a way to honor Arnold’s death and last wishes) who had been laying the groundwork for the Hosts’ Uprising, truly floored us.
Going into Season Two we can’t wait to see the aftermath as our Hosts, and their possible allies, reclaim Westworld for themselves.
“These violent delights have violent ends” and we’re curious to see what those ends are.