The first season of HBO’s new series Westworld wrapped up what was a damn good season on Sunday night. If you haven’t been following, Westworld is a set in the future around a park by the same name that is filled with androids (referred to as hosts) and visitors (referred to as guests) who attend the rather expensive park to live out fantasies that could never happen in real life. Think of it like physically entering a giant video game. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should probably do that. For those of you that have, let’s try to take a look at exactly what happened now that we’ve had a few days to decompress.
Spoilers from here on out, obviously. As always, there’s a spoiler free verdict at the bottom (just DON’T click the links).
Honestly, where the hell do you begin with this one? Westworld was one hell of a complicated beast. There were so many things going on throughout the season that it was easy to get lost in it all if you missed anything. However, thanks to the internet, there are a lot of smart people who put together all kinds of theories as the series progressed. We’ll start by taking a look at some of the major theories that were debated amongst fans throughout the season.
Is Bernard a Host?
This felt like a pretty typical starting point for any fan theory. If you’re watching a show about robots, that has to mean that someone you think isn’t a robot is actually a robot. Bernard became the automatic target for this and it ended up being true. I felt like this was a pretty easy one to buy into and I didn’t see much push back against it amongst the fanbase either. The way Bernard’s true identity was revealed was excellent and, if I didn’t already believe Bernard was a host, would have resulted in my jaw being on the floor. I nearly jumped out of my seat when Theresa asked Bernard about the door and he responded with “what door?”
Who is the Man in Black?
The Man in Black’s identity was also a heavily debated topic amongst the fanbase. Early on, a lot of people (including myself) believed that the Man in Black was this mysterious Arnold character we kept hearing about. However, within a couple episodes I think most people shifted towards believing that the Man in Black was actually William in the present day. While this certainly seemed to be a majority opinion, there was some debate that the Man in Black was actually Logan, not William. At the end of the day, fans who didn’t buy into William being the Man in Black ultimately felt to me like they were just fighting back against a majority opinion because this theory gained exponentially more traction as the season progressed into the back half.
Are we watching multiple timelines?
This is the theory that I think I saw the most pushback against within the fanbase. There was some serious debate amongst fans whether or not we were actually watching multiple timelines. I personally bought into this theory but there was a period in the middle of the season where I wavered a bit on it before my belief was reaffirmed. A lot of these different theories were dependant on each other so if one theory started to look shaky then it really shook my understanding of the foundation of the show. But ultimately, there was too much going on in each episode and way too much shuffling of stories for me to ever truly believe that we were watching one specific timeline. The paper trail that was left throughout the season (Dolores’ gun, the picture of William’s fiancé, etc.) tied the multiple timelines together with a nice little bow.
Who is Arnold and what happened to him?
This was a fun one. Arnold was Ford’s mysterious partner who we heard about constantly but never received definitive answers to. Was Arnold the Man in Black? Did Ford kill Arnold? Is Bernard a host version of Arnold? Some people questioned whether or not Arnold was even a real person. All we knew about Arnold was that he and Ford had some kind of dispute in the park’s early stages and he ended up dead. Ultimately, what reinforced my belief that Bernard was a host version of Arnold was that we never actually saw a picture of him anywhere. Obviously, this meant that Bernard was programmed to not see himself in a picture of Arnold and Ford. So did Ford kill Arnold, recreate him as host Bernard and then seize control of Westworld? Or did something else happen to him?
Is Dolores actually Wyatt?
This was another one that felt widely accepted amongst fans. Wyatt, the villain in Ford’s new narrative, received quite a bit of focus in the back half of the season. Nobody knew who he was, only that he killed an entire town and was dangerous. When you combined this with Dolores’ flashbacks and Ford’s repeated insistence that his new narrative was based on truth; Dolores had to be Wyatt. It was the only outcome that seemed to make sense. It was also revealed that Dolores was indeed the host responsible for Arnold’s death, which was heavily implied in episode 9 where we saw “Wyatt” execute one specific individual after slaughtering the town with Teddy.
What is the Maze?
This was another fairly basic and widely accepted theory, from what I saw. The theme of whether or not the hosts possessed consciousness and were more than just robots was prevalent throughout the entire season. Many people suspected that Arnold was on this path, perhaps even the reason for his death, and that the maze was directly tied to it. The idea being that consciousness is what was hidden in the center of the maze. By and large, this was the case. It was great to see that William’s desperate search for the center of the Maze to reaffirm what he had seen in Dolores 30 years prior was ultimately a success.
We heard a lot about Ford’s new narrative and it was a primary point of tension throughout the season. For something that was talked about a lot, we never really knew what it was. I thought the reveal in the finale that Ford actually came around to agreeing with Arnold’s theory of the hosts’ consciousness and that his entire narrative was focused around proving it was exceptional. He effectively put all of the hosts that exhibited signs of consciousness into sleep mode until he was ready to use them and then sent them back into the park under their own “free will.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that Ford isn’t still the bad guy. He had Bernard kill Theresa and do something to Elsie, had his new host army (presumably) wipe out the entire group of DELOS board members and may also be responsible for Stubbs’ kidnapping by the indians. For most of the season, it felt like Ford seized control from Arnold because he just wanted to play god when in reality, he ultimately realized that Arnold was right. I would assume that Ford is also responsible for Maeve’s attempted escape, which resulted in her choosing to return to the park instead of leaving. Ford’s narrative was never about a unique park experience for guests, it was about sending the hosts down a path to gain consciousness and that was a really neat twist on his character. It’ll be interesting to see how this “narrative” plays out moving forward.
From where I stand, Westworld was largely carried by two performances. While all of the actors in the show were excellent, there were two in particular who completely commanded the show when they were on screen. Anthony Hopkins, who played Robert Ford, was a tremendous villain for the show. Hopkins’ performance was exceptional and he mastered his role. Whenever Ford was on screen, it always had the feel of a cat that was just toying with the mouse it was about to kill. He was always in control of the situation, he was intimidating and he was calculating. He was truly the God of Westworld and anybody who attempted to take him down had already lost without even realizing it. Ford was playing chess, everyone else was playing checkers.
Ed Harris, who played the Man in Black/William, was also excellent. In a lot of ways, Harris played the role of the viewers; attempting to discover what the secret behind Westworld was and what game Ford was playing. Harris’ character was an outstanding antihero. He wasn’t a villain; he was an experienced guest at Westworld who forced his way through the maze by whatever means necessary to find what he was looking for. He couldn’t lose and he carried himself like it. Once you knew that William had spent 30 years searching for the hosts’ consciousness after his experience with Dolores, it was so rewarding to see him succeed and Harris’ smile in the ending scene after being shot in the arm was an excellent touch to the character.
And don’t even get me started on how captivating it was when Harris and Hopkins were on screen at the same time.
So where do we go from here? Was William killed by Ford’s host army or was he spared by Ford upon finally finding what he was looking for? Did Dolores actually shoot Ford, or was that a host version of Ford? What will become of the hosts who are on the way to consciousness? What’s the deal with the other parks like the Samurai Park? What happened to Stubbs and Elsie? What is Armistice up to after that post credits scene? What’s going to happen to Maeve if/when she finds her daughter? What will become of all of the park information that was stored into Peter Abernathy? What is the future of Westworld? And I’m sure there are more questions I’m missing.
It was great to see that season one didn’t end on a cliffhanger or without a conclusion to the story. There are a lot of loose ends left to explore in season two and Westworld can definitely expand on that. I’m not sure what the overall story will be other than that it will be focused around the hosts’ becoming sentient. But that’s why I’m not paid to write shows and I just watch them. I suspect that this is a major reason that it’s not going to be for another two years before we actually season two.
My only real criticism of the season was Maeve’s storyline. I just felt like the behavior of Felix and Sylvester had a negative impact on my viewing experience because it didn’t feel realistic. I understand that Felix was displaying similar feelings towards the hosts’ consciousness as William and Arnold, but it felt really out of touch at times. How is a host controlling two people in a building where the walls are giant windows and nobody even notices? There were times where it just didn’t make sense to me.
Season one of Westworld was excellent. It was a little confusing at first, obviously, but I quickly found myself really looking forward to seeing how the story would play out each week. Which theories would be confirmed or disproved? Now, you could certainly make an argument that fans deducing all of the show’s major twists within two or three weeks stripped a lot from the viewer experience but that doesn’t bother me personally. I really enjoy the theorizing aspect of shows and guessing how they’re going to play out. Would I have been able to figure all of those theories out on my own without the help of great communities like the Westworld subreddit? Probably not, but a few of them I definitely did.
What I loved most about Westworld is that it was everything True Detective got praise for in its first season. It’s a minority opinion, but I think the first season of True Detective was wildly overrated. True Detective was deliberately made to be too smart for the viewer, the entire point behind it was to throw so much garbage at you that you couldn’t understand what was going on and it all ended up being largely meaningless. Westworld had meaning behind everything it did, things tied together and everything made sense. It didn’t need a tired, grumbling, rambling, nonsensical Matthew McConaughey shtick to try and make it too smart for viewers. I thoroughly enjoyed the season and would absolutely recommend it to anyone. I imagine that binge watching the first season of Westworld without knowing any of the theories would be quite an experience.
Note: I’m sure I missed quite a bit and I didn’t cover nearly everything about the season but my brain hurts so I’m going to bed.