‘Westworld’ rode home on a one-trick pony

DECEMBER 6TH, 2016 — POST 330

The following with contain spoilers for all of Westworld Season 1.

So that’s it. HBO’s newest darling Westworld closed out its first season on Sunday with a heavy dose of spectacle. With the series currently slated to return in 2018, showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan clearly had a lot to get out of the way. Speaking with Variety in the story linked above, Nolan indicated that he’s conceived of Season 1 as a “prologue to the larger story” that will be told going forward with Westworld. As such, Season 1’s “burn it all down” ending is necessary to kick-start the rest of the series on (somewhat of) a clean slate.

At just shy of 90 minutes, Episode 10, entitled ‘The Bicameral Mind’, ramps up from the slow-burn reveal of Episode 9 and shoots revelations at the audience thick and fast. Surprisingly for a first season, there seem no big questions posed in Season 1 that remain unanswered at the end of the ‘The Bicameral Mind’. The identities and intentions of all key characters come to a head in the climactic scene, one which sees Ford bring the Delos board dangerously into his mythologised “new narrative”. However, getting the audience to feel this final scene is earned requires what can only be described as all manner of silliness.

We learnt in Episode 9 of the identity of Arnold (and by extension Bernard), an identity that so much of the series’ mystery hinged upon. I remarked last week of the brilliance of this reveal: that it is only the specific mechanic of Westworld’s hosts that allow the same on-screen presence to be two distinct characters. The X=Y trick of Episode 9 was both instantly recognisable (we’re familiar with similar twists all throughout fiction) but original in its execution and ramifications. Not only did we get key information about the park’s conception but also had the plot’s timelines laid bare.

We get two more key reveals in Episode 10, both of which also follow the X=Y format. William, the young human guest who we’ve been following since Episode 2, it turns out is the mysterious Man In Black, a guest who’s apparently been in the park for 30 years. The X=Y trick here feels a little too familiar: we’ve not only been primed for it with Arnold=Bernard but also don’t get nearly as much from it beyond mere clarity. If anything, this fact seems to fly in the face of the evidence we have about either character: they just don’t seem consistent with one another.

The second of these X=Y tricks is a little more abstract. The much talked-about host villain Wyatt, a supposed addition to Ford’s new narrative, actually turns out to be Dolores — both before the park’s opening when Arnold tasked her with destroying it all and in the reflected reenactment of the moment as part of Ford’s new narrative. Wyatt was never some general Teddy served under, that was just a false memory used to mask the remembered trauma. Teddy had always fought under Dolores at the request of Arnold. In the reflection that is the final scene, instead of mowing down hosts at the request of her creator Arnold, Dolores mows down guests (well, Delos employees there temporarily) of her own accord (or at least that’s what we can deduce).

The Dolores=Wyatt reveal is genuinely consequential: it marks the “solving” of the mythical maze, the solution of which is the “coming online” into full consciousness for Dolores. Despite being skin stretched over a machine, Dolores, in bringing her revolver to the base of Ford’s skull and pulling the trigger, has the conscious powers of any human. She’s freely choosing to act, a freedom no other host (not even Maeve nor Bernard) has been able to afford themselves. As far as Season 1 serving as a prologue to Westworld as a whole, the season can be viewed from 30 000 feet as a story of how the hosts became conscious, a fable of how a creation kills its creator. With Dolores solving the maze, it stands to reason that the rest of the hosts are about to get a whole lot savvier when we arrive back for Season 2.

Despite the significance of this reveal, the mechanics can’t help but make it feel silly. This is now the third time we’re having this trick done to us, the second time in this very episode. Its potency is dulled by repetition and the final acts Dolores performs don’t quite land as believable. We’re still weary from the trick when the consequences play out, casting the final sequence as some sort of fever dream. Sure, we can step back and rationalise Dolores’ actions — that of course you’d kill every motherfucker who’d been either guilty of or complicit in your subjugation for so long — but this is a hard pivot to stomach for a character we’ve known for so long to be entirely under the restrictions of her code, especially when the trick on which we pivot feels worn down with overuse.

Even if I might not be entirely sold on how we got there, I have to acknowledge the courage in closing out a first season so calamitously. I genuinely don’t know where we’ll pick up from nor what exactly will be important going forward. Compound this with the reveal of (what might be called) “Samurai World” or “Shogun World”, a second theme park set in feudal Japan, and the scope of Westworld is surely about to blow up. (Fans of the original Michael Crichton film will know its sequel Futureworld in which Westworld has been closed down for a host-inflicted massacre and Futureworld is opened as one of four theme parks, the others being Spaworld, Medievalworld, and Ancient Romanworld.) We could literally land anywhere (and most importantly anywhen) with Season 2, and that unpredictability is surely exciting enough to get audiences back in 2018.

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