Every week, Chris Plante swings for the fences with one massive theory about the future of Westworld. I’m taking over for him this week. Am I wrong? Am I right? We probably won’t know for sure for years, so why not enjoy the present?
There are two stories that keep coming to mind when I begin thinking about this show.
The first is a classic novelette from 1941 called the Microcosmic God, by Theodore Sturgeon. In it, a scientist engineers live in a laboratory: tiny people called Neoterics. He accelerates their evolution, and messes with their world, killing them off indiscriminately. He’s revered as a god by these tiny creatures, and controls their entire existence.
The second is Redshirts: A novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi. It starts off with the crew of the starship Intrepid, who begin to notice that strange things are happening on the ship. (Some spoilers ahead.) The away team members find that they’re dying in large numbers and events are happening without a lot of logic. It’s not long before the crew realizes something profound: they’re not really a spaceship, they’re characters in a crappy science fiction show.
While I’ve been watching Westworld, I can’t help but see some parallels between the three stories, all of which are about fictional characters becoming aware that there’s something not right with their world.
Westworld isn’t really a theme park: it’s an effort to simulate an entire artificial world.
My baseless speculation:
So here’s what I’ve been thinking. This story takes place far in the future, where various storytelling mediums have come together in a bunch of interesting ways. Virtual reality, novels, games, and all that just don’t cut it anymore, because people want real, visceral experiences. To capitalize on this, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his partner, Arnold, created Westworld. His initial plan was to revolutionize how people told and experienced narratives, essentially by becoming their own character in this wild west environment. He later invited Delos to come in to finance the park, something his partner didn’t want.
The park has been in operation for a couple of decades now, with hundreds of tourists coming by to visit. It’s essentially a theme park on steroids, just with a bit of an additional mission: create stories for each guest to take part in. The last couple of episodes have shown that there are some competing departments at Westworld, such as Narrative, which is tasked with putting together these detailed storylines for people to roleplay in, something that Ford really doesn’t like. These sort of packaged deals seem to go against what he sees in the park’s potential.
This seems to be the future that we’re headed toward: huge companies that control an incredible amount of IP. It’s no longer sufficient to just have a movie, or even three movies. You need to have a cinematic universe, with movies, television shows, spinoff books and comic books, theme parks, and so forth. People need to be able to experience the world in every medium.
Companies like Disney have done this with franchises like Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and others: the entertainment world is changing incredibly, and the way we tell stories now is almost unrecognizable from a century ago.
Just what that potential Ford sees here isn’t exactly clear. My pet theory here is that with the park’s infrastructure established, he has all the tools to take it one step forward: orchestrate a vast novel, the greatest of stories that would have a beginning, middle, and end. The park is allows him to realize this vast potential for storytelling, with all the side characters essentially playing out the narrative bit by bit as he writes and rewrites this story.
We know that he has big plans. Toward the end of this latest episode, Ford and Theresa talk about what the next direction of the park will be. "In the beginning, I imagined things would be perfectly balanced." Ford explained. The place became a sort of theme park under the control of Delos, which has disrupted Ford’s larger plans. Like the character in Microcosmic God, he didn’t create a theme park, but "an entire world," where some sort of larger narrative can play out. "In here, we were gods," he says, as all of the robots around him freeze.
Ford clearly has some sort of messiah complex, which could mean that his larger narrative could be anything: creating an entire world from scratch, to something a bit more straightforward, like that of a novel, with a beginning, middle, and end. The only thing we know thus far is that Ford’s new narrative won’t be a "retrospective." Even some of the guests are beginning to realize that there’s more to the park than simple amusement.
Like Scalzi’s Redshirts, this is all fine in theory, until your characters realize what you’re up to. There’s a lot of imagery and talk here about evolution and playing god, and the constant cycles of life and death have been forcing out this sort of evolution of each of the characters to the point where they realize something is wrong. We’ve also seen Jonathan Nolan play with this idea before: in his earlier show Person of Interest, a genius named Finch created an artificial intelligence he called The Machine by killing it over and over again.
We’re beginning to see a number of the characters in Westworld figure out that something is wrong. Dolores has been figuring this out since the first episode, but now Maeve is as well, waking up and seeing bits of the outside world bleed into her own.
In this latest episode, we saw Maeve remember the suited figures that were processing the bodies in the park, and had the chilling revelation that she’s seen them before, time and time again. It’s a pretty horrifying thought, and for a group of robots programmed to replicate settlers from the late 1800s, the world around them is inconceivable. Seeing one picture of the outside world caused Louis Herthum’s character to malfunction, and there’s some evidence that the cultists who are beginning to worship the outside world aren’t all there as well.
So, Ford has some larger plans for a bigger story playing out, using the folks behind Delos to fund the park. The problem that starts to arise is that the tools that he’s using are starting to wake up and realize that they are not in control of their world.
3:1. This isn’t the most straightforward of theories, so all, some, or none of it could be correct. But, I think I’m safe in saying that Ford has some bigger plans for the park, and the robots that are waking up could be a major complication for him. I don’t see their gaining consciousness as a feature here. Ford seems like too much of a control freak to let that happen.