Every week, I swing for the fences with one massive theory about the future of Westworld. Am I wrong? Am I right? We probably won’t know for sure for years, so why not enjoy the present?
In the middle of Westworld’s season finale, the young board member Charlotte Hale prepares a coup against park founder Dr. Robert Ford. To the childish story director Lee Sizemore, Hale describes an anodyne vision for the future of the resort following its creator’s forced retirement: “Simpler, more manageable […] this place is complicated enough as it is.” After a 10-episode introductory season — throughout which Westworld’s creators withheld key information and retconned the backstories of lead characters for the sake of plot twists that themselves are merely setups for even more shocking turns — a simpler, or at least more manageable, Westworld doesn’t sound so bad.
I wonder if the creators agree, as they appear to heed their own advice with the final episode: an hour of expository answers to nearly every one of the show’s questions, spliced in with a bloodbath that should surely get the park erased from the earnings report of parent company Delos. By killing their darlings, literally, the writers have set the stage for a second season that can stand independent of its source material, the horror film about a self-aware bot in a fabricated Wild West. It could also potentially leave behind the narrative trickery that, for better and worse, has come to define the show.
Between all the monologuing and violence, Westworld hints at a show that will be more acutely focused on the promise of its pilot: the parallel stories of the humans who create a new and immortal life, and the powerful bots who reject being enslaved by their creators.
The future of Westworld the TV show will be far more ambitious and interesting than Westworld the park.
But what does it all mean?
It appears this column is stuck on a loop of its own. A couple weeks back, I predicted “Westworld the show will leave Westworld the park — and in the process, go full Lost.” In some ways, the finale is vindication. Like Lost’s hatch, Westworld’s maze led the audience underground in search of an answer to the million-dollar existential question: “What does it all mean?” And Maeve’s escape attempt revealed Westworld is just one venue in a larger operation — Samurai World, it turns out, is just a short jog from the employee lunchroom. If anything, my theory didn’t go far off.
When I say Westworld will be bigger than its amusement park namesake, I don’t just mean there will be more amusement parks. I mean Westworld the show will, over the following seasons, become about something bigger: the rise of the machines.
With both founders dead and 30-some years of backstory uncovered, there simply isn’t enough blood left to be squeezed from the stone that is the Westworld park — at least, not enough blood to cover another 10 episodes. To support that claim, let’s review where the park stands after the season’s final gory moments:
As his final act, Ford has, at worst, organized a robot uprising against the Delos board members on the Westworld park premises. At best, he’s gifted the robots some state of consciousness or freedom. So some execs have been killed, or are about to get killed, and some bots (looking at you, Dolores) have achieved sentience, or may be on their way.
Westworld the park won’t survive this bloodbath
Meanwhile, Maeve, apparently obeying a loop authored by a programmer, likely Ford, has massacred a number of park employees, while helpfully introducing the audience to what looks like a second park, labeled SW, seemingly starring a cast of bots inspired by feudal Japan. Speaking of Maeve, she has broken the cardinal rule of artificial intelligence, and killed humans. As have her conspirators. And those aren’t even the biggest kills of the week.
Dolores has killed Ford! And we now know for certain that Dolores killed Arnold so many years ago. Killing, the show strongly hints, is the breakout act of consciousness. I suppose that makes sense for AI created, in part, by a man who believes suffering is the seed from which consciousness grows.
The mysteries of the park are solved, and the ground itself is caked in blood. And at least one bot has sentience, distancing the show from its complicated loops, and low emotional stakes. I hope in hindsight, the first season will play like a prologue: a massive dose of scene-setting for the real story, whatever that may be.
1:1. Even though Maeve couldn’t leave Westworld this season, Westworld will one day abandon the park. We know other parks exist — Maeve’s “child” is located in “Park 1” — so we can expect to see more locales. And we know Dolores believes “the world belongs to someone who has yet to come,” and by the world, she’s not talking about her hellish life in Frontierland. So the question isn’t if the show will leave the Wild West, it’s where will the story go from here. Will we get another season in another park? Will we see office life at Delos? Or will we get a look at the utopia apparently everybody wants to escape?
The show offers one silly (and unlikely) hint:
“They say great beasts once roamed this world — as tall as mountains,” Dolores says. “Yet all that’s left of them is bone and amber.” It’s a coy wink to another story about an amusement park gone wrong: Jurassic Park. Of course, the odds of the AI revolution including dinosaurs is an even bigger long shot. I’ll put the Michael Crichton remix at 5,000,000:1.