Spoiler Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Season 1 of Westworld
“Westworld” proved to be quite a thought-provoking piece of television. The HBO series had a cinematic atmosphere to it, which is no surprise, given that J.J. Abrams was an executive producer. It was a remake of the 1973 film that focused on a Western-influenced amusement park filled with realistic androids, called “hosts,” that humans could interact with for entertainment. Those hosts ended up malfunctioning and turning on the human guests in murderous fashion.
HBO’s modern reinterpretation, enhanced Westworld’s owner, Delos, as a tech-savvy, futuristic corporation that was brought to life by Jonathan Nolan and his wife, Lisa Joy. The former, who co-wrote “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” with his brother, Christopher, constructed a twist-laden story, encapsulating how time, grief and love has an impact human (and artificial) consciousness. In the wake of the breathlessly cerebral and much talked-about finale, we decided to dissect what worked best in the show’s debut season.
15. Bernard Being Based On Arnold
Bernard Lowe was Head of the Westworld Programming Division and a chief architect of the synthetic androids called hosts. He helped shaped the contemporary park, empathizing with and providing a fatherly comfort to the hosts while ensuring storylines and narratives were executed. Bernard was eventually revealed to be a host himself, manipulated by the co-founder of Westworld, Robert Ford, and fashioned in the image of Westworld’s other co-creator, Arnold Weber.
Arnold tried to prevent the park’s debut after a host (Dolores) passed a test that proved she had achieved consciousness. When Ford refused to listen, he reprogrammed Dolores to destroy the other hosts in order to prevent them all from having to experience the tortures of what the guests would do them. Still in mourning over his dead son, he also had her kill him afterward. Jeffrey Wright as Bernard/Arnold was stellar: perfectly blending raw, human emotion with stiff, robotic logic; switching from innocent and unsuspecting to a cold-blooded killer whenever Ford chose.
14. Dolores Being Wyatt
Dolores started off as a damsel-in-distress host, who was tortured emotionally and physically by the Man in Black. Even when her programming was reset, pain would come via the loss of her father (Abernathy) or a lover (Teddy), or struggling with affection for a new guest (William). Tragedy seemed to beset her repeatedly as her story unfolded over different time periods.
Even though she achieved consciousness, her programming made her retain her frail disposition and be too weak to murder the other hosts when Arnold asked her to. To steel her resolve, he spliced in the genocidal Wyatt into her code. This reveal left Dolores torn between her innocent side and her darker one, which Ford capitalized on. He steered her on and armed her as he realized what Arnold had years before: that the hosts can become conscious and should be in charge of their own destinies. With Wyatt also part of her personality, for Dolores, that destiny meant killing the guests and humans who caged and tortured her for decades.
13. Hints of Other Worlds
While some of the hosts launched their rebellion in the finale, a trio escaped to new levels of the complex we had never seen before and what ensued blew fans’ minds: there was a door with an “SW” logo (similar to Westworld’s WW) that they escaped into, fueling speculation that it could stand for either “Samurai World” or “Shogun World” due to how we witnessed Samurai warriors slicing and dicing behind the doors. This raised questions of how many parks existed.
The chatter went into overdrive when Felix, the lab technician who got involved in Maeve’s escape plan, displayed a note later on with critical information that read “Park 1.” In the original film, scribed by acclaimed novelist Michael Crichton, audiences were also privy to Medieval World (influenced by medieval Europe) and Roman World (based on the Roman city of Pompeii). It spawned a sequel, “Futureworld” which was set in space, with Spaworld also being mentioned in this film as the ultimate R&R destination. It will be interesting to see if the next season of “Westworld” visits these other worlds.
12. Superb SFX
The show’s special effects department deserves a standing ovation. That commendation stems from the entire layout of the park, especially its technical and operational arm. The behind-the-scenes areas are reminiscent of a technology company’s factory at times; with the control room’s interface, their next-gen tablets and host creation and maintenance areas all having a future-esque vibe to it. Everything is ultra-sleek and sophisticated, but still comes off like something attainable in the near future in the real world.
The lab in particular, and its factory-floor mechanical equipment, aid this modern vibe while the process of building the hosts and skinning them, despite being a bit haunting, feels like you took a time-machine 25 years forward. The hosts, when being interrogated or scrapped, are as theatrical as the SFX from “Ex Machina,” “Morgan,” “A.I.” or even, “I, Robot,” but surprisingly, the way they look, speak and interact is much more believable.
11. The Musical Score
The right score adds depth to your characters and to your story on the whole, polishing the personalities of both and helping to amplify their voices. We saw it with Netflix’s “Luke Cage” and “Stranger Things.” In “Westworld’s” case, it wasn’t the rap/hip-hop (Harlem) flair of “Luke Cage” or the ’80s synth traits of “ST,” but something more soothing. It built mystique and drama with enigmatic piano keys that weren’t over-tracked and littered at every junction, but rather subtly interjected at intervals to separate it from other robot films.
Composer Ramin Djawadi, who worked on Nolan’s “Person of Interest,” used mysterious melodic keys to convey his idea of an amusement park: quietly intense but playfully dark. He added an anachronistic spine to keep you dipping in and out of timelines, as opposed to the singular style of say, acoustic Western, which would have left viewers too immersed in one world. Modern songs covered via piano renditions, included Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” There was also Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” The Cure’s “A Forest,” The Animals’ version of “The House of the Rising Sun” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.”
10. The Western Setting
Once audiences weren’t backstage, so to speak, in control rooms, labs or anything operations-related, “Westworld” proved to be a true-to-the-core Western. When separated from the futuristic aspect of things, it had all the tropes, heart and soul of classic John Wayne or Clint Eastwood flicks. You had rogue gunslingers (as seen with Hector and Armistice), fair maidens to defend (as with Dolores), a pining hot-shot and white knight (Teddy, as played by James Marsden), deviants and despots (Wyatt, the Man In Black), and of course, the tavern and its bar wenches (as per Maeve and Clementine) who offered more than just a brief respite.
They created an atmosphere of the Old West where every act of endearment, romance and goodwill was met with greed, hatred and selfishness, coupled with plenty of gunfights and horseback riding. Everything set within Westworld felt organic, allowing both the guests and the viewers to become fully immersed in Ford’s narratives.
9. Corporate & Boardroom Drama
A major part of the show’s plot involved corporate backstabbing. Theresa, Westworld’s operations leader, was not going to allow any unscripted disarray or discrepancies to occur on her watch stemming from Ford’s antics, and was ably backed by Delos’ executive director of the board overseeing Westworld, Charlotte (played by Tessa Thompson, who will also be playing Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok”). Charlotte, in turn, sought to remove Ford outright by forcing him to retire.
The conniving duo tried to smuggle data out of the park in case Ford tried to sabotage Westworld upon dismissal, and also enlisted Lee Sizemore, Westworld’s narrative director, to help them oust Ford. This was a real-world scenario that happens every day in major companies, which added to the intrigue of the already-intriguing narratives within the Westworld park. How external corporate interference would or wouldn’t impact the story of the hosts added an additional layer to the drama-packed sci-fi.
8. The Bumbling Lab Coats
Felix and Sylvester were a crucial element this season as they were instrumental in Maeve’s survival and escape from the park. The sympathy drawn from Felix, in particular, was very notable as he came off like a frightened animal but one that cared for both the hosts and life, in general. He was a great foil for the wily and petulant Sylvester as they formed the yin and yang on the engineering side of things. One was optimistic and cherished life, while the other was crass and just wanted to get the job done.
Many fans were questioning why they didn’t shut her down when she began to show the earliest signs of consciousness (which, based on what they know about how hosts worked, would have seemed like a fundamental anomaly worthy of decommissioning said host), but another theory popped up that maybe they were also hosts and pawns of Ford. Either way, whether you view them as incompetent, goofy, or scared, their chemistry with each other and with Maeve was priceless.
7. Logan The Devil
Being engaged to Logan’s (played by Ben Barnes) sister made William all the more tentative about crossing moral lines and this apprehension increased with Logan’s deviant behavior. Logan kept urging him to be more wild and to do bad things to the hosts. Whether it was killing for sport, going off on bounty hunts, or getting drunk in watering holes, as long as it involved debauchery, Logan indulged.
Logan’s primal nature and selfish ways helped mold William, who finally began to find his own identity away from love and towards apathy. William eventually made Logan his prisoner and, when he finally embraced his dark side, he sent Logan off naked on horseback, and indicated they would be investing in Westworld afterward. Logan’s end remains unknown, but he impacted the park’s future and its key players in big ways. He embodied the unabashed freedom of Westworld and the purported freedom from consequence.
6. Wyatt’s Cultists
This remained one of the show’s most vague elements. Wyatt’s cultists were shrouded in mystery and left the audience scratching their heads as to whether they were guests, hosts from Westworld or maybe even, hosts that were remnants from another park. The latter theory even played into the few unregistered hosts roaming Westworld with many speculating that they, and Wyatt, could have been written out of the narrative as part of Arnold’s cyber-apparition to select hosts.
Their outfits were so unconventional and grisly compared to what the other hosts had worn. There were hints of vikings, shrieks of cavemen and even nods to the Native American tribes of the West, like the Ghost People, which we saw attack Stubbs separately. The cult was embedded in roots of horror, so once Wyatt’s identity was fleshed out, it did diminish from the scare factor of this group by quite a lot. Hopefully, however, they’ll return with their leader unleashed in the next season.
5. The Non-Linear Timeline
Many comparisons were made as to how the duplicitous nature of “Westworld” unfurled like one of Nolan’s freshest and most original pieces of writing in “Memento.” What made this Guy Pearce flick stand out was how the movie’s time-stamp was jumping all over the place. This same non-linear style of storytelling was something fans started speculating about when they looked at the Westworld logos, old and new, and how William resembled the Man In Black.
This had fans insisting online that the show was actually set in at least two different time periods it turned out they were right. Dolores’ arc was also a focal point here with the past piling misery on, only for the present to channel it into her self-realized consciousness. This time-jumping not only kept fans distracted with Dolores’ arc, but it also proved misdirection for the subterfuge of Ford with Bernard/Arnold. To say this non-linear style made guessing game and clue hunt of the maze all the harder to solve for the fans would be an understatement.
4. William/The Man In Black
William endured a polarizing journey in Westworld, having reluctantly participated just after it opened its doors. He fell in love with Dolores and also, with the wonders and thrills of the Wild West. This majesty quickly turned morose when he and his future-brother-in-law, the miscreant Logan, failed to rescue Dolores. He searched in despair and eventually found her, wiped clean with no memory of him, driving him into a downward spiral.
His descent seeped into the real world where his neglected wife ended up killing herself, as he pursued a deeper meaning in the park. This led to his transformation into the Man In Black, who kept scarring Dolores out of hatred for the past, and also to ascertain what the maze meant, not knowing it was tied to the hosts’ path to consciousness. Jimmi Simpson was the heroic William while Ed Harris stood in stark contrast; both churning out riveting performances. The character’s regression was testament to the things we lose in life that make us bitter and, as the final scenes highlighted, William went on his vengeful crusade because he wanted something more, something real.
3. Maeve’s Evolution
When the award-winning Thandie Newton was cast as Maeve, it pretty much guaranteed that this character would be in good hands. Her growth from the tavern’s madam to someone who struggled with her memories of a past life kept us on the edge of our seats. From celebrities like George R.R. Martin to the average viewer, everyone was engrossed as to how she was achieving this level of consciousness and who was helping her. It made her so human that she longed to escape the tragic past.
The final few episodes started with fans believing her awakening was due to Arnold’s imprint, but that belief slowly turned to folks seeing her as the queen in Ford’s chess game when it was revealed that all of her decisions had actually been programmed into her. Newton was cold and calculating, to the point where it became unclear if she was a hero or a villain. She even managed to use her fellow hosts as pawns. Just when it seemed like she had achieved her goal, her twist ending in going back for her host child left the audience wondering if this was indeed her own choice or part of a hidden narrative yet again.
2. The Ambiguity of Who Achieved Consciousness
The ambiguous storytelling methods made it very difficult to discern whether a host’s personalities and actions were really due to programming or due to them achieving full consciousness. For example, we kept seeing Dolores dip in and out of memories, between time periods, and even talking to her inner self. However, did that inner conversation really mean she attained consciousness or just that the Wyatt programming had become dominant?
The end hinted that the latter might be true, because Ford wanted her to kill him. Did she do so of her own volition, or was Dolores just following Ford’s programming to shoot her. Maeve also raised questions because it was revealed that she had actually been programmed to escape and get on the train, but then she gets off it to go back for the child she lost in Westworld. Does that mean she was truly free to make her own decisions or was this decision also part of her programming? It’s tough to tell how liberated hosts really are, but the beauty in not knowing is that it makes things so much more unpredictable and, oddly, fulfilling.
1. Ford’s Endgame
Anthony Hopkins portrayed Ford with a calm intimidation. Viewers immediately noticed his sly nature, but at the same time, his motivations were tough to gauge because he never revealed many cards, much less his entire hand. As the season progressed, more about him was divulged, from his sentimental secretive spot (which bore an eerie resemblance to his family) to keeping Arnold’s fire burning in the form of Bernard. He never seemed to lose control of his emotions or his power, though, not even when Theresa and Charlotte encroached on his territory to shunt him into retirement.
Everyone was Ford’s pawn in completing Arnold’s task of helping the hosts attain consciousness. Even though Bernard would have simply obeyed all of his orders, he molded him in the visage of Arnold and manipulated Bernard to be his ally against Theresa and Charlotte. From planting the memory his dead son to plotting his romantic relationship with Theresa an giving him Arnold’s empathy for the hosts, everything Ford made Bernard do and experience was part of his finest, and final, carefully constructed narrative for the park and the hosts.
Thoughts on our picks? What stood out for you this season? Let us know in the comments!
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