We're finally learning about the animals in Westworld
Of the many unanswered questions fans have foisted at co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who penned last night's episode, I've always been into the animals one. For a park with so many moving parts and potentially dangerous malfunctions, it makes sense that Anthony Hopkins' Ford and the mysterious Arnold would choose to fill their interactive fantasy world with synthetic creatures that can be controlled just like the hosts. The closing moment of Episode 1, where Dolores kills a fly with a quick slap, felt designed to unnerve and inspire further inquiry. As the scholars in the Insane Clown Posse would say: "Fucking robot-horses: How do they work?"
As is often the case with Westworld, the best way to learn something is to look backwards -- like, way backwards. Besides being very creepy, the milky-white android that appears in the show's credit sequence and in the promotional materials is an updated take on Leonardo da Vinci's "The Vitruvian Man," the ultimate Renaissance blending of scientific thought and art. The actual idea behind the famous sketch came from Vitruvius, an ancient Roman architect who probably had secret hopes of one day inspiring aesthetic decisions on a HBO science-fiction drama. Congrats, Vitruvius. You made it, dude.
About 15 years after da Vinci completed his "Vitruvian Man" sketch in 1490, the Renaissance man created another document that would prove instrumental in the study of human-piloted mechanical flight: the Codex on the Flight of Birds. According to this helpful Smithsonian video on the subject, the Codex explored "aerodynamics, recognized the need for control, stated the importance of lightweight structures, and even hinted at the force Newton would later describe as gravity." It's yet another example of da Vinci's genius, particularly his ability to toggle between heady questions about nature, engineering, technology, and art.
In the same way Nolan and Joy have mined the works of William Shakespeare, John Donne, and Gertrude Stein for literary quotes in the first few episodes, they've also weaponized scientific concepts like the bicameral mind to create a rich (and occasionally confusing) texture of scientific pseudo-authenticity. Nolan and Joy aren't creating a work of art that stands next to the work of Shakespeare or da Vinci -- I like Westworld but, like, come on -- but they're not above evoking well-known cultural signifiers to lend their show a lofty, museum-ready feel. The symbolism of the bird, particularly the way Felix yearns to fix it and checks in on it during his lunch break, suggests that birds will carry thematic weight in the show going forward.