What 'Westworld' Season 1 Was Actually About
This post contains major spoilers up through the final episode of Westworld Season 1, "The Bicameral Mind." Head to our Westworld World hub for more recaps, theories, interviews, and deep dives.
Like many people, I got into Westworld for the promise of Wild West violence and potential Ed Harris nudity. But I stayed a Westworld devotee for the increasingly addicting storylines beneath the storylines, the Easter eggs and red herrings, the smoke screens and wild goose chases, the fool's errands and diversions.
Lord knows this was not the type of show that you could just jump into in the middle. Understanding Westworld was like learning a foreign language: at first you only got the topical, basic things (It's a Western theme park for rich people! There is a man wearing black who is not very nice to the robots!), but slowly, when you immersed yourself and your fluency increased, you started to pick up on more.
Think of the modern music playing on the player piano ("The House of the Rising Sun," "Back to Black," "Fake Plastic Trees," "Black Hole Sun"); the literary references (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in Episode 8, Shakespeare in the pilot); the art references (Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, Michelangelo's Creation of Adam); callbacks to the two Westworld movies (Elsie finding statues straight out of Roman World and Medieval World in Episode 6, Yul Brynner's Gunslinger in the old offices in the same episode, the samurai in the finale); callbacks to other movies (Jurassic Park with Felix's "That's it. Come on, little one" from Episode 5); and references to video games (BioShock, Red Dead Redemption series, etc.). All of those little Easter eggs were nice ways to fall down a Westworld subreddit rabbit hole for days, but those distractions weren't, to use the Man in Black's parlance, the true "deeper game."
That deeper game brought up discussions usually reserved for college philosophy majors during late-night drug-smoking sessions. Of course, the ideas of the hosts' bicameralism, and of understanding the mind through memories passed from the right side to the left side without metaconsciousness or introspection, play a large role -- but what about the idea of self-actualization? That the maze is actually your consciousness, and the closer you get to the center, the more you understand that the voice inside your head was yours all along? (From Ford: "Consciousness isn't a journey upward but a journey inward, not a pyramid but a maze.")
Or the idea of freedom, of who is really free and who is being controlled? Maeve's quest to be free ends with her making the choice (On her own? Or because she was programmed to? STAY TUNED NEXT SEASON) to get off the train and come back to the park. But, as Ford says, we humans think we’re special in the way "we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next."
Humans go to the park because the idea is that without rules, we can be as free as we ever will be, and in that freedom we will find our true selves. But doesn’t that entire concept further solidify the fact that our normal lives are not actually "free"? And what does it say about our "true" selves that most humans spend their time in the park either killing or fucking things? Wait, is this actually a commentary on the state of the internet in 2016?
Westworld also serves as a conversation about mortality. During the finale, in one of the greater monologues of the season, Dolores subverts the Man in Black’s idea of why she’s crying, telling him, “I'm not crying for myself. I'm crying for you. They say that great beasts once roamed this world. Big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest creatures. Just look what it's done to you. One day, you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt. Your dreams forgotten, your horrors faced, your muscles will turn to sand, and upon that sand a new God will walk, one that will never die, because this world doesn't belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come.” Armistice summed it up even more succinctly: “Gods are pussies.”
In that blistering speech, Dolores cuts right to the heart of the human weakness -- no matter how strong or powerful or handsome or rich or toned our cores are, eventually we get old and we die. And we don’t get to come back to the next day with our minds reset either, we just… (*closes computer and stares at wrinkles on face in mirror for a moment, single tear going down cheek*).
But it needn’t all be depressing or deep. Like most successful modern shows, the beauty of Westworld is that, like the park itself, it suits viewing on all levels. Not many shows, after all, can pull off being a commentary on gratuitous violence in television while showing gratuitous violence on television. And despite all this heavy shit, it seems to have caught and kept an audience. Deadline reports that it continues to “track ahead of the debuts of Game of Thrones and True Detective.” It’s been renewed for a second season. We’ll be able to return to that place where the mountains meet the sea sometime in 2018.
And you’ll be able to continue watching to find out if Maeve ever truly grasps her freedom, if Dolores’s self-actualization only reveals murderous tendencies, and if a new God truly will walk among the humans. Or you can just watch for the Wild West shoot-outs and the possibility of Ed Harris nude. After all, the hosts at Westworld are here to serve you.
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