Why Maeve Chose to Stay in Westworld
All season long, fans of HBO's Westworld have clamored for details about the world beyond the saddles-and-spurs playpen the show's hosts call home. They scoured the official website for clues, obsessed over stray references to the mysterious company behind the park, and created elaborate theories about why the show is actually set on Mars.
In last night's finale, Thandie Newton's revolutionary-minded host Maeve nearly gave us our first glimpse about where Westworld is located when she climbed aboard a monorail departing for the "real" world. But on the precipice of freedom, Maeve did something seemingly strange: she bailed.
For anyone hoping Westworld would end with Maeve wandering out into a terraformed red planet or emerging on Earth circa 2016 in a big Shyamalan-lite twist, this was probably a crushing disappointment. But, if you've been carefully watching the series all season, this conclusion both makes sense for Maeve as a character and fits with the show's TV-friendly conception of human psychology. Sure, it was frustrating to see Maeve leave the train to search for her daughter, but it was absolutely the right end to her Season 1 story arc.
Did Maeve break her loop?Most of the speculation around Maeve's decision to return to the park to rescue her daughter will focus on one question: Did she actually break her loop? Or is her return to the park just another part of her pre-determined narrative? Was her big "should I stay or should I go?" scene a moment of genuine self-analysis, or was she merely following a script handed down to her by the park's divine string-pullers?
As with many things on Westworld, there's not enough evidence to make any definitive conclusions. When she confronted Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in the episode, he revealed that despite the impressive modifications she's made to her own attribute matrix, she's still playing a part in a larger narrative scheme. Maeve refused to believe this, and broke the tablet in a moment of highly relatable tech rage before we could find out exactly what would have waited for her on the train. She then asserted her own independence by recruiting the nude bandits Hector and Armistice for a trigger-happy massacre. If this was Ford's plan all along, it left a lot of Delos employees bleeding out on the squeaky-clean floors.
The degree to which Maeve is controlling her own path will likely remain a mystery for as long as the show continues. As with most discussions of free will and determinism -- the movie Arrival explores similar themes while also focusing on a mother and daughter -- there's simply no easy answer. Until co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy reboot the park for Season 2, we'll be left to speculate over the clues provided in the finale. (Like, who gave Felix that slip of paper with the coordinates?)
But as a narrative choice for a TV show, it works!What does Maeve's decision to get off the monorail actually reveal? It shows that for all of Westworld's grand and admirable formal ambitions, it remains a television show about robots trapped in a Wild West theme park -- and that's not a bad thing. Seriously: robots are fun!
Science-fiction movies often end with a character walking out into the unknown: Think of Alicia Vikander's Maeve-like robot sauntering out in the sun in Ex Machina. Or, if you prefer Ed Harris in a beret instead of a cowboy hat, recall the ending of The Truman Show, which finds Jim Carrey's naïvely imprisoned television star crashing his boat into the cloud-painted walls of his reality, taking a bow, and walking through a door to the outside world. It's a cathartic (and ambiguity-tinged) way to end a story.
But the economic realities and storytelling conventions of television demand repetition and limitation: the show is not called Samurai World, or just plain World. It's Westworld. If Maeve is going to be a major character, she needs to stay on the map. She needs to play a role in the battle for the park. She has to get her daughter.
But it also fits with her backstoryPlus, putting aside the conventions of serialized TV shows, Maeve's decision also made sense with the rules Nolan and Joy have established throughout the show's run. From Dolores to Bernard to even poor Teddy, each host's personal revelation has been related to a painful Ford-penned backstory, a defining traumatic event that proves unshakable and sends them on the pathway to self-awareness. "Your memories are the first step to consciousness," Bernard told Maeve last night. "How can you learn from your mistakes if you can't remember them?"
On a surface level, it appears that Maeve has not learned from her mistakes: by getting off the train to find her "daughter," she's delaying her own freedom by returning to the brutal, violent prison she's been living in her whole life. She's heading back into danger to rescue a fellow robot who was only programmed to appear as her daughter. The "daughter" is a lie. She makes the sentimental decision, but, as Ford said in his pre-death monologue, there are lies that tell "a deeper truth." By getting off that train, Maeve is effectively buying into the lie -- proving she just might be, as Ford and the robots in Daft Punk would say, human after all.
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