This post contains major spoilers for the premiere of Westworld. Head to our show page for more Westworld reviews, theories, and deep dives.
Only two episodes in, HBO's new series Westworld has already caused an avalanche of tinfoil-hat theories touching on every aspect of the show. In order to try to sort out the crazy-beautiful ones from the crazy-eyes ones, we watched the old Westworld movie from the '70s, dug through the modern Wild West (aka the internet), attempted to make sense of how the park's crazy train works, talked to someone who made those player-piano rolls for the show, bought discontinued tinfoil in bulk, and narrowed the hypotheses down to five we think might actually have some merit.
1. White Hat William is the young version of the Man in Black
Westworld's second episode, "Chestnut," introduced a newcomer to the park named William (Jimmi Simpson, the creepy hacker from House of Cards), who accompanies his co-worker Logan, a Westworld veteran. Logan says he can't wait for William to get into the mix because Westworld is "the answer to that question you've been asking yourself: who you really are."
Logan is into the basic parts of Westworld -- mainly robot sex and murder. William is more thoughtful and inquisitive about the place. The show puts it bluntly: given the chance to choose an outfit, Logan chooses an all-black getup, whereas William chooses a white hat. He is a Good Guy. Or maybe he is in real life.
The theory being argued goes something like this: all of the scenes with William and Logan actually take place 30 years ago, depict the first visit to Westworld by The Man in Black (Ed Harris), and will show how he eventually evolves from a white hat into a sadistic black hat character. Three clues cause the most nerdy excitement:
- When William and Logan arrive, the Westworld logo appears to be a retro reversal of the hip, sleek, updated version seen during modern-day scenes with park workers.
- William picks up the can for Dolores in much the same way that the Man in Black does in the first episode. And considering Dolores plays such a significant role in the Man in Black's world, that sort of detail seems significant.
- While Logan shacks up with robots, William hangs out with the call girl Clementine, who, we are informed during Madam Maeve's breakdown, has played the Madam role in previous years. In this scene, she suggests that they can find another girl to suit his needs, which seems to indicate she's playing the Madam role at this time, too.
Other people have also pointed out that the show was created by Jonathan Nolan, who loves this sort of backwards puzzling (and wrote the story his brother, Christopher, based Memento on). But this also leads to another question: if William is indeed the the Man in Black, will we get to see the "critical failure" that occurred at the park 30 years ago? And is that the trigger point that switches William from a white hat to a black one?
2. The bugs causing the system to fail are... actual bugs
The first episode is all about flies. In the first sequence, we see a fly land on the actual eyeball of a host. We're told that the hosts literally "can't hurt a fly." And then, of course, the final scene involves Dolores swatting a fly and killing it, proving otherwise. On top of that, DiscoverWestworld.com, which is incredible and set up to act exactly like an actual booking site for Westworld, includes a Terms of Delos Destinations document, which has a crucial line mentioning that all livestock within Westworld are hosts, "with the notable exception of flies."
So... the flies are real, but no other bug is real? Notice that the document doesn’t say "insects" or anything general; it makes specific reference to flies. And because flies don't act in a predictable manner, they can literally serve as bugs in the hosts' operating systems, perhaps triggering the robots to rebel. Some theories speculate that Ford or Bernard introduced real flies into the system and entered code that triggers the robots to rebel once they interact with the fly, but I'm not sure. We saw Madam Maeve react more to the trigger words "These violent delights have violent ends." Nonetheless, the flies do seem to represent a literal bug in the system, a drop of chaos that will eventually cause total mayhem.
3. The church steeple in the sand is where the original Westworld town was constructed
At the end of "Chestnut," Ford takes Bernard out into the desert to clue him in on a new narrative he’s been constructing -- without help from the Narrative team. The imagery from it is a church steeple buried in the sand, but Internet People seem to believe that steeple is actually a buried church from a discarded version of Westworld. After all, the Man in Black did mention that there are "layers to this game." Maybe he meant that literally.
4. The Red River is full of secrets/the beginning of the maze
During the the Man in Black's little side-trip to see Lawrence the Outlaw's family, Lawrence's daughter hinted that, to complete the maze, the cowboy must follow "blood arroyo to where the snake lays its eggs." Blood arroyo is another name for Red River, of course.
In the same episode, the Narrative team put together a new story line called "Odyssey on Red River," which Ford subsequently kills, citing creativity issues. But really, it seems to be because his own story involves a church steeple in the desert, possibly by the Red River. Plus, we see a snake when he is there with the young boy host (likely based on himself as a child), which connects the clue about the snake laying its eggs.
5. Bernard is going to destroy everything
You may have encountered my original story on Bernard's subtly diabolical intentions. "Chestnut" makes me feel even stronger that he is absolutely going to cause a massive robot coup d'etat that spells the end of the utopian days of robot-sex-murder-themed vacations forever.
In the second episode, Bernard does all sorts of nefarious shit. For one, he's sleeping with the boss operations manager, which is somewhat normal in the closed-off environment they live in, except that she can provide him with off-the-books information he can use for his evil schemes. During post-sex small talk, Bernard mentions that his robots are constantly talking to themselves and others to practice being more human. And at another point, he mentions to Ford that he has trouble shutting down the hosts because he's basically in love with them. And you can see that love during his off-the-books conversation with Dolores. He begins asking questions about her core heuristics and other very personal and invasive robot information until Dolores gets a little suspicious (which is crazy because she's a robot). "Have you done something wrong?" she asks.
Bernard, not expecting to get grilled ("Who are you, my stepmom?" he probably shouts internally), immediately goes into damage-control mode. "Turn off your event log. Erase this interaction," he commands Dolores before saying she should get back before someone misses her. At the end of the episode, we see her walk out of her farmhouse in the middle of the night, dig into the dirt, and find a gun. Did Bernard plant the seed for her to find this weapon? Is it a real gun that can shoot humans? And if this is truly how the robot revolution begins, can she please kick it off by taking down Bernard?
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.