Westworld: 1x02 Chestnut.
Maeve: This is the new world, and in this world, you can be whoever the fuck you want.
What is Westworld for? Two competing theories are presented in this episode. Logan, who takes his friend, co-worker (and brother-in-law?) for his first trip to the park, thinks that Westworld has the ability to reveal someone’s true identity. He hopes that the “upright prick” that he knows will finally reveal his true self if there are no consequences for his actions. More precisely, he hopes that his friend will reveal himself to make exactly the same choices that he has been making in his past visits, in a way to validate his own course right into violence against the hosts.
The equivalent to this perspective behind the scenes of Westworld is Mr. Sizemore, head of narrative, currently working on an expansive new storyline that will be more shocking than anything previously seen. He does not care for Ford’s “reveries”, or to make the hosts more life-like – if anything, he would rather have them more robotic, to ensure the guests even more that whatever they do to them, it does not matter.
This is a very pessimistic view of humanity and of the purpose that Westworld could have. It argues that given the opportunity, with no scrutiny, people would choose to go straight black hat, to indulge in violence. For William (Jimmi Simpson), whom we follow into Westworld, from the induction speech to the artisanal outfitted change room to the train into the heart of Westworld, it becomes a symbolic choice between a selection of black or white hats – a simplistic, dualistic conception of humans. We’ve heard other guests talk about their experience in Westworld the same way, choosing the white hat to follow the storylines, to go on an adventure laid out for them, or to go black hat and disregard these storylines that open themselves up to them (sometimes putting an end to a carefully constructed storyline by randomly shooting one of the main protagonists). The introduction that William gets into the experience summarises the core question of this show – a woman who blurs the lines before he even enters Westworld makes you wonder what it says about the people who are perpetrating all this violence if they cannot tell the difference between real and not real. Westworld presents (limited) choices, but in the end, the choices that guest are making say everything about them. From what we have been presented with so far, there are limited options within Westworld – in that sense, it is an adventure park rather than a representation of the world – and the occasional family tourists who wander about to enjoy the scenery or the novelty of this place are a rarity, seemingly questioning their choices at every point (as do the wives that have been dragged along by their adventurous husbands). The one person who transcends this is The Man in Black, who should be the ultimate black hat but is apparently just someone who has done it all and is now seeking for whatever meaning is left to escape the ennui.
Anyway, back to William – who chooses to go white hat, and doesn’t fulfil his mate’s dream of revealing himself to be just as much of a morally questionable asshole as he is. Instead he is tempted to fall into an adventure, until he finally ends up taking Teddy Flood’s place in Dolores’ storyline, promptly (apparently) falling in love with her.
Ford: What you and I do is so complicated, we practice witchcraft, we speak the right words and we create life itself. Out of chaos.
Behind the scenes, Elsie is catching on to the fact that Abernathy’s existential crisis was more than just a glitch, and may be a systemic issue, like a virus that can be passed on from host to host – which is exactly what ends up happening. Dolores passes on the magical words to Maeve, and they open up traumatic memories. She starts to fall behind in her role as Madame. In a conversation between Maeve and Clementine (Bernard explains that the hosts always speak to each other to practice becoming more human, to “error-correct”, but then, how is that significantly different from why humans speak to each other?) we find out that both of them have been dreaming - even though they are only equipped with the idea of nightmares, to explain horrific memories they may have when someone forgets to wipe their memories (because, as Elsie points out, they’d be in a world of trouble if the hosts ever remember what is done to them). It intereferes with her role, and she is starting to fail at it, especially when a tech lacking subtleties bumps up her aggression. Elsie later fixes it, intelligently, but her dreams remain - and are as polluted by the Man in Black’s presence as Dolores’. She has found a technique to wake herself up from them, but just ends up horrifyingly waking up on a lab table, during surgery, in a nightmare that brings even more unimaginable horrors because they lie so far outside what she conceives as her reality. She sees piles of bodies behind glass, men in lab coats, sterile, dehumanising horrors.
Man in Black: The secrets in this place. All the little things I never noticed, even after all these years. You know why this beats the real world Lawrence? The real world is just chaos, it’s an accident. But in here, every detail adds up to something. Even you, Lawrence.
In a way, even the Man in Black’s path though this world is guided by magical words. He is trying to unlock a puzzle, which in terms of the game means performing a series of actions that will lead to a clue – in this case, it is killing the entire family of a host named Lawrence, so he can find the entrance to the maze he is seeking. Lawrence’s daughter finally, after seeing her mother killed, goes into what looks like a meta-mode (similar to how Dolores’ voice changes when she passes on her words to Maeve) to tell him that the maze is not for him, but she does send him on his way.
William’s actions in Westworld point towards a different idea of the place. The moment when he is finally drawn into this world is when he ends up picking up the can for Dolores, the same action Teddy Flood has performed in the past (or perhaps, in the future). It’s a small thing, a thing that he thinks only he notices, that feels like it is specifically made for him. This is Ford’s argument for Westworld (Ford, who, in a way, argues for boredom, because it reveals intelligence to be able to get bored, the exact opposite of what a lot of the guests are doing in Westworld). “Everything in this world is magic. Except to the magician” – because Ford can stop things at will, he is in absolute control, he performs witchcraft, he is the magician. He even has a younger self on the outskirts of this world to philosophise with. Ford knows that the guests already know who they are, that Sizemore’s ideology only reveals something about himself, not the guests. He vetoes, for the first time ever, a storyline.
Ford: What is the point of it? Add a couple of cheap thrills. Some surprises. That’s not enough. It’s not about giving the guests what you think they want, that’s simple. Titillation, horror, elation. The politics. The guests don’t return for the obvious things we do. The garish things. They come back because of the subtleties. The details. They come back because they discover something they imagine no one had ever noticed before. Something they fall in love with. They’re not looking for a story that tells them who they are. They already know who they are. They’re here because they want a glimpse of who they could be.
Ford has been working on a new storyline for some time. Perhaps for 30 years. It feels like everything is already in place for it. In the beginning, William learned about the guns, and that they can’t hurt him – but in the end, Dolores is guided to a place where a gun of a different kind is buried.
We don’t know yet if Bernard is in fact guiding Dolores towards something with his very secret interview sessions and his obsession with her specific kind of differentness (or if she is capable of lying, or the level to which she is aware of his transgressions, like when she asks him if he has done something wrong).
I am a fan of the leading theory that William and Logan’s adventure takes place (maybe 30) years in the past, considering the stylistic differences between the Westworld we’ve seen before, the fact that the train station they start from seems to be the disused one Ford uses to get into Westworld, and Clementine seems to be playing Maeve’s role as madame in their timeline. It could be around the time of the first critical failure, and it also opens the question of what company they work for – considering a substantial investment, perhaps the one that led to the corporate structure that Theresa represents in the presence (DELOS).
Could be a red herring – the idea that William is a young version of The Man in Black, who is similarly obsessed with Dolores. May make more sense if he has in fact realised that trauma creates consciousness which in turn may be a way out of the maze (and Dolores means sorrow, and memories bring sorrow, and Dolores brings memories, etc.).
Even following Logan and William into Westworld comes with a distinctive lack of outside world, so we remain unsure about where Westworld actually is. As others have pointed out, DELOS points at Mars.
The clue the girl gives The Man in Black leads to a red river – which is the name of the storyline that Ford vetoes. And security reveals that he has been coming here for 30 years (again, the same number of years since the last critical failure), and that he gets what he wants – and the Man in Black himself says that “in a sense, I was born here”, which would of course fit in very neatly with what Logan wants William to do there (but again, may point towards a red herring as Logan’s concept of Westworld is debunked utterly by Ford when he turns down Sizemore’s flashy new storyline).