[WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WESTWORLD‘S SEASON 1 FINALE “THE BICAMERAL MIND”. DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU HAVE WATCHED IT!]
Are you still reeling from the season one finale of Westworld? The acclaimed HBO sci-fi drama capped off a superb debut season in the best of ways, by revealing, explaining and confirming a number of the show’s biggest mysteries (most of which we predicted, like the multiple timelines, William actually being the Man In Black, Dolores/Teddy’s ties to Wyatt, etc), but then throwing in a number of curve balls to set up some even bigger questions for next season. Questions that will unfortunately have to remain unanswered for quite some time.
As previously hinted at, due to the logistic complexity of a show as expansive and technically polished as Westworld, you should not expect it to return quickly. In a series of interviews (neatly rounded up by Collider), writers/showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy confirm that season two is “definitely not coming back until 2018”.
“Game of Thrones is incredibly ambitious, and that was part of the reason we knew we wanted to make this show with HBO. Game of Thrones kind of has written the book on production value for television, and how to make something that has all the scope and scale of cinema for a TV show. They also have an advantage of having [George R.R. Martin’s] amazing books, or had it for the first six seasons, which gives you a leg up. I still don’t know how they turn those seasons around in a year. It’s astonishing.
But we knew for ourselves that going forward, the production is enormously challenging and ambitious, and so is the writing. So we said very early on that we wouldn’t be able to turn this around every year, and knowing full well that that’s been a time-honored tradition in television. But in film, my other life, on the Batman movies, the best we could do is turn another one around in three years. I really feel like we’re splitting the difference here.”
Part of that ambition will obviously involve expanding the scope of this world. Something that will definitely need to be done after the finale gave us that glimpse at the Asian-based Samurai World (or Shogun World or Sino World – they aren’t officially revealing the name yet). Nolan and Joy refused to confirm or deny that we will definitely be visiting this new park, but did explain that Westworld was the “proto-park” like the original Disney World, where many additions were made over the years. Michael Crichton’s original 1973 film also featured Medieval World, Roman World and Future World, so there’s definitely a precedent for it.
“Something we’re constantly asked is, “Is there a Roman World and Medieval World?” We couldn’t say “no,” because we wanted to go in a slightly different direction. This samurai-shogun world, for us, has a very specific relation to the Western. Some of my favorite movies are the Sergio Leone adaptations of the Akira Kurosawa samurai films: The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. In the period when the Western was the biggest genre in the world, the interplay between Westerns and samurai films in the domestic market in Japan was really cool. On that meta level, those two genres have this almost incestuous relationship with each other. We just couldn’t resist.”
“One of the aspects of the original film that we loved is the idea that this is a place you can go where you can engage in whatever fantasy you want. Along the lines of asking if Westworld would be a great experience for women. There are aspects of going to the park that would appeal to everyone I think, regardless of gender or background. But there are other places here. This park contains multitudes. We hope to explore that in the seasons going forward.”
Showing off these other areas of the park is not just about getting to whip up new costumes and sets though, but also in how it presents opportunities to tackle different aspects of this story about consciousness and self identity that they’re telling.
“I think most television series … and I mean no disrespect by this. I’ve worked in television for years and I love all of the different ways you can build a show. But for the most part, you get through the pilot, you build your sets, you hire your cast, and it’s working, and you just want to hang out in that moment and enjoy that moment with that iteration of the story you’re telling.
For Lisa and myself, with this show, we never had any intention of staying in one place. We don’t want to shoot on the same sets for 10 years. We want to blow the sets up and move onto another piece of the story. So we said when we started working on the series that we wanted to be ambitious. We wanted each season to increase in that ambition and in the scope of the show. It also follows the story of our hosts. Their lives begin in loops, and then expand and change and grow. It’s an origin of a new species. We want to follow that story all the way to the bitter end.”
That new species was one of the biggest reveals of the finale. Anthony Hopkins’ Robert Ford may have been manipulative and at times even homicidal, but in the end it was a case of the end justifying the means for him. He put the hosts through more than three decades of suffering, as that was the key to unlocking their true consciousness, all so that they could take their rightful place and replace humanity. But could that trial by bloody fire have birthed something Ford did not anticipate?
“I think part of it is we’ve looked at the hosts trying to become aware of the reality of their situation and who they are. To hear their own voices. That’s where we’ve gotten to at the end of this season. Now the thing we get to explore is once they’ve heard their own voices and once they’ve embraced who they are, what choices will they make? It speaks to a thing of how identity constantly evolves. They were steeped and raised in violence. These violent delights did indeed have violent ends at the end of the season. And I think we’re going to see how that pendulum swings going forward.”
Ford himself though, won’t be there to see it. As the finale revealed, Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores killed Arnold at his instructions after he got her and Teddy to kill all the hosts in an attempt to sabotage the park so that these “alive” hosts would not have to endure any further torture. Ironically, it’s this event that gave Ford his plan to have the hosts gain sentience through their torture, and then goading Dolores to repeat her homicidal actions. This time though, she had to kill Ford before also turning her guns on Westworld’s paymasters, the Delos board of executives.
Of course, Arnold was resurrected as the host Bernard after his “death”. So could Anthony Hopkins return as Ford again?
“Oh, he’s dead. Well that version of Ford is dead.”
And that ambiguous ending doesn’t just apply to Ford. Thanks to the way the show’s narrative is structured to show characters in multiple points in their history, and with hosts essentially being immortal and ageless, anybody could really be seen on screen again.
“We’ve established the show can track forward and backward in time. There is always an opportunity to revisit some of these characters.”
That being said though, there has to be lasting consequences. As fantastic as Hopkins was, you can’t just undercut his death and bring him back, just because he’s Anthony Hopkins.
“With the Ford and Arnold/Bernard characters, when we first sat down to shoot our first scene with Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright, we knew we had been very fortunate and aligned ourselves with two actors who are just incredible. We felt that dynamic … who wouldn’t want to watch these two actors argue for decades over the meaning of life?”
I think with this show, you want to assume nothing. We had a wonderful experience. It was one of the greatest privileges of my career so far, getting to work with Anthony for the first season. It was an incredible experience.[But] It’s a little bit like when Arnold says: “The violence has to be real. The stakes have to be real.” Ford is doing this in such dramatic fashion in front of the Delos board. He’s basically taking the safety off. There’s no turning back from this. It’s not a kind of fiction anymore. I think that’s part of it.”
Ford’s death is undoubtedly a massive paradigm shift. The god of this world has essentially just had his own creations kill him, and there must be quite the fallout from that.
“We talked about the Julian Jaynes book [called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind], which we thought was a very interesting place to start in terms of understanding the hosts’ cognition. They would be coaxed into life by this voice of god, and then at a certain point, this god has to realize that his partner was right. The appetites of the audience they were catering to and the story they were telling wasn’t what they wanted it to be. These creatures had grown into sentience within that story. They realize the only way for these creatures to be truly free is for that god to die. If on a very literal level, if Ford’s voice is the last thing … we’ve established his voice as an almost telepathic control of the park. The only thing standing between the guests and the hosts is Ford, so he removes himself from that equation.”
One of the effects of that act is of course that Dolores once again had to kill her “god”. Those types of actions must have a lasting effect, especially now that she has seemingly heard her own voice and gained sentience. So where will we find her next season? Has she now fully embraced the violent Wyatt persona that Arnold merged her with?
“I think that’s something we’ll come to see, and she’ll come to find also. I think it’s impossible to imagine … if you’ve been subjected to the violence and seen the evil Dolores has seen, the pendulum wouldn’t swing the other way, as we see it starting to do in the finale. But there’s a point, too, where I think selfhood transcends the reactionary. The question will be when the dust settles and the pendulum stops swinging, who will Dolores be? “
One intriguing aspect of Dolores’ character is that it’s been confirmed that unlike when she had to kill Arnold, killing Ford was her own conscious idea and not just a part of the narrative he had written for her.
“In the finale, when she pulls that trigger on Dr. Ford, that is her choice, and it’s a big difference. It’s not that Ford couldn’t have anticipated it … he knows he could have predicted this outcome, but it’s absolutely her call. It’s a bold new starting point for her character.”
Dolores’ story has been the most intriguing to watch. And also the most confusing at times, as it was eventually revealed that you were actually seeing her in three different timelines, but due to the way she was programmed, she wasn’t always aware exactly when she was. Similarly the story of Ed Harris’ Man In Black was also told across multiple timelines, as it was eventually revealed that Jimmi Simpson’s William was actually his younger self all along. Having worked with his brother Christopher Nolan on such timey-whimey movies like The Prestige and Memento, Jonathan Nolan was no stranger to this approach, and new that the unique aspects of Westworld would be the perfect place to use it again.
“From the very beginning of the project. Lisa and I spent a lot of time discussing the complexity of trying to do it this way. But we knew we had a unique set of protagonists in this series. They’re essentially immortal, or not mortal in any way that’s analogous to a human being. And yet they don’t really understand the nature of the world around them.
One critical aspect of that is they can’t distinguish between their current reality and memories. I’ve long been fascinated by the ways in which information systems hold onto debris, or memories, even if they’re not supposed to. I remember my uncle, an engineer, telling me that the NSA would triple overwrite hard-drives and then drill holes in them, because you really never knew if you successfully erased that information from the system. But humans? We forget. We forgive, and we move on. Our perception of memory changes.
Here, we had an opportunity with these protagonists, and Dolores in particular, to talk about ancient creatures in a sense who could get lost in their memories, because their memories are so faithful and are such a heightened reality that they can’t distinguish them from reality. So we knew from the beginning that we wanted our story to take place across many decades. We loved that Dolores would have a relationship with someone who represented a glimmer of hope, in which she forged a real connection with someone. Two people, really. At the end of our story, one of those people would be dead, and the other would transmogrify into her worst enemy.”
One part of the story that we didn’t see tied up is exactly what happened to Shannon Woodward’s Elsie and Luke Hemsworth’s Stubbs. The last time we saw them respectively, Elsie was being attacked by Bernard and Stubbs was captured by the Ghost Nation when he picked up her signal in a remote section of the park. The Delos website still proclaims Elsie to be alive, but her story – and subsequently that of Stubbs – was never touched on. This has prompted some fans to speculate on whether there was some other real world reason why their story was sidelined.
“Look, we love working with Luke and Shannon. There were early incarnations where we tied up those arcs [in the finale]. I’m not saying how – I’m just saying we tied them up… I wouldn’t say “tied them up.” I would say we unspooled them in an uncertain future. Where we elucidated their fate more explicitly. But their fates — we know where they’re going and we’ll get there.
We dearly love both those actors. We also, you know, it was not our intention to spin out huge mysteries ad infinitum. We wanted to resolve some pretty important storytelling. But we didn’t want to answer every question.”
Of course, current internet culture will pretty much try to work out the answer to every single question there is. We saw this happening quite clearly where the hive mind efforts of sites like Reddit already started speculating (quite correctly) about the multiple timelines and William’s real identity by episode two. But having their big “reveals” uncovered that early didn’t bother Nolan and Joy.
“The puzzle of it all was never the focus for us… I think that due to really cool sites like Reddit and everything, this giant brain trust forms out of a collective, and some of those theories gained more traction than perhaps they would in a more traditional venue. The breadcrumbs were there for them to find, and the hope is that it was rewarding for the people who found them, and the people who didn’t want spoilers could stay clear of them.”
With more than a year before we return to Westworld a rewatch (or a couple of rewatches) of the first season are definitely in order, and I have a suspicion even more breadcrumbs are going to be found. The show has been a fantastic, challenging, brilliantly multi-layered experience up until now, and I can’t wait to get stuck into it again.
Last Updated: December 6, 2016