Does ‘Westworld’ Lend Itself To Theorizing?
Whenever a new show arrives that lends itself — intentionally or not — to theorizing, another round of debate will break out among television critics about the nature of theorizing and whether it is useful or not. Myles McNutt recently suggested that, in the case of Westworld, it “runs cross purpose to the show’s structure” (which may be absolutely true), while one of the best in the business, Matt Zoller Seitz, harshed a lot of mellows when he suggested that Mr. Robot blew itself up by playing to the conspiracy nuts (he may have also been right).
Personally, I think that as long as showrunners don’t consciously play into fan theories in the writers’ rooms that it’s all harmless fun. And in some cases — especially with a slower burn like Westworld — it’s beneficial to the series for the simple reason that idle speculation keeps us engaged, the caveat being that we don’t allow ourselves to become disappointed when a show doesn’t suit our theories (as I did with the True Detective season one finale).
The reality is, with few exceptions (Lost, Mr. Robot, The Leftovers season two, maybe Breaking Bad from time to time), writers’ rooms don’t set out to create series that are meant to be “solved,” and it’s too early to tell what exactly Jonathan and Lisa Joy Nolan are endeavoring to do with Westworld. Right now, it does feel like Lost in that it’s creating a number of smoke monsters designed to hide the ball, so to speak. At the center of Westworld, there’s probably a fairly simple through line (because there’s almost always a simple through line) that we can’t see yet. It makes theorizing both more fun and more frustrating because there are so many unanswered questions that we can’t find the track the show is following. It’s hard to solve the mystery when we don’t even know the entire premise. It’s easier on a show like, say, The Walking Dead, which is broken up into shorter arcs, but Westworld has a four- or five-season playbook, and it’s foolish to try and figure out the show after only four episodes.
That doesn’t mean it’s not fun. I spent an hour on the phone last night talking with a friend who writes 7,000-word recaps on Westworld trying to crack this show, and there are already dozens of podcasts devoted to the subject (the best, by the way, is Decoding Westworld).
My friend and I threw a lot of theories at the wall during that conversation, but they all required massive leaps that either aren’t yet supported by the text or that are too easily supported by the text if we were to bend it enough. That’s part of the fun of Westworld right now: If you work hard enough, you can make the show work for a number of theories.