[Warning: Spoilers for Westworld ahead.]
How old is Robert Ford? It’s a question that has been plaguing me since Anthony Hopkins first appeared on screen, talking to the broken down host Old Bill (Michael Wincott), in the Westworld premiere. The confusion has only deepened with each successive piece of information revealed about Ford’s past. We know Sir Anthony himself is 78, but that means little and less in a future where we’ve cured any and all ailments that currently control the human population. But now that we know the child robot (Oliver Bell) is indeed a young version of Ford, I’m more convinced than ever that the creator of Westworld is older than he appears.
There are many incongruities to Robert Ford’s life. The fact his robot family is dressed in ‘ye olden’ clothes despite little chance* of them running into other guests or hosts. Ford’s sadness that no one is left that remembers Westworld the way it was save for Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and maybe Old Bill. His godlike ability to control every aspect of the park, seemingly with his mind. None of these are terribly alarming on their own. But combine them — and add in disturbing Easter egg elements from the Westworld website — and a picture begins to emerge. One of a man who is older than he appears, if he’s even human anymore.
[*With adult Ford’s near total control over his robot family, one must wonder if he sent his child self to meet with the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) or if that was Arnold’s doing.]
Over at DiscoverWestworld, an official site run by HBO, fans can enter their email address and go through the process of planning a trip to the immersive theme park. One of the steps is answering the questions that were posed to William (Jimmi Simpson) when he first disembarks from the bullet train. There are also a few questions that didn’t make it into the final cut of the show. The most alarming of which is Question 19:
Hypothetical questions in science-fiction are rarely hypothetical. Like Chekov’s Gun, there is no reason for Westworld to plant the seed of “Is a back-up you still YOU?” in our minds unless it’s going to come into play later. This would be enough on its own, but should you choose to view the Source Page of the Discover Westworld home page, a terrifying bit of legalese is embedded within:
“By entering the Delos Destinations Port of Entry, you acknowledge that Delos, Inc. controls the rights to and remains the sole owner of, in perpetuity: all skin cells, bodily fluids, secretions, excretions, hair samples, saliva, sweat, blood, and any other bodily functions not listed here. Delos, Inc. reserves the right to use this property in any way, shape, or form in which the entity sees fit.”
Right then. So now we have a corporation that has legal access to the DNA profile of every guest and is asking philosophical questions about the essence of the human soul. Nothing nefarious at all. But how does all this tie into Ford? The answer to that requires a trip back to the original Westworld of Michael Crichton’s imagination.
Set in then near-future of 1983, the 1973 film on which HBO based Westworld is an unpolished joke compared to the current park. The robots are still mechanical, and the loops are limited. But what if the current Westworld isn’t just a reimagining of the source material but, in fact, in the same continuity? Decidedly impossible if you take the “30 years since the accident” at face value since it would set the show in the year 2003. We can safely rule our past out as the setting for the show based simply on the technology present, as well as Westworld’s Terms of Service prohibiting “virtual reality recorders and devices, and holographic recreation devices” from use while inside the park. Why then is child Robert and his family dressed as if they came straight out of the 1940s? Occam’s Razor: Because Robert Ford was a child in the 1940s.
During the flashback of a young Robert Ford working on bringing the robots to life, he reminisces that the first few 10 years were the best as the theme park had not yet opened and all resources were funneled into making technological leaps with the hosts. While CGI Ford looks younger than real life Anthony Hopkins, there are still enough wrinkles to imply he isn’t wet behind the ears. If Ford was a child during World War II, that would put him in his forties in 1973…the year Westworld hit theaters and a decade before the park opened in fictional 1983. But if Ford was truly born in the 1930s, how does that fit in with the concept that Arnold died 30 years ago. Occam’s Razor again: It doesn’t. Ford is lying about the timeline.
It is clear that Ford is a lonely man. He talks to Dolores simply because she is the only one who remembers — deep down in her code — what Westworld used to be like. Ford also spends quite a bit of time with Old Bill*, another throwback to a time when Arnold was still alive. But how is it that two hosts are the only ones around from the opening of the park? Sure, three decades is a long time, but it seems strange that not a single employee remains from that time period. Outside of Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Westworld employees veer to the young side. We know Theresa is a fairly new addition, as Ford talks about her predecessors. We also know Bernard has been there since slightly after the original hosts were retired in favor of the new and improved organic ones. Allegedly. Again, a look at the source material shows something more sinister at play.
*I stand by my theory that Old Bill is modeled on Arnold, hence Ford’s somber fascination.
Futureworld — the 1976 sequel to Westworld — isn’t as well known in our pop culture hivemind, but the longer the HBO show goes on the more obvious it is they’re pulling from it as well. Set two years after the robots go haywire, Futureworld focuses on two journalists invited to the park in order to show how safe it is now. It is revealed the hosts are now created by other hosts working in the control center. One thing leads to another, and the journalists uncover a plot by Delos to clone all the rich and powerful guests — then killing them and replacing them with their clones — to assert control in the real world. In the end, it is left vague as to whether the journalists or their clones escape the park. If Westworld is running in the same timeline, though, one can assume the clones.
Put all the pieces together and what do you have? A Delos facility run either by hosts or clones of original employees who are “rotated out” every so often to preserve the illusion that Ford is just a nice old man who is totally aging at a normal rate and not an immortal theme park god. In the park, William and Logan (Ben Barnes) discuss Arnold’s death but never once mention Ford. The only people who talk about him are the Delos employees. The “transition of power” Theresa is trying to implement has probably happened before. Ford could merely clone the opposition and then bend them to his will, effectively mind-controlling them into leaving him in power. Depending on the actual year, Ford has been at this for a while. In Michael Crichton’s Westworld, guests pay a thousand dollars a day for the privilege; currently, the price of admission is $40k per day. That’s quite a jump in inflation. Using an inflation calculator, a thousand dollars in 1983 would be a little over eight grand in 2066, which is as far into the future as the calculator would go. That would put us at least a century ahead of the park’s original opening. Which leads to some alarming possibilities.
Is Robert Ford is trying to take over the world? At some point, he put himself into a clone version of his body — or at least found a way to stop the aging process. He has the ability to control every host in the park with his mind, implying he is hardwired into Westworld and possibly beyond. Should the show continue to take a page from Future World, just how much influence does Ford have in the real world? With over 100 years of influential guests coming into the park, how many of them can Ford control? And to what end?
More importantly, can Arnold stop him?