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.
The Ford As The Villain Theory
The one I found most intriguing, however, was similar in spirit to Donna Dickens’ theory that there are two Dolores: The newer model out at the Abernathy Farm, but the old model in cold storage, being dragged out periodically for Bernard to communicate with.
Our theory asks us to take a step back to try and think like a showrunner. If we were mapping out this show, what would be the starting point? A showrunner would probably come up with a simple premise, something like this: Ford and Arnold created Westworld together. At some point, perhaps 30 years ago, the two got into a fight about the nature of Westworld. Maybe they fought about who should have ultimate control over the park. Maybe in this fight, Ford killed Arnold so that Ford could play God alone. But Ford killed Arnold before he could learn Arnold’s secret to creating sentient hosts. However, Arnold left the answer to that question buried inside the mind of his first creation: Dolores (who is probably modeled on his dead daughter or something).
In that scenario, Bernard — as many have suggested — is a host who is unwittingly doing the bidding of Ford. He’s asking Dolores questions because he’s trying to wheedle out the secrets Arnold had implanted within her mind — secrets that include the maze, which Dolores clearly recognized when she saw it carved out on the ground in episode four. But rather than interrogating an older model — as Donna suggested — maybe Bernard is communicating with Dolores in her dreams, or whatever the android equivalent of a dream is. In other words, the conversations are going on inside of Dolores’ mind.
To wit: When Bernard tells Dolores, “You’re in a dream,” he means it literally. He’s communicating with her while she’s in sleep mode. Note that, during their very first meeting in the pilot, the conversation is clearly going on inside of her mind. They’re talking, but Dolores’ mouth is not moving. He’s communicating with her hard drive. It would also explain why Dolores is clothed when Bernard speaks to her, but naked when others are speaking to her. When Stubbs talks to her, it’s in the control room. When Bernard does, it’s in her mind/hard drive. It would further explain why Dolores “wakes up” in Westworld. She’s not repaired and transported back. She has a conversation with Bernard and then wakes up immediately thereafter in her bed.
Ford is using Bernard to pick Dolores’ brain during her dream state to find out the secrets that Arnold otherwise took with him to the grave. Ford gave Bernard the dead-kid backstory as motivation in the hopes that Bernard would try to figure out how to bring his son back to life using knowledge gained from Dolores, knowledge that Ford would then use to create sentient robots. It’s possible, even, that the answers lie at the end of the maze, and only Dolores knows how to navigate it. That would make Dolores valuable to both Ford and The Man in Black, who might have sought to find those answers when he took Dolores to the barn.
In other words, Ford is the villain of Westworld, Bernard is the pawn, Dolores’ mind is the MacGuffin, The Man in Black is the hero, and everything else is a series of smoke monsters designed to hide the through line at the center of the story.