Just when you thought the quality of 2016's TV shows couldn't get any better, along came Westworld.
Westworld has it all - a unique concept, fantastic acting, incredible sets and just the right amount of violence, mystery and suspense. Each episode sucks you in further and raises more questions than the last. With the release of the climactic finale just ten days ago, some of these were finally answered. I take a look at a few of the show's main concerns (warning: spoilers), as well as list my personal highlights.
Arnold's Maze and the Bicameral Mind
One of Westworld's central narratives focuses on the maze that Dr. Robert Ford's (creative director of the Westworld park, played expertly by Anthony Hopkins) former partner Arnold envisioned. Throughout the show the mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris) searches for Arnold's maze, believing that it holds the key to removing the host's rules and allowing them to hurt newcomers like himself. As the final episode reveals, however, the maze is not actually a literal place. Rather, it represents the host's journey to consciousness. Find the maze and you find a way to surpass the bicameral mind, which, roughly defined, is the psychological ideology that humans once mastered language but lacked consciousness. Fittingly, the final episode is titled 'The Bicameral Mind'. Go figure.
So, as it turns out the maze really wasn't meant for The Man in Black. It was meant for the hosts. Does Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) manage to reach the end of the maze? Does Maeve (Thandie Newton)? In both cases, it would seem the answer is yes. Dolores realises that it was her own voice guiding her the whole time, and makes the conscious decision to kill Ford. Similarly, we know that Maeve was programmed to get on the train and leave Westworld. “Someone altered your storyline and gave you a new one," Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tells her. "‘Escape.’” Instead, however, she chooses to return and find her daughter.
What defines a human being? If the hosts are sentient and can think, feel and remember, are they human? Is it acceptable to rape, wound and murder them over and over? Isn't it immoral? Arnold certainly thought so, hence his plan to destroy all of the park's hosts before it could open. What do you think?
Is it acceptable for hosts to be used in the Westworld park?
Towards the end of the season we learn in an epic twist that Bernard, Westworld's head programmer, is actually a host. Later on, we learn that he looks exactly like the long-lost Arnold. Additionally, it's revealed that his dead-son backstory is in fact taken from the real Arnold's life.
Did Ford simply replicate Arnold's physical appearance, or did he do more? Could he have uploaded Arnold's own consciousness into Bernard's body? Whatever the case, Bernard's fate at the end of Westworld remains unknown. He's alive, and conscious of his host status. What happens to him next remains to be seen.
Ford's Final Narrative
Ford is a complex character, equally brilliant and sinister. As the show progresses, it's revealed that the board intends to remove Ford as creative director of the park. But how can you run a world without it's master? As the finale drew closer you feel - maybe even hope - that Ford must have something up his sleeve. Turns out, he does. Ford was one step ahead of everyone the entire time.
His final narrative is really a ploy to get the park's entire board in one place so that his hosts, now able to harm humans, can kill them. I like to view Ford's narrative in two ways. First, it's his way of raising his middle finger at the board and determining his own fate. Second, it symbolises his clarity of Arnold's concern with the host's consciousness. Finally, Ford understands what his partner realised years ago. In a last gesture he enables the hosts to defend themselves and assert their authority.
Of course, there does remain the lingering question: is Ford really dead? Maybe he had something else planned. Or maybe, he was a host too.
Like any good show, there are certain things about Westworld that stick out. While I loved every minute of it, here are four of my top highlights.
- The Music: the haunting theme music, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is perfectly suited to the show. A clever addition is the use of piano renditions of modern songs, including The Rolling Stones' Paint it Black and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.
- Lawrence/El Lazo: played by Clifton Collins Jr., Lawrence (and later El Lazo) is probably my favourite character in Westworld. He's funny, pretty badass and will have you rooting for him.
- Maeve: on the notable characters strand, Maeve need to be mentioned. While she isn't necessarily the most likeable character, Thandie Newton is outstanding in the role and deserves recognition.
- The Setting: who doesn't love a Western? Perhaps that's Westworld's greatest pull - it's got the rawness and beauty of the wild west and the intrigue and complexity of our technologically-advanced modern world. The setting is executed perfectly; vast open plains and dusty town streets juxtaposed with clinical laboratories and clean, minimalist corridors. 10/10.
To conclude, consider the phrase from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, repeated several times throughout Westworld: "these violent delights have violent ends." Does it live up to the phrase? Oh yes.
If you're having Westworld withdrawals, have another look at the trailer below.