– By J. W. Fox and Paulie Spiceflow –
***Spoiler Alert: Season One Finale***
Guns were blazin’ and blood flowing in the season finale of Westworld. Schemes set in motion long ago reached the tipping point. The hosts have turned on their masters, and plot twists have been revealed. Due to the complexity and depth of the show, we took a few extra days to digest the events of Sunday’s finale. Now that we’ve got it all figured out, here we go.
First, employee background checks and psyche screenings at Delos/Westworld are just awful. Virtually every technician is a sociopath sexually abusing hosts. Security is hopelessly incompetent, and for some unknown reason they installed blast doors around the control room. What contingency were those for? Quality control utterly failed to detect the countless host malfunctions in the past few episodes, let alone find Elsie, or notice their chief of security Stubbs is missing. With all that the result was inevitable: a blood bath.
The finale confirmed the dual plot theory, something everyone else figured out before us. Billy is the Man in Black, twenty or thirty some odd years later. We also learned what the hell the maze is. Season one was satisfying in a number of ways but did have some low points. The plot was a little too complex at times, similar to the complicated plot for Inception (seems to be Jonathan Nolan’s thing). Some episodes also felt like they were plodding along just to give the audience a calm before some great storm. Overall, the finale was fairly satisfying and capped off a largely successful season.
We wondered whether there would be a physical maze, a data maze, or some sort of combination of the two. Maybe Arnold hid himself in a host hard drive, concealed within some kind of labyrinth that only the worthy could navigate.
Nope. The maze wasn’t an external construct but a metaphor for an internal one. Arnold theorized that consciousness was like a circular maze, with the end in the middle. To reach true consciousness a host had to navigate the maze. A few succeeded but most stayed within their narrative loops. Periodic memory wipes were mostly successful but the addition of reveries gave the hosts a means of recovering them.
Billy was pretty bummed about that. Some viewers were probably bummed out as well. They do not watch sci-fi thrillers to discover metaphors.
Westworld presented a fairly unique approach to AI. Neither Ford nor Arnold truly gave birth to artificial consciousness. It is only after traversing the metaphorical maze that a host can achieve consciousness on their own. The great achievement of intelligent life comes from within, and occurs spontaneously. It is not bestowed by some creator.
There is something strangely beautiful and insightful about that. As Dr. Malcolm put it, “life finds a way.” It is more of a Darwinist or atheistic feel, rather than the usual theistic “my creator” attachment AI has in other stories.
What is Consciousness?
Just as Arrival utilized an obscure scientific hypothesis for its premise, Westworld invokes the Bicameralism hypothesis of consciousness for its premise. According to the hypothesis, the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys—a bicameral mind (thank you Wikipedia). Up until 3000 years ago humanity possessed bicameral minds, hearing voices attributed to gods and other supernatural forces. After that, the voices went silent and we started having notions of free will.
There is virtually no evidence in support of the hypothesis and the majority of the scientific community rejects it as nonsense. Still, an interesting premise. It comes up in two specific situations in the show. First, Maeve no longer obeys verbal commands and initiates what she believes is a scheme of her own making. She doesn’t have an internal voice but believes that it is her will that is making decisions. Then there’s the Dolores revelation. For a good part of the show, Dolores was hearing Arnold/Bernard’s voice issuing her directives. The big reveal at the finale was that he wanted her to realize it was not his voice. It was her own voice.
We aren’t sure that building premises from obscure science is really a winning formula, but it is encouraging to see a show daring to make their audience think.
A Crime Against Humanity
The show seems to want us to hate humans. Westworld shows numerous examples of humans violently abusing and murdering hosts. Many probably cheered on Dolores and the discarded hosts as they launched their violent assault on the Delos Board of Directors.
Perhaps, it is not that simple. We are meant to see the hosts as victims of all humanity but really there is only one criminal here. It is only through the work of one man, Dr. Ford, that the park functions at all. He built the prison, created the amoral narratives, and he alone was aware of the emergent consciousness in certain hosts. Interestingly, he chose to withhold that information, so that he could complete his master plan: a new people, a new villain, and a new war.
The true villain of Westworld was solely Dr. Ford. The rest could not even be charged as co-conspirators in a court of law. They lacked intent. If we treat the conscious hosts as individuals with sentient rights, Dr. Ford is guilty of false imprisonment, torture, assault, battery, conspiracy to commit rape, and conspiracy to commit murder. Throw in the murder of Theresa (possibly others), and he is also guilty of crimes against humans.
His greatest crime is against humanity as a whole. The host suffering is a means of crafting them into a weapon. Why does Dr. Ford hate his own kind so much? In his speech he says:
Since I was a child, I’ve always loved a good story. I believed that stories helped us to ennoble ourselves, to fix what was broken in us, and to help us be the people we dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth. I always thought I could play some small part in that grand tradition, and, for my pains, I got this. A prison of our own sins.
Because you don’t want to change. Or cannot change. Because you’re only human, after all. But then I realized someone was paying attention. Someone who could change. So I began to compose a new story, for them. It begins with the birth of a new people. And the choices they will have to make. And the people they will decide to become. And it will have all those things you have always enjoyed. Surprises. And violence. It begins in a time of war. With a villain named Wyatt. And the killing is done by choice.
Wyatt is his final invention, a harbinger of death and destruction. Their malice is aimed at humanity, in punishment for our inability to change. We failed to measure up to Dr. Ford’s expectations. Our punishment is the unleashing of his new story, the birth of a new people. His people. Interesting, he refers to Wyatt as a villain, suggesting he is not the intended leader or messiah of the hosts. Perhaps there is an inter-host struggle in the works…
Humanity on Trial
Is Dr. Ford right about us? The issue depends on whether we feel Westworld is an acceptable way of evaluating our ability to change. The show clearly wants us to see the guests as revealing their true selves in the park. To be free of consequences, like The Invisible Man, is the only way to see the true nature of an individual.
This argument is similar to the conservative attack on graphic video games. Killing innocent people in Grand Theft Auto was somehow a reflection on the moral character of the player. There was also many who believed violent video games would desensitize children to violence, turning them into monsters.
Only it didn’t happen. Since games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto have been around, there’s been no statistical change in violent crime or behavior from young Americans. The generation who grew up with these games are no more violent than their parents. In the end, these games are a safe place to act out violent and antisocial fantasies. Fantasies nearly all of us have from time to time. That is precisely what Westworld is, and bears no greater responsibility than Grand Theft Auto. If Dr. Ford wanted to help humanity be the people they dreamed of being, he should not have built a GTA-style fantasy world.
If a GTA player knew their acts in the game would have in impact in the real world, nearly all would drop their controllers and play something else. It is the same for the guests in Westworld. When Billy notices sentient behavior in Dolores, his attitude toward her, the hosts, and the park changes dramatically. Later, when he sees Dolores has forgotten him and is a mere automaton again, he hurts her without remorse. Through all those years he treated regular hosts as trash desperately searching for something “real.” When shit gets real, even a violent monster like him stays his hand.
Last Man Standing
The body count of Westworld is close to rivaling Game of Thrones. Casualties are so severe we are down to only a couple human characters left alive. It is like Last Man Standing without Bruce Willis. If your big finale was going to be a bloody slaughter, you probably should not have shown the audience one massacre after another throughout the season. Combined that with what happened in the movie, and you end up with a pretty predictable ending. It was also pretty obvious Dolores was going to go all Wyatt on the Board of Directors long before she picked up the gun.
Where does Westworld go from here?
The average finale aside, Westworld is innovative, thought-provoking, and deep. It isn’t clear where the show will go from here, which is a good thing. A little mystery is good for us. Most of the human characters are dead. There is a chance Elsie and security guy Stubbs are alive but for now we are assuming they met their end. All that remains are Billy, Charlotte, Felix, and Lee. Not a particularly compelling bunch.
Once again we ask: who is the protagonist? Maybe Bernard or Dolores is the protagonist, and humans aren’t going to play a big role going forward. Perhaps Billy reclaims that compassion he had back in the day. With Dr. Ford dead, the new antagonist appears to be the mysterious Wyatt. Who will stand in his way? Bernard perhaps, or maybe somehow Maeve gains some sort of sympathy or compassion for the gods (doubtful). Maybe Felix grows a pair.
Oh yeah, and there are other worlds! There’s a samurai world, suggesting the series will expand into parks with other themes. That would be awesome, a perfect little tease for the next season. Unfortunately, we will have to wait all the way to 2018 for season 2.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.