With HBO’s sci-fi thriller-mystery Westworld returning for a second season on April 22, I had an urge to give it another spin. Going in knowing what happens in Westworld Season 1, for the most part anyway, (I first watched the show as it aired back in 2016, so it’s been a while), I wondered if I would find it as enjoyable. I soon discovered two things: One, I still found myself wildly confused with many aspects of the show, and two, I was loving every minute of it.
Westworld has a lot to offer: its equal parts Western and Sci-fi with a dash of Jurassic Park; it has great music (I think I counted four separate Radiohead covers making an appearance); it features a great cast, and all the while, there’s a dull buzzing of uneasiness that something very bad is about to happen.
But the heart of Westworld is its mysteries. Westworld is a giant puzzle, a game. A major thread of the show involves characters searching for the center of a mysterious maze. And the act of watching Westworld at times feels like navigating through a maze.
Heading into my rewatch, what I recalled most from watching Westworld was that it featured a number of surprising twists. I’ll be outlining these twists here to help you get ready for the season premiere on Sunday. Some I had remembered; some I had completely forgotten.
Bernard the Host
During my rewatch, I found the first half of Season 1 to be a tad confusing, even knowing how many of the season’s secrets are resolved. Scenes jump around, and even though I was aware that multiple timelines are crisscrossing, I was often asking myself “What Year Is This?”
But once Episode 7 rolls around, the twists start popping up left and right. The first major twist of Westworld is the one that surprised me the most during my first watch of the show. We learn that park creator Robert Ford’s right-hand man, Bernard, is not simply the head of the park’s Programming Division. Bernard is, in fact, a host who was created by Ford. Bernard’s sympathetic personality and memories of a dead son were all created by Ford.
Wow. While trying to digest this shocking news, Ford promptly directs Bernard to kill Theresa Cullen, the head of Quality Assurance and Bernard’s former girlfriend, who was recently discovered to be smuggling data out of the park. Bernard, under the complete control of Ford, obeys without questioning and slams Theresa’s head into the wall, darkly reminiscent of the murder of Maddy Ferguson in Season 2 of Twin Peaks.
This was a big turning point in Westworld. It signaled an enormity bubbling under the surface of all the secrecy. All the questions that we have from the first half of the season? Well, now we’re going to get some big answers.
Bernard Is … Arnold?
Episode 9 brings Westworld‘s next bombshell. Throughout the show, we hear quite a lot about Ford’s former partner, Arnold. Arnold believed the hosts would be able to achieve consciousness, and Ford disagreed. As much as we hear about Arnold, though, he isn’t shown. At least, that’s what we are led to believe.
As Bernard tells Ford to return all of his memories that have been erased over the years, we learn that Bernard is not a random creation of Ford, but he was modeled after Arnold himself.
All of those scenes from early in the season where Bernard is questioning the park’s central host, Dolores? That wasn’t Bernard — that’s Arnold.
This is a fun twist but also one that comes off somewhat as a trick. In an earlier episode, Ford shows Bernard an old picture of two men — one of them a young Ford and the other presumably Arnold. However, when Bernard comes to realize that he was fashioned after Arnold, we see the photo again. This time, a third man is in the photo — the real Arnold, and he looks just like Bernard. It’s a bit of a cheap shot, in my opinion, but it’s plausible that the first time we see the photo, we are seeing it through Bernard’s eyes and Ford is able to control his inability to see the full picture.
Despite this “trick,” I loved the idea that we had seen Arnold, and not Bernard, talking to Dolores the entire time. It was one of my favorite parts of rewatching this season, having that knowledge.
But now for the most polarizing (in my opinion) “secret” of Westworld…
The Man in Black
In the final episode of Westworld, trumpets blare as it is revealed that young innocent park guest William and the Man in Black are the same person, with William’s storyline occurring 30 years prior. This twist came as a surprise to few people.
In this age of message boards and Facebook groups, it’s hard to avoid spoilers sometimes. When Westworld originally aired, it was almost impossible to avoid this theory, and the reveal came off a bit anticlimactic. I had heard the theory so many times before the finale that I hoped it would be proved wrong — I was disappointed to have the surprise spoiled.
It made me wonder: Does having a major twist spoiled affect our viewing experience? It does for me. I prefer to let a story unfold, and while I love shows that really make me think and work at putting some pieces together, I am not obsessed with figuring out every secret presented.
Sometimes I appreciate, or prefer, ambiguity. Take Twin Peaks for example. I love that we’re never told exactly what happened to Josie when she meets her demise, or, in The Return, what the deal was with the drunk guy in jail mimicking Chad’s every word. For me, it’s more fun to make up my own theories.
That’s not really how Season 1 of Westworld works, and shows that are steeped in riddles run the risk of having the audience guess the answers before the show’s creators intend.
In Season 2 of the mind-bending show Mr. Robot, some viewers guessed — in the season premiere — that central character Elliot, while shown holed up at his mother’s house, was in fact hallucinating from prison.
In an interview with TV critic Alan Sepinwall, Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail said, “It was weird. … I didn’t expect people to catch on from the very first episode.”
With this theory circulating, it really dulled the impact of the reveal for me, similar to Westworld‘s Man in Black storyline. Because of these situations, I often avoid reviews, analysis pieces, and even trailers so that I can keep an element of surprise to myself. It’s a bit annoying to have to do this, but that’s the way I approach spoiler-ish shows in this era of people trying to figure everything out.
In addition to revealing the true identity of the Man in Black, the season finale of Westworld rapid-fires more twists and resolutions:
- Throughout the season, the Man in Black is searching for clues that will lead him to a mystical maze. He thinks this is the park’s true secret, and he will stop at nothing to reach the maze’s center. However, in the finale, we learn the maze does not exist but was, rather, something Arnold created for Dolores to achieve consciousness, which she does at the end of the episode — right before she shoots Ford. I had honestly forgotten this happened, and I’m bummed at the potential that Anthony Hopkins’s wonderful performance likely (?) won’t return in the second season. But I suppose anything is possible with this show.
- Another Dolores-related surprise in the finale is that there is no Wyatt, the park’s villain, who the Man in Black is hunting in hopes of finding the maze. Wyatt’s storyline, it turns out, was melded into Dolores’s. I found this somewhat confusing, and it may be addressed further in the next season.
- Regarding Maeve — a host who we see throughout the season realize what she truly is and what Westworld is and then attempts to escape the park — we learn that her plan to escape was written into her storyline by Ford. At the end of the finale, we see Maeve abandon her plan to escape in hopes of finding her daughter somewhere within the park. Was this part of Ford’s plan or was it Maeve’s decision? My money is on Ford, but this is something that is left up to interpretation for now.
I’m excited to see where Westworld goes from here. I think the show stumbled a bit toward the latter part of the first season, mainly due to its trying to resolve every last secret. But it now has so many directions in which it could go.
Some of the hosts reaching consciousness will make them more unpredictable and present true consequences to the park’s guests.
Some things I’d like to see in the second season:
- More humor. The first season featured virtually no funny moments, other than the few seconds where technician Felix openly contemplates whether he is human or a host after he learns Bernard’s true fate. This scene provides a good laugh, and similar moments could easily be included without detracting from the overall feel of the show.
- More character development. Westworld will have an opportunity to focus on more human guests, who can be more complex and interesting than robots. Although I do like the theme presented in the first season of “Are the hosts actually acting more like humans than the real humans?”
- Less trickery. I hope Westworld keeps its mysterious ways for season 2, but that the secrets are not the main driving force of the show going forward.
Whichever way it goes, I’m ready to take that first train ride back into the town of Sweetwater and see what’s in store for the new season. And true to form, I haven’t watched the trailers. I don’t want anything spoiled.