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‘Westworld’ Is Finally Giving Us Answers

Let’s take stock of the precious little we know, the plenty we still don’t, and why it all feels a little flat

HBO
HBO

Westworld, a bonkers Reddit thread about a TV show reverse-engineered to be an actual TV show, likes its dialogue so on the nose you go cross-eyed. "Time to write my own fucking story," says Maeve, bordello kingpin turned throat-slashin’ robot supergenius. "I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel," says Dolores, twee rancher’s daughter who goes all Tomb Raider the second she puts on pants and who has been wandering around aimlessly for three episodes. "We can’t define consciousness because consciousness does not exist," says Robert Ford, megalomaniac human (?!) supergenius who really needs to STFU. (Fun fact: "Robert Ford" is an anagram for "Robot Ferrd." You’re welcome.) "You want to know who I am?" asks the Man in Black, leaning into Ed Harris’s Emmy-submission monologue. "Who I really am?" Sure, but make it snappy! "Show, don’t tell," jibes Delos corporate schemer Charlotte Hale, sassing the manic British jerkoff public-urinator author guy whose name I refuse to look up. "Isn’t that what you writers prefer?"

Sheesh. With a mere two episodes now left in the season, this show is somehow getting both too convoluted and too simplistic. "When are we?" Dolores demands of William. "Is this now?" Beats the hell out of us, Dolores. (William has been watching her wander around aimlessly for three episodes now and is getting pissy about it. Overheard, from my wife, also sitting on the couch: "He seems super-standoffish for somebody who just fucked the lady of his dreams on a train.") Let us attempt to break down, Donald Rumsfeld–style, where we are and where we are likely staggering.

Known Knowns

The first of this season’s two long-telegraphed big twists, Bernard = robot, finally went down last week, and the fallout is both brisk and dense with philosophical import. He burns up all evidence of having murdered Theresa in a super-badass biohazard microwave and joins Ford for a few more mega-pedantic philosophical chats, and the hell with it. But Ashley Stubbs, a.k.a. the beefy security chief, a.k.a. the Lesser Hemsworth, is officially suspicious of Bernard’s nonchalance about Theresa’s death, and will be investigating these matters solo, armed only with a flashlight, in a creepy clown factory anytime now. Best of luck to him.

The plot movement that mattered this week was Maeve’s, finalizing her robot-supergenius transformation and crossing her backstory with the Man in Black’s and hopefully doing away with all those scenes when she roams the office with two doofus techs and never gets caught because they throw in a line like, "There’s a window during shift change." FOH, hopefully in Season 2 they install security cameras. Maeve can now murder or at least direly maim both hosts and humans at will, and ghost-whisper other hosts in the park to do her bidding, and the way she crinkles her nose in disgust at the player-piano spitting up both "House of the Rising Sun" and Amy Winehouse’s "Back to Black" tells you that she’s now both the smartest and most culturally refined person in the room. Lest you think this show can’t do subtlety, the vertebra holding the explosive charge that’s triggered if she tries to leave the park is C6, not C4.

It’s enough, really, that she’s the only character not chasing a random-dude’s-name macguffin (Arnold for mostly the humans; Wyatt for the hosts) and instead pursuing a tangible, explicable goal, namely, "I’m getting out of here," which sounds awful appealing just about now. Everyone else is marking time before their big surprise reveals. Speaking of which:

Known Unknowns

As for the second of this season’s two long-telegraphed big twists, the two-timelines thing, in which William is the young version of the Man in Black, is a go. Proof: The MIB runs into the blonde sexbot lady who onboarded William, and basically says to the audience, "Heh, you’re the blond sexbot lady who onboarded William, a.k.a. a much younger me." You tell Ed Harris to show, not tell, man. The blond sexbot lady, now a grimy damsel in distress turned Wyatt cohort, is very pleased simply to not be in a universe where she’s still married to Elon Musk and is unlikely to complain. Hopefully the MIB will meet Wyatt in the next episode. And hopefully young William, though he and Dolores are currently being menaced by his evil future brother-in-law Logan, will meet Arnold, and/or be revealed finally to be in an earlier timeline, possibly when that old, creaky robot bartender who says, "Shall we drink to the lady with the white shoes?" shows up.

Try to act surprised. The problem with shows that rely on shock twists like this is that it’s no fun if they’re random and incoherent, but it’s only slightly more fun if they’re too coherent, if everyone on the internet sees the shock twist coming for weeks. The Game of Thrones solution to this problem, "Murder Someone Horribly," is harder to rely on when half the characters on your show keep getting murdered over and over; the Mr. Robot solution, "Get Weirder and Queasier," seems far more likely to prevail here, which only makes things, uh, queasier. Westworld increasingly has a "mistakenly sent you the Evite to your own surprise birthday party" vibe that doesn’t blend well with its futon-philosopher self-satisfaction. We can’t define consciousness, but we can sure as hell define self-consciousness.

Unknown Unknowns

So if we assume the two-timelines thing is legit, then Dolores is in the older timeline with crabby William, and Maeve is in the newer (current? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) timeline, given that her awakening is tied to the Man in Black’s emergence as a heartless killing-machine supervillain. Is Dolores’s ongoing awakening the park disaster/quashed rebellion rumored to have plagued the park 30-odd years ago? Does that mean it failed, or succeeded? Will Maeve suffer the same fate or meet the same success, whenever she does what she has been threatening to do for some time now? Is Arnold gonna turn out to be someone we’ve already met, or are we getting a dope cameo from Michael Fassbender or Danny McBride? Will Maeve and the Man in Black meet at the end of the maze? Can this show possibly continue to restrain itself from feeding "Paranoid Android" into the player piano?

There are questions aplenty with two hours left to go, though a few too many of those questions involve how they’re going to answer questions to which we very likely already know the answers. Sorry, that’s a little convoluted. "Brevity is the soul of wit," as Charlotte Hale put it.

So: Get on with it. This is all, on the one hand, wildly entertaining, but on the other hand it feels like a TV show trying and failing to pass the Turing test. "Lifelike but not alive," as Bernard put it. Trying like hell to stick the landing but quite possibly jumping in place. Will we emerge from the season finale feeling smarter or dumber? It’s a toss-up at this point whether the denouement here is going to make any sense or permit us to derive any satisfaction. Maybe the point all along was to flatter us. And maybe our only purpose here was to be the loser.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.