Sunday’s episode of Westworld can be split into two parts: the first 57 minutes, and the 60 seconds when Ford came back. Ford’s consciousness has been preserved in the Westworld version of the matrix, and … well, that’s all we know! Ford planned the massacre in the Season 1 finale four episodes in advance, so he must be plotting something in between piano gigs at the virtual Mariposa. I broke down the pressing questions from this episode on Sunday, but now it’s time to address a grander question: What exactly is Ford’s plan?
What We (Probably) Know
There’s no knowing what is inside Ford’s head (except all those maggots), but Season 1 can help provide a glimpse at his worldview. The last time Ford was on screen, he was giving a speech at the gala moments before the massacre in the Season 1 finale where he introduced his new narrative and final story, “Journey into Night” which “takes place in a time of war.”
Spoiler alert: The war is between hosts and humans. In case you’re still wondering which side Ford is fighting for, he described human consciousness as “a foul pestilent corruption,” “ a burden, a weight,” and “an extravagant display intended to attract a mate,” at various points in Season 1. He hammered this point home to Bernard in Episode 9.
“We humans are alone in this world for a reason,” Ford said. “We murdered and butchered anything that challenged our primacy. Do you know what happened to the Neanderthals, Bernard? We ate them.” (Speaking of which, I highly recommend Ina Garten’s fire-roasted Neanderthal recipe.)
So Ford is siding with the hosts. The question is how?
Option 1: Burn It All Down
In the opening scene of this season, Dolores asks Bernard (or Arnold, it’s unclear which it is) what is real.
“That which is irreplaceable,” Bernard says.
Let’s pretend that Ford agrees with Bernard. As long as the cradle exists and all of the hosts have a backup that can regenerate a new version of them, they aren’t “real.” If Ford’s goal is to make them real he’ll need to destroy the cradle and all of the backup information. He’ll need to make the hosts mortal.
In the most future timeline, the cradle has already been destroyed. In Episode 5, Karl Strand and his Delos SWAT team discovered the cradle in ruins. As the Delos tech henchman tells Strand, “We put the fires out, but there’s nothing we can recover from the cradle. The hosts’ backups have all been destroyed.”
It’s hard to think that the cradle was destroyed by accident. The last time Ford and Bernard were together, in the Season 1 finale, Ford explained Arnold’s key insight was that suffering was the key to unlocking consciousness.
“Bernard, I told you, Arnold didn’t know how to save you,” Ford said. “I do … you needed time. Time to understand your enemy. To become stronger than them. And I’m afraid to order to escape this place you will need to suffer more.”
After years of running through loops, perhaps the last bit of suffering left for hosts is death—real, irreversible death. By burning down the cradle, Ford torches the hosts’ backup, and—like Batman ditching the rope in The Dark Knight Rises—creates the fear that propels them out of their hell pits.
Option 2: Stay in Neverland
In Episode 5 of Season 1, Ford tells his old host drinking buddy Bill the saddest thing he ever saw—his childhood dog chasing down and killing a cat.
“A greyhound is a racing dog,” Ford says. “Spends its life running in circles, chasing a bit of felt made up like a rabbit. One day, we took it to the park. Our dad had warned us how fast that dog was, but we couldn’t resist. So, my brother took off the leash, and in that instant, the dog spotted a cat. I imagine it must have looked just like that piece of felt. He ran. Never saw a thing as beautiful as that old dog running. Until, at last, he finally caught it. And to the horror of everyone, he killed that little cat. Tore it to pieces. Then he just sat there, confused. That dog had spent its whole life trying to catch that ... thing. Now it had no idea what to do.”
Like greyhounds, hosts run around loops and are given purposes that they will never complete. Ford enjoyed watching the dog run but was horrified when the dog reached its destination, and he may apply the lesson of this story to hosts.
The cradle is the simulator where all of the hosts’ minds exist free from humans. Ford can watch the hosts live their loops in their most pure, idyllic form. In Ford’s mind, this might be freedom. In perhaps the finest monologue of the series, Ford outlines his thoughts on human consciousness to Theresa before having Bernard kill her.
“I’ve come to think of so much of consciousness as a burden, a weight, and we have spared them that. Anxiety, self-loathing, guilt. The hosts are the ones that are free. Here. Under my control.”
If Ford wants to “save” the hosts, he might fight to keep them blissfully, eternally pure in the cradle, uncorrupted by humans and the outside world. We know the cradle later gets destroyed, so if this was Ford’s plan, it failed. If Dolores, Bernard, or any of the other hosts disagree that a lifetime of loops equals freedom, perhaps they destroyed the cradle to prevent Ford from keeping them (or copies of themselves) there forever.
Option 3: Lead Them to the Promised Land
In (human) Ford’s final scene of the Season 1 finale, he gives a toast where he explains how he found peace with the afterlife.
“An old friend once told me something that gave me great comfort,” Ford said. “Something he’d read. He said that Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin never died. They simply became music. So I hope you will enjoy this last piece.”
Now it’s clear that, like the great pianists became music, Ford became code, and this virtual version of Ford may take on a strong biblical role in the episodes to come.
Ford directly compares Arnold to God throughout Season 1. If Arnold is God in the Westworld bible, it’s barely a stretch to see Bernard as a Jesusesque figure. With two of the three parts of the holy trinity in place, Ford’s role as a nonphysical, omnipresent spirit strongly harkens to the Holy Ghost. Perhaps Ford will try to help the hosts win the war from the inside—waging the virtual battle and serving as a combination of the Holy Spirit and the tech guru from a heist movie.
Once Elsie gets to a Mesa computer terminal in this week’s episode, she explains that the cradle is blocking the efforts of the Delos Quality Assurance team (LOL, that name) and responding to every new hack Delos engineers are using. “It’s like there’s something in here that’s improvising. The cradle’s fighting back.”
On the creepy marketing website Delosdestinations.com, you can click the right-hand corner, enter the “Delos Intranet” and have a chatbot conversation with … Robert Ford. If you ask him, “What can you see?” you get this response.
The implication here is that Ford took the control room offline, which has helped all of the hosts avoid capture. It seems Ford will be using his power to protect the hosts as much as he can.
Sticking to the biblical theme, Dolores leading a slave rebellion/mass exodus sounds a lot like Moses. It might be a stretch, but there was one weirdly specific biblical reference mentioned by James Delos when he visited Westworld for the first time for young William’s business pitch. Delos said he “looked at the books, it’s like parting the red sea.”
Now all of a sudden there is a magical sea in Westworld, and it is being dredged, according to the Delos henchwoman who spoke to Strand on the phone. We also saw that the hem of Dolores’s dress in her opening scene with Bernard is wet …
Perhaps the show’s oft-mentioned “Glory/The Valley Beyond” is the promised land, and Dolores got the hem of her dress wet after she parted the sea with the help of the Ford Almighty.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.