Is Westworld a simulation inside a simulation?
Congratulations to all the sim truthers who bought Elon Musk’s blow torches.
No, Sizemore is not alive. Felix did not revive Maeve and Sylvester did not give her the stink eye. It turns out that Maeve’s control unit is merely plugged into a simulation machine that looks like a futuristic bong.
Maeve realizes that her mind is in a computer simulation designed to extract information from her and figures out a way to crash the system and escape (albeit briefly). The main reveal that Maeve was in a simulation is shocking enough, but the possibilities stemming from it are virtually infinite. In the season premiere, one of Liam Dempsey Jr.’s friends asks whether the Westworld park was a “simulation inside a simulation,” which naturally leads to another question: Is the entire show of Westworld in a simulation, including the “real world” with humans?
Spoiler alert: We don’t know. Showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan clearly want us to be doubting the show’s core reality, but the grand reveal may not be as important as how the characters grapple with the question. Maeve’s situation in “The Winter Line” is a state of affairs that echoes matters of consciousness that have been argued for centuries—what exactly defines existence. René Descartes famously said, “Cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” He knew he existed because he was thinking, but anything beyond that was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Descartes used emoji, learn your history). A more modern argument, however, built on that theory to ask: How do you know you are not a brain in a vat being manipulated by a scientist (or if this is The Matrix, a race of AI machines)? Westworld wants us to think about this question, and it is not being all that subtle about it—Maeve’s hard drive is literally in a vat.
Serac wants Maeve to stop Dolores, but Maeve might get another idea along the way. Maybe she could use Incite’s AI, Rehoboam, to disrupt the human world the same way she used all of those maps and the square root of one to disrupt her World War II simulation. If she causes enough human havoc, perhaps she can hack into Rehoboam and discover that all of humanity is in an even bigger version of the vat she found herself in during this episode.
What was hidden in Bernard’s memories?
Maeve is not the only one questioning the nature of her reality in this episode. Bernard does some introspection in this episode in the form of digging into his veins. “I’ve been searching my code on a tablet made outside the park. But if Dolores planted a corruption in my code, that same corruption might mean I’d create a tablet to ignore it,” Bernard tells Stubbs before sending him off to fight a bunch of henchmen without any weapons.
In English, Bernard thinks Dolores deleted some of his memories, but she didn’t hit the “empty trash can” button, so he can still dig through everything that wasn’t permanently deleted. As he scrolls through, we see a spliced set of memories, but thanks to one meticulous Reddit user, surrealsunshine, Bernard’s deleted files can be viewed as images. There are two key takeaways:
1. Dolores definitely rebuilt Bernard when she was still in Charlotte Hale’s old body. She also seems to have been making a second host during this process.
2. Dolores seems to have suppressed certain key memories Bernard cannot access from the end of Season 2, including:
- Her shooting him in the face (that’s the biggie)
- Deciding to cull the weak hosts from the herd
- Changing her mind and beaming up the hosts to computer heaven
- Him killing people under Ford’s control
- Reading the data on Liam Dempsey Jr.
If Bernard remembers these things now—and his newfound resolve to find Dempsey suggests that he does—his relationship with Dolores is likely quite different. All of this also hints at why his personality is so messed up. His alias at the meatpacking plant—Armand Delgado—is an anagram for “Damaged Arnold.” Bernard may not know that, but he knows who damaged him.
What does Serac want?
Serac, a.k.a. Engerraund Serac, a.k.a. that annoying thief from Ocean’s Twelve, is apparently also the guy who cocreated Incite’s main AI technology, Rehoboam. But how did Maeve get tied up in this? The same reason Bernard’s memories are still scrambled—Dolores covered her tracks. Serac did not know what Dolores did at the end of Season 2 with the missing host data, and when Dolores went missing everyone must have assumed Maeve did it. So Serac put her to the test. Like everyone else, he just wanted to know what happened at the end of Season 2. As Maeve tells the simulated Sizemore: “Whoever is doing this has gone to a lot of trouble to test me, find out what I know. You took me to the forge for a reason, didn’t you? You thought I could reaccess the world Dolores had hidden from you? Why are you after that world? ... Whoever planned this has their own agenda, and it is certainly not a family reunion.”
Serac’s agenda is about Rehoboam, the AI that seems to have fixed every problem in the world by predicting all human behavior, but has encountered one unpredictability: Dolores. Serac wants to find the unpredictable being that threatens to disrupt the algorithmic future he’s created and kill any potential revolution before it truly gets off the ground.
Thematically, Serac is something else altogether. Westworld is not short on Genesis references. The Season 1 finale has Anthony Hopkins’s Robert Ford explain to Dolores at length the similarities between Arnold creating her and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, pinpointing the idea that the mind creates God. In this week’s episode, Sizemore not-so-coincidentally refers to Maeve as a painting in the Sistine Chapel, which is the showrunners all but screaming at us to compare Maeve to Adam in the Garden of Eden. By the end, where do we find Maeve but in a literal garden? And who resides in that garden but a slithery-ass dude who’s eating an apple as he delivers his soliloquy on humankind?
“For the most part humanity has been a miserable little band of thugs stumbling from one catastrophe to the next,” Serac says with an apple in his hand. “Our history is like the ravings of lunatics. Chaos. But we’ve changed that. For the first time history has an author.”
As the creator of Rehoboam, Serac sees himself as that author—basically God. But if, in actuality, he’s the serpent, the rest of Season 3 is not going to go well for him.
Was Jurassic Park a lie?
The Easter egg to end all Easter eggs appeared this week when Westworld featured a dragon about to be chopped to pieces by two lab techs played by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. (Unlike some of my colleagues, I do not have the energy to be angry at them for how Game of Thrones ended.) In the scene, Weiss turns to Benioff and says he is going to sell the dragon to “a startup in Costa Rica.” This is a reference to none other than Jurassic Park, which was based on a novel written by Michael Crichton, who also wrote the 1973 movie that Westworld, the show, is based on. (That’s a lot of park content.)
But this begs a larger question: Were the dinosaurs at Jurassic Park ever real? Or were they just robot dinosaurs made to look real? Faking a dinosaur is easier than faking a person. Nobody even knows what a dinosaur is supposed to look like. The dinosaurs don’t have to talk, or interact with people, or perform the kind of acts that Westworld robots must (at least I hope not). Hell, if you could 3D print any organism out of primordial oat milk, wouldn’t you immediately roll with the T. rex instead of cowboys? Wouldn’t Jurassic Park be the first park to open? Doesn’t this entire show make more sense if Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones were prequels to Westworld, and it turns out that all of that was going on inside various Delos parks? Was the only “real” person in Game of Thrones a 13-year-old billionaire named Joffrey?
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.