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The Flies Are Buzzing Again in ‘Westworld’

If there’s any major takeaway from the Season 4 premiere, it’s that the insects are back in a big way—a recurring motif in the series and Michael Crichton–adapted franchises at large

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

In the series premiere of Westworld, an important development hinges on a fly. After establishing the android “hosts” from the titular theme park are incapable of harming living things, we see Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) swat a fly that lands on her neck right before the credits hit. It’s a little moment that hints at a major shift in Dolores’s programming, and by the end of the first season, many hosts turn on their human oppressors with violent ends. The swat might seem inconsequential compared to all the human-robot carnage that follows, but rebellions have to start somewhere.

Enough flies buzzed around Westworld’s first season that websites began publishing SEO plays trying to discern the meaning behind them. (If there’s one thing the Westworld fandom loves, it’s speculating on every single detail of the series.) But the interest in flies soon gave way to more pressing reveals, like how Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) was secretly a host modeled after the park’s deceased cofounder, or that young William (Jimmi Simpson) would go on to become the Man in Black (Ed Harris) because Season 1 was taking place across multiple timelines. Frankly, Westworld got so confusing—and occasionally frustrating—that the flies faded from memory like they were caught in a figurative sticky trap. But if there’s any major takeaway from the premiere of Westworld’s fourth season, it’s that the insects are back in a big way.

In the season’s opening sequence, we meet an unnamed cartel member who has been approached by William—or, more accurately, [deep breath] the host who replaced the real William at the end of the third season when Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), who is actually a sophisticated copy of Dolores, had the robotic doppelgänger attack him. This William is interested in purchasing a data storage facility owned by the cartel. (William’s company has already bought much of the surrounding land, for some ominous reason.) William offers the man a ton of money, but he refuses to sell—at which point the secret host assures the cartel member he’ll simply give it up for free tomorrow. When the man returns home, he finds himself swarmed by flies that most certainly aren’t a regular infestation. The following day, the man kills his partners, hands everything over to William, and slits his own throat after being given permission to die.

In classic Westworld fashion, this series of events is opaque yet alarming. It also invites plenty of questions. What compelled the cartel member to kill his partners and himself? What did the flies have to do with it? Did the man have any control over his actions? Does Ed Harris still hate filming Westworld? Viewers will hope the answers arrive in the coming weeks, but one thing’s already certain: the flies are going to be of huge importance this season. If the official Westworld hashtag on Twitter featuring a fly wasn’t enough of a hint, the new opening credits essentially confirm the insects are another nefarious product of Delos Incorporated.

The impending threat of robo-flies was also telegraphed in the two trailers for the fourth season, when a new character is attacked by one in an SUV, a host child unleashes a swarm from her mechanical maw, and Aaron Paul’s Caleb screams while surrounded by them like he’s just been forced into a reunion with Jesse Plemons. It’s a fool’s errand to predict where Westworld is headed—honestly, I don’t even think the creators know most of the time—but the recurring motif of flies and the overarching theme of the series would suggest they’re here to help create a new world order. After all, we’ve already seen what they did to the cartel guy, and unless Caleb also has been replaced by a host, these flies are going after humans under the command of Charlotte and host William.

But perhaps the strangest aspect of Westworld’s fly-centric pivot is that it’s not the first piece of pop culture adapted from Michael Crichton intellectual property this year to suddenly become obsessed with insects. In Jurassic World: Dominion, which takes place several years after dinosaurs escaped captivity at the end of Fallen Kingdom, the plot comes into focus when swarms of mutant locusts begin devouring crops and threaten the global food supply. The locusts were created by Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), the somehow-hasn’t-been-tried-for-war-crimes geneticist responsible for cloning dinosaurs in the first place, as part of Biosyn Genetics’ extremely stupid plan to, uh, have a monopoly on food.

The fact that the blockbuster franchise famous for dinosaurs decided the best way to appeal to moviegoers was by focusing on locusts—locusts!—is nothing short of iconic. (It should come as no surprise that Dominion is by far the worst film in the series.) But while insects were a bizarre inclusion for a dinosaur movie, they actually don’t feel as out of place on Westworld, especially within the broader context of Crichton’s work. Westworld has long surpassed any similarities to Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name; the Delos theme parks have been almost entirely left behind by the fourth season. Instead, the show’s turned to other pieces of pop culture for inspiration, including the original Westworld sequel, Futureworld. As for the robo-flies, they could be a nod to Crichton’s 2002 novel, Prey.

In Prey, the Pentagon teams up with a robotics company to experiment on nanotechnology that can be used as a weapon—naturally, as is usually the case in one of Crichton’s thrillers, the power is beyond their control. Not only do the nanobots form swarms and attack, but they also learn to replicate humans. The premise of Prey might not be as juicy as dinosaurs gone rogue, but uncontrollable, ever-evolving nanobots feels like a slightly more realistic outcome of what happens when mankind tries to play god. (The film rights to Prey were sold to 20th Century Fox before the book even came out, but it has no relation to the movie of the same name from 20th Century Studios coming out later this month.)

While Westworld’s newly introduced robo-flies aren’t necessarily going to follow the same trajectory as the nanobots in Prey, a similarly nightmarish scenario may apply. These flies are clearly bad news for humanity, and if the Season 4 premiere is any indication, the murder-suicide of cartel members is just the tip of the iceberg. Like Crichton’s Jurassic Park, which hinged on dinosaur DNA being extracted from mosquitos preserved in amber before humans became part of the menu, Westworld began with a host killing a single fly as the first small step of a larger robot uprising. Now that flies have buzzed back into the show’s orbit, the hosts are getting much closer to taking over as the dominant species of the planet. For now, all we can hope is that someone hands Caleb a can of Raid before it’s too late.