From the first minute of its pilot, HBO’s robots-run-amok series Westworld has been intentionally disorienting. This is, after all, a Jonathan Nolan production, and he’s made a career out of telling knotty stories with overlapping timelines — see Memento and The Prestige. But there’s a big difference between planting cryptic details within a two hour movie and sprinkling clues throughout a ten-hour season of television — and Nolan, along with wife Lisa Joy, pulled it off. Westworld is a show that’s deliberately structured to deceive you in a surprisingly entertaining way.
The downside to this approach, though, is that there is way too much to remember in Westworld, what with a bunch of people suddenly exposed as robots and old events suddenly revealing themselves. But don’t fret, we have you covered. Here’s what you absolutely need to remember heading into the show’s 90-minute finale.
The Times Square Photo
It may not look like anything to Peter Abernathy, but the photo of a smiling woman in Times Square not only represents the ability for other robots to question their reality, but also turns out to be the key to the dual time period theory. Logan showed the same photo to William in “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” and the woman ends up being William’s fiancee and Logan’s sister Juliet.
In the finale, we’ll find out how that photo ended up in the Abernathys’ pasture.
We’ve Seen Arnold Before, Right?
Surprise! Bernard isn’t just a host, but in “The Well-Tempered Clavier” we discover he’s a simulacrum of Arnold, built by Ford after his partner’s death. This recontextualizes a lot, most importantly the fact that the secret meeting in the diagnostic facility under the Escalante chapel between Bernard and Dolores first seen in “The Stray” and carried on in “Dissonance Theory” might actually be between Arnold and Dolores.
He gives her the copy of Alice in Wonderland he used to read to his son in “The Stray,” which means he could be Bernard, since the son was merely a cornerstone memory created by Ford. But in ‘Dissonance Theory,” Arnold/Bernard first tells Dolores about the existence of the Maze. “There’s something I’d like you to try. It’s a game. A secret. It’s called the Maze. It’s a very special kind of game, Dolores. The goal is to find the center of it. If you can do that, then maybe you can be free,” he tells her. Expect her to find it in the season’s final episode.
The Opening Shot
Viewers have been through so much that its tough to remember what happened in the pilot episode, much less the opening shot of that episode. It shows Delores, bloody and incapacitated after Teddy is shot by Hector’s gang, sitting prone in an empty diagnostic lab with a fly crawling across her face. The man we think is Bernard is asking her if she’d like to wake up from what she perceives as a dream.
We know now that this is probably Arnold, who seems to be coaching her on how to lie to park technicians so that his Bicameral Mind experiments won’t be discovered. “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” he asks “No,” she responds, coldly.
The Buried Church and the Escalante Massacre
The so-called “City Swallowed by Sand” seemingly holds most, if not all, of the answers to the mysteries of the early years of the park. The steeple of the church is where Ford brings Bernard at the end of “The Stray,” but it’s also the intentionally quaint town where Arnold, Ford, and their colleagues worked on perfecting the original hosts — including Angela, Armistice, and Lawrence’s daughter — before the park opened. It also happens to be the place where Wyatt and Teddy supposedly massacred all of the townspeople, which is left cryptic even in the later episodes.
Considering Dolores and Teddy seem drawn there by their reveries, it’s possible Dr. Ford integrated the massacre — which may be the real-life tragedy that took place at Westworld 30 years ago — into Teddy’s and Dolores’s backstories to lead them to some fatefully epic showdown.
Buried in the story of the Woodcutter, the titular host from “The Stray,” is a nice little tidbit about the bureaucratic scheming that should come to a head very soon. In the midst of explaining how another host had gone homicidal and somehow sought revenge after accessing previous narrative loops, behavior specialist Elsie gets a message about a host who wanders off course and needs to be retrieved.
They go looking for the big lug, and he ends up killing himself (just like Maeve would intentionally do in “Trace Decay”). But later, Elsie finds out he has been clandestinely smuggling data out of the park for Theresa Cullen (RIP) and board representative Charlotte Hale as a way to steal the host data from Ford in a hostile takeover. The conniving Ford seems to have let this info go for now, but expect there to be even more repercussions stemming from the Woodcutter discovery.
The MiB is A Really Nice Guy, Apparently
Don’t forget that the big bad inside Westworld is a real swell guy outside the park. We got our first sense of the seemingly evil bastard’s altruism in “Dissonance Theory” when a random guest in Armistices gang approaches him while they’re camped out. “I didn’t want to intrude, but I just had to say that I’m such an admirer of yours,” the stranger says, “Your foundation literally saved my sister’s …” before the MiB threatens him.
Later in “Trace Decay” the MiB describes himself as a “philanthropist” and a “titan of industry,” and in “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Charlotte Hale goads the Man in Black to use his vote as a member of the Westworld board of directors to push Ford out of power. As if it wasn’t clear already, the Man in Black is deep into this game.
Robert Ford vs. the Man in Black
“Contrapasso,” the mid-point of the series, offers perhaps the most cryptic and important scene of the show so far. It’s the one in the sedate climax that features the Man in Black and Robert Ford squaring off, not in a gunfight, but in conversation. We know now that this is a main board member of the park versus the park’s main creative mind, and a lot of the banter resonates more deeply for a finale. “Is that why you came here, Robert? To talk me out of it?” the Man in Black says to Ford. “On the contrary,” Ford says back, “Far be it from me to get in the way of a voyage of self-discovery.”
This conversation, knowing all we know going into the finale, means this all boils down to two people in power vying for supremacy.