'Westworld': Maeve's New Powers Explained by Hive Mind Psychology
We’re midway through Season 2 of Westworld and things are really cooking. It’s hard to say what exactly the show is cooking, but wow, they’re really throwing a lot into the pot! We’ve got masterless samurais, drone Hosts, estranged daughters, and brain pearls; the maze is still a thing, serious Biblical undertones abound, and Delos apparently knows how to upload human consciousness into a host. Oh, and now Maeve can control other Hosts with her mind.
Beware: Spoilers are below for Episode 6, “Phase Space.” If you haven’t seen it, this won’t look like anything to you.
The Host Mesh Network
Maeve can now make Hosts kill each other and commit suicide with an instructional command alone. The only limit to this power, apparently, is that she has to think in the primary language of the Hosts. (That’s why she couldn’t control members of Ghost Nation, even though all Hosts are technically supposed to know multiple languages.) It’s theorized that her ability to control other hosts is linked to the concept of a “ost mesh network.” As Inverse has argued before, it’s very likely the Hosts operate as a superorganism — and if the Hosts are a superorganism, then Maeve is the queen bee.
The Hive Mind
In an HBO featurette, Westworld co-executive producer Jonathan Nolan explained the concept of “the Cradle,” which strongly hinted at the idea of a Host mesh network. “If cold storage is where the Host’s bodies are taken to rot, where do their minds go?” he asked.
We learn from the character Elsie Hughes that the Cradle is a server room of Host “brains” — the pearl-like orbs containing their memories and programming. “It’s like a hive mind,” she explains upon walking into the Cradle. “Every single one of them is in here, alive.”
Biologically speaking, the term “hive mind” refers to the apparent group consciousness of highly organized (“eusocial”) insect colonies, like bees, ants, and termites. When it comes to honey bees, the functionality of the hive mind is regulated by chemical signals, sent out by the queen bee.
In the academic text Neurobiology of Chemical Communication, scientists Laura Bortolotti, Ph.D., and Cecilia Costa, Ph.D., explain that honey bees use pheromones to coordinate and organize all of the activities of the hive. “Pheromones,” they write, “are the key factor in generating and maintaining this complexity, assuring a broad plasticity of functions that allow the colony to deal with unforeseen events or changing environmental conditions.”
The Queen Signal
Pheromones come in two forms: primer pheromones, which act at a physiological level and can cause developmental changes, and releaser pheromones, which are a bit weaker and only influence the behavior of the bee at the receiving end. The queen bee largely releases primer pheromones, one of which is a “complex chemical blend” called the “queen signal.” This signal induces physiological and behavioral modifications in the worker bees and results in the “maintenance of colony homeostasis through the establishment of social hierarchy and preservation of the queen’s reproductive supremacy.”
The queen bee also pheromones to suppress other bees from becoming queens, gets bees to rear her children, and ensures the hive is cleaned, protected, and maintained. Like Maeve, she can sometimes get members of other colonies to do her bidding with the same signals.
Unlike a real queen bee, however, Maeve sometimes lets Hosts exercise free will. The Hosts, it seems, are neither purely technological nor biological. While they run on computer code, they mimic behavior firmly established in nature, perhaps reflecting the imperfections of the individuals who coded them. Between the Cradle’s hive mind, the mesh network, and Maeve’s abilities — and the fact that the showrunners have said it’s only Maeve who’s exhibited free will — it’s clear there’s a honeybee-like organization going on here. And it certainly looks like Maeve reigns supreme in the hierarchy of Hosts.