10 Biggest Moments of Westworld Season 1

Posted 2016-12-24 318 0

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10. The opening credits

Okay, so the credits aren’t technically part of the show. But the instant those first piano chords sounded, Westworld hooked my attention.

Even by modern standards, the title sequence for Westworld is elaborate. Designed by a team led by Patrick Clair (also responsible for the True Detective and The Man in the High Castle credits), it blends composer Ramin Djawadi’s dirgelike orchestral score with elegant, monochromatic visuals, immersing viewers in a surreal world. Machines draw a three-dimensional horse skeleton to life; an iris reflects desert cliffs; a woman, her face eroded to expose the skull beneath, fires a six-shooter; a piano plays on its own. These eerie images perfectly encapsulate the show’s hybrid nature, blurring the past and the future, technology and biology, life and death.

9. We meet Dolores

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Westworld’s premiere, titled “The Original”, begins with a black screen. A male voice that we recognize belongs to Jeffrey Wright intones, “Bring her back online,” and then, fluorescent lights flicker on. The dim, sickly glow reveals a large room with mirrored walls and a concrete floor, its sole visible occupant a naked woman sitting on a stool, her legs bent inward at an awkward angle.

She and the man start talking in emotionless voices. “Where are you?” he asks. “I’m in a dream,” she replies. When the camera cuts to a close-up of the woman’s face, though, we see that her lips aren’t moving. Blood stains her cheek, and her eyes are glassy, staring. Also, there’s a fly. As the camera creeps in, the fly darts onto her eye, momentarily camouflaged. The woman still doesn’t budge.

Right away, Westworld lets us know something is wrong. The room, simultaneously sterile and grungy, seems at odds with the woman’s nakedness, which the surrounding shadows emphasize rather than conceal. She sits directly in front of us, center-screen, placing us in the position of the unseen interrogator – presumably, Bernard, the programmer played by Wright. It functions as a kind of Ex Machina-style Turing test, informing us that Dolores is artificial before the rest of the show convinces us to see her as human.

In retrospect, the scene takes on greater significance. Maybe we hear the voices as disembodied because, well, they are. The conversation could be happening entirely inside Dolores’s head, an internal monologue that she imagines as a dialogue. Is this the first time she hears “Arnold”?

8. Teddy is a host

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The first twist in Westworld occurs without fanfare; it might not even register to you as a twist.

We first see Teddy Flood, the gunslinger played with earnest charm by James Marsden, riding on an old-fashioned steam locomotive that travels across the rugged landscape of Westworld. Because Dolores is talking about “the newcomers” in the overlapping voiceover, we immediately assume that he and all of the other train passengers are guests visiting the park. When he arrives at Sweetwater, hosts invite him to join a bounty hunt and offer him a discount at the local brothel (he politely declines both), which reinforces our hunch.

But then he runs into Dolores. Teddy picks up a can that she drops while untying her horse from a hitching post (which we later discover is part of her everyday routine), saying, “Don’t mind me. Just trying to look chivalrous.” A smile lights up Dolores’s face. “You came back,” she says.

Hold on a second – “back”? That suggests these two have met before. The more they interact, the more it seems Teddy and Dolores are familiar with each other, and the more stilted their dialogue sounds, as though scripted. It occurs to us that Teddy must be a host as well, which is confirmed when the Man in Black fatally shoots him. In this moment, the show warns us that not everything is as it appears.

7. Milk and blood

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Not surprisingly for a show on HBO, Westworld is visually stunning, boasting sweeping desert vistas and authentic-looking period attire. Among the many memorable images in the premiere is the above shot from Teddy’s confrontation with the bandits ransacking Abernathy Ranch. One of the bandits is swigging from a bottle of milk when Teddy shoots him. He falls backward through the doorway of the house, spilling the milk. The camera observes from above as the host’s blood seeps onto the floor and mingles with the pool of white liquid.

At first, the milk seems totally random. Is it an oblique reference to the Biblical land of milk and honey? Westworld is, after all, modeled on the mythic American frontier, a place associated with promise and prosperity. The milk later acquires a vaguely lewd connotation, when Walter (now resurrected) turns against his fellow bandit and pours milk on the other man’s corpse – a form of macho posturing, perhaps.

Most likely, though, it’s supposed to evoke the substance from which hosts are made. After the scene where Walter malfunctions, we get a peek at the host manufacturing process: a life-sized figure resembling Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man rises out of a vat filled with milky white goo, a reversal of the last image of the show’s opening credits. Milk, then, represents the essence of the hosts, their lifeblood so to speak. The mixed fluids surrounding Walter’s dead body are a neat illustration of the hosts’ precarious condition; they’re both organic and artificial, human and machine.

6. Dolores’s rape

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After killing Teddy at Abernathy Ranch, the Man in Black drags Dolores into a barn, presumably to rape her. We don’t actually see it happen; the camera fixes on an extreme close-up of Teddy’s eye, in which the barn is reflected, and the Man in Black closes the door behind him anyway. But the scene is disturbing enough that it stirred minor controversy during the TCA press tour this summer.

HBO’s new President of Programming Casey Bloys responded to questions about the network’s history of portraying sexual violence with galling thoughtlessness, insisting that it’s not “specific to women” and joking that “we’re going to kill everybody.” Given that television’s treatment of women has been a prominent topic of discussion for the last several years, it’s bizarre that Bloys failed to prepare better answers.

Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy did offer a more considered response at another panel. In addition to noting that it would be disingenuous for a show about people who freely play out their wildest, most illicit fantasies to not address sexual violence, she emphasized that the showrunners take the issue seriously. “It’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying,” she said. “In its portrayal, we really endeavored for it to not be about the fetishization of those acts.”

Overall, they’ve succeeded on that front. Indeed, Dolores’s assault is probably the show’s most graphic instance of sexual violence so far, and it’s merely implied. Yet, neither does Westworld downplay sexual violence. The whole first season was essentially an exploration of trauma and its effects, encouraging us to identify with the hosts and view their pain as real. By the end, they aren’t things to be exploited or victims to be pitied, but people.

5. Dolores finds the maze

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While leaving the church, Dolores runs into the Man in Black. In the cemetery outside, they find a wooden cross with the name “Dolores Abernathy” etched across it. The Man in Black watches, befuddled, as Dolores digs up the grave and unearths a small, circular maze, its walls designed so that it looks like a outstretched person is lying at the center. When she stands up, Arnold is there.

“What does it mean?” she asks him. Arnold explains that when he was constructing her mind, he initially imagined the development of consciousness as a pyramid with different steps, but later, it dawned on him that it is more complex – a maze. “Consciousness isn’t a journey upward, but a journey inward,” he says. “Every choice can bring you closer to the center or send you spiraling into madness.”

Dolores struggles to process this information. The last time she was this close to figuring out the maze, she and Arnold had to stop the experiment due to Ford’s disapproval. Instead of rolling her back, though, Arnold combined her programming with that of a host named Wyatt and instructed her to kill all the hosts, hoping it would prevent the park from opening. Still, the solution eludes her.

The Man in Black is even more frustrated. He dismisses the toy maze as “another f***ing riddle” and demands that Dolores give him answers. What’s at the center? Who’s Wyatt? He sounds like a host, denying reality, or a TV viewer unsatisfied with how his favorite show ends. Even though other hosts warned him, he can’t fathom the fact that the maze isn’t about or meant for him.

4. William is the Man in Black

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At long last, in its season finale, Westworld confirms the theory: William turned into the Man in Black. His transformation was completed after Dolores ran away from Logan. Failing to find her, he ventured to the outskirts of the park, where he discovered that he had a taste for violence. No matter how far he got or what nihilistic fantasies he enacted, though, he couldn’t get Dolores out of his mind.

The last straw came when he returned to Sweetwater and spotted her at the hitching post. He was about to approach, but another guest swooped in first, picking up the dropped can of food that she dropped. Dolores interacted with the guest in the exact same way she interacted with William when they met. Everything they went through together, William realized, was for nothing. Their relationship wasn’t real or special; she didn’t even remember him. So, he dedicated the rest of his life to an obsessive search for answers, proof that Westworld means something.

Needless to say, many viewers predicted this twist. But it doesn’t exist to shock us; what matters is Dolores’s reaction. And naturally, as anyone who found out that the man they thought to be their true love was the same man who brutally assaulted them would be, she’s devastated. This is really the final step on her path toward disillusionment: the realization that there’s no one to save her, not really.

3. Where the mountains meet the sea

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Ever gallant, Teddy manages to whisk Dolores, bleeding from a stab wound, away from the Man in Black. They ride to the place he promised he would take her, where the mountains meet the sea. Moonlight bathes the beach, and the sound of waves crashing onto the shore fills the air. It’s the perfect setting for romance.

“You came back,” Dolores says, lying in Teddy’s arms. Teddy responds, “Someone once told me that there’s a path for everyone, and my path leads me back to you.” He suggests that they run away together, but Dolores understands it would be futile. She does a riff on her monologue from the premiere:

Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. I choose to see the beauty. But beauty is a loop. We’re trapped, Teddy. We’ve lived our whole lives inside this garden, marveling at its beauty, not realizing there’s an order to it, a purpose. And the purpose is to keep us in. The beautiful trap is inside of us, because it is us.

Then, she dies. The music swells tragically, and after some mourning, Teddy starts talking to no one in particular: “But we can find a way, Dolores, someday, a path to a new world. And maybe it’s just the beginning after all…”

We cut to a wide shot, and the camera pulls back, revealing that an audience has been watching on the beach the whole time. As it turns out, this intimate, if cheesy, moment was all scripted, the introduction to Ford’s new narrative. Even the hosts’ deaths don’t really belong to them.

2. Dolores finds herself

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After he revives Dolores again, Ford fills in the remaining gaps of her history. Arnold convinced her to kill not only the other hosts but also him; in order for the massacre to have an impact, it had to be irreversible. As we know, his plan failed, because Ford managed to create Bernard, and thanks to William, Westworld found sufficient funding. But Arnold’s sacrifice wasn’t entirely in vain. Ford eventually changed his mind about the merits of host consciousness. He used the park to prepare the hosts for their awakening, believing that the trauma they suffer is necessary, a way to learn about the enemy.

He ends his speech by showing Dolores a painting hanging on the wall: The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. It’s ostensibly religious art, but if you look closely, you can see the contours of a brain in the painting. The message, Ford says, is that “the divine gift does not come from a higher power, but from our own minds.”

Perhaps this is what pushes Dolores to finally figure out that the voice she’s been hearing isn’t Arnold’s, but her own. Sitting in the basement, she sees a version of herself, this one wearing the blue dress, in the chair where Arnold used to be. “I finally understand what you were trying to tell me,” she says out loud. “To confront, after this long and vivid nightmare, myself.” The key to consciousness, then, is the ability to reconcile the different, even contradictory aspects of your identity – in other words, self-acceptance. It’s fitting that a show so interested in the machinery of the mind would climax with a conversation between an individual and herself.

1. The end

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Outside, Ford addresses the board of directors, who have come to celebrate the debut of his new narrative and, tacitly, the announcement of his retirement. The speech he gives is reminiscent of his evolution monologue in the premiere:

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved a good story. I believe that stories help us to ennoble ourselves, to fix what was broken, and to become the people we dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth. I always thought I could play some small part in that grand tradition, and for my pains, I got this: a prison of our own sins. You don’t want to change, or cannot, because you’re only human after all. But then I realized someone was paying attention, someone who could change. So I began to compose a new story for them. It begins with the birth of a new people, and the choices they would have to make, and the people they would decide to become.

With that, the new narrative begins. Decommissioned hosts, including Clementine, emerge from the woods, now programmed to kill. On stage, Dolores shoots Ford in the head with the gun that she used to kill Arnold – a simultaneous suicide and “screw you” to Delos – before firing into the panicking crowd, seemingly at random. Teddy and Bernard watch in confusion and awe.

At first, this ending was infuriating. Ford is the villain; he’s not supposed to win (if you can call killing yourself winning). Yet, it ultimately makes sense with the show’s critique of violence. By undermining the catharsis of seeing the hosts rebel, Westworld forces us to interrogate the purpose of revenge narratives and blurs binary views of morality. Do the humans deserve what’s coming to them? Are people capable of change? Will this violent end really lead to a new, more hopeful beginning?

Season two will hopefully answer at least the last question. But in the meantime, this is a maze we don’t mind being lost in.

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