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Predicting Westworld: waking up inside a dream

Of course the eighth episode of Westworld would be an hour of expository table setting. In this holy age of binge-friendly dramas, the next-to-next-to-last episode is an opportunity to tie up loose ends, clarify stakes, and put the characters on a path toward meaningful change. Which is to say that for a season of television to end on a high note, we get two episodes of all killer, preceded by one episode of all filler.

This episode sure delivered on the filler. Bernard’s “brain” got wiped. The William and Man in Black timelines were all but verified. Dolores had her umpteenth moment of self-awareness. And Maeve got robot controlling superpowers. I suspect in a couple weeks we will look back on Foreshadowpalooza 2016, and mine it for all of its little clues. But in real time, what a slog it was.

The theory:

Large chunks of the story are backstory “memories” within the mind of Dolores or other hosts.

The speculation:

Unlike speculation from past weeks, I don’t want this to be true, because the only thing with lower stakes than the lives of pseudo-immortal robots would be the dreams of pseudo-immortal robots. That said, Westworld’s writers have gone out of their way to remind us that what hosts perceive to be memories are often scripted backstories. That is to say the “memories” never happened.

With Westworld, we know two things to be true: the events appear to be happening at multiple different points in time. And that Ford has an ambition to tell a bigger, more complex story, one that in Bernard’s case exists outside the park.

It is possible that parts of what we’ve seen in the past never took place, and that they were written as memories and installed into the mind of Dolores or other characters.

The evidence:

Ford broached the subject of artificial memories when talking with Bernard about his true robot self. He warns Bernard away from memories, saying that they are a trap in which he might get lost. Ford’s warning applies Dolores, who we then see struggling to differentiate the present from the past — what’s happening now from what happened “memories.”

Here’s the rub: if Ford, or anyone, is fascinated with the notion of sparking sentience, a fine method would be to create an elaborate backstory leading to a moment of awakening. Or to put it another way, to create a maze of memories for the host (Dolores in this case) to discover within her own mind, and to piece together on her own.

If it all sounds messy, and unfulfilling, well, I agree. But I do wonder if the order we’re searching for in Westworld, that all the clues will piece together neatly come season’s end, is actually absurdist chaos. I wonder if, when the season ends, we will be further from answers, and our capacity to tell what is real and what is fabricated, will be left in shambles.

The odds:

1:100. After Lost, I didn’t think a television network would send a mystery show to series without knowing the answers in advance. Then HBO greenlit The Leftovers. HBO is literally the only channel that would allow Westworld to go full Alice in Wonderland, leaving the audience second-guessing the fundamental laws on which the show is constructed. But I don’t believe Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the latter of whom ran a successful network television show in Person of Interest, are the sort of creators to embrace ambiguity, let alone absurdity.

But a small part of me still wonders if, while we thought this was a show about video games, and violence, and the ethics of artificial life, the showrunners were building a drama in the vein of Alice in Wonderland.

“It’s no use going back to yesterday,” said Alice, “because I was a different person then.”

PREVIOUSLY ON PREDICTING WESTWORLD:

Predicting Westworld: so it’s Lost

Predicting Westworld: you-know-who is actually a bot

Predicting Westworld: where the AI comes from

Predicting Westworld: it’s a memento mori

Predicting Westworld: Dolores’ timeline is in the distant future

Predicting Westworld: the bots are human


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