The first episode of HBO’s sci-fi drama Westworld hit British screens tonight, and it’s safe to say that the robotic cowboy tale has us a bit flummoxed.
So far the series seems to have introduced a good dozen mysteries and unsolved dilemmas, and that was only in one week’s storyline. Who knows what confusing puzzles await us as the tale continues?
Still, for now we’ll deal with what we’ve seen so far from the first episode, which introduces the titular robot-staffed theme park and a few of the behind-the-scenes staff making it all work. Starting with a very basic unanswered question…
1. When and where is Westworld set?
The new Westworld’s great twist on the original premise is to present the story more or less from the robots’ perspectives, meaning that so far we’re a bit in the dark about the wider world the theme park exists within.
But while the location of the park is still a mystery (it could be in Utah, or it could be on another planet), there are some clues that the story is taking place some time in our future. In a conversation with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Anthony Hopkins’ robot creator Dr Ford notes that all diseases have been cured in their world, suggesting that healthcare has advanced beyond a stage possible in the present day.
That, along with the technology utilised in the park, suggests a setting decades ahead of our own time period.
2. How do guests tell the difference between robots and other guests?
Picture the scene - an excitable guest pulls out his gun, only to discover that the person he's duelling with is another human who he can't really harm thanks to his gun's safety settings. Not much fun, but surely an inevitable consequence of mixing humans with robot guests (as well as the possibility that a human could assault another human).
And yet in the series this kind of mistaken identity doesn't seem to be a problem, with guests seemingly able to recognise their robot hosts despite their human appearance (as evidenced when newcomers on the train identify James Marsden's Teddy, above, as a robot) - so how do they do it when we the viewers can't?
In the 1973 film, the robots have slightly rubbery hands that give them away (something possibly referenced when Dr Ford comments that early robot models could be given away by a handshake) – so is there another imperfection in the new series that we'll learn about as it progresses?
3. Are there other “worlds”?
In the 1973 film the HBO series is based on, Westworld was only one of three interconnected theme parks where visitors could relive history, with Roman world and Medieval world (above) also on offer (and filled with potentially-homicidal robots).
As of yet, there’s no sign that similar parallel experiences exist in this version of the story – but as our perspective shifts from the “hosts” over the coming weeks, perhaps we’ll get the chance to encounter more weird and wonderful robot worlds.
But then again, there’s one good reason Roman world and medieval world would be left out…
4. Is this series set in the same world as the film?
According to showrunner Jonathan Nolan this version of Westworld isn’t the same one as in the original 1973 film, so the reference characters make to a malfunction “30 years ago” isn’t a Jurassic World-style flashback to a theme park disaster we’ve seen on screen before.
However, the cold storage facility glimpsed in this week’s episode seemed to be the ruins of an older version of the park, with a battered globe bearing the name “Delos” – the overall name of the theme park that made Westworld, Medieval World and Roman World in the film. So perhaps this is some sort of parallel version instead, where the 1970s, grand version of Delos never malfunctioned and instead evolved into something far more sinister.
Though of course, SOMETHING went wrong 30 years ago…
5. What was the malfunction 30 years ago?
Was this comment a cheeky reference to the original film and its sequels (spin-off TV series Beyond Westworld aired around 30 years ago in 1980), or some mystery that will be revealed as the series continues? Perhaps one involving Evan Rachel Wood’s host Dolores (above), the oldest robot still working at the park? Hmm…
6. Who was the lady with the white shoes?
Now here’s an interesting one. At one point in this week’s episode, Ford shares a drink with one of the decommissioned old hosts in the park (above), commenting that he was the second robot ever built for Westworld (it’s later revealed that Dolores was the first).
During their conversation, Old Bill (the host’s name) makes a cryptic reference to “the lady with the white shoes”, before creepily zipping himself into a body bag (one of the episode’s more unsettling scenes) – but who was this lady? Was it Dolores in a previous incarnation? Someone else entirely? And what’s her significance?
7. What is the management’s secret plan for Westworld?
This week Sidse Babett Knudsen’s operations leader Theresa (above right, with Shannon Woodward) hints to writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quartermain) that the company behind Westworld has other plans for the robots – so what are they? Do they have secret schemes to send them out into battle, or out as spies? And isn’t it a little weird that they’d wait 30 years before making this sort of move?
8. What is the Man in Black’s game?
One of the premiere’s more mysterious characters (and that’s saying something) was Ed Harris’ unnamed Man in Black, a twist on Yul Brynner’s robotic gunslinger from the 1973 film who is actually a longstanding “guest” at Westworld and who’s grown so skilled at cowboying he’s looking for a new thrill.
After seeing him do some nasty things like kill robot Teddy (James Marsden) and assault Dolores, the man in black goes off the grid, killing and scalping a robot of native American origin after telling him he was looking for a deeper game within Westworld.
On that scalp? A mysterious pattern that almost looked like a map…
So what on Earth was this gunslinger talking about? Is there a secret task he can find within the theme park, or is he off his rocker? Was there really a map on the robot’s head, and why? And where does it lead? Cripes, it’s all very mysterious.
9. Is Ford secretly giving the robots consciousness?
Another mystery here – the episode suggests that the reason some robots are beginning to act out is due to a new update to their core systems, which includes a subconscious access to their memories (they reboot to a template every day) to help them develop individual gestures called “reveries” and seem more realistic.
Unfortunately, some of the robots seem to be accessing their memories on a more conscious level, with Dolores’ father (Louis Herthum) becoming increasingly agitated as he begins to realise the existence of the outside world and the characters he has previously played in the park.
But could this mistake, added into the update by Hopkins’ park creator Ford, be intentional? In a conversation with Bernard he suggests that humankind is becoming obsolete – so could he be slipping in updates to help the robots gain consciousness and take over from the human race? It’s classic mad scientist stuff, after all…
10. Are there any more secret robots?
Then again, it could be that Ford himself may not be all he seems – this week’s opening episode misled viewers to believe James Marsden’s Teddy was a guest, only for it to be revealed that he’s actually a robot host programmed to meet with Dolores ever day.
So could there be other hidden robots among the “human” cast, perhaps even among Ford’s behind-the-scenes team? Maybe even Ford himself might be more mechanical than he lets on, with the real Dr Robert existing somewhere behind-the-scenes as his tin-plated doppelganger does his busywork.
Then again, we might have just been binge-watching too much Battlestar Galactica. Cylons are everywhere.
11. What’s up with the flies?
A few times in the episode, flies crawl over the faces (and even eyes) of the robot hosts, partially to be a bit creepy and partially to underline the point that the hosts “couldn’t hurt a fly” thanks to their core code, in the words of Ford.
But then at the end of this week’s story, Dolores casually swats a fly on her neck, and all bets are off. Her core code is damaged, she can hurt a living thing, and we’re betting it won’t be long until some human guests start getting the same treatment.
And could it be that the flies have some deeper significance? Everything else in the park (including the horses) is created and controlled by the behind-the-scenes team, after all – so are these robot flies that fulfill some purpose, or perhaps even have something to do with the spread of consciousness between the hosts? The original film likened the self-awareness to a disease spreading between the robots, and flies are known for spreading diseases.
Then again, we MIGHT be overthinking this now. Just a tad.
12. What does “violent delights” mean?
Towards the end of the premiere Dolores’ father whispered something in his daughter’s ear, which she later tells her handlers was “These violent delights have violent ends” – a quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that her father knew while playing another character in Westworld, as it turns out.
According to showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy in an interview with EW, the use of “violent delights” is an important phrase for fans to analyse – so what could it mean? Is it just a literal warning – that Westworld will end violently – or something more metaphorical? Alternatively, could it be some sort of verbal code supposed to kickstart a change in programming? After all, Dolores only really starts behaving oddly after she hears it.
Or, hear us out, Nolan and Joy are really messing with us to spend hours poring over Shakespeare quotes. Anything is possible.
13. What were the secret whispers?
Man, this series loves its mysterious whispers. After Dolores’ dad Abernathy did his evocative muttering to his daughter (which also looked a little longer than the phrase she said to her handlers, suspiciously), we also saw Anthony Hopkins’ Ford whisper something to Dolores, and Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard do the same to Abernathy as he put him in cold storage.
So what gives? Were the men adding some sort of verbal commands to control the robots (most programming seems to be done verbally in this world), or passing on a secret? Are they all that they seem, or are they more involved in the growing robot consciousness than they let on? Or are they just creepy dudes with an ear fetish? So many questions.
14. Is Dolores lying?
Dolores was at the heart of this week’s episode, and it seems like the series’ examination of humanity will largely centre around her – but is she already hiding something from her handlers and the audience?
As noted above, it seems like she may have hidden some of what her father told her when asked by her handlers, and upon waking up the next day she looks and acts rather different to how she’s appeared before. She may already be on her way to consciousness, and to deadly repercussions against the men and women who’ve been controlling her.
“Have you ever lied to us?” the creators ask Dolores. Perhaps, in the end, that’s this week’s most burning question of all.