After months of both hype and delays, it seemed like the Westworld TV series would have a hard time living up to the anticipation. The fact that it pulled it off is impressive, especially given how many questions the premiere raised. We may not know what’s going on yet, but we’re definitely going to keep watching to find out—and here are the questions we hope get answered by the finale. (Well, at least some of them.)
As the first episode shows us, the “hosts”—i.e., the cyborgs that populate Westworld, fulfilling roles and interacting with the “guests”—go about a pre-planned day, which changes based on the how the guests interact with them. However, it seems like after night falls, they wake up to re-enact the same day, Groundhog Day-style, forever.
This makes sense in that it minimizes the time the hosts are traumatized by whatever the guests have inadvertently (or very deliberately) done to them or their assigned “loved ones.” However, it does mean that unless the guests only stay for a single day, they too are reliving the same day, although they get to know what’s going to happen. But if that’s the case, why does park storywriter Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) go out of his way to “write” a massacre to explain the absence of all those updated hosts?
As we learn throughout the premiere, the guests are allowed to do anything to the hosts, no matter how violent or depraved. If you shoot an “outlaw” in the back, the next day the same outlaw is on the loose again. If you do something worse—to, say, the show’s main host, Dolores—she wakes up the next day with no recollection of whatever she might have experienced. But is there anything a guest isn’t allowed to do? So far, the answer seems like “no.”
Westworld’s guns are designed so that they won’t fire on living people (or rather, they go through the semblance of firing, but shoot no bullets). In a future that can create cyborgs that look so human, it’s totally plausible to imagine that the guns are programmed to not work when aimed at a living being, meaning if a host tries to shoot another host with one, it won’t work either, although this technically has not been confirmed. But what if a living being steps in front of a host just before he’s shot? What about other accidents? And the Gunslinger (Ed Harris) carries a very large knife with him. Seems like that could be used to hurt a guest very easily.
The area of land dedicated to Westworld seems enormous, and seems to extend at least a day’s ride in all directions from the center of the town. When the camera pans out from the town, we see several strange rock formations indicating that the land has been terra-formed in some way—not surprising, given how much work has gone into every other aspect of the park.
But the weird part of that shot is that it pans out of the town into the park’s operating center, as if Westworld and all its inhabitants were in fact miniaturized, and the park is in fact under control to the tiniest detail. Now, the Westworld disc could just be a super-advanced surveillance system, and the pan-out shot a conceit of the series to show how the staff loom over the park like gods. Also, the park staff use the disc to zoom in on the planned shootout massacre near the end of the episode, which certainly makes it seem like a screen… although it could also be a close-up overlay. Most likely, the park is life-sized and located somewhere else, but it’s not 100 percent obvious.
One really brilliant subversion of the original movie is to take the iconic Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner there, and turn him from a host into a guest. But that leaves us with the question of who Harris’ character is outside of Westworld. According to executive producer Lisa Joy, the character is “has been coming to the park for a long time. He’s an expert gamer, in the gaming sense of this world.”
She also told the Hollywood Reporter that the character has come back every year and now “he’s looking for something deeper. What it is he’s looking for, and why it holds personal meaning to him, is something we’re going to explore over the course of the series.” Which is intriguing and still doesn’t tell us anything concrete. He’s got to have a giant pile of money though, right? To afford coming to the park for days on end every year? In the first episode, he says he’s been coming for 30 years. That’s a lot of dough. That would mean he’s a big deal in the world outside the park, too.
Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright, managing to be both a comforting and unsettling presence) says that the park hasn’t had a critical failure in “over 30 years.” Given that this is brought up in regards to the hosts ignoring their programming, we can safely assume the robots then had a similar problem. However, 30 years is also around the same time Ed Harris’ Gunslinger says he started coming to the park. Is that a coincidence or something more?
The obvious answer is that the critical failure back then were the events of the original movie. The futuristic setting of the movie and the TV show are both purposefully vague, but the meta-reference would be to have the events of the movie occur 43 years ago, the number of years between the release of the movie and the premiere of the show. So that doesn’t quite match up. However…
Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) does say that a “simple handshake” would give away the hosts back then, which is an allusion to the movie. In the movie, the hosts had weird-looking hands that distinguished them. So if that was true back when things went wrong, maybe Ford’s line is a clue indicating that the events of the movie did happen in the history of this show.
In the original movie, Westworld was the last of three areas in Delos to go haywire. The other two are Roman World, which was modeled on Pompeii (very on the nose), and Medieval World, which was basically an uber-Medieval Times. Given the expense of the show, it seems unlikely we’d spend that much time out of the richly appointed Westworld set, but maybe we’ll get a coy reference to the other worlds.
Park storywriter Sizemore says that the corporation who owns and runs the park has interests beyond just making better playthings for rich people. And his supposition is confirmed by woman-in-charge Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who tells him that the park means “something completely different to management” and then says Lee’s not smart enough to guess what management’s “real” interest is. Apparently, the people in charge have something more interesting in mind than just making money. Or even inventing ever better technology.
It could just be that Dr. Ford is played by Anthony Hopkins, but there’s something really suspicious about him. The sudden outburst of hosts remembering their prior lives/roles, straying outside of their plot lines, and questioning reality seems like a pretty big consequence of introducing some new movement quirks to the hosts. If it is because of Ford’s update, it seems quite plausible that he did it on purpose. Given how brilliant Dr. Ford clearly is to have created these incredibly lifelike robots, it seems… unlikely to us that he made an error of this magnitude without ever realizing the potential consequences.
Inside the park HQ, there are levels apparently full of retired hosts, just standing around naked, waiting to be fixed, or reused, or… what? Why save them? Why aren’t the broken ones destroyed? Is it really less expensive to keep rebuilding them every time a guest destroys one? Why were they all used in different roles, rather than building a new host for a new role? Dr. Ford is watching a new host be built at one point, which means the park is still constructing them. But if they’re so expensive and valuable they have to be reused, why are there rooms and rooms full of dozens of them, hanging out in storage?
Dolores’ (host) father finds a photo of a woman in a city, half-buried under the dirt by his horse pen. The city, the cars, the woman, the photo itself—it all seems to set something off in the robot’s programming, causing him to break down, but not before whispering something to his daughter, Dolores, that allows her to start to break her programming by the end of the premiere.
How did that photo get in Westworld, and how did it get right next to that pen where it would definitely be found? Was it left there intentionally by somebody, and if so, why? If it was completely random, how had it not been found before? Why does it have such an effect on Dolores’ dad? And who is the girl in the photo?
We have no idea.
One of the last scenes in the first episode notes that Dolores is special because she’s been rebuilt so many times—because she’s been there the longest. That means she’s got the possibility for the most memories to come bubbling up, thanks to the new glitch. More importantly, if she’s been working at the park for all these years, what has she seen?
The premiere ends with Ed Harris’ Gunslinger having scalped one of the hosts, and cutting out part the top of its skull—which has a strange design on it. Is it a logo? A map? Something else entirely? And what the hell does the Gunsinger want with it?