HBO’s Westworld is draped with the trappings of the horror, action adventure, and Western genres, but it’s best understood as a mystery. The show doesn’t exactly have a coherent, unified plot so much as a tableau of vignettes and characters whose interconnectedness is only vaguely clear. The more that the show reveals about its setting, the less straightforward it all is.
This uncertainty is compounded by the very premise of the show as well as its open-ended universe (which essentially puts patrons into a video game). Anything is possible in Westworld. Anything could also be a simulation. This can make it somewhat tricky to understand exactly what’s happening at times, and Westworld has a fairly tenuous attachment to its source material, which makes it perfectly ripe for outlandish theorizing.
[SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, OKAY? OKAY.]
Perhaps the most coherent plot line so far is the Man in Black’s quest to find the center of a mysterious maze (how’s that for coherent). His motivations and history are unclear, but viewers do know that he’s been a fixture at Westworld for over 30 years, and has some vaguely defined carte blanche in the park (bullets have no effect on him). There are a great many theories about who he is (Arnold, the park’s co-creator! A robot! Arnold’s son!), but the most intriguing one is that he is either William or his friend Logan.
William and Logan arrive at Westworld in Episode 2, to a slightly different version of the park than is portrayed in other storylines. This theory goes that William is the Man in Black, but 30 years in the past. He conspicuously chooses a white hat when he arrives at the park, which would be an obvious bit of foreshadowing that something must have happened in the intervening 30 years that remade his character. William has recently opened up and taken an interest in bounty hunting, and the show has hinted that there was a catastrophic failure 30 years in the past.
Additionally, as a fan pointed out on Reddit, William arrives in a Westworld that has a different logo from the park of the “present day storyline.”
William and Logan’s storyline lines up roughly with the main plot from the 1973 Westworld movie, where two newcomers show up, get drunk a bunch, then try and fight off a robot uprising and a self-aware Yul Brenner. A straight up “Robots become sentient, wreak havoc,” plot would be a pretty boring reveal for Westworld, but as a creation myth, it’s a lot more enticing. Perhaps William survived the uprising and helped the park’s creators restore order. This would explain why he’s allowed freedom of the park and why he’s so invested in finding out the truth at the heart of it.
There is a gaping hole, however, in this theory. At the end of Episode 3, the seemingly self-aware android Dolores wanders off from her pre-planned loop, and encounters William’s camp in the woods after violating her programming and murdering a would-be assailant. But Dolores does not become self-aware until after the Man in Black rapes her in the present in Episode 1, which would seem to make it impossible for William to be in the past.
Vanity Fair considered but wrote off the theory entirely after Dolores wandered into the camp. But if William is theoretically going to encounter and put down a robot uprising, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Dolores to start that uprising, especially since she’s the android who’s clearly tracking towards sentience faster than anyone else. Right before she kills the robber in the “present,” she is beset with visions of the past overlaid on the present. Her new father is switched out back and forth with Abernathy, the original father figure who was decommissioned in Episode 1. Perhaps she skipped off her loop 30 years before, and there are multiple timelines in play. Maybe she killed the robber before.
It’s a pretty goddamn outlandish theory, and would mean the show committing to multiple timelines, a hallmark of J.J. Abrams’s LOST, who is also an executive producer on Westworld. I wouldn’t be surprised if it all falls apart in a pile of shit next weekend, but such are the mysteries of Westworld. A more plausible theory: Bernard’s a robot.
The bespectacled scientist has spent most of his screen time grilling Dolores about the limits of her budding consciousness. As the show revealed last night, the park had a second founder, a man named Arnold who tried to give the androids a sense of consciousness, possibly because of a great tragedy in his own life. Ford, the current head of Westworld, was opposed to Arnold’s drive to make their robots conscious, and gives Bernard a cursory answer when he asks about what happened to Arnold.
Bernard also has a tragic history, and the show revealed it more or less simultaneously to Teddy, the bounty hunter in love with Dolores, acting on a totally contrived backstory of his own. The meat of this theory posits that Bernard is a clone of Arnold, that his quest to find consciousness mirrors Arnold’s, and that he and Ford are locked in a philosophical struggle regarding exactly how human their androids should be. The repeat instances of Bernard acting as a voice inside various characters’ heads also seems to indicate some connection to the park’s creation.
Bernard and Ford’s scenes are all battles with Ford winning each scene. Bernard cares for the hosts, and Ford cuts them on the face without a second thought. The white/black dichotomy is evident throughout the show, and here it is again, with respect to the two characters.
Ford mentions to Bernard in the first episode, “You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil.”
He is speaking directly to Bernard’s desire to play god, whereas his opposition is the devil, Ford himself. Ford’s new narrative appears to be one of terror and horror, just as Bernard is raising the consciousness of Dolores. If this all holds, I believe that Ford killed Arnold, leaving only his clone, Bernard, behind. Bernard’s understanding of consciousness and his voice being the voice of god inside each host allows him to create hyper-realistic individuals. The end goal of the devil/Ford would be to replace Bernard/Arnold’s voice with his own, perhaps in a bid to replace each guest with their host clone in the real world.
As the author of this theory points out, “Bernard Lowe” is also an anagram for “Arnold Weber,” which is silly and compelling, and also we have no idea what Arnold’s last name is, but also totally believable.
There are plenty more theories out there, if you’re so inclined. With all signs pointing towards the mysteries of Westworld’s universe only growing more complex, there will be no shortage of insane fan theories anytime soon.