Westworld (HBO), so far a nine-hour game of “I know something you don’t know,” will wrap up its exasperatingly coy first season this Sunday (December 4). Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have promised that their 90-minute finale will answer many of the mysteries that they’ve set up throughout the season — chief among them being Arnold’s fate, the fan-speculated possibility that William (Jimmi Simpson) is the Man in Black (Ed Harris), and whether Ford (Anthony Hopkins) knows about Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) planned revolt. Since the sci-fi series has been renewed for Season 2 (out in 2018), here are four questions I’d most like answered before we leave Westworld.
Why should we care about any of these characters?
Westworld’s problem from the start has been its prioritization of mystery over character development — a narrative miscalculation that has resulted in us not caring about the questions that have been raised about the characters, since we have no idea how those questions affect the people (and robots) we’ve kinda-sorta gotten to know. It’s one of the biggest downsides of auteur-driven TV: Some creators ask us to be patient for a payoff in the final chapter of a season without giving us enough to stay invested for 6 or 10 or 13 hours. Westworld is arguably the most guilty of this unearned demand on viewers’ attention and time. Characters like Ford, the Man in Black, the unseen Arnold, and even the once-promising Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) are so vaguely defined that they now invite alienation, not fascination. Even with a movie-long installment, Westworld may have thrown up too many questions to answer them all satisfactorily.
What is Maeve’s endgame?
The sole character worthy of our sustained interest so far is Maeve, whose journey not coincidentally best fits a hero’s arc. Based on the two exceptionally gruesome ways she’s killed herself so far — by inviting a john to a rape-strangling and by fucking in a fire — the madame has shown that she’s got a flair for the dramatic. But we still don’t know how she wants to go about liberating herself and her fellow androids — or even, more crucially, what that freedom would look like for robots whose sense of self was made up by a computer code. As much as I’d love to see Maeve wreak havoc in Westworld’s labs, I hope the series can surprise me by showing where Maeve’s heightened intelligence takes her.
What are the other Worlds like?
The most telling sign of Westworld’s origins in the Nixon era (its source material is Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name) is that the Wild West is considered a fun zone, and not a hellishly chaotic pit where bullets and brute force are the currency that matter most. No wonder, then, that most of the visitors we saw in the first few episodes that introduced the adult-oriented theme park were creepy white dudes who wanted to play at rape and murder. (The 19th century, you may recall, wasn’t a great time for women or people of color.) Certainly all that precious robot tech could be used to reenact other fantasies, and thus help illuminate what exactly is human about humanity — a theme you’d think a story about the blurred line between people and androids would be more interested in. (In the film, there are Worlds devoted to Ancient Rome and Medieval Europe, which actually don’t sound that much better, especially if HBO’s Rome and Game of Thrones are anything to go by.) Even a couple of passing mentions by Ford or Westworld’s corporate owners would be helpful, since we still know very frustratingly little about the world outside the park.
Will Westworld’s game-play format go down as a progenitor in hybridizing TV and video games — or a failed experiment?
There’s no denying that Westworld has people talking. In fact, a big part of the show’s appeal is searching for clues and speculating with other fans about where the plot might be headed. Like Lost and Game of Thrones, then, Westworld is Homework TV — except those shows had characters worth rooting for and relationships to care about. Whether Westworld will be deemed as part of a newish type of series that requires post-watching devotion to enjoy it to the hilt or simply a castle built on the sand of hype will be decided by how satisfying the finale will be. For the sake of all the time we’ve forked over to it, let’s hope that Westworld will be worth the wait.