The debate between free will and determinism is nothing new to the world of popular culture and art. It’s been one of the primary forces behind everything from superhero origin stories to The Brothers Karamazov. It’s also the nucleus around which every storyline in Westworld revolves.
And what better representation can there be than Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), an android who has finally come to understand his reality, poised to shoot himself under the command of his creator Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and begging him to reconsider? What we don’t know is if he actually went through with the act and will, in the season finale, come gunning for his potentially psychotic boss. Can he break free from Ford’s hold and write his own future?
So many of Westworld’s characters are in much the same situation, in a place of uncertainty that leaves much of the show hanging in the balance. Which is right where the creators of Westworld want us to be in the penultimate episode of Season One. They want us to wonder just what is going to happen between William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes) after the former went on an apparent rampage and now looks willing to slit his future brother-in-law’s throat to help rescue Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). And what Maeve (Thandie Newton) has planned beyond fucking an outlaw in a burning tent (one of the most eye-rolling moments in this otherwise solid series). All of this is making The Man In Black (Ed Harris) and his pursuit of “The Maze,” the plot that was most intriguing early on, seem downright superfluous at this stage.
When thinking about this episode I keep coming back to the discussion of a “Cornerstone Memory,” the implanted bit of the past that helps drive the android’s behavior and feelings. We all have at least one, and many of us probably carry a few of them around. Those are the moments that, whether we realize it or not, help make us who we are. Bernard was given the moment when his ailing son passed away. It also looks like William was given his when Logan stabbed Dolores in the stomach. For all the hullaballoo about Westworld revealing who a visitor really is as a person, it’s that one knife attack that truly opened up the previously meek gent and turned him into a savage. The show suggests that he’s not going to hang up his spurs at the end of this vacation and forget all about it. He’s going to remain haunted by this experience for the rest of his life.
Beyond the fun sci-fi element and the copious amounts of nudity throughout most of the season, It feels like people gravitate to this show because they, too, are trying to figure out exactly who they are in this world, an equation that people can spend a lifetime trying to solve. Those folks who seem to have it figured out early on, or seem supremely confident in every last thing that they do, they’re the ones that get us into trouble. Just look at that within the context of Westworld. The truly dangerous characters are the most self-assured: Ford, Logan, The Man In Black, Charlotte (Tessa Thompson). They have caused the most damage throughout.
Whether we like it or not, we need those hyper-confident people around, to play off of and to strive against. They’re the ones that help push us to make substantive changes in our lives to either reach a similar plateau or at least serve as an example as how not to be. That conflict is what’s going to make the season finale of Westworld a doozy, with copious amounts of blood being spilled and lives changed forever as the strivers seek higher ground and the folks with their hands on the reins attempt to maintain control. Start placing your bets now as to who will survive and who will be victorious by the time the final hour of Season One grinds to a halt.
Robert Ham is an arts and culture journalist based in Portland, OR. Read more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.