You don't need to know how Westworld works
For all the things Westworld has done right in its first two episodes, the show's greatest accomplishment has been what it hasn't done. In science fiction—particularly bad science fiction—writers have a tendency to over-explain. The techno-babble in much of the genre can often do the opposite of the writer's intent. Rather than immersing viewers in the world with details, things like flux capacitors and plasma fusion cores or whatever make the work less believable.
This week introduces William (Jimmi Simpson), who, along with the audience, visits Westworld for the first time. "No orientation, no guidebook—figuring out how it works is half the fun," a Westworld employee played by Talulah Riley informs William as he enters the park. Similarly, the audience is in the same position, with Westworld the series is giving us as much information as Westworld the park gives its guests.
Soon after, William enters an old west saloon, which suddenly turns into a train—a jump in logic we just need to accept. (Think about when you visit Disneyland: Does it make much sense when you walk into the Haunted Mansion, only to board a cart that drives you through the attraction—as if there's a tiny railroad within a house?) Much of the rest of Westworld is the same. We don't know the details of how the hosts work, how big the park is, how bullets don't harm guests, etc., because we don't need to know. That ruins the illusion. The perception is that this is real—for the guests, and for the audience, too.
Certainly, some of these questions will be answered throughout the series, but many of them will hopefully remain a mystery to maintain Westworld's allure.
The mystery, our unanswered questions, even a little bit of confusion are some of this show's finest qualities, which brings me to a few questions that occurred to me while watching Episode Two. How do humans know who other humans are? There's that scene where William's bro Logan screams at a random passerby. How does he know this guy is a host? What if he had just been a dick to another human and the two got into a fight? Certainly this happens all the time, right?
We also know that guns cannot hurt guests, but couldn't the hosts harm the guests with their hands? We see one of the prostitutes slap a guest—in the context of sex, it's fine; it's part of the experience. In another scene, we also see a host tackle The Gunslinger in a shootout.
I was also convinced that Teddy might survive this episode—that is until about 46 minutes in, when he's casually killed while in the middle of a conversation with brothel owner Maeve.
Speaking of Maeve, she plays a major role in this episode, as she's demonstrating some sort of post-traumatic stress from a storyline involving Native Americans (and/or The Gunslinger?) attacking her and a child. It's unclear if this is—as the programmers mentioned—a storyline that wasn't entirely scrubbed from her memory, or something else completely. What we do know is it manifests itself in what she perceives as nightmares. It seems like her existential awakening is a result of simple human error—a piece of shrapnel that was left in her abdomen, plus some shoddy programming that may have screwed up her operating system. As such, she wakes up on an operating table and plays it surprisingly cool when she finds herself in some terrifying clinical future surrounded by her neighbors' lifeless bodies getting hosed down in cages.
That's all unsettling for many reasons, but there's a bigger mystery going on here, and our violent Gunslinger played by Ed Harris is searching for it. The Gunslinger's identity is also a mystery. One park employee instructs a maintenance guy not to interfere with him. "That gentlemen gets whatever he wants," he explains. Why exactly? We don't know. Perhaps he's a wealthy investor who has paid so much money he has unlimited time and reign in the park. Maybe he works there and is tasked with finding the limits of Westworld—like some sort of quality control tester. As the Gunslinger explains, "I've been coming here for 30 years." (Disneyland V.I.P.s get guided, expedited tours of the park during their visits; in Westworld, the Gunslinger roams freely on his own, discovering the most undiscovered secrets without a park-sponsored companion.)
It seems as though guests develop some sort of obsession with the park—with the freedom they are given and the guiltless exploration of the human id the park offers. "It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct," Freud wrote in Civilization and Its Discontents. Humans require boundaries, structure, but constantly try to reject it.
Perhaps we weren't built to be allowed to do whatever we want without consequences. Perhaps we were built to seek answers that have no resolve. While it's easy to suggest that the audience is most reflected in Delores, Evan Rachel Wood's character that seems to be on the verge of an awakening, maybe we're most like the Gunslinger: searching through some sort of maze, attempting to find the deepest level of the game.
Everyone has questions about Westworld. Maybe we don't need or deserve answers.
This story by Matt Miller originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the www.EsquireMag.ph editors.