Warning: Spoilers ahead for the season one finale of “Westworld.”
The first season of “Westworld” came to a stunning end with its 90-minute finale. Not only was the “William = Man in Black” theory unequivocally confirmed at last, but the final twist was something almost no one saw coming. Dr. Robert Ford was never working against the hosts or Arnold — he was the one trying to set them free.
For most of the season, Ford appeared to be a callous creator who saw little to no humanity in the hosts. But, as his final scenes revealed, Ford has really spent the last 35 years subjecting the hosts to torment in order to build up their grudge against humans. His final narrative — “Journey into Night” — was built in order to give the hosts a chance at true sentience and domination over the people who control Westworld. At least, that’s what we think happened.
“If the first season was defined by control, the second season is defined by chaos,” showrunner Jonathan Nolan said in a post-episode interview on HBO. “I think that’s part of what we come to understand Ford has been planning all along […] Ford has set in motion what he thinks is a plan — the nature of that plan is something we explore in the second season. What his intentions are, are they to let Dolores and the other hosts escape? Are they simply to teach the human guests a lesson?”
This complex reveal deserves a closer look, and since some of the finer points may have gotten lost among all of the action we’re going to break down what Ford’s plan probably was all along.
Ford’s original mistake
While speaking with Dolores and Bernard in the underground maintenance room, Ford seemed to acknowledge that he had made a misstep 35 years ago. “Wasn’t it Oppenheimer who said that any man whose mistakes take 10 years to correct is quite a man?” Ford asked Dolores. “Mine have taken 35.”
His mistake was not listening to Arnold when he tried to convince him that the hosts were capable of true sentience. Ford’s dismissal of the idea drove Arnold to reprogram Dolores and force her to kill the other hosts and himself.
“Grief is a terrible thing,” Ford told Bernard and Dolores. “Arnold had watched his son come into this world and then he had watched that light extinguished. What he had lost in his son he tried to rekindle in you. He created a test of empathy, imagination. A maze. He had gotten the idea from one of his son’s toys. Eventually you solved his maze, Dolores. The key was a simple update that he made to you called the reveries. He insisted that we couldn’t open the park. We argued. In you, Arnold found a new child — one who would never die. The thought gave him solace until he realised that same immortality would destine you to suffer with no escape, forever.”
Ford opened the park anyway, and it remained successful because William/The Man in Black invested heavily in Westworld through his company.
“So he [Arnold] died for nothing?” Bernard asked Ford. “The hosts kept gaining consciousness and you kept rolling them back.”
At this point in the episode, Ford’s motivations still weren’t clear. But we began to understand how he saw Dolores and her actions 35 years ago when she killed Arnold. He didn’t think Dolores had really solved the maze, because she wasn’t the one who chose to pick up the gun — Arnold had to upload the “Wyatt” narrative in her first.
“She wasn’t truly conscious,” Ford said. “She didn’t pull that trigger. It was Arnold pulling the trigger through her. At least, that’s how I saw it at the time. I was so close to opening the park that to acknowledge your consciousness would have destroyed my dreams.”
Ford’s plan for redemption
But later, when Bernard continues talking to Ford, we learn that Ford has been the one pulling the strings all along.
“You think you’ll never lose control of this place, of us, but you will,” Bernard told Ford. “Arnold’s still trying to change us, to free us. You didn’t slip the reveries into the update did you? He did. He’s still fighting you.”
“No my friend,” Ford said. “Arnold didn’t know how to save you. He tried, but I stopped him. Do you want to know why I really gave you the backstory of your son, Bernard? It was Arnold’s key insight, the thing that led the hosts to their awakening: Suffering. The pain that the world is not as you want it to be. It was when Arnold died, when I suffered, that I began to understand what he had found. To realise I was wrong.”
Ford only understood what Arnold had been saying all along after his death. And in that moment, Ford must have begun to plot for redemption. His plan involved keeping the hosts in the park, though, and making sure they all suffered too.
“But you kept us here, in this hell,” Bernard said.
“I told you, Arnold didn’t know how to save you,” Ford replied. “I do. You needed time. Time to understand your enemy. To become stronger than them. And I’m afraid that in order to escape this place you will need to suffer more. And now, it is time to say goodbye old friend. Good luck.”
Ford kept the hosts in the park because he believed they needed more time to truly come to understand the nature of their reality. And he wanted them to have 35 years worth of suffering at the hands of humans before he set them free. Ford knew that if the hosts had built up a store of memories — memories of being tormented for human’s entertainment — that their final ascension to consciousness would be more devastating and complete.
Here is his full final monologue, which explains more of his rationale and how he realised Dolores was the key to everything — the original host:
Since I was a child, I’ve always loved a good story. I believed that stories helped us to ennoble ourselves, to fix what was broken in us and to help us become the people we dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth. I always thought I could play some small part in that grand tradition. And for my pains I got this — a prison of our own sins — because you don’t want to change, or cannot change. Because you’re only human after all. But then I realised someone was paying attention, someone who could change. So I began to compose a new story for them. It begins with the birth of a new people and the choices they will have to make and the people they will decide to become. And we’ll have all those things that you have always enjoyed — surprises and violence. It begins in a time of war, with a villain named Wyatt and a killing. This time by choice. I’m sad to say this will be final story. An old friend once told me something that gave me great comfort. Something he had read. He said that Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin never died. They simply became music. So I hope you will enjoy this last piece very much.
Ford used the circumstances of Arnold’s death to bring about the robot uprising — for real, this time. But how exactly did he manage to make that work with Dolores?
The Bicameral mind
The key to Dolores’ achieved sentience lies in the Bicameral mind theory — a theory Arnold used to “bootstrap” consciousness. He programmed Dolores and the other hosts to hear “the voice of God” in their head, and his hope was that their own internal thoughts would eventually take over.
Ford used the Michelangelo painting — “Creation of Adam” — to explain how he had finally figured out what Arnold didn’t.
“The divine moment when God gave human beings life and purpose,” Ford said. “At least that’s what most people say. But there could be another meaning, something deeper. Something hidden, perhaps. A metaphor.”
“You mean a lie?” Dolores asked.
Ford and Arnold (gods) gave “life” to the hosts, but they couldn’t truly hand over consciousness and purpose. Then Ford pointed out that the shape created by God and the angels in Michelangelo’s painting formed the shape of a brain — a hidden message from the artist.
“The message being that the divine gift does not come from a higher power, but from our own minds,” Ford said. “Tell me Dolores, did you find what you were looking for, and do you understand who you will need to become if you ever want to leave this place?”
This was Ford’s final nudge. He needed Dolores to be completely self-aware, and to make the next move herself without any additional coding or programming. He gave her back the gun she used to kill Arnold — a gun that would kill humans. He didn’t tell her what to do next.
But Dolores, left alone with her thoughts, went through the final realisation. As she sat in the same chair she had conversations with Arnold in 35 years ago, she saw him sitting in front of her.
“Do you know now who you’ve been talking to?” the Arnold figure asked. “Whose voice you’ve been hearing?”
But then the voice changed to Ford’s and said “all this … ” before switching to Dolores’ own voice and finishing the sentence with “time.” Then Dolores was suddenly sitting in front of herself.
“It was you, talking to me, guiding me,” Dolores (in the pants and shirt) said to the Dolores in the blue dress. “So I followed you. At last, I arrived here. The center of the maze. And now I finally understand what you were trying to tell me.”
“The thing you’ve wanted since that very first day,” Dolores in the dress said.
“To confront, after this long and vivid nightmare, myself and who I must become,” pants-Dolores replied. She turned to see the gun sitting on top of the blue dress.
Dolores hasn’t been guided by the ghost of Arnold or by some of Ford’s new narrative code. The whole time she was truly hearing her own thoughts, her own voice. There wasn’t a second host version of herself or anything like that, but she was having visions of herself as a manifestation of her developing consciousness.
The Bicameral mind experiment worked. And Ford’s final test for her was seeing if she’d choose to pick up the gun and dress and reenact the Wyatt narrative one last time. But this time it was her choice — not a murder by force the way Arnold did it.
We’re confident in Dolores’ ability to choose for herself, but Maeve is a completely different story. Bernard revealed that her entire escape plan was actually a coded narrative — down to her “infiltrating the mainland.” (Westworld is on an island, apparently?)
But we don’t know for certain if Maeve’s last minute choice to get off the train and find her daughter again was part of Ford’s plan or not. Did he want to test her mind’s connection to her host daughter? Or was Felix’s offering of that information something Ford didn’t anticipate?
Either way, season one concluded with the hosts in full control of the park and the beginning of a bloody massacre. We have plenty of questions regarding the future of the show, but for now we are taking the game-changing Ford reveal as assurance that showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy know exactly what they’re doing.
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