Warning: The following post contains spoilers for what happened in the fourth episode of Westworld, as well as the events of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's film, Memento.
One of the best parts of Westworld — or the most frustrating depending on who you ask — is the show’s ambiguous nature.
Every episode raises questions of when the show actually takes place, who is evil and who is good, and how much the park's hosts know about what's really occurring. Just when you think you’re getting a little closer to figuring it out, another wrench is thrown into the mix.
For example, this week featured an encounter with the Man in Black that completely changes what we know about the character. Most of us have taken him at face value, assuming he was one of the show's villains, but when an unknown visitor comes up to him and tells the Man in Black that his charity foundation saved his sister in the real world, our perception of who he is changed.
"How would you even get going if you’re not allowed to remember anything?"
Ultimately, the Man in Black gets annoyed that this visitor is breaking character and ruining the fantasy experience he wants to play out in the theme park, but for the audience, it presents a whole new side to the character that we haven’t seen until now. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly to discuss the new episode, executive producer Jonathan Nolan said they were being vague on purpose, taking lessons he learned while working on his 2000 film Memento with brother Christopher Nolan and applying them to the show.
"Part of the fun is people speculating about what they’re are seeing. There’s some amazing speculation out there. There are some theories that are so elaborate and beautiful that you wish you thought of them yourself," Nolan said. "I’m a big believer in this ever since we went to the Venice Film Festival with Memento. My brother gave an interview about what he thought the film meant but stressed it was ambiguous. And afterward we talked about it and I felt from then on that the best thing to do is get out of the way of the audience and let them play with it.
"And there are some things in Westworld that are intentionally ambiguous. "
Ambiguity has played a big role in moving the story forward this season, but it was particularly obvious in the most recent episode. The conversation between Ford and Cullen about the future of the theme park and Ford’s role in it was ambiguous. Dolores’ role within William and Logan’s friendship is ambiguous, as is her role going forward. Barnard’s intentions with Dolores, and the rest of the hosts for that matter, are still ambiguous. And, perhaps most importantly, just how much the bots know about themselves and their "reality" is ambiguous.
The most important part of Westworld’s fourth episode happens at the very end. Throughout the hour, we can see Maeve questioning her sanity. She has this reoccurring vision of a man wearing a hazmat suit that she’s desperately trying to figure out. During her search for answers, she comes across a group of illustrations that seem to point in the direction she needs to head in to solve the riddle. It’s another throwback to Nolan’s Memento, according to the executive producer, and purposely examines a character stuck in a sort of asylum, trying to determine what steps to take to move forward while being entirely unsure of themselves.
"The story was most interested in how would you even get going if you’re not allowed to remember anything," Nolan told Entertainment Weekly. "How would you create a primitive memory? We’ve established in Analysis and Diagnostic Mode that the hosts have all the answers they need, they’re just not allowed to access that. With Maeve, she’s looking outward and trying to find the larger context of this world, and Dolores is looking inward and trying find the meaning of her own story."
In Memento, the main character, Leonard, eventually figured out what had happened to him and his wife. The horrifying revelation was traumatizing for the character and it looks like something similar may be upcoming for Maeve and Dolores, but that’s not necessarily why the final scene of the fourth episode was the most important. The last line that Maeve utters before grabbing Hector, a recently escaped prisoner with answers to Maeve’s questions, and kissing him is, "None of this matters."
That’s the biggest sign we’ve had all season that the hosts are beginning to realize that their existence isn’t real and the events that they’re forced to suffer through on a daily basis are pre-planned, existing as part of a larger narrative.
In the episode, Maeve relives intense flashbacks of being shot in the abdomen. Sitting with Hector in her room, she steals his knife and cuts open her stomach, discovering a piece of the bullet, and confirming her theories.
As the hosts become more aware of what’s happening, and as the Man in Black searches for the Maze that may release them from control of Ford, Barnard and the theme park’s team of storytellers and engineers, we may see an uprising begin pretty soon.
Another comparison we can make to Memento is the irrationality that Leonard had to cope with as he learned more about his situation and the hosts growing anxiety. He began to panic and his decisions became rash, even life threatening. Nolan seems intent on applying themes from Memento to Westworld, and a lack of control from both Ford and the hosts would cause just the right amount of mayhem that the show is gearing itself up for.
Next week, we’ll see Ford come face-to-face with the Man in Black and we may get some more answers about the new narrative Ford wants to implement that has the rest of his team worried. We’ll also see the return of Teddy, Dolores’ beau, and while this may be looking into things a little bit, it’s interesting to note that Memento also had a pivotal character named Teddy.
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.