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The internet has ruined Westworld

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The same community that built it, killed it

John P. Johnson/HBO

The internet is a complicated, ever evolving beast. When it comes to television, it has been instrumental in the success of certain series, like Lost and Westworld. Because of the way that the internet has allowed us to obsess, guess and talk to each other instantaneously about what we’re seeing, it has also ruined the element of surprise.

Forums like Reddit have become places for fans to congregate and discuss theories. In the moment, when those theories are possibilities, it’s exciting. The endless outcomes that could happen on the show are what drives us to flock to websites to discuss it. They’re why we listen to podcasts about the show, watch video breakdowns and read take after take.

The internet fuels our passion and infatuation for the show, but when it comes time to actually watch it, the effect of what we’re about to see is dampened. The twist isn’t as shocking as it could have been. Instead, we turn to Twitter to tweet a snarky comment about how we knew what was about to happen. While that may make us feel superior and vindicated, it prevents the actual twist from shocking us. We can’t just enjoy it anymore, because we’ve been preparing for it to happen.

The internet helped build — and ruin — Lost, and we’re seeing the same thing happen with Westworld.

Ed Harris as the Man in Black in Westworld. Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

[Warning: The following will contain spoilers for Westworld, including the most recent ninth episode.]

Over the past three weeks, we’ve had a couple of big revelations happen on the show. We learned that Bernard was a host, Dolores killed Arnold and perhaps most unsurprising, that Bernard was Arnold. Or, at the very least, a host reincarnation of Arnold. That last one was finally confirmed around 9:45 p.m. ET on Sunday night, but the theory had been floating around since the third episode — more than six weeks ago. Between then and now, fans came together to figure out what part of the theory made sense and what didn’t. The theory became so strong and bulletproof that when the confirmation came, the reaction I’m sure showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were looking for, wasn’t there.

It only takes a quick Twitter search to see dozens of comments from people exclaiming that, "the internet was right" or "the theories came true." Even those who say they love how it played out follow it up with, "we all saw this coming." There have been other tweets about how podcasts called the reveal or how video breakdowns going over the anagram of Bernard’s name and how it spelled out Arnold made this twist old news. It’s not new for people to call out what’s going to happen weeks before it actually does, but the instant access to other people’s theories is the perfect breeding ground for relentless obsession.

We used to talk about a show the next day around a water cooler at work, in cafes during breaks or during boring lectures at school. Theorizing isn’t new — when JR was shot at the end of Dallas’ third season in 1980, people around the country began talking about who could have done it. It was practically national news, and while there were murmurs of who it could have been happening in every corner, there wasn’t the same kind of access to a large amount of people’s opinions and theories. Outside of colleagues or friends, there weren’t many people that you could talk to at any time of the day or night to try and figure it out. There weren’t people collecting photographic and video evidence to support their theories. There weren’t weekly interviews with the showrunners that could then be poured over in other channels until a new clue was found.

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Westworld - Dr. Robert Ford in his office Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO
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A couple of weeks ago, I said that a large part of what makes Westworld fun is that there’s a community of people that you can talk to. But that only works outside of the show. When it comes down to actually sitting there on a Sunday night and absorbing the 60 minutes of television, it pales in comparison and that’s the issue. It’s why directors like J.J. Abrams — who also serves as executive producer on Westworld — don’t like to discuss fan theories and go out of their way to avoid spoilers from leaking. Once we know what to expect, the excitement changes from gasping at the shocking moment to feeling relief that we were right all along.

It’s not just me that feels the show’s being ruined by theories — and I’m someone who writes about it once or twice a week. All it takes is a quick look at the Westworld subreddit to see testimonials from people who are leaving because they’re not enjoying the show as much. One Reddit user in particular said that they realized if the show’s biggest theory came true — that William was indeed the Man in Black — they wouldn’t even care.

"The magic of the twist wouldn't be there"

"But today I realized that if I had never visited this sub, and was surprised with this twist whilst watching the show, I wouldn't mind it at all," they wrote. "This theory is ruining Westworld for me. If it comes true, this sub and we will have spoiled a major plot point in the show for ourselves. The magic of the twist wouldn't be there.

"I don't know if I'm remembering this correctly, but a moderator from r/LOST had said that the subreddit and all its theories spoiled the show and that he didn't want that to happen to r/westworld too. I don't want to be like that. Westworld is potentially my second favorite show of all time and I don't want to ruin it."

The comparisons to Lost aren’t new, but they’re totally fair. At some point, Lost became a show that existed to serve fans theories; feeding them possibilities that they could dissect in forums. It got to the point where ABC even set up an official forum for people to discuss what was happening. The network knew why people were intrigued with the show, and as a result, the series played into the hands of theorists instead of focusing on bettering itself.

Westworld is not quite there, but it could easily be. The show has one more episode left in its first season before it will be off the air until 2018 most likely. The theory about William and the Man in Black may be confirmed during the show’s finale next week, or it could end on a cliffhanger. All I know is that I’m at a point where if the theory is correct, if William really is the Man in Black, then I’m already bored by it. And that was supposed to be the juiciest moment of all.

How do you entertain an audience on a weekly basis when they’ve figured things out a month in advance? This is the question modern television needs to figure out — and fast.

Westworld’s finale will air on Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.