Intro and Laying Out of the Themes of Westworld

This marks the debut of Deconstructing Westworld, a series of essays that will explore the themes, characters, and world of the HBO show, Westworld. For this first piece, I want to put forward some questions and themes to explore from the premiere episode “The Original”.

But before that, let me explain how I will deal with spoilers. You should assume that each essay will contain spoilers for all episodes released prior to the publication date of the essay. I will include this warning at the beginning of each piece. I thought about how to deal with spoilers and decided that trying to restrict each essay to a certain set of episodes would be too difficult, especially because most of the time I will be writing about broad themes that span several episodes and, later, more than one season (i.e. I will not do per episode analyses. Other sites are great at that). And now, on to the themes.

The theme of agency is significant in the show. Who has agency and who bestows agency? For example, Dolores is under the control of her programming and at the mercy of the Man in Black in the first episode. She lacks control of her own life and is severely abused. But by the end of the episode, it is made clear that she has “woken up” when she kills the fly that lands on her neck; she has gained agency. The theme of Dolores’s agency will be the subject of a forthcoming essay. We also witness Old Bill zipping himself into a body bag when Dr. Ford gives a command; humans have ultimate control over the life and death of the hosts.

The idea of “waking up” is interesting. We witness several characters waking up, both in Westworld and in the company diagnostic center. Waking up and dreaming are both literal and metaphorical, and will likely play a large role throughout the show.

Two recurring motifs are the fly and milk. What functions do they have in the show? The fly is particularly interesting, as it appears in other stories, most notably Breaking Bad. We may speculate from the first episode what they might mean, but I will probably wait to write an essay until we see more instances of these two.

The blurring of reality is another theme that will be explored here. It starts with Teddy appearing to be human until he is killed by the Man in Black partway through the episode. The nature of physical reality (What is real? What is human?) is an obvious theme ripe for analysis and will likely be a long essay released after the end of the first season.

Shakespeare. Shakespeare appears via the first Peter Abernathy. Why does Peter quote Shakespeare? Is it because he is playing a recording from his previous builds, as Dr. Ford concludes? Was he trying to threaten his creators and used Shakespeare for dramatic effect? This theme will hopefully reappear and we can analyze how the writers incorporate Shakespeare into this world. Westworld itself is a kind of play, a “stage” with “actors” with roles to play. Shakespeare in relation to Westworld will be a fun theme to write about, assuming it reccurs in forthcoming episodes (I think it will).

Dr. Ford’s speech on human evolution was predictable and a common theme in robot stories. I will need to do more background research to do this topic full justice in an essay, but I will eventually write about evolution and “passing the baton” to our synthetic successors.

Those are some of the big themes that emerged from the first episode. I will not even try to keep up with the show with my writing; there is so much to write about that it will keep me busy while the show is running and also in between seasons. If you have a theme or question worth exploring, tell me about it on Medium or on Twitter: @garrekstemo.