Throughout the entirety of Westworld’s first season, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is portrayed as the meticulous, fastidious, indefatigable guiding force of the park and its staff both, the individual who may tend to skew to the reclusive side of the personality spectrum, but who nonetheless is always watching, waiting. If this description sounds vaguely predatory, that’s certainly not coincidental, as showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have thoroughly intertwined Ford’s characterization with elements of the destructive and, quite possibly, the deranged; a man who never leaves a fully fabricated reality, and who prefers the company of compliant androids as opposed to unruly, sentient human beings, smacks of a certain amount of mental instability.
Despite the ambiguity of his presentation, motives, or, indeed, his behavior, there is one constant that viewers are meant to walk away with week in and week out: his brilliance. After all, he’s responsible for every building and blade of grass in the park, as he’s fond of reminding nearly everyone around him, and this doesn’t even mention his having created the vast majority of Westworld’s hosts (yes, his long-dead partner, Arnold Weber [Jeffrey Wright], might have been responsible for 47 of the first generation’s 82 robots, but that was some 35 years ago, and there have been many, many more since).
What if, however, all of it is just as much of a lie as Bernard Lowe’s (Jeffrey Wright) self-identity as a human being? What if his façade is just as elaborate – and just as misleading – as Westworld’s immaculate vistas?
What if he isn’t responsible for having fashioned the immense park, and he is, instead, stealing all the credit from the conveniently-gone Arnold?
The case for
There aren’t, admittedly, nearly as many clues pointing us to this conclusion as for, say, the relationship between the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and William (Jimmi Simpson), but this is Westworld, and greater reveals have been made with slimmer breadcrumb trails. Dr. Ford’s constant refrain of being the master of his world, the God who giveth and taketh at will, is actually one of the biggest (hypothetical) tells; as Robert Pirsig noted in his legendary Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, an individual never goes around constantly saying the sun is going to rise tomorrow – he only obsessively fixates on those things that he’s secretly unsure of.
Then, of course, there are the constant references to Arnold, how his personally-designed hosts seem to incessantly hear his voice and obey his (typically-against-Ford’s-divine-will) commands. Taking it one step further, Bernard even accuses Robert to his face of taking the credit for designing all of the hosts’ minds when it was really, in fact, the late – and great – Dr. Weber. In the gospel according to Bernie, it is merely Ford who swept in and issued the Ten Commandments of restricting the androids’ artificial intelligence, preventing them from ever becoming sentient, after Arnold did the hard work of creation and had already taken his Sabbath.
Finally – and, arguably, most damningly – Ford is not able by himself to refine the hosts’ emotional development to a finer and more nuanced level; his level of programming only allows them the “primary colors” of psychological development, rather than being able to paint in all the shades in between. It is only through the creation of Bernard – who is himself modeled almost completely on that mischievous Arnold – that he’s able to develop the code necessary to reach his own existential targets. While it’s not unusual to see various artists or, indeed, scientists pair up in order to maximize their handling of their chosen material, it does seem to be, at the least, striking that Ford’s own hobbled marionette should be able to better handle all the other puppets in the room.
The case against
Dr. Robert Ford has displayed a finesse in handling the hosts’ behaviors or shaping their code several times throughout the series thus far, perhaps most notably when discovering a way to have Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) be able to be put in “sleep mode” after having watched the Man in Black mercilessly gun down her daughter – and defy her mortal wounds in the process. (His workaround? Using Arnold’s bicameral-mind setup to reroute certain parts of her consciousness.) He’s been able to seamlessly weave the new Wyatt storyline in across the entire park and all of its denizens, which is no small feat in and of itself, and he consistently demonstrates a keen understanding of human psychology, generally, and his guests’ mentalities (what they want out of their experiences in Westworld), specifically – the cornerstone of all of his technical acumen.
But all of this is essentially nothing compared to his creation, insertion, and constant monitoring of his unlisted hosts, most notably Bernard Lowe (and, quite possibly, Charlotte Hale [Tessa Thompson], the executive director of Delos’s board, whose potential reveal as an android in tonight’s finale would be a whole new level of mastery, even for Ford). The fact that Bernie has been the head of Westworld’s Behavior Department for the past 30 years, if not longer, without anyone having suspected a thing – and, indeed, for Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) to even have a prolonged romance with him – is spectacularly impressive, and is an accomplishment that wouldn’t be possible by simply repeating Arnold’s code, no matter how impressive it may have been.
There is one last piece of evidence that could confirm Ford in all of his grandiose claims of invention and ownership, but it’s also, of course, the most tenuous at the moment. When introducing his “reveries,” those astonishingly human-like gestures that are only made possible by allowing the robots to have access to their previous memories, Ford opened the door, whether wittingly or not, to having the hosts be susceptible to Arnold’s signals once again. And, indeed, the possibly dead Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) discovers an old data relay hidden away in a corner of the park which is doing precisely that – issuing a series of commands in Arnold’s name, altering Westworld’s mechanical inhabitants in possibly fundamental ways. Should this be revealed to be a one-two punch orchestrated by Ford directly, it’s hard to refute his mantle as the true creator and purveyor of the whole synthetic world.
The lingering suspicions and elaborate conspiracy theories will be laid to rest tonight in (the appropriately-titled) “The Bicameral Mind,” but there’s plenty of discussion to be had until then – and even afterwards, as Westworld isn’t likely to leave all of its narrative ducks neatly in a row. Be sure to sound off on what you think is really going on behind the scenes in the comments section below.