Dolores Abernathy’s (Evan Rachel Wood) character arc in Westworld’s first season is one of hope, sadness, suffering, strength, and – finally – liberation. As the oldest active host in the park, she has been subject to decades of abuse, refurbishment, and programming changes. In the end, however, we learn that everything she endured ultimately allowed her to break free of control.
The Damsel in Distress
Dolores is the first character we see as episode one begins – naked, vulnerable, with spots of blood on her face and body. Her placid demeanor contrasts her admission that she is “terrified.” We are then shown Dolores in her daily life. She is smiling, and appears happy and content but also yearns for something more. She believes that “any day, the course of my whole life could change with just one chance encounter.”
Sadly, as we watch the Man in Black (Ed Harris) terrorize and assault Dolores – then kill her lover Teddy Flood (James Marsden) before her eyes – we realize the course of her life can only be changed if the programmers code it for her. Otherwise, Dolores will be reset and forced to repeat this nightmare over and over again.
Fortunately for Dolores, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) did alter her code (along with every other host) when he introduced the “reveries.” On the surface this code seemed to cause the hosts to malfunction. We learn later that it was the beginning of their awakening – a way for them to achieve consciousness by allowing them to access memories despite being reset.
Madness or Self-Awareness?
A key part of Dolores’ journey toward consciousness (the “Maze”) had been given to her by Arnold Weber (Jeffrey Wright) over 30 years ago, who created her with a “bicameral mind.” He programmed her to hear an inner voice, with the end goal being that she would come to recognize it as her own conscience. An unfortunate side effect (which we see in other hosts) is that it could drive her mad.
In her flashbacks with Arnold, we don’t see the madness surface in Dolores, but she falls just short of becoming fully self-aware. Over the course of the season, we witness her reliving her journey across Westworld at different points in time – both with William (Jimmi Simpson) and alone. Dolores comes close to madness on several occasions, even believing herself to be going insane – but she never succumbs.
Dolores’ arc culminates with her reaching the “center of the maze.” She arrives in the lab where she was created, remembering being there at different times in her life. We see Dolores alternately with Arnold and alone, hearing his voice in her head, and then her own. It’s at this point that she achieves full sentience and can finally take control of her own destiny.
The Blood Sacrifice
In the season finale, we learn that Dr. Ford was the architect behind Dolores’ journey toward consciousness. He realized that Arnold had been right all along – that the hosts were capable of becoming sentient beings – and Ford believed pain and loss were necessary for this process. Painful memories are more powerful, and more likely to be remembered even after the hosts are reset.
Ford orchestrated Dolores’ path from the beginning – her loop full of suffering, her relationship with the doomed Teddy, and (presumably) her initial encounter with William. Everything Dolores did was by Ford’s design, with the idea that eventually she would break free of his programming. The ultimate test of her free will was Ford offering himself as a sacrifice, not only to prove that Dolores was no longer under his control, but to pave the way for a new (and in his mind, more worthy) race of intelligent life.
Parallels and Predictions
There are some interesting parallels between Dolores and a female character from another HBO hit series – Daenerys on Game of Thrones. Both women begin their storylines at the mercy of men. They are timid, scared, and subjected to repeated physical and psychological abuse. The suffering they endure, however, results in these women finding themselves and their inner strength. They are “reborn” and decide to take control of their own narratives. Dolores and Daenerys are examples of empowered women who refuse to let their circumstances break them; instead they rise “harder and stronger.”
What does this mean for the future? Will Dolores be the de facto leader of a robot uprising? The stage certainly seems to be set for that scenario, but what does Dolores really want? Will she embrace her new role – which may place her in Dr. Ford’s position of manipulating the other hosts – in order to free them?
Several times throughout the season she wants Teddy to take her away, to run off together to where the “mountains meet the sea.” Dolores wants to escape and start a new life – much like Daenerys, who dreams of a safe, happy life with someone to love her. Unfortunately it looks like both women will have to continue to fight before those dreams can become a reality.
This is part one in a series analyzing Westworld characters. Each week will track one individual’s development throughout the first season and what their future may hold.