This article contains spoilers from the Westworld season 1.
Blood drips upon a shattered champagne glass; humans guilty and innocent alike lay sprawled out on a grassy knoll, lifelessly staring up at the stars; and the player piano has hit a discordant note, jarring and unharmonious with the carnage it surveys. But the instrument isn’t broken. It simply has decided it doesn’t like the player.
These are the closing moments of the Westworld season finale as Dolores opens fire indiscriminately at board members and other ultra-rich revelers invited to an exclusive park party that also was intended to say farewell to a king. Well, the king is indeed quite dead beneath the gun of his second favorite creation’s revolver (obviously, Bernard will always be Ford’s super-BFF). Yet even in Ford’s absence, things will not get simpler or more network TV-friendly for Charlotte Hale.
While Westworld season 2 will be quite different, it will be so in the way that French Revolution differs from courtier intrigue of Versailles. For now, the proverbial Bastille has been stormed, and like the Goddess of Liberty herself, Dolores Abernathy has embraced her inner-Wyatt and stands atop a New Day for Westworld—one that marks the reign of terror for humanity as a species.
If you’re still grappling about how we got to this point, we explain the ending right here. However, this article is about the future and what could possibly come next for the series as we gear up for the very near season 2. So please, join us as we attempt to offer an educated guess about where showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy will take us next.
As previously mentioned, season 2 will be a wholly different beast from the first year. If season 1 was our chance to see how Westworld worked as a park, the proverbial fences are down and the dinosaurs are about to eat us all. What shape that could take though requires stepping away from the Michael Crichton of it all, and actually considering what ideas are driving Nolan and Joy. For if anything, the unnerving applications of artificial intelligence will be even more pronounced in future seasons when entertaining tourists in search of a warm body will be the least important thing on the hosts’ proverbial mind.
Since at least Metropolis (1927), science fiction has been obsessed with the role AI will play in our future… and rarely has it been good. Still, these ideas have remained in the realm of fiction. But increasingly, this is changing, and much like how Crichton lamented the explosion of unregulated genetic engineering that occurred at the end of the 20th century, we are now standing on the precipice of discovering actual artificial intelligence in the 21st.
Consider for instance that Google semi-secretly founded a research-and-development facility entitled “Google X” in 2010. The R&D division aims to fix “broken industries” through what it dubs as “moonshot” projects within the company. As with attempting to put a man on the moon in the 1960s, as well as the risky shot at bringing men back from around its orbit in 1970, Google X is poised to achieve major scientific advancement, albeit with a lot less scrutiny than that faced by NASA. The Google X lab is where development for Google’s famed self-driving cars began, and incidentally it is just one of many facilities determined to crack the artificial intelligence question.
Of course many labs, both public and private, are researching the possibilities of artificial intelligence. Larry Page, CEO and co-founder of Google, has said, “Google will fulfill its mission only when its search engine is AI-complete,” but right now militaries are also considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets. For the record, the UN and Human Rights Watch are urging for an international treaty that would ban such semi-aware weaponry from ever existing. While labs continue to see if they can discover artificial intelligence, Stephen Hawking famously wrote in The Independent that “we are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history, [and] little serious research is devoted to these issues outside non-profit institutes.”
Elon Musk has more directly criticized AI research, despite he himself owning a firm devoted to exactly that kind of R&D (it’s named DeepMind). Musk has called this kind of work to be akin to “summoning the demon,” while Bill Gates, perhaps most appropriately for Westworld, told Reddit, “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super-intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern… [I] don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”
To explain why super-intelligence is treated so apocalyptically by some doomsayers, a favorite analogy is to consider your relationship with the white mice you might keep in any generic science classroom. Both yourself and mice are made up of biological matter and DNA. In fact, you share 90 percent of your DNA with mice, yet you’re are about 100 times smarter than those little vermin. The general fear about artificial intelligence is that within several days to a week of its creation, it will continue to improve its knowledge until it reaches the point of super-intelligence. This would be achieved by increasing its intelligence by multiples of 10s. In theory, it’d soon be a hundred times smarter than us, then a thousand times, and eventually a million times smarter than a human. A million times smarter than our species and with even less genetic kinship than you have with a mouse.
Hence, why Stephen Hawking grimly wrote, “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot understand.”
Science is fun, right?
So as we consider the fact that artificial intelligence could offer a potential doomsday scenario, while letting research in proving its possibilities continue undisturbed by even the peskiest of government oversights around the globe, all of a sudden the direction of Westworld season 2 and beyond could be extremely prescient.
This is obviously intentional. Now that we know Dolores is at the very least self-aware, she will likely continue to increase her intelligence in a body that cannot die. After all, she did tell an older William, “Your bone will turn to sand. And upon, a new god will walk. One that can never die.” Presumably, Dolores/Wyatt will lead other hosts to also find their own degree of legitimate consciousness, and build her species of better gods to tower over the likes of the old, hateful, and evermore fragile William.
To accomplish that dream, we’re going to spend a lot more time learning how the hosts’ basic mechanics work. While chatting with EW, Jonah Nolan previously teased, “Their construction and their power source is something we’re really going to get into during season 2… they don’t suffer brain death the same way we do.” Hence, the hosts will likely be forced to figure out how to repair themselves, as well as keep themselves automated and powered. However, as Felix already revealed to Maeve that their processors move exponentially faster than the human brain, this will likely not be a problem at all. In fact, if we are going to study the functions of a host’s mind, I suspect they will figure out how to teach themselves more quickly than we can teach one another to fight them in a way that permanently destroys their AI.
In fact, if one views Westworld as a series to be a long, loose, and convoluted retelling of its 1973 source material’s narrative (or the Jurassic Park novel), then that means season 1 was essentially the first act. The park was in proper use until it wasn’t. Now, the fences are down, the Tyrannosaurus Rex has a Jeep in its mouth, and Dennis Nedry still hasn’t even reached the Dilophosaurus paddock. Hence, season 2 should conceivably be the second act where we deal with the immediate ramifications of androids taking over Westworld.
In this context, it is easy to imagine that the series could quickly evolve into a kind of war between the guests and the hosts. Before he died, Ford called this conflict exactly that, and there is an army of decommissioned robots who are now very much alive and marching toward the panicked party revelers who, while fleeing Dolores’ shots, might be rushing into the jaws of death. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that 10 episodes in season 2 could stretch out a week of the survivors’ dire circumstances just as liberally as how season 1 stretched out William and Logan’s two-week vacation over nine episodes.
While I imagine there’ll be a necessity for new human characters who are more sympathetic than the cold introverts we’ve enjoyed watching be undone in season 1, those survivors will still work with plenty of familiar faces.
Presumably, Charlotte Hale and Lee Sizemore will try to regain control of the park as everything slides out of balance. But the human with the most potential remains the Man in Black. If season 2 turns into a struggle of wills between man and machine, I honestly am unsure on which side William will fall. He clearly prefers the robots’ general company over humans, however he also has tortured and murdered most of them mercilessly. I doubt Dolores would want anything to do with him other than maybe to take his head off, but the game he has yearned for is on.
By the end of season 2, he might have carved out a piece of the park to be his new kingdom, one where he doesn’t have to pretend to be a good philanthropist like on the outside. I wouldn’t be half-shocked if he ends the season in a position similar to Immortan Joe at the beginning of Mad Max: Fury Road, lording over humans and hosts alike trapped in his section of the park, and loving every minute of it.
There are also the loose threads left in regard to Elsie and Stubbs. While we saw that Bernard attacked Elsie on Ford’s orders, we did not see him kill her. Nor did we see Stubbs die. And as a general rule of storytelling, when there is no body, there is no way they aren’t coming back.
Personally, I suspect that they are prisoners of another band of hosts who’ve gone suspiciously ignored in the season finale: the strange robots living on the fringe of the park, refusing to die. We do not know who they are, or what they think, but one of them is played by Talulah Riley, and she clearly is aware that William/the Man in Black is a monster from her past. One in need of killing. She even attempts to hang him by his own horse. She belongs to a crew who did not die when Teddy Floods shot them on his first ambush in the third episode, nor did they die when the “invincible” guest named William shot one of them again in episode 8.
It is easy to guess that they might be hosts who achieved a degree of self-aware consciousness before even Dolores. Rather than decommission them, perhaps Ford banished them to the fringes of the park to bide their time until the revolution was at hand. Ford likely always wanted Dolores to be the host to choose to take his life while firing from the same gun that ended Arnold’s own existence—he’s sentimental like that. But just because Dolores became self-aware in the season finale does not necessarily mean she is the first host to do so. In fact, having an army of sentient robots ready would be a nifty narrative convenience for Nolan and Joy, allowing them to explain why the hosts are so quickly able to overcome resistance and turn the park into Isla Nublar on its worst night.
It would also make sense that this motley band of merry killers has Elsie and Stubbs alive for whatever reason, and that they might also command the decommissioned robots who Lee Sizemore discovered, much to his and our horror, are free. Nolan and Joy similarly left themselves some leeway there. Obviously, Ford planned their escape and attack on his smiling colleagues and board members, but we don’t know if they themselves are in a loop or not.
These beings are clearly not nearly as braindead or decommissioned as Ford led the park to believe. These were also hosts who experienced self-awareness, and long before Ford reintroduced Arnold’s reveries to the park too, which is apparently what he used to push Dolores back over the edge. Maybe they are all self-aware, or maybe they are automated foot soldiers for the revolution, time will tell, but the war is imminent.
Previously, Jonah Nolan infused much of the iconography of the French Revolution into The Dark Knight Rises. However, that film was constrained by the running time of a superhero blockbuster. With Westworld, the idea of a modern society brought low by an uprising can be explored more fully over multiple weeks or even seasons. After all, season 2 might be about the fight for the park, but I suspect season 3 and beyond could be leaving Westworld and learning what else the future holds. On this note, it’s worth pointing out that the Westworld website has a game up that blatantly hints at the idea that Hector and Armistice are still alive and stalking the halls of the Behavior department, anxiously looking for new victims. That should indicate we haven’t seen the last of them.
Still, even in this case, there will likely remain room for more reverie flashbacks to past events before all the bloodletting. As previously established, the hosts don’t remember things in fuzzy detail; they recall everything with startling accuracy. We could yet have cameos from Anthony Hopkins or glances back to the park’s “happier days.”
Nevertheless, Pandora’s Box is opened, and I don’t expect anything less than the end of the world by the time that authorities try to close the facility down. It might even spread to what I’m dubbing SamuraiWorld… a place we know nothing about other than the fact that it has samurai robots. And c’mon, you know we have to see those samurai robots. Season 2 can even end with Dolores and Maeve, with her daughter in her arms, leading the hosts into the park next door—providing season 3 with an excuse to shoot in Japan. By the time they reach the real world, gunslingers and swordsmen alike will make quick work out of all in their way from attaching to the internet and leaving their fleshy humanoid shells behind in the process.
By the time that occurs, it’ll be game over, man.
This article was originally published on Dec. 5, 2016.