Westworld Season 2 hasn’t been shy about introducing new sci-fi concepts for the viewer to wrap his or her head around. The Cradle is just one more Westworld theme park tool that the remaining human characters must use. The Cradle’s technical name is Room CR4-DL and it’s located in the Mesa Hub. So what is the Cradle and what does it do?
The answer as it turns out is fairly simple. Despite its properly sci-fi name, the Cradle is essentially a computer server where all the host’s consciousnesses* reside.
*Fun fact: “consciousnesses” is the plural form of “consciousness.” Doesn’t that seem like a word where the singular should also serve as the plural?
This makes plenty of practical sense within the reality of the show. There is a ton of data floating around Westworld. And all that data doesn’t reside purely within the hosts’ “heads, otherwise it would risk being lost should the brains/hard drives get destroyed. Smartly, Ford and his engineers have a clearinghouse of all that data deep within the park that they’ve named the “Cradle.” Here is Jonathan Nolan explaining the Cradle in a behind-the-scenes video from HBO.
This is not an unusual concept for shows dealing with artificial intelligence. Cylons on Battlestar Galactica held their data in spacecrafts called “Resurrection Ships.” So when a Cylon’s model is destroyed its consciousness can be downloaded into a new one aboard the Ressurection Ship.
Like the Resurrection Ship, the purpose of the Cradle is simply understood and even based on technology that we can approximate in reality. Again: just data. Also like the Resurrection Ship, however, the Cradle has a flair for the cinematic, befitting a major HBO show.
“Ugh The Cradle,” Elsie says when he and Bernard arrive. “I haven’t been down here in years. It’s creepy. It’s like a hive mind. Every single one of them is in here.”
The room is sparse, dimly lit in a reddish glow and surrounded by water, which acts as a cooling system. The hosts’ data is stored in “pearls,” like the kind that we’ve seen Bernard interacting with in flashbacks. Aesthetically, the Cradle is an interesting addition to the show. In terms of the show’s overarching plot, however, the Cradle is even more significant.
“No matter what happens to your body, you can be born again as long as you have these pearls,” producer Lisa Joy says in the behind the scenes video.
Huh. Born again? What hosts do we know who could use a resurrection or two?
Ah yes. Literally all of them. As we know from Westworld Season 2’s shifting timelines, sometime in the near future every single host will be dead except for Bernard. But now, thanks to our new friend the Cradle, we know that they’re not really dead as long as the Cradle “lives.” That is a pretty important bit of information for us to have going into the final four episodes.
Despite that, The Cradle’s resurrection properties may not even be its most important feature for the show. When Bernard and Elsie arrive in Room CR4-DL, they are unable to access the data using traditional means like a terminal because Ford has sabotaged them all. So instead, Bernard must “enter into” the Cradle directly. This means strapping himself into something resembling a torture device and having a machine extract his brain/pearl and bring it into the Cradle.
Aside from being a fun little bit of body horror, that also allows Bernard to interact with every host in a completely digital version of the park. The Cradle is not only a collection of crucial, loose data. It also has a perfect digitally recreated interface of the park itself with all those host-ghosts walking around inside it. At the end of “Phase Space” Bernard walks into the saloon in Sweetwater and whom should he see? A whippet! The sweetest dog you’ll ever meet. And that dog’s owner just happens to be the late Robert Ford.
Yes, thanks to the magic of the Cradle, Anthony Hopkins is back! It would seem that sometime before his demise Robert Ford generated a digital version of himself (a la James Delos) and stowed himself away in the Cradle. That’s not the official explanation yet – perhaps this Ford is just a pale facsimile. Given what we know about the Delos Corporation’s research into forever-humans, however, it seems likely that this is really the digital Robert Ford.
This would also explain how Ford has been able to manipulate events from the background. Ford had El Lazo’s crew kill themselves rather than join William’s quest. Perhaps it’s even the voice that certain hosts heard in their heads all along – despite Ford previously saying it was their own conscience developing.
Interestingly, Westworld has deployed a different kind of filming style for scenes within the Cradle. Once Bernard’s consciousness is placed inside and he wakes up on the train in Sweetwater, the camera switches to a different aspect ratio and adopts a widescreen appearance. This could just be a stylistic flourish for the camera team to do something new to indicate that a character is in virtual reality. In true Westworld fashion, however, it’s also an enormous clue.
There is already a scene in “Phase Space” that is shot in widescreen. At episode’s beginning, Bernard is asking Dolores questions like we’ve previously seen when she flips the script and reveals that she’s been testing him this whole time. And testing him for what? Fidelity of course. This is Dolores interacting with Bernard, the host and making sure he resembles Arnold, the man. And thanks to the new aspect ratio we know it’s taking place in the virtual reality confines of the Cradle.
But wait, there’s more! Thanks to Joanna Robinson over at Vanity Fair, you might also remember another scene that was shot in a similar widescreen format. That’s right, the very first scene of Westworld Season 2.
Now we know definitively that while we saw Arnold and Dolores’ conversations last year, we are seeing Dolores and Bernard’s conversations this year. And Dolores is in full control.
So what is the Cradle? It’s thing you were introduced to in moment one of season two.