After watching the first episode of Westworld (opens in new tab) I have SO many questions. Questions about ethics, questions about AI, questions about how HBO have made another goddamn amazing TV show (seriously, statistically speaking it’s impressive), and I need answers! Below is every bizarre question that ran through my mind while watching the first episode of Westworld, and I’ve even attempted to answer them as well. If someone actually knows what’s going on though and wants to let me know, that would be great.
1. Do the Hosts really have free will?
If you’re thinking, ‘Well, yeah, duh. That’s what the whole show is about’ - hear me out. There’s obviously something going on with the Hosts, especially certain ones who seem to be ‘awakening’ from their previously pleasant enslavement, but most are still trapped by their narrative loops. Yes, they make decisions like which guests to talk to and which stories to embark on, but is being able to choose between limited options really having free will?
Philosophy isn’t my speciality, so rather than guess, I asked an actual philosopher and ethicist, Dr James Wilson, who actually said, the Hosts’ ‘limited’ decision-making skills aren’t that different from our own. “We often like to think that we could change our lives radically at the drop of a hat if we really wanted to, but this may just be an illusion.” He says.
“The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer says it best. Imagine a man who gets to the end of his day at the office, who says to himself: ‘It is six o’clock in the evening, the working day is over. Now I can go for a walk, or I can go to the club; I can also climb up the tower to see the sunset; I can go to the theatre; I can visit this friend or that one; indeed, I also can run out of the gate, into the wide world, and never return. All of this is strictly up to me, so I have complete freedom, but I shall do none of these things and instead go home to my wife’.”
So while I could jump on a plane and travel to the Antarctica today (unlike the Hosts, supposedly) I probably won’t because I have work to do, and it’s a long way, and will cost a fortune. At the end of the day, we might have more free will than the Hosts in Westworld, but we rarely use so what does it matter?
2. Is it ethically wrong to kill Hosts?
This is the big one, isn’t it? Is what goes on in Westworld immoral? Guests turn up and rape, maim, and kill the Hosts for their own fun, but they’re robots so it’s ok, right? Well, that’s obviously what the people running and visiting Westworld think, but Dr Wilson doesn’t agree.
“Nearly everyone thinks that animals such as guinea pigs or dogs can feel pain, and that if something can feel pain, it is wrong to cause it to suffer simply for our own gratification. This means that something does not have to be human in order for it to be wrong to arbitrarily kill it or cause it suffering.
“The Hosts seem to have a sense of who they are, and to feel that their lives are important to them; and it would also appear that they can feel what seems to them like pain. Their inner life seems much more complex than that of a dog or a guinea pig.”
There’s also the issue of the acts being wrong in of themselves, no matter who or what they’re being done on, not to mention the fact that someone who is willing to pay a large amount of money to ‘pretend’ to kill someone might be willing to do it in ‘real life’ too.
3. Where is Westworld?
So this is less an ethical question and more of a practical one. Where is Westworld? It’s obviously very big and one of the characters in the premiere talked about ‘rotating home’ so it’s probably quite far away from civilisation. Personally, I think it’s a completely artificial environment that’s kept underground. I’m afraid that sunrise isn’t real, people.
Think about it. Even if the company found a big enough area of land for the park to occupy and paid for planes to not fly over etc, there’s still too many variables to consider. What a stray cow wandered into the park? Ok, that might not cause a huge issue, but you see what I mean. One thing that’s been clear from the start is that the ‘puppet masters’ of Westworld like control, and if the park is out in the open, they can’t control it.
It turns out showrunner Jonathan Nolan agreed as he revealed to EW (opens in new tab):
So the idea is that most of the facilities are underground. We sort of pictured a 100-story building skyscraper that goes down instead of up, which for us was also a visual metaphor for the age of the park. When you’re in the older portion of it [far below the surface], the cold storage, it has been clearly repurposed from something that used to be more grand. The more functional bloody aspects of host maintenance are literally down further on the totem pole and when you get to the top of the mesa structure – that pool area you see in the episode – that’s a detox area from people coming out of the park.
4. Is The Man in Black a guest or a Host?
It doesn’t take long to realise that Ed Harris’ character - named as only The Man in Black - isn’t a good guy in the season premiere of Westworld. The more important question is; is he a guest or a Host?
In the original movie, his character is a rogue Host who’s killing all the guests but so far in the TV show he’s only hurt Hosts. Teddy’s bullets didn’t effect him, the same way no guest can be harmed at the park, and he talks about it ‘being good to be back’, suggesting he’s left for a while. On the other hand, he’s also been coming for over 30 years which is a bit obsessive even for the biggest theme park fan, and his fixation with the ‘hidden story’ of Westworld suggest that he doesn’t know anything of the outside world. He does know more than the other Hosts though - you can tell when he talks to them - so could he just be a really well-informed robot that’s somehow managed to replicate the guests immunity
There’s evidence to support both arguments, but either way, something isn’t quite right. Guest or Host, this character is unique. Keep your eye on him.
5. How can the guests be completely safe?
I get why the guests can’t be hurt by the Hosts - they have I, Robot-style ‘Three Laws’ built into them - and I can understand why the weapons used in Westworld could be modified to only affect Hosts. But, honestly, what’s to stop a guest from tripping over their own feet and breaking their arm? There’s no way the makers of Westworld could create an environment that completely protects the guest from injury no matter how artificial it is, and yet, they constantly talk about how the guest cannot be hurt. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe they just mean there’s no way they can be hurt by the Hosts.
6. Why are there no Hosts outside of Westworld?
If Westworld is set in a future where we have the technology to create super realistic robots, why isn’t there one in every home? If Apple announced tomorrow they were launching a new iHost to help around the house, I’d totally get one (after saving up for years, obviously)! And if Hosts are a normal part of everyday life in the universe of Westworld, why are all the guests so in awe of them when they visit?
The only thing I can think of is that the powerful owners of Westworld are determined to keep their park unique and have therefore decided not to branch out into homeware. It doesn’t sound like a multi-billion dollar corporation, does it? So, maybe it’s Anthony Hopkins’ Dr Ford who’s holding the Host blueprints ransom. It would explain why he still has so much power at Westworld despite being of retirement age.
7. What’s with all the milk?
The showrunners are obviously trying to tell us something via milk. Let's say you could call this your dairy update. No, seriously, stay with me. Milk is a repeating theme in the first episode. When the bandits are attacking Dolores’ farm, they’re drinking the white stuff and talking about how that’s all they ever have. A later scene sees a malfunctioning Host pouring, well, milk over all the robots he’s killed, all of whom just happen to be Hosts that have killed him in previous stories. Plus, have you noticed how the liquid used to create Hosts looks a lot like milk? And there’s white liquid all over the opening credits sequence!
8. Do I refer to Hosts as he/she/they or it when writing about them?
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve gone back and forth on this one. Writing, and rewriting... For now, I think I’m going to go with pronouns.