So, Robert Ford is back in Westworld season 2. It was the question on everybody’s lips ahead of the season premiere, and chatter only intensified after Westworld season 2, episode 4 - The Riddle of the Sphinx, but now we've seen him on screen, right at the end of episode 6. But he's dead, right? We saw him shot through the head at the end of season 1... so there are a couple of ways he could be back: either as a Host or a programme within the CR4-DL mainframe, which acts as the foundations of Westworld. Right now we know he's inside the CR4-DL somehow, because Bernard has literally found him there, preventing Westworld techs from regaining control of the park's systems, but is that really the extent of it? Is Ford just a sexy algorithm, or does he have a more physical manifestation?
The ‘Ford as a Host’ theory was given new life after the events of episode 4, which gives an insight into the secret research done on James Delos. See, William (the Man in Black) has been working on a way to infuse human consciousness - or at least a flawless imitation of that consciousness - into a Host body, and his test subject for the work is his former boss, James Delos. We see that it’s essentially possible for a dead human to continue living their life as a Host. Sort of.
We see in episode 4 that Bernard has - at some point - printed off a memory ball, used for storing these new types of Host personalities. They’re smaller, and red, unlike the regular, white ‘light bulb-shaped’ versions in the regular Hosts. During the flashback scene we see Bernard pick up the memory ball, and then give the instruction to kill everyone working in the secret lab. He even curb-stomps one technician to death himself. This eliminates everyone who knew about the ‘theft’ of the memory ball, and presumably contains the people who even know about the project. But who is the memory ball for? Most likely, it’s for a Host version of Ford.
We know Bernard isn’t operating under his own agenda, and he’s struggling to piece together the memory fragments he’s experiencing across multiple timelines. It’s very possible he has been given new programming underneath his own personality, a little like what has happened to Abernathy. Looking back at the circumstances that lead him to returning to the lab with Elsie, we can see exactly how Bernard is being manipulated. He was initially tasked - by Ford - with kidnapping Elise, who had discovered that data was being smuggled out of the park remotely. We’re still not exactly sure why Ford prevented Elsie from blowing the whistle on the data smuggling, unless he has an agenda for that later on.
What we do know is that Ford had Bernard abduct Elsie (in Westworld season 1) and stash her in a remote part of Westworld, with more than enough rations to survive for a few days, until he was able to return and free her. Ford knew he wouldn’t be able to free Elsie himself, so he created an imperative in Clementine to forcibly take Bernard to Elsie. We see her wade into the battle at the fort in episode 3, and just drag Bernard away. She doesn’t stop dragging him until the pair reach Elsie, whereupon she just leaves. Combine this with the knowledge that Ford is inside the CR4-DL, keeping the Westworld techs at bay, and it's very clear that he's still pulling the strings in season 2, but the question is: why?
Giving the Hosts their freedom at the climax of season 1, it seems, may not have been Ford’s only goal. He was fully aware that Westworld was way more than just an amusement park, and will have known that the memory ball work was happening in secret. It’s very possible Ford implanted a narrative drive in Bernard to retrieve a memory ball for a Host version of himself, in order to continue his work in Westworld. While it’s also possible that he’s figured out how to cure the degradation that was messing up James Delos, that might not actually be a factor. We know that the last version of Delos was perfectly stable for around 35 days… so, using the same tech, Ford could pour his consciousness into a Host body and very feasibly complete more of his work in that time.
I think it’s likely Ford is back to - ironically - destroy the work on implanting Hosts with human consciousness. Aside from the potential danger to the real world, where Hosts could escape with the park by impersonating guests, it would also run contrary to the idea that Ford had created a species or subset of humanity in its own right. In other words, Ford wanted the Hosts to be free and be themselves - he didn’t want them to be like humans and to carry human consciousness. By using that very same technology to bring himself back (to be clear Ford definitely HAD TO die to help awaken the Hosts in season 1) and wipe it out, Ford would complete his life work for good. It’s very possible he simply couldn’t destroy the memory ball technology without there being complete anarchy in the park: security would have been too high, and the DELOS board was watching closely. You could even go one step further and suggest Ford sparked the Host revolution to achieve his goal of wiping out DELOS’ tech - it’d be a delightful meta-game for him, defeating DELOS in the park and out of it. Wiping out almost all the DELOS board too, in the revolution, certainly would be a delightful bonus.
Right now, it seems clear that he's inside the CR4-DL to buy his Hosts more time to rebel and make the various parks their own. The longer he keeps the techs at bay, the more time his Hosts have to create chaos and - perhaps - escape Westworld altogether. Perhaps Ford merely embedded himself inside the mega-computer to simply assist the Host revolution after his own death, but I suspect that there's more at play than simply buying them more time. Ford wants to bring DELOS down, and giving the Hosts more time means that he gets more time too.
And speaking of meta-games: is the Man in Black unwillingly complicit in helping Ford? We know that William has been given “a new game” after spending season 1 searching for the maze. And while the maze wasn’t a game for the Man in Black… Ford has already told him - via the medium of creepy Host boy - that this new game very much is for him. At the end of episode 2 we hear the Man in Black tell Laurence that he “built something” in Westworld, and that it’s a mistake he wants to rectify and destroy. We also know that he ultimately decided to discontinue the research on James Delos, saying that men - especially bad ones like himself and James Delos - were meant to die. I think the Man in Black wants to destroy that research, and I think Ford does too. And I also think that this new game, which is meant for William this time, is the destruction of the technology that allows human consciousness to be transferred into Hosts.
Ok, then, Ford is back - at least inside a giant computer. It’s very possible we’ll see a Host version of Ford - reactivated by Bernard - working alongside the Man in Black to destroy DELOS’ secret Westworld project. The Host revolution is, in a way, a cover for the bigger stakes game being played in the background, and I suspect that Ford knew this all along and is - clever boy - still pulling all the strings in Westworld season 2. Either way... it's great to see him back.
I’m sure you have theories of your own, so leave them in the comments below and we’ll discuss them together. Be sure to check out our Westworld theories article.