Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
The fourth episode of Westworld‘s first season, titled “Dissonance Theory,” was another barn-burning hour of television filled with so many details and moments worth considering that ten questions simply doesn’t feel like enough. But we have a format, and we’re sticking to it. As with past weeks, the questions raised here are rhetorical and literal, with some having easy answers, some ending in pure speculation, and others merely existing as an excuse to talk about a particular scene or character.
Why Did Arnold Go Insane?
We still don’t know exactly what happened to Arnold, Ford’s old partner who mysteriously died in the early days of the park. However, he does get name-dropped a few times. First by the Man in Black, who seems to know the vague details of the park’s history in the same way that Disneyland obsessives can name the men and women who helped turn Walt Disney’s crazy dream into a reality. And later by Ford in a conversation with Theresa Cullen. Much like last week’s chat with Bernard, Ford plays coy with the specifics, but he does offer up one interesting choice of words: he says Arnold went insane.
So, what do we actually know about Arnold at this point? We are aware that he was Ford’s partner and that he helped design and build the earliest iteration of Westworld. We know that Ford, Arnold, and the rest of their team lived and worked inside the park for years to bring it to fruition. We are aware that Arnold wanted to program the hosts with a bicameral mind that would allow their brains to become self-aware over time as the two voices communicating within their article consciousnesses began to work in tandem. And thanks to this new conversation with Theresa, we know that he had a very different vision for the park, creating “hopeful” stories that guests simply refused to engage with. And then he went crazy and died, but that scene is still a big fat blank in the narrative.
Perhaps the important question to consider here is what Robert Ford considers insane. After all, we’re talking about an eccentric here, a genius who built a cowboy theme park full of lifelike robots. You can’t have that on your resume and also be considered an entirely stable individual. I’m reminded of Ford’s conversation with Bernard last week, where he insisted to Bernard that the hosts were not real, that they are machines and should be treated as such. That seems like the sane approach to this increasingly terrifying world…until you consider the plights of Dolores and Maeve, who are becoming increasingly human as their memories come flooding back.
In an insane world where machines are learning to be human, perhaps the sanest reaction, the kindest response, the most human reaction, is to recognize that they should be treated as tools any longer and that they deserve the same respect given to a living and breathing lifeform. Perhaps Arnold, who wanted the hosts to learn and grow, was actually the sanest man ever to set foot in Westworld.
If Not Orion, What Was That Constellation?
Before it turns its attention to new and temporarily more pressing matters, “Dissonance Theory” does pause to reflect on the gruesome events of “The Stray,” offering one final mystery for us to stew in for a little while.
Elsie Hughes, having just watched a host wander off his loop, carve the constellation of Orion into his wood art, attempt to climb a mountain, and then bash his own head in with a boulder, wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on with the robots of Westworld. After all, she knows what the audience knows at this point: whatever drove him to this is somehow connected to Pete Abernathy’s programming failures from earlier in the season. But Theresa Cullen seems more irritated by the situation than genuinely concerned, choosing to put her own team on the investigation instead of Elsie and the rest of the programming team.
This bout of exposition, which seems to be setting the stage for an additional rift between park ops and programming, concludes with a very keen observation from Bernard Lowe: the constellation the host had been carving was not Orion. Orion has three stars in its “belt,” which this constellation has four.
So “Dissonance Theory” leaves Elsie with a big question mark – if it’s not Orion, what is this constellation, why was the host carving it, and what does it mean? We should also remember that the host was dead set on climbing a mountain to get closer to the stars, which should remind us that the park’s operational hub is built into a mountain, which is topped with a fancy observation platform.
Did the same force that caused the host to wander out of his loop and obsess over an unknown constellation also encourage him to seek out his creators, to climb the mountain where the gods live? Because the park’s hub isn’t just home to a Zeus named Robert Ford, but to an entire pantheon of gods who serve different purposes, command various elements, and all contribute and micromanage life in Westworld. It’s a regular Mount Olympus, hiding in plain sight.