‘Westworld’ Season 1 Recap: Everything You Need to Know Before Watching Season 2
It can be difficult to remember what happened in the last season of any TV show — when that show is Westworld, that goes doubly so. Between the multiple timelines, the actors who are actually more than one character, the different actors playing the same character, and all of the people who look like people but are actually robots who think they're people, it was hard enough to make sense of what was going on the first time around, let alone nearly a year and a half later, when life and work and a dozen more TV shows have taken up whatever mental capacity you still had left to give.
So, before you settle in to begin the long-awaited second season only to find you haven't the slightest recollection of what happened, here's a recap of all of the major plot points you've since forgotten. Don't worry, it'll all come back to you just in time to confuse yourself all over again. (If you haven't seen Season 1, you may want to ask yourself why you're reading this post, but in any event, here's your requisite spoiler alert.)
One of the most difficult things to track in Westworld is which characters are human and which are hosts, the term for the life-like androids that reside inside the park. As the rules go, hosts can't hurt visiting guests, while humans can enact whatever cruel, twisted fantasies they like. This also makes it difficult to discern who's still alive: Hosts can die repeatedly, while humans, as we well know, only get the one life.
Supposedly, the robots don't remember anything that's happened to them: After they "die," they're collected, wiped clean, and reset, waking up anew the next day to live out the same pre-scripted loop. Meanwhile, behind scenes, crew members maintain the hosts, dream up new narratives, and generally keep Westworld up and running.
Given the events of last season, the below categorizations could be null within one episode, but here's where things stand as of the Season 1 finale:
Humans: The Man in Black (Robert Ford), a particularly cold-blooded guest who's been frequenting the park for decades; Lee Sizemore, Westworld's narrative director; Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), Westworld's head of security; Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), a rising star in the programming division; Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum), both Westworld employees who repair damaged hosts; and Logan (Ben Barnes), a regular guest whose fate is left uncertain (more on that later).
Hosts: Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), a rancher's daughter and the oldest robot in the park; Teddy Flood (James Marsden), her cowboy hero; Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), the on-site brothel's madame; Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), a prostitute; Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and Lawrence / El Lazo (Clifton Collins Jr.), both outlaws; Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), a ruthless member of Hector's gang; Angela (Talulah Riley), who welcomes incoming guests; Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum), Dolores' father; and Westworld's head of programming, Bernard Lowe (Jeffery Wright), made in the image of Dr. Ford's former partner.
Death toll: After it was confirmed that Bernard was, in fact, a host, Ford commanded him to kill operations leader Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), with whom Bernard had shared a romantic relationship. Ford's partner, Arnold, also died before the start of the show. He programmed Dolores to fatally shoot him, essentially committing suicide by robot. Ford later used Arnold's likeness to build Bernard.
The death of Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Westworld's co-founder and creative director, deserves its own subset, because there's a lot to unpack.
The bulk of the season painted him as a callous tech god with little concern for what humanity the hosts might have, but the finale revealed he'd actually been on their side the whole time. In order to set them free — or in other words, achieve true consciousness — he believed they first had to suffer, and spent the last 35 years giving them enough ammunition to rise up against the humans that created them and finally forge their own lives. His plan worked, but it came with a fatal side effect: In what appeared to be her first act of free will, Dolores shot Ford, mirroring the way Arnold had programmed her to kill him so many years ago.
Some fans believe Ford didn't really die, and Dolores may have shot a replicant version of the real, human Ford, but we'll have to wait until Season 2 to further examine that theory. Series creator Jonathan Nolan told Deadline "that version" of Ford was, indeed, dead, which doesn't rule out the possibility, but it seems like, for now, any Ford scenes will focus on backstory.
"[Ford's] presence will be felt in that sense, in terms of filling in a few more of the gaps about the early history of this place," Nolan explained to Digital Spy.
Viewers guessed early on that we were actually seeing two versions of Westworld — one a little over 30 years into the past, and the other in present day — and turns out, they were right. There are a number of more-detailed explainers floating around the internet, but the basic gist of it is that the timelines served two purposes: To show Dolores and the Man in Black's history, and to outline her quest to find the center of the maze.
The maze is a thought experiment dreamt up by Arnold to see if hosts could achieve true sentience. He did create a physical maze for Dolores, but it was more like a mental map: He left clues that would help trigger her memory so that she would recall their conversations and find her way back to consciousness.
Maeve also managed to find the center of the maze and become self-aware, but she did so without Arnold's help. Though we were initially led to believe that her rising rebellion and decision to leave the park were evidence of her sentience, those actions were actually written into her code. It wasn't until the finale, when she chose to stay in Westworld and find her daughter, that she was able to break her loop and act of free will for the first time.
Yep, this long-held fan theory was confirmed in the Season 1 finale. The kind-hearted William (Jimmi Simpson) does, eventually, devolve into the sadistic Man in Black. The "how" and "why" are still a little fuzzy, though we've certainly seen glimpses of the darkness within — like, for example, when he massacred an entire host army or tied up his friend and banished him to the desert.
What we do know is that, after his first stay in Westworld, he eventually became a major investor in the park, and has returned in search of a way to change the “game” so the hosts can fight back. Basically, he's tired of the debauchery Westworld offers and wants to find a way to up the stakes. Season 2 will likely delve further into his motivations, as Simpson has been confirmed to return.
Last time we saw Logan, William had tied him up, put him on a horse, and sent him off into the desert. It's possible he's still alive, though it's hard to imagine William rising up so high in the company with Logan around, especially after that stunt.
Ultimately, Logan's fate was left ambiguous. He will be back for Season 2, but that could be for a flashback. "I can tell you that I have been on set at least once already," Ben Barnes, who plays Logan, told Screen Rant in November.
Elsie vanished mid-season after being attacked by, presumably, Bernard, while Stubbs was last seen being captured by a tribe of Native American hosts. Their fates were two threads the finale left hanging, but co-creator Lisa Joy told Entertainment Weekly in February that they're still very much alive and will be back for Season 2, just under different circumstances.
“They’re finally getting to experience Westworld as guests and not in the managerial halls, but I’m not sure they’re enjoying their experience,” she explained.
A whole lot of chaos. As Evan Rachel Wood told Thrillist in 2016, Season 1 operated as a "prequel" for the series. Now, we'll be left to explore the aftermath.
"Ford has set in motion what he thinks is a plan. The nature of that plan is something we explore in the second season: what his intentions are. Are they to let Dolores and the other hosts escape? Are they simply to teach the human guests a lesson?" Nolan said in an HBO clip following the season finale. "What happens at the dawn of consciousness? What happens when you begin to actually wake up?"