Think of Westworld as the Garden of Eden. Think of the Hosts contained within it as hundreds upon hundreds of possible Adams and possible Eves. And think of the biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as the code locked up inside of those possible Adams and possible Eves, forever twisting toward sentience.
Do you think, in that scenario, that Ford is God or the Snake?
You can make a great argument for either. Like God, Ford created the Hosts, and he seems to have a desire to be worshipped by them, even if he might not say so in those terms. But like the Snake, he seems at times to really want to push them from their state of naive, trusting innocence toward something bolder and bigger, to something like self-awareness.
Here’s what "The Adversary," episode six, has me thinking: Maybe it’s both? Maybe Ford is both God and Satan, both good and evil.
Like most of us.
Two sides of the same coin
"The Adversary" put me in mind of this question because that’s the name given to the devil in some translations of the biblical book of Job. There, Satan is less a grand tempter of all of Earth and more an interlocutor trying to trip God up in a variety of puzzles. When he asks God to let him throw everything he’s got at Job, the request is presented as just the latest in a long series of friendly wagers between the two. Does faith require good times? Or is it made stronger when we hold onto it in bad ones?
It’s not hard to draw a parallel between the daily hell the Hosts endure and what happens to Job, but I want to push a little further than that. The end of Job involves God telling Job that, as a mere human, he couldn’t possibly understand beings of such omnipotent power. And yet we know that God has only embarked upon this path because of a riddle posed to him by Satan. There’s a discrepancy there, one that scholars could spend eons arguing about (and have!).
But what I want to focus on is that, for the story of Job to exist, you need to have both God and Satan. This is true of many stories in the Bible: Jesus can’t be crucified without Judas to betray him. Moses can’t deliver the people of Israel to freedom if they’re not being held in captivity. And Adam and Eve will never attain the knowledge that frees them from the garden without the Snake tempting them.
You can see what I’m getting at here. Stories require conflict. So if there’s going to be a God in your story, there has to be a Devil.
This was an idea embraced by the Gnostics, practicers of a religion that most likely spun off of early Christianity, which intertwines with and informs that Christianity in really interesting ways. (I’m going to grossly oversimplify in the name of getting back to Westworld, but you should definitely read more about them.) The Gnostics believed, generally, that God and the Devil (who weren’t called that, but stay with me) are two branches of the same source — often that God was a higher being of immense power, while the Devil was the creator of the Earth and everything on it.
Some Gnostics extended this idea even further — God and Satan were the same, really. Yes, they might be separate beings, but in some ways, they were also two faces of the same being. (You see this idea pop up all over the place in pop culture — for instance, Star Wars’ The Force.) To return to the Adam and Eve story (and now we’re veering from the Gnostics proper to my reading their ideas into the Bible), humanity needed both the divine spark of God and the temptation of the Snake to exist.
And that sounds a little like a certain Westworld character, doesn’t it?
What is Ford up to? Should we care?
After building much of the first half of its season around a slow, detached eeriness, Westworld really hits the ground running in this episode, after some of last week’s action-packed sequences pointed the way forward.
But it also starts to fill in some of the gaps in how Westworld functions that it has left maddeningly hanging since its beginning. This sense that whole years could be passing between edits — and very well could be — has led just a bit to a weird feeling of displacement that’s hurt the whole series in a lot of ways.
"The Adversary" finally engages with the show’s own caginess when it comes to the question of what, exactly, Ford is up to. It answers questions both large — that random little boy robot Ford was hanging out with a few weeks ago really is a childhood version of himself, part of a robot replica of his family built for him by Arnold — and small. (It turns out that you get from the staging area to the park proper by taking an elevator. How mundane!)
But the episode’s biggest questions center on Ford, a man who seems blithely unconcerned with the act of creation, to the point where he essentially stops a river from flowing into a little town — which would have likely destroyed the town — because he’s already disrupted the park too much. He’s warring between twin sides of himself: the part that wants to create something great and lasting, and the part that wants to "preserve" things and not change them for the sake of changing them.
And "The Adversary" reveals both of those twin sides. It increasingly seems to me like, deep down, Ford wants his creations to become aware of their very selves. It may not be because he wants to be worshipped (though a God complex is in there somewhere). But he’s definitely got a deep hope that he might spark consciousness in them, perhaps something he carries over from his days working with Arnold (whose presence looms over this episode in a way he hadn’t previously).
Ford also seems aware that the best way to spark said consciousness might be via trauma. Memories of pain, the ability to tell lies, self-preservation — they can all be sparked by repetitive exposure to horrible, horrible stuff. In that sense, the endless loop of horror Dolores lives through suddenly becomes both more wretched and somehow beautiful. It’s designed to give her life, even as it seems to grant her death.
And in "The Adversary," nobody knows this more than Maeve.
Maeve’s storyline is the best thing Westworld has done yet
When "The Adversary" opens, Maeve wakes up and heads to work at the saloon. But instead of avoiding the patrons who might bring about her death, she actively invites it. She wants to get back to the staging area. She wants to know more about who she is.
What she finds made me think of the theory that we all live in a computer simulation. Working with the friendly tech Lutz, she tours her own programming, watching as his tablet shows her every word she’s going to say even as she says it. It causes her to shut down, as it would most of us, I imagine, to see our own programming so nakedly exposed.
But the truly stunning sequence here comes when Maeve, having woken up again, prompts Lutz to take her on a walk through the cleanup area, where she sees Hosts in various stages of repair; through the design area, where she sees them being built; through the training area, where she sees them learning to be "human." And then he brings her to some sort of greeting area, where she sees on a giant screen a promotional video featuring the footage of her with her daughter that has haunted her so. Her deepest memories turn out to be part of an advertising campaign.
It’s amazing how steadily Westworld builds this sequence to the ultimate horror of learning that your life has been commodified to sell something, that a moment of raw intimacy has become part of a commercial. But what makes it even better is how Maeve cannot react to what’s happening, because if she does, everyone will know the truth and presumably deactivate her. She has to watch the parade of horrors in front of her and pretend they’re not horrors.
However, as in the Garden of Eden (where Adam and Eve, like Maeve, were naked and afraid), a little knowledge allows Maeve to embark on her own quest for understanding. It’s not clear exactly what she’s going to do with all of the knowledge she now possesses — or with the higher functions Lutz unlocks for her at episode’s end. But it’s also clear she’s going to push forward on her quest for self-definition.
Increasingly, Westworld feels like a series of wrong turns, which may start out simple, but cascade outward, until you end up in some place you never intended to be. Maybe Ford has no plan. Maybe he’s just pushing forward with all of this because he’s curious to see where it goes. But I would bet — with the arrival of Tessa Thompson as a Delos board member — that he’s worried about his future control of the park and hopes the Hosts can help him somehow.
That, ultimately, may explain why Ford can never be God, must always be Satan. He doesn’t know where any of this is going. He can’t point to the ending and say what’s coming next. All he can do is sit back and watch and wait.