It’s usually used to display confusion over an anachronistic moment in current events, but it’s also an accurate mood for how audiences felt as the second season of HBO’s Westworld drew to a close this past Sunday.
The climax of Season 2’s finale “The Passenger” left audiences wondering who would shoot Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) in the head: Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) or William (Ed Harris). The answer was the former, leaving William’s tale for the post-credits stinger. And boy was it a doozy. William, beaten, bloody, and missing a good chunk of his hand, steps from the elevator only to discover his paranoia was justified. The Forge is a dusty ruin. The only sign of life is an impeccably dressed Emily (Katja Herbers), standing in stark contrast to the decaying park. William, like James Delos (Peter Mullan) before him, is being tested for fidelity. But by whom and for what reason is anyone’s guess.
But the reveal that William has been on his loop for an ungodly amount of time — you can see him touch “the stain” on his arm as he monologues at his wife the night before she takes her life, indicating this is no longer the original timeline but a recreation — only heightens question that has been plaguing me since the very first episode of the first season of Westworld… what year is this show taking place in? Showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have played it close to vest, leaving only a handful of clues as to the nature of show’s reality. In fact, by showcasing The Cradle, The Forge, and what lay through the door to the Valley Beyond, the idea that the park is simply another layer in the Delos inception parfait isn’t completely out of the question. Have we have even been in the real world?
There are so many hints that Westworld is set in the far future. The most obvious being the hosts themselves. When Delos showcases their technology to Logan (Ben Barnes), he is wonderstruck by how far ahead of any other company Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Arnold are. Everything about the hosts, from their organic bodies to their processing power indicates a time period where technology is far more highly advanced than modern day. Then there are the smaller clues: the guns used by Delos’ team are just futuristic enough to plausible, the seaplanes bringing in supplies and recovery crews are suitably hi-tech, the portable holographic maps, the trifold pocket computers. All of it hiding in plain sight but obscured by the fact everyone still wears clothing recognizable as “modern.”
Yet, in researching past episodes of Westworld, there were two sequences that stood out to me that I missed the first go-around that hint exactly how much time has passed since the creation of Dolores and William’s reveal in The Forge. The first takes place in the season finale. Not-Logan takes Dolores and Bernard into James Delos’ core, to see who he truly is. In that defining moment, Logan is drunk in the backyard of his childhood home. James Delos pushes away his only son and, six months later, Logan would take his own life. The family tragedy distracts from the background and what is literally missing. The cityscape. Throughout the series, whenever Dolores has been at James Delos’ home, the unknown megacity has sparkled in the background. Yet, despite being in the same location, the memory of Delos’ last conversation with Logan lacks that vista. Yet when Not-Logan begins to narrate the fallout of that fateful day, the sun begins to set and once again the city is visible on the horizon. If memory fidelity is the name of the game, then that skyline didn’t exist when James Delos was alive.
Of course, that doesn’t make a lick of sense since Dolores finds the splendor of the city mesmerizing when she is brought out into the real world both by Bernard for the showcase and as a piano-player for William’s party. Which is where the second clue lies. We don’t know if Logan schmoozing with Angela (Talulah Riley) and Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) is happening at the same time that Arnold is preparing Dolores for her stage debut. Neither Ford nor Arnold make an appearance at Logan’s party and, during their argument over Arnold’s attachment to Dolores, he states “They will be dazzled without her.” Unless Arnold is referring to Logan as the royal “they” this is a different party with different investors.
But wait! Dolores and Angela share a moment the morning after Logan indulges himself on Westworld’s charms. They do indeed, but again there is nothing to indicate that Dolores simply wasn’t at both parties. And if William is truly being tested over and over again for fidelity, Dolores’ memories of being at his party could simply be part of the simulation for him.
The other indicator that Westworld has been in play for much longer than we originally thought is the file size of the data Dolores uploaded to the Valley Beyond. When the humans realize the data is much larger than it should be, it opens up the question of what could require that amount of storage. Millions of guest data should be larger than hundreds of hosts. Except the hosts do not age, and they do not truly die. Their lives are simply purged from their current builds and uploaded to The Cradle and The Forge. If the hosts had been gathering information for hundreds of years, and Dolores was determined to let them all remember everything about their existence, the file size would be enormous.
Of course, this theory does have one major hole. Ford would have to unconscionably old. But Westworld can easily explain this away if Ford was body-hopping or was not even the original Ford. Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, Westworld definitely isn’t taking place in the 21st century.