Westworld is the season’s most popular HBO smash hit, with co-producers J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan combining the best of dystopian science fiction, insights into the human psyche, and moral quandaries of artificial intelligence. Equal parts Memento and Lost, the show features an award-winning cast led by the deific Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the park’s co-creator and Director.
Dr. Ford quickly becomes the most pivotal character in the show as his dominion over Westworld is gradually revealed over the course of the first season. His utter control of the “hosts” (the robotic population of Westworld) is frightening to say the least. Most of the Westworld fandom agrees that he is undoubtedly the villain of the show.
He kills more than one person caught snooping around his work in the first ten episodes of the show. He maintains an almost oppressive hold over everything and everyone in Westworld. But I still think he is the protagonist.
Here’s why Dr. Ford is Westworld’s secret hero:
Killer with a conscience. A lot of fans cite Ford’s supposed “bloodlust” as an indicator of his evil tendencies. However, during the season Ford only kills two other characters, both of whom represent direct threats to his control over the park. Now, that might sound sinister on the outside. But Ford is struggling against Delos, the company that owns the park, to preserve its legacy. Delos wants to remove Ford from power so they can destroy Westworld’s foundations in the name of cheap, lucrative entertainment. Ford isn’t trying to play God – he just wants to preserve the park’s integrity through any means necessary.
Automaton amnesia. Ford’s creation of Bernard, a robotic effigy to his fellow co-creator Arnold, also shows that Ford cares for his hosts. Bernard is not aware that he’s a host, and his memory is wiped – twice – when Ford orders him to kill people. Ford has no reason to wipe Bernard’s memory – he controls Bernard’s ability to speak out against him – but he cares enough about his creation’s emotional affect to offer oblivion at considerable risk to himself.
Savior complex. Ford retraces Arnold’s path to host consciousness, resulting in a last heart-pounding moment of self-sacrifice where he allows Dolores, the original host of the park, to shoot him. While it was crucial for Dolores to choose to pull the trigger, she didn’t necessarily have to shoot Ford. Her conscious awakening was only contingent upon her making a decision for herself. As a true villain, Ford might have had Dolores shoot a Delos representative instead. But his choice to sacrifice himself shows that he has fully embraced the concept of a host rebellion. Related to that….
Setting the hosts free. Now, this may not be official. It’s obviously still in the works. But we can all agree that Dolores will most likely be the catalyst for a host revolution against the humans who have mistreated them for thirty-five years. This will almost inevitably lead to a closing of the park – which so many fans would say is the opposite of what Ford wants – and yet he initiates it, because he wants the hosts to be conscious. He gives up both his life and his creation to give the hosts autonomy.
In a show in which every character seems morally ambiguous, it might be easy to pin the role of “villain” on the guy controlling everything behind the scenes. But I see Ford as the savior of Westworld and a powder keg that will blow open an epic Season 2. If you haven’t yet, check out the show and read other opinions online!