[Warning: Spoilers for Season 1 of Westworld follow, obviously. But as a bonus, there will also be spoilers for Season 2 of Mr. Robot and Season 6 of Game of Thrones.]
If you've watched the last three episodes of Westworld, there's a good chance that your skull is shattered after all the mind-blowing revelations unloaded on us. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a robot! We've been watching different time periods this whole time! Bernard is Arnold 2.0!
But some of you, particularly those of you out there who are internet-literate, may have seen all those twists coming. Westworld, like so many shows these days, has fallen victim to the World Wide Web's propensity for utter dissection of "mystery" shows. Online sleuths (or joyless spoiler hounds, take your pick) have taken crackpot theorizing to a new level, unloading so many potential theories that it's almost mathematically impossible for some of them to not be right.
Sites like Reddit become thinktanks for fans who enjoy solving the puzzles showrunners throw at them each week, and Westworld is the target du jour. Bernard as a robot? Postulated after the pilot. The dual time periods? Figured out during the pilot. Bernard = Arnold? That happened almost as quickly as Arnold could first be mentioned.
There's currently a debate going on about whether viewers who race to figure things out before the show can reveal them are watching TV the right way and if they're spoiling the experience for everyone else. And the fact that Reddit nailed just about every reveal starting with Westworld's seventh episode (when Bernard was shown to be a robotic "host" all along) well before the series had a chance to show us almost became more logs on the fire for the "you're watching TV wrong" side of the debate. I'm not here to make a case for either side. But here's the thing: Those episodes of Westworld were still great -- even though many of us knew what was coming -- because Westworld has figured out how to manage twists and secrets where other shows have not.
Let's look at the example of learning that Bernard was a host. I've been thinking about it for some time now and even put it down on paper at one point, and it was one of the long-running theories popular online. So when Bernard didn't see that door going to Ford's secret lab and nearly blew a circuit when he saw diagrams for Bernard-bot, it shouldn't have been as impactful as it was because many of us knew it was coming, right? If you think your mom got you a certain sweater for Christmas because she's terrible at keeping secrets and dropped too many hints and, yeah, it turns out she did get you that sweater but presented it as a surprise, the surprise is ruined, right?
Yes, but it was the way Bernard was revealed that still kept it compelling. In addition to Jeffrey Wright's fantastic performance, it was the anticipation and the delivery that made it work. As Bernard said, "What door?" I never felt disappointed that I had been spoiled, instead I was saying to myself, "Oooh boy, here it comes!" There was an elegance to the reveal that became part of the story, and with Westworld's higher-level thinking, the reveal came accompanied with more questions.
But most importantly, the Bernard reveal wasn't the punctuation of the twist. Instead, it was the idea that Ford commanded Bernard-bot to murder Theresa (Sidse Babbett Knudsen) -- his lover -- with his bare hands that left us mouths agape. Imagine if you knew/suspected that Bernard was a robot and the episode ended on that note. You'd be all, "Saw that coming," and would leave somewhat let down. But showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy adapted to today's audience and anticipated that some viewers would figure that out, so they added something they couldn't have known: that Bernard would murder Theresa.
Let's compare that with the big reveal from Season 2 of Mr. Robot -- another show over-examined, dissected and reassembled online -- that lead character Elliott (Rami Malek) spent the first half of the season in a prison rather than at his mom's house as he had told us. Like Westworld's Bernard-bot, viewers sniffed this one out early, but it fell flat in its delivery when it should have spun our heads around. Why? Largely because the focus was on that twist and Mr. Robot presented it as a "Gotcha!" moment when we had figured it out over a month before. That was the end of the episode. And it didn't have many ramifications to the overall story other than to be in there for twist's sake. You know that feeling when someone tells you a joke you've already heard? That was it.
The same can be said about the resurrection of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in Season 6 of Game of Thrones. No one except your gullible Aunt Joan actually thought he'd stay dead after Olly (OLLY! *shakes fist angrily*) stabbed him in the gut in the Season 5 finale, and Game of Thrones tried to pretend that Jon wouldn't be back by shipping Kit Harington around Ireland in a nondescript crate guarded by secret service. But we all knew he'd be back so when he opened his previously dead eyes at the end of the season's second episode, I was relieved to be done with that chapter so we could get on with the rest of the show and the bigger question: How did death change Jon Snow? (Answer: It didn't, but that's a complaint for another story.)
Take a look at another huge Westworld reveal from the most recent episode to see how it's done right. Bernard as a replication of Westworld co-creator Arnold was a popular theory that proved true, and watching it unfold meant that there was suddenly so much to unpack in light of it. But again we see Nolan and Joy anticipate viewers doing their detective work, and not longer after Bernard is outed as iArnold, Ford makes Bernard shoot himself in the head (!!!). Maybe you saw Bernarnold coming, but you didn't see Bernard shooting himself coming. That kept the blood of the episode flowing even though we knew that huge reveal.
With the finale just a few days away, you bet your robo-butt that we'll have more twists, reveals, eye-poppers and whatever else we're calling them these days. The next popular theory about to be confirmed will almost certainly be that William (Jimmi Simpson) is The Man in Black (Ed Harris) at a younger age, and if Westworld has taught us anything it's that when it is confirmed, there will be something right behind it that we never thought of.
Westworld airs its 90-minute Season 1 finale on Sunday at 9/8c on HBO.