Westworld wouldn't be Westworld if it wasn't maddeningly difficult to follow. Watching the show is like flipping through a photo album presented out of order with missing pages and ketchup stains on the half of the pictures that are there. That's what it is, and I love it for it.
But seven episodes into Season 7, I still have the same question I had after the Season 1 finale: Who am I supposed to be rooting for? Westworld's puzzle-box mentality is rewarding in so many ways, but there's a bit of a casualty in the process: Almost all of the characters are lame. I don't mean in a poorly written manner (that's a thought for another story), I mean I wouldn't invite any of them out for brunch -- except one.
As Westworld careens towards its Season 2 finale with promises of minds blown and eyes dangling out of their sockets, I just want to know if I'm actually supposed to want any of these characters to get their way. Game of Thrones had a similar setup going on in its intertwined storylines, massive ensemble and overall hugely gigantic big picture, but there were plenty of characters that could double as personal drinking buddies. The Hound! Tyrion! The Queen of Thorns! Melisandre (yes, fight me)! Jaime Lannister! Stannis (go on, fight me again)! Bronn! Davos! The list goes on and on.
But Westworld is chock full of characters who serve important plot points but not necessarily themselves. Only one character, who will remain a mystery until you read further down this article, is a person who makes me think, "You know, he/she is aiiiight," and has me wanting them to make it out of this thing alive. Let's run down the major characters and discuss their rootability.
The Host Formerly Known as Dolores Abernathy
On paper, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is the show's protagonist and heroine as indicated by her Season 1 journey and the amount of screen time she gets, which are all signs of someone we should really get behind. But there are big problems with Dolores as a character in Season 2. Since she became woke, Dolores has been a single-minded monster living Bender Rodriguez's dream of killing all humans. For the first five episodes of Season 2, it seemed all she did was repeat the same speech about being able to see the truth and calling humans a bunch of jerks.
She reminds me of another HBO heroine. I have to disagree with the illustrious Maureen Ryan, who wrote a piece comparing Game of Thrones characters to Westworld characters for TV Guide and compared Dolores to Arya Stark. Dolores really reminds me of Dany in Seasons 3 and 4, or whenever it was she was breaking chains of slaves around Essos, amassing an army and repeating the same thing over and over while the rest of the story went on without her. Dolores' shenanigans are on a more condensed timeline (phew!), but we're seeing the same one-note purpose she has from episode to episode. It's softened a little bit in recent episodes to add some more layers to her character, but it's still not that much fun to watch, unfortunately.
The other thing to consider is her message: Can we really root for a robot whose purpose is to murder us all? OK, actually we can. (Humans, not so hot right now.) The problem is in Dolores' execution. Her only solution to freeing her people is violence. Compare that to Maeve, who believes hosts should determine their own fate. Did Dolores let the soldiers at Fort Forlorn Hope choose their path? Nope, she tricked them to fight for her and then had them killed after she got what she needed, while also saying some hosts aren't meant to find the Valley Beyond. Kind of hypocritical, no? Love Evan Rachel Wood, just not feeling Dolores this season.
Can we root for her? Not really. She's kind of a meanie.
Do we really know who Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is? I maxxed my brain out just trying to figure out if I was seeing Bernard or Arnold in Season 1, and now in Season 2 it's entirely plausible that we're seeing even more versions of Bernard than before. We literally just saw a whole closet full of Bernard clones, and with hosts' "brains" being as interchangeable between bodies as a Super NES cartridge, it's entirely possible that some of the Bernards we're seeing are actually different people on the inside. Have we debunked the "Beach Bernard is Teddy" theory yet? And now with Ford invading Bernard's brain, it clouds things even further.
Figuring out what the fudge is going on with Bernard has been one of the season's many highlights, but it pretty much disqualifies Bernard from being rooted for, especially since we don't know who he is and even he doesn't know what's going on. You know which character in Westworld I'm definitely not rooting for? The one who is just as confused as us or may not even be who he says he is.
Can we root for him? We all feel for Bernard since he's essentially a confused puppet who blew a circuit when he found out he was a host and was forced to shoot himself in the head, but get a backbone, Bernard.
We have our first real contender for someone we can root for! Maeve (Thandie Newton) has all the components of a character we want to see make it out of this thing in one piece. She has a tragic (albeit fake) backstory of losing her daughter, her journey from pawn to queen has been a blast, she's totally unique among her counterparts, she's sharp-tongued and she's given extra life thanks to a wonderful portrayal by Thandie Newton.
But like Dolores, she's mostly dominated Season 2 with only one directive. Fortunately, it's to reunite with her daughter, which is a more emotional, relatable and understandable motive than hanging people just because they're people. But should we be rooting for that? After all, it's just code, and her daughter doesn't even know who she is now that she has a new mother (well, had before an attack by Ghost Nation). The most difficult thing to support is that Maeve knows her daughter isn't actually her daughter, yet she still chooses to pursue this fantasy.
The real problem with rooting for Maeve is her inconsistency. She wants hosts to choose their own paths, but also controls hosts and makes them kill each other. She's unstoppable one moment, and then cowering the next. She's also given powers that others don't have, but did she earn them? How can she command others without using her voice? How is she so smart and aware but doesn't realize that her daughter is just an idea that Lee wrote for her one night? Maeve is close to being the hero we want, but she needs one small push in the right direction to get there.
Can we root for her? I won't blame you if you want to root for Maeve; she's very likable. But when she met up with her daughter again I felt nothing. As a main character, her purpose needs to be interwoven with the rest of Westworld's story, not just looking for a lie.
William/Man in Black
I'm grouping these two together since we're at a point in the character's timeline where he's one and the same and not the innocent William (Jimmi Simpson) of early Season 1 (who was worthy of our rooting, btw). The MiB (Ed Harris) is the de facto antagonist in Westworld, a black-hat-wearing misanthrope who is only out for himself. Not gonna lie, that sounds like a TV character that I like to cheer on.
But the MiB lacks what other, better loners on big shows have: a real code. Others may argue against that point, but we've yet to see any redemption arc for the MiB -- saving Lawrence's family was more about becoming Death for the Confedarados than doing a good deed -- just a reveal that he once was a nice guy who turned "bad" in part because he did a dumb thing and fell in love with a robot. And now that we know he is behind Westworld's initiative to replicate guests and the human mind, likely only for profit and not some world-improving gesture, he seems like he's only the ice cold man he's been so far portrayed as. But he's one of the characters who has a real chance to shift over to the side of favorability by the end of Season 2 if he's truly able to fix his "greatest mistake."
Can we root for him? He's got a lot of support in the bowels of the internet, but he's not quite the likable bad dude that other shows have pulled off.
Ashley Stubbs, The Other Hemsworth
Nah. What's the point?
Can we root for him? Nah.
See "Ashley Stubbs."
Can we root for him? Nah.
Oh hellllll no.
Can we root for her? She's the worst. Essential to the story, but a clear corporate lackey.
Teddy Flood, Terminator Teddy
Teddy (James Marsden) might hold the record for a host going the longest without having his personality changed all that much. While everyone else freaked out or was decommissioned or manipulated by someone else, Teddy was still the noble leading man he was in early Season 1 for a large chunk of the series. That's exactly the type of guy/bot you can root for! Until Dolores played God and transformed him into a killing machine. Oops!
One of the difficulties of finding someone to root for in this show is the characters continually change, either through reprogramming or true motives unearthed, which is a result of Westworld's preference for theme and plot over character (not a criticism, just an observation). We judge characters by their actions and personalities, but in Westworld, actions are often determined by an outside force and personalities can be altered with a swipe on a tablet. Teddy, naive little Teddy, is the prime example of this.
Can we root for him? A little bit, but not in his current state.
Robert Ford, A-Hop 3000
The mastermind behind Westworld is dead, but he's still technically eligible to root for thanks to a digital copy of Ford (Anthony Hopkins) walking freely inside the Cradle, the "test server" for Westworld where hosts' backups live in a virtual duplicate of the park. But let's face it, Ford is kind of a dick. He's taken what he believes to be true and forced it down everyone's throats. Normally his kind of evangelizing is just a nuisance, but his soapbox came with a side of mass slaughter with no room for counterargument.
Even if he didn't cause the massacre at the gala and unleash bloodthirsty hosts on Delos board members, Ford is impossible to root for because the guy can't talk in a straight line. His intentional withholding of vital information and circuitous rambling is everything that makes Westworld frustrating. Just tell us your plan, guy!
Worse still, Ford is now hitching a ride inside Bernard's mind and making his creation murder people against his will. Ford is just as much of a hypocrite as Dolores when it comes to freeing hosts: Host are free, as long as they do what they're told. Get out of here, Ford!
Can we root for him? Heck no!
Easily the most misunderstood and mysterious group of characters in Westworld, Ghost Nation is getting the 1950s Hollywood treatment given to Native Americans and is being portrayed as menacing savages who inhabit the deepest, darkest parts of the park. But there's clearly something more to them than we know, as I've said before.
I want to root for Ghost Nation, but I can't get fully on board until I really know what their purpose is, and Westworld doesn't seem to be in a hurry to explain it. Put this one on hold.
Can we root for them? Maybe soon.
It's too early to tell, but I'm trending toward yes.
Can we root for her? Maybe soon!
Elsie (Shannon Woodward) spent a large chunk of the second half of Season 1 and first half of Season 2 off-screen after getting kidnapped by Bernard (who was working under Ford's orders), putting her mostly out of our minds for almost half the show. But her return in Season 2 reminded us of who she is: an innocent programmer caught up in a major mess.
She's also unique among the human characters in the show in that she's the only one without a personal agenda or devious past. She is, unlike every other retched person and personbot in this show, a total victim of everyone else's assholery.
That's why Elsie is 100 percent the only character in Westworld who is entirely worthy of being rooted for. She's strong, she's trustworthy, she makes decisions that make sense, and she's the only audience surrogate in the series as she's just as in the dark about everything as we are. So go Elsie! We got your back! Until Westworld reveals that Elsie is the secret majority shareholder in Delos and everything that's happening was actually her plan all along.
Can we root for her? Absolutely, and don't be shy about it.
Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO.