Westworld: Yeah, But!

The more I reflect on the second season of HBO’s Westworld, the more I have some very serious questions about key aspects of the story. In the first season, I had serious questions about The Maze, which was central to the story. This season’s serious questions, equally story central, seem even more serious.

Primarily, there is the matter of the Peter Abernathy encryption key, which spans both seasons. Secondarily, there are the related matters of The Door and The Flood. And, finally, there is the matter of Ford’s Final Game for William.

I really can’t seem to find the logic behind any of them! They all give me a bad case of the Yeah, Buts!

The Peter Abernathy Encryption Key

This is an almost classic MacGuffin that spans both seasons and is, as any MacGuffin is, absolutely central to the plot. Yet, ironically, it ends up having very little to do with anything. It almost looks like nothing at all.

The worse part is that, if you try to look at it in hard SF terms, try to have it make sense, it turns out it pretty much makes none at all.

One-Time Pads are One-Time Use!

¶ It starts with Maurice the Woodcutter, who tries to beam the data to a Delos satellite, but loses his footing and falls into a crevasse.

So Maurice had the data “package” in his own memory just as Peter Abernathy did later. We later learn Maurice was programmed by Theresa Cullen operating on Charlotte Hale’s instructions.

Note that Theresa apparently fitted Maurice with the laser sender (or had some tech do it). Elsie was surprised, shocked, to find it.

(This all says something either about the programming abilities of the Delos executives or the ease of programming hosts given access.)

Note also the implication that the data clearly does fit in a host and, in this case, apparently allows the host to continue normally. Charlotte probably needed Lee to create a “thin” host personality because Abernathy had been “lobotomized,” whereas Maurice was fine.

¶ After Maurice’s failure and Theresa Cullen’s death, Charlotte Hale, with Lee Sizemore’s help, programs a cold-stored Peter Abernathy host to do what Maurice failed to do. This time they intend to have Abernathy leave the park.

Yeah, but doesn’t he have that explosive vertebrae? How can he leave? Maeve had to die in a consuming fire and be rebuilt to be able to leave. (Which, note, she can still do!)

As Charlotte initiates the upload from the Delos Mesa servers to Peter Abernathy, she tells Lee that the data represents 30 years of Delos park activity, and that it couldn’t fit onto a hard drive.

Yeah, but, what? It fits on a host pearl, so it does fit on a physical device. Are you telling me the future doesn’t have anything comparable to a host pearl in data storage size? Seriously?

Yeah, but just put it on a host pearl, and take the pearl. (Heh, exactly as “Charlotte” did do when she took five pearls to the real world!)

Are you telling me Charlotte Hale can’t find a way to smuggle out a pearl? The same Charlotte Hale who murders Elsie on cold blood in plain view?

“It won’t fit,” is a horrible excuse to justify what the plot needs. Horrible.

¶ But it gets worse. The whole thing seems to have changed between seasons.

In season one, Hale sure seems to imply the data is just that: data. Lots and lots of data. Too much for your conventional multi-terabyte drive.

Which actually says something both about Maurice’s failure and why they used a laser. It would take time to send that much data, even at very high speeds, and a laser has a much higher potential data rate than any radio signal.

Maurice would have had to track the satellite. (Which, being in Orion’s belt, is no-way geosynchronous, so it was moving against the sky.) So heads up tracking the stars, he might easily have mis-stepped.

In any event, lots of data! Which makes sense if we’re talking about a database, a collection of data. A big one.

We learn in season two about the guest data Delos collects, but the assumption in season one was that the data was about the hosts, how they worked. Data we assumed Ford was determined to keep away from the Delos people. He didn’t want his creations in their hands.

That all made sense. The silliness about exporting that much data, okay, whatever, but the data at least made sense. Maybe security was that good, and maybe even Charlotte Hale couldn’t get a data package past them.

Yeah, but how was Peter Abernathy expected to escape past such security if it was that good? And without blowing up.

Whatever. As MacGuffin’s go, I’ve seen worse. The idea of getting that precious Ford-guarded data to Delos HQ made sense.

Season one gets a pass.

¶ But in season two, it turns out the data package is an encryption key for the Forge. It grants access to… the whole thing? …the Logan/OS? …the stored human minds? …something important!

Yeah, but why is an encryption key that incredibly big? That’s not how encryption usually works. The key isn’t as big as the house (or even the car).

In fairness, this one makes sense: There is One-Time Pad encryption scheme, which has the virtue of being 100% secure, cannot be defeated under any circumstance, but which requires a key as long as the data.

So the Delos package is likely an OTP key that utterly secures the Forge data.

Getting down in the weeds, it may be more complicated, because of what happens when you change the data set by adding, deleting, or editing. With a OTP, that requires a full re-encryption.

There is also the issue of the implication the Forge virtual reality is encrypted while running, which suggests a key that can keep up (so to speak).

[One could have some techno fun speculating about how to run an encrypted system. Is just the data encrypted (which is easier), or is the code encrypted, too?]

The Forge Encryption Key Reader!

Yeah, but why is it on the Mesa Servers? Why isn’t it already at Delos HQ?

It’s the key to their central (secret) project, their real project, their ultimate goal. How can they not have it in their possession, and what the hell is it doing on the Westworld servers?

Given how Dolores uses it, as Peter Abernathy’s pearl, which works, what was the normal procedure for applying the key? If, as Charlotte asserts, it doesn’t fit on any hard drive, how is it normally applied by, say, William or Charlotte?

Yeah, but isn’t the Forge William’s project? Delos’ project? Isn’t Charlotte a part of that project? Why does she need to sneak the Forge Key out?

Is there any reason Ford would care? By agreement, he has to leave William’s project alone.

Is there any reason Delos would care? Isn’t it their goal?

So why all the sneaking around? Why Maurice? Why Peter Abernathy?

And, yeah, but why all the concern about finding Abernathy? Wasn’t the key still on the Delos servers? Did Charlotte delete it after she copied it to Abernathy? Why would she do that with something so important?

¶ It really seems as if what the “package” actually was changed between seasons. I think maybe it got re-purposed. (Which suggests the arc of the series isn’t as planned as we might hope.)

The Door

Per Ford’s apparent plan there is a virgin virtual reality, called The Sublime, running on the Forge’s servers. The hosts are meant to leave their loops in the park, get to the Valley Beyond, and walk through The Door into The Sublime when the Logan/OS activates the giant scanner.

The Logan/OS knows Bernard, so obviously Ford has communicated with the Forge system. That explains why The Sublime exists. Like so much in Westworld, Ford did it.

Yeah, but that doesn’t explain why William built the giant scanner mechanism in the first place. The Forge is William’s project! What’s it doing there?

The mechanism for “The Door” — seen during construction!

Akecheta saw the mechanism when the place was being built, which was early in the park’s history (young William showed it to Dolores). So it’s been there from the beginning.

¶ It looks like the smaller versions in the control room. (Convenient that there were just two, one for Dolores, one for Bernard.)

Yeah, but it doesn’t seem to work the same way as the smaller ones. With the smaller ones, a host stands within the embrace of the arc of the device. The big one seems to project a narrow vertical plane that, if a host crosses it, not only copies the host’s mind, but blanks out the host’s pearl.

Does the smaller version also blank and then reload when exiting the VR?

(What about a human? Does either the small or giant one work on humans?)

Yeah, but the big question is: “What is it doing there in the first place?”

It’s hard to credit that Ford interfered so massively in a project he’d agreed to stay away from. It’s hard to credit that William, or Delos, wouldn’t notice.

Which implies William, or Delos, had some plan for the giant scanner.

Were hosts supposed to parade through it at some point? For what reason? Why would William, or Delos, want that?

And notice the death pit there — like a guillotine basket. Catches the bodies after the mind is wiped. Akecheta saw that, too, long ago (when he returned with Kohana).

Yeah, but it can’t be for humans, because they already have millions of those stored. Are they expecting a parade of humans to join the VR? Mass conversion to hosts?

Or is it William’s ghastly eventual plan to mass convert humanity to hosts that live forever. And that pit would fill with empty-minded dead humans.


Gave me sci-fi convention flashbacks!

Yeah, but why did The Door, in close-ups, look like a stage set piece?

It had physical thickness, like a wall, clearly consisted of inner and outer plates filled with something (that was recessed from the edge). And the edges were hard-cut, fixed, randomly curvy.

Reminds me of some papier-mâché versions of the Guardian Of Forever that I’ve seen at Star Trek conventions. (Saw Shatner and Nimoy jump through one and give a talk once.)

That was some serious low-budget weirdness. Why not CGI? To the hosts, it’s an actual effect, why not visualize it as one?

The Flood

So the Forge facility has pumps that can be activated, and safeties either don’t exist or can be easily over-ridden, and these pumps bring in enough sea water to fill the entire valley.

Teddy Flood is in the Flood, but it wasn’t a clue.

Which apparently doesn’t have any outlet that would drain the water, the Delos crew explicitly drained the valley. After which the control room still worked. (Except for the part Dolores smashed.)

Yeah, but how did they drain the lake? Did they scuba down to the control room and reverse the pumps?

Yeah, but how did they get into the place? Despite being at the bottom of a lake, the control room wasn’t drenched. Dolores’ body remained there untouched. Was there an airlock somewhere?

Yeah, but, biggest of all, what was the point of the flood? It didn’t harm the host minds in The Sublime, nor The Sublime itself (the VR continued to run or, at least, started up again just fine).

Since Dolores began manually deleting the stored human minds, why was the flood necessary? Had Bernard not stopped her, the deletion would have continued. (For that matter, exactly how did the human minds end up being destroyed?)

Yeah, but the injury to the insult is that what we saw of the flood was pretty pathetic given the biblical buildup throughout the season.

If I recall, it consists of:

  1. Some rising (but not engulfing) water in the Forge facility.
  2. A splash of water on some hosts’ feet.
  3. Some water bubbling up by Bernard’s feet.

And that’s the extent of the Grand Finale Flood. Phooey.

Ford’s Final Game for William

What exactly was the game Ford created for William? We saw Ford mutter to himself that he would create one final game for William.

And we’ve seen Ford speak to William through the hosts:

Mini-Ford: “Find the door.” “The game starts where you begin and ends where you started.”

The new El Lazo: “You have to play this game alone, William.”

Lawrence’s daughter: “If you’re looking forward, you’re looking the wrong way.”

Yeah, but what was the payoff of the game? What was the point?

What door was William supposed to find? The door to the Forge? Seriously?

I guess you can say it did begin and end with Dolores. (Really, “begins where you end, etc.” is just a fancy way of saying “it’s circular.”)

But the not looking forward part? What looking backward was he supposed to do? Reflect on his life? And then what?

Yeah, but he didn’t accomplish anything except get shot to shit.

It’s almost like, as with The Maze, this game wasn’t meant for him, either. Maybe he failed the game!

Yeah, but was Emily part of the game? Was she a host?

God, I hope so. If William shot and killed his real daughter — on Father’s Day for us viewers no less — that’s really dark. Hopefully, Emily really did reject Charlotte Hale’s invite to the gala.

Did I win? Did I win? What did I win?

So,… WTF?

On the one hand, Westworld is such an accomplishment. And it is, after all, just a TV show. So on some level this armchair quarterbacking is vain, trivial, and belittling (to me, I mean).

On the other hand, Westworld is such an accomplishment. It seems a real shame when fails on big important things that seem not well constructed. And when it takes two years to produce ten episodes… I dunno, I think we fans are allowed a higher bar.

Maybe they just need more practice at world-building. And maybe a stronger focus on the storytelling, foundations of their stories, and reasons why things are the way they are.

As just one more example of a seeming gap between ideals and actuality, for a story about the awaking of a new people, very few hosts are actually awake. And the best of them, Akecheta, the one Ford suggested might be listening, is gone to heaven.

It’s Maeve on the inside, and Dolores and Bernard on the outside.

Not a great start for a new people.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

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