This post contains spoilers for Season 2 of Westworld.
Westworld just officially confirmed that the park’s nefarious behind-the-scenes operation is data mining.
On Sunday night’s episode, titled “Reunion,” young William (Jimmi Simpson) takes Delos head honcho Jim Delos (Peter Mullen) to Sweetwater to convince him to invest in the park. William is getting absolutely nowhere, until he explains the real value of the park: the guests, and how they behave when they think no one is watching. As William puts it, it’s an “investment in the future.” And now we have the money-maker: surveillance on human behavior when guests believe they’re out there living consequence-free in a theme park.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan even compared the park’s secret mission to the apparatus of Google.
“The drone hosts relate to the corporation’s secret project which is hidden in plain sight in this park. As we talked about in the pilot, the park is one thing for the guests, and it’s another thing for its shareholders and management — something completely different. We’ve used the Google analogy — for consumers, it’s for search and email, yet for the company, it’s for advertising,” Nolan told EW.
The scheme certainly brings to mind the recent Cambridge Analytica Facebook debacle. With this new development, the show is drawing a not-so-subtle parallel to modern life on the Internet, where people regularly serve up their personal data to technology companies without giving it so much as a thought.
Earlier in the episode, the Man in Black (the black-hatted man played by Ed Harris, a.k.a. William in 30 years) explains Delos’ data collection scheme to Lawrence this way: “That’s why your world existed. They wanted a place hidden from God, a place they could sin in peace. But we were watching them, tallying up all their sins, all their choices. Of course, judgment wasn’t the point. We had something else in mind entirely.”
The brilliant spin says a lot about where the show is going thematically. We may feel like we’re in the Old West when we’re watching, but Westworld is diving headfirst into very contemporary themes around privacy in the digital age.
Unfortunately for participants in Westworld’s Pariah orgy, seduced by a quasi-real escape offering membership in a consequence-free club, real consequences may be lying in wait.
The show is always teasing some sort of “Judgment Day” which, up until now, many viewers have assumed would mean death or torture at the hands of the robots. But that’s not necessarily how this ends. Now we know guests are also vulnerable to whatever grander “something else in mind entirely” scheme Delos has in store.