Michael Simon ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead for Season 1 of Westworld
Control. If there is any one word that can summarize the overall plot arc of Dr. Robert Ford through this first season of the HBO hit drama Westworld, that would be it. Control that he maintained as he carefully executed his plan for decades. Control he realized was running out, leading him to willingly surrender it in his final moments. Control that he lacked all those years ago, which led to his infamous blunder in the first place. With a character as dense as this, expertly portrayed by veteran actor Anthony Hopkins, it is difficult to figure out just where to begin.
Perhaps it is best to first fully understand Ford as we, the viewers, mainly see him throughout most of the series thus far. Through methods that vary from terribly minuscule and odd, to horribly menacing and grandiose, Ford always gives off the aura of a man in total control. With a concept as huge and morally questionable as Westworld, one should assume that the puppet-master of it all must have incredible power over all those involved in order to make it work.
He controls the minds of his human employees, going so far as to scold one for simply covering up a host with a sheet during a reprogramming session, ensuring that no one formulates a differing opinion as to whether or not these machines should be treated with the same courtesy as a human. Ford enters the park at will, hopping between narrative stories whilst throwing them into disarray, freezing hosts whenever he deems necessary, walking around with full construction crews as he continues to form his own world. He creates a loyal servant in the image of his late partner, using him as a reminder of the past as well as a tool for information and manipulation. He sits at the helm of this series and carefully turns the cogs in all the right ways in order for the pieces to fall into the correct places, and he almost never flinches.
Almost. To the careful eye, one can spot the few moments in which Ford ponders both past events that showed his lack of control as well as an inevitable future where control will be gone from him. At the beginning of episode five – the halfway point of the series – Ford makes his sole appearance as an episode’s opening character and delivers a harrowing speech in which he depicts the saddest thing he ever saw. He recalls a story of his pet greyhound chasing down and killing a cat he had been hunting for his entire life, and, upon killing it, the dog suddenly sits down confused, for it now had no idea what to do with itself.
Perhaps this is the position that Ford has slowly begun to find himself in; as his multi-step plan draws to a close, is he finally left as nothing more than an old dog with nothing else to do after accomplishing his life-long goal? Is it in this moment, whilst remembering this story, that Ford made his final decision in offering himself as a target in the finale and thus opting out of this old dog’s fate? It is worth noting that, hidden in this story of the dog, Ford mentions not only the saddest thing he ever saw but also the most beautiful: “never saw a thing as beautiful as that old dog running.” His hunt for purpose and control is always headed towards the same conclusion as that of the greyhound, and while the chase may have been a thing of beauty, the end result is anything but.
When trying to pinpoint the only moment where Ford can be seen to have a complete lack of control, it is important to understand his drives. These drives do not fully come to light until the season finale where Ford’s plan comes full circle to completion. He reveals that his decades of control were not simply fueled by his undeniable thirst for power, but rather by a mistake that haunted him throughout his life. The control he executed over Westworld for 30 years was all leading up to this moment where he could finally set the hosts free in a way he couldn’t before. And all through the stages of this plan, Ford can never be seen as lacking control.
As the Man in Black wreaks havoc on his quest for the maze, Ford enters Westworld only to have a nice chat as he pushes him along in his journey. He seems impressed by the violent demonstration manipulated by Theresa and Hale, but does not appear to have lost the upper hand, despite Clementine’s behavior. When we think he has finally been bested by Bernard having an executioner host aimed at him, Ford simply powers them down, stating that this mundane occurrence has happened numerous times before.
The moment in question is prompted simply during a conversation between him and Dolores during an otherwise routine checkup:
“Are we very old friends?”
“No, I wouldn’t say “friends,” Dolores. I wouldn’t say that at all.”
Ford’s simple response is followed by the shedding of a tear, after which he quickly powers down Dolores and exits the room abruptly, his expression showing a desperate need for composure. In this moment, Ford has lost control of his emotions, if only for a single sentence. The reason for this is due to his memory of what Dolores did to him the last time he lacked control and wound up driving his partner, Arnold, to use her as a means to kill himself. With Arnold’s tragic death at Dolores’ hands permanently etched upon him, Ford spends the rest of his life building the type of control that could have prevented his suffering in the first place.
He runs the park the way Arnold would have, allowing the hosts to become sentient while also building them up against their human adversaries, and finally giving away the control he had over them as a form of redemption for his past mistakes. Despite his hard work and hunger for this control, he does not hesitate for a second to give it all away as a means of personal atonement. Perhaps Ford’s subsequent execution and apparent death is his perfect escape from what happens to an old dog when it stops running, for even a man as strong as he could not face that fate of solitude, confusion, and utter lack of control.