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If the prevalence of rampant speculation and crackpot online theories is any metric of gauging the popularity of a given TV show, then HBO’s Westworld is surely the most popular program in the entire universe. The Westworld subreddit alone is an endless rabbit-hole of theoretical musings and postulations, not to mention the countless other speculative corners of the internet. In the Westworld Weekly Roundup, we do the leg work of sifting through all theories big and small, and report on the ones worth talking about.

This will be an ongoing series that will be updated every week for the rest of the season, and consider yourself officially warned: here there be spoilers.

westworld-spoilers

A quick note of interest: It seems that fans of Westworld aren’t the only ones keeping up with the dizzying amount of theories about the show. HBO’s newly-installed president of programming Casey Bloys recently told Variety that some of these theories are on the right trail.

There are a lot of theories out there, and with some of them, I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve constructed the guesses. I’ll just say, they’re getting close.

Bloys gives a lot of other insight into the show which makes the whole interview worth reading, but his quote above makes one thing clear: Bloys, along with Westworld showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, are paying attention to what people are theorizing about, and they’re saying that at least a few of them might be right. So which ones are still holding up, and which have folded?

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

The two-timeframe theory is resurrected

In last week’s Roundup, I retired the the persistent two-timeframe theory as being compelling but disproved. After the latest episode (“Contrapasso“), however, I think we might need to dust it off and drag it back out into the light. There’s definitely still some compelling evidence that suggests we’re dealing with a single timeframe, but there are hints in “Contrapasso” that there may indeed be two timeframes occurring within the show, occurring roughly thirty years apart (it’s also worth noting that this debate has sparked a fairly sizeable Reddit war, indicating a very divided audience). In this week’s Roundup, I’m not only bringing this theory back to life, but focusing exclusively on it.

If we suppose that the two timeframe theory is correct, and further suppose that William is a younger Man in Black, what is the point in showing us both stories? The common denominator in both timeframes is Dolores, so it stands to reason that we are being shown two timeframes because it helps us understand Dolores’ extremely long journey of self-discovery. But what does that mean for William, who is most definitely falling in love with her?

One theory, which would be quite moving if true, says that the present-day Man in Black is in search of the secret of the maze as a means of reawakening the consciousness of the Dolores he knew and fell in love with thirty years ago. In “Contrapasso,” William and Dolores escape the bedeviled town of Pariah aboard a train with with Lawrence, heading toward an event that will spark the “critical failure” that present-day Bernard mentioned in an earlier episode. William will somehow “lose” Dolores as a result of the failure, and go on to spend the rest of his life trying to figure out how to get her back. If he gets his way, we’ll surely be in store for a Notebook-like reunion that will make us fall to pieces.

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

Dolores is reliving the past as she searches for the truth in the present

As I said above, if the two timeframe theory is true, then Dolores is the keystone character in both. As Joanna Robinson from Vanity Fair points out, the show is using some pretty sneaky editing to weave the two timeframes together, often giving clues with the same scene. In this graveyard scene, we see Dolores standing alone:

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

A moment later, the camera pans back, and suddenly the frame also includes William, Logan, and their horses:

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

In the the two-timeframe theory, Dolores standing alone in the grave yard is her in the current timeframe, and as she looks upon the landscape, she flashes back to her time with William. In essence, Dolores is retracing the steps she took thirty years before: she is remembering her past, and is following clues from her own memory to solve the mystery of her existence. Light fare, really.

In the final minutes of “Contrapasso,” we see another instance of editing trickery as Dolores inspects the coffin in the train. In one moment, William and Lawrence are sharing a drink behind her, in the next, they’ve vanished (use the metal box to Lawrence’s left as a point of reference):

 

westworld gif

Image: Joanna Robinson/HBO

For the first four episodes of Westworld, I fought tooth and nail against the idea we were dealing with two timeframes – I thought it would complicate an already-complex narrative. Furthermore, I was sure that if two timeframes were necessary to tell the story, they would be presented in a more obvious fashion. But now that the two-timeframe theory seems not just likely, but probable, my question is this: why all the storytelling sneakiness? I’m sure it’s leading to a pretty epic reveal, but with all the narrative confusion, it might come at the risk of alienating (or, more succinctly, confuse the ever-loving shit out of) the audience.

A closing thought

When I joined the Westworld subreddit the week before the series premiere, there was just shy of 20,ooo users. In the course of five weeks, that number has grown to over 75,000, with hundreds of users on the subreddit at any given time. Many of these users offer new theories, or attempt to validate or discredit those of others. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to see so many people join in one place to discuss something as ostensibly arbitrary as a television show.

But in this post-LOST society, in which anyone with a theory and an internet connection can offer their ideas to the masses, it changes not only how we view and interact with a given show, but also (and perhaps more consequentially) how television writers create new storylines. Dan Harmon, co-creator of the excellent animated series Rick And Morty, explains how he approaches his craft in an interview with the AV Club:

I think [online communities guessing a show’s big secrets] is a really remarkable thing about today’s TV audience. You cannot write payoff-based TV anymore because the audience is essentially a render farm. They have an unlimited calculation capacity. There’s no writers’ room that can think more than 20 million people who can think about it for an hour a day. That season of Dexter being the big example: They had planned out this whole Fight Club reveal that there was a character that didn’t really exist except in someone else’s head. They’d planned out the whole clever thing, and they were going to reveal it, and all this stuff, and then after episode one aired, somebody on Reddit just like, [Snaps fingers.]. You can’t do it anymore. You can’t try to fool the audience . . . But the really cool thing is that render farm reduces your job as a writer to story and jokes. Character.

So, for better or worse, Westworld has a render farm of upward of 80,000 people (on Reddit alone), which is certainly a phenomenon  that Joy and Nolan anticipated when writing the first drafts of the series. How tuned-in were they to the notion that someone, at any time, could (and perhaps already has) broken the secrets of Westworld (and Westworld) wide open. It could also very well be that they’re having their cake and eating it too; perhaps many of the theories arising out of Westworld are based on information Joy and Nolan have given us that amount to nothing more than a long, slippery line of red herrings. Misdirection.

I bring this up so I can ask which is more satisfying: to guess the answers to secrets before they’re revealed by those telling the story, or to sit back and enjoy the journey, allowing yourself to be surprised at the intended times? Obviously, there’s a big gray ocean between the two possibilities, which is where I think most of us reside. It’s fun as hell to engage in these theories, to watch them expand and evolve, or collapse under their own absurd weight. Conversely, it’s great when you’re in the thrall of a show that can astound you – whether that be on the level of plot, or, as Dan Harmon likes to focus on, character. It’s hard to know what direction Joy and Nolan are leaning in at this early date, and more is sure to be revealed. The question is, will we already know, and will that enhance or ruin or viewing pleasure?

Entertainment

Donald Trump as Seen by Google’s Deep Dream

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Last Summer, Google unleashed Deep Dream, their neural network that takes pictures and tries to identify patterns and overwrite them, on an unsuspecting public. When you put an image into Deep Dream, what you get when it “wakes up” is often nightmarish. Dogs, birds, insects, pagodas are inserted at random places in the image, giving it a surreal and sometimes beautiful–if terrifying–aspect.

So, since this election season is already off-the-charts surreal, I thought to myself, “What would it look like if we ran some candidates through Deep Dream?” Well, now I know.  I started with Donald Trump, who is already deeply weird and unsettling. The results are spectacular.

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Satire

From the MRA Evidence Archives: The Journal of a Normal, Average Feminist

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

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barbie doll head being gripped by dirty hands
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

 Tuesday July 5, 2016

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

Walked to work wearing my plunging crop top that says, “This is what a feminist looks like,” hot pants, and six-inch heels. Tossed my hair a lot and sexily chewed my lower lip. Dropped change so I could slowly bend over and pick it up. It took me about an hour to walk five blocks, which is standard.

Exceeded my catcall goal by seven, a personal best. Super flattering, of course, but will pretend to be terrified and make men feel bad about it with a bunch of tweets. That’ll show them.

Some dowdy librarian tried to help me with the change I kept dropping, and she got catcalled too! No one invades my catcalling turf. Slapped the books right out of her hands. Mostly by Hemingway, whom I both hate and would totally do if he were alive.

Arrived late per usual, but the boss didn’t say anything, just stared at my tits and gave me a pass. I had buttressed Bea Arthur and Jackie O in a push-up bra stuffed with the hard-earned cash of some beta male I cheated on. Good thinking.

By Friday I hope to a) screw my way to executive assistant, b) replace some poor slob who works really hard, or c) file a sexual harassment lawsuit. We’ll just see what the week brings, like whether or not the boss is a lesbian. Fingers crossed!

Spent the rest of the workday playing Candy Crush and convincing Dale from accounting to do everything for me. Stringing Dale along is why I keep coming in. It makes all the pretending to work worth it. I might boink him someday, but I want to see how low he’ll stoop for a bit of action.

I don’t get off on it per se, in so much that I don’t get off. Ever. At all. But I pretend that I could, just to make all the guys I’ve ever been with feel like losers. Watching them fumble and feel emasculated without pants is like Christmas – if I were to sleep with Santa and watch him fumble and feel emasculated without pants.

mens-rights-venn-diagram

Went to happy hour after work and didn’t pay a dime. Cosmos just appeared in front of me. Dumb guys just handed me cash for being hot, and I filled my bra until Bea Arthur and Jackie O ballooned up like the boobs of evil women on TV. My role models, natch.

Some dude wearing a huge, purple hat came up to me and said I looked like an uglier Angelina Jolie. He lifted his shirt to show that his torso was hard, rippling, and embroidered with diamonds so he had every right to tell me that. I hooked up with him in the men’s room. That’ll show him.

Went home and let loose a series of drunken, liar tweets about how hard my life is and how I want equality. Even inebriated, it’s important to keep my stilettoed foot on the neck of men everywhere. Those tweets and opinion pieces just skewer them. More powerful than the laws of God or man are the messages I hastily type with my thumbs.

A good Tuesday over all, but did not receive free coffee by sexily slow jamming my order. The barista must’ve taken the red pill.

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Food

Woman begs city council to bring back McRib

The McRib Shortage of ’15. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.” #mcrib #sheslovinit

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mcrib-woman

Well over a year ago a tragic event occurred: In the fall of 2015, the executives of McDonald’s made a grave decision, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. They decided that when the McRib was released that year it would… it would allow the regional managers to decide whether or not they would offer the McRib. As a result, a staggering 45 percent of McDonald’s locations elected not to offer the McRib. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.”

First off, shout out to Reader James from Lake Elsinore, CA for alerting us to the tale of hardship and heroism. You see, when Xanthe Pajarillo, a “McRib activist,” realized that none of the ten McDonald’s locations in her hometown of Santa Clarita would be offering the McRib, she did what any reasonable red-blooded American citizen would do. She brought the issue before the city council.

Now it is no secret that the McRib Shortage of ’15 nearly brought the nation to a standstill. In fact, if it weren’t for the release of a special McRib locator app, experts speculate that America would have ceased to exist as it does today. But amidst all of the rolling blackouts, the deaths, and the riots, we overlooked all of the smaller, personal tragedies that took place because of the cruel decision made by nearly half of McDonald’s regional managers.

In her impassioned plea to the Santa Clarita city council, Pajarillo explained just why the McRib meant so much to her and her family, and why the city council had to act in order to bring it back.

“The removal of the McRib from the menu has affected my family, because every Thanksgiving, my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget and like, 10 McRibs. It was like, a tradition in our family, and now it’s like—well, like my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken.”

Recently Pajarillo heroic speech before the city council has gone viral, gaining attention at the national stage across social media. Since that dramatic event, Pajarillo has continued to fight for the return of the McRib, even going so far as to release a song dubbed “The McRib Blues.” In it, she lays bare her soul and the souls of those like her to whom the McRib is more than just a barbecue pork sandwich, but is instead, a way of life.

There are those out there, deplorables who hardly deserve mention, that call her bravery nothing more than a stunt. Performance art holding up a mirror to America’s consumerism and obsession. However, others stand by the truth. Pajarillo is a hero, fighting for both a sandwich, but also for something more. Something ephemeral. That little piece of Americana that brings us all together. The McRib.

Fight on, brave warrior, fight on.

♪ Cause we have right to eat what we like, McRib is worth the fight ♪

Still can’t get enough of the McRib? Learn how a McRib is made, courtesy of BuzzFeed.

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