Westworld may have only had one season, but it's already proved itself to be one of the most innovative and interesting TV shows of all time. And it only improves on a second viewing. #Westworld has such a multi-layered narrative, with red herrings and twist foreshadowing galore, that watching it for a second time is like watching a totally new show. Suddenly, scenes that didn't look like anything to me before are full of secret meanings; Dolores's dual journey becomes all the more clear; and even more unsolved mysteries rise to the surface. Most surprisingly, Maeve's first act of free will is revealed — and it's long before she ever got on that train.
Maeve Overcomes Her Programming
Throughout the first season, both Dolores and Maeve are taking separate journeys towards consciousness. Dolores retreads her steps from her previous trips through the Maze, as she finally finds the old town and remembers killing Arnold, then herself. Maeve's journey is much more straightforward — and granted, she's given a helping hand by Ford, who gave her the new mission to escape the park.
But even before that, Maeve had achieved something that Dolores didn't manage to do until right at the very end: She overcame her core directive not to kill a guest, and this action caused her cognition to fragment, allowing her to ignore all subsequent commands, and putting her on the path to free herself. This moment is easy to overlook, but it's laden with so much Maze imagery that on a second watch, the narrative importance of Maeve's action is obvious.
So what is Maeve's first free decision? It all comes back to that fateful day when the Man in Black set himself a test, wondering if he could kill a child. He hunted Maeve down to her peaceful little house on the prairie, where she lived with her daughter. This is the traumatizing memory that Maeve kept reliving throughout Season 1. And finally, in Episode 8, "Trace Decay," she witnessed how it all ended: The Man in Black shot her daughter, and Maeve slit his throat.
She didn't succeed in killing him, likely because she was too weak from her own wounds. But refusing to die, Maeve carried her daughter's body out of the house, collapsing on the ground — and as the camera panned out, we saw that she was at the center of the Maze.
Of course, hosts try to kill guests all the time, but there are two things that stand out about this sequence: The symbolism of the Maze, and what happens next.
The Power Of Pain
As he recounts this tale to Teddy, the Man in Black starts by telling him that "the rules of this place" hold him back from being able to kill a host — but that he knows how to change them. It seems that, by killing Maeve's daughter, the Man in Black stumbled on a crucial piece of information about the hosts' evolution, something that Ford's own plan hinges on.
Just as Dolores's father warned, violent delights really do have violent ends — and it's the violence itself that creates them. Ford later reveals that suffering is the key to consciousness; it's not just a "cornerstone" that the hosts' identities are built around, but the right kind of suffering can enable a host to rise above their programming and become something more.
This is what happened to Maeve. As she carries her daughter from the house, the Man in Black says "she was alive, truly alive, even for a moment." After she collapses, we see her back in Behavior with Bernard and Ford — and she refuses to respond to verbal commands, or commands from Bernard's tablet. Instead, Ford employs classic conditioning, something which even works on humans, playing a song that puts her in a more relaxed state. Bernard is then able to physically guide Maeve to the stool. Then we get another visual hint of the Maze.
When Bernard brings up Maeve's brain scan, we can see that her cognitive programming has fractured — and the fractures look eerily similar to the Maze symbol. Even after Ford erases her memory and appears to send her to sleep, Maeve then wakes up and stabs herself in the throat, killing herself.
Everything after this — Maeve's ability to wake herself up, her ability to resist commands — is explained by this sequence. The grief induced by her daughter's death fractured Maeve's programming, allowing her to attempt to kill the Man in Black, and giving her the abilities that would later free her. Of course, she is not completely alone in her liberation: Ford's Reveries gave her the flashbacks that would reveal her daughter, and Ford's new objective drove Maeve to enact her escape. Which is when she makes her second choice — confirmed as truly free by the show's creators — disembarking the train to find her daughter in the park.
Watching this knowing what's going to happen makes all the pieces fall into place. We can track Maeve's development right back to her daughter's death, and if it wasn't clear enough already, the Maze imagery confirms that Maeve's trauma explains her rise to consciousness. If we could take a look at Dolores's brain scans when she reaches the town and remembers her past, it's a fair bet that this pattern would also appear.
It's difficult to predict how this will affect Season 2, but as Dolores must deal with her Wyatt programming as much as her new free will, Maeve has sentience and a clarity of purpose. Her journey to find her daughter may not be easy, but one thing's for certain: No-one is controlling Maeve any more.
Tell us in the comments: Do you have a Westworld theory?