Westworld trades in big, overarching themes like determinism for surveillance and power of memory. But look closer, and it’s obvious creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are interested in exploring another nearly universal experience: that of the relationship between parent and child. The hosts, and the humans that try to control them, have surely suffered their fair share of violent delights to violent ends throughout Westworld’s three seasons, but so have an unusually high number of their offspring; in particular, their sons. As the audience is always prompted to ask ourselves when it comes to Westworld, what does it all mean?
Westworld‘s first season has audiences believing that Bernard had a son named Charlie who passed away from cancer. The memories of his child’s painful ordeal haunt Bernard throughout several episodes until we discover that Charlie was actually Arnold’s son. Bernard’s grief has only been implanted into his consciousness for backstory. Still, in the show’s reality, Charlie Weber was a real kid who really suffered and died, and Westworld uses that parents’ worst-nightmare circumstance for both Arnold and Bernard’s character motivation.
Season 2 follows several parent/child storylines. Maeve desperately tracks down her host daughter, only to find out she’s been reassigned to another mother. William struggles to grasp whether Emily was his biological daughter come to visit the park, or a host recreation set upon him to drive him mad. James Delos’s strained relationship with his son, Logan, leads to his adult son’s substance abuse and eventual overdose. While Maeve seems at peace with her decision to shepherd her daughter and replacement to the Valley Beyond, human fathers, William and James, are completely destroyed by their bad (to say the least) parenting choices.
Season 3 ups the ante with four new complicated and devastating parent/child subplots. Early on, we learn Charlotte had a son named Nathan. When a copy of Dolores inhabiting a Charlotte body tucks him in at night, he seems to understand that this is not his mother. The audience sees a final, parting video message the real Charlotte made and possibly sent before she fell victim to the massacre, but we aren’t completely sure the boy has watched it. Incite founder, Serac, also remarks that he knew Charlotte wasn’t Charlotte because she’d have never prioritized her family over her job, as the imposter had begun to do. But before the episode’s over, and mere seconds after “Charlotte” promised to protect them, poor Nathan and his father explode in her car.
In flashbacks, it becomes clear that William’s father was an abusive alcoholic, and that he had violent tendencies in his youth that compounded the volatile situation. Fans also see Serac and his brother orphaned in the bombing of Paris, and last week, they came to understand that — by killing his best friend in self-defense — Caleb has orphaned Frances’s son as well. Caleb has his own mother/son drama to contend with, too. As far as the audience knows, he was abandoned by his mother in a café. He seems to have reconnected with her at some point and continues to visit her in the hospital. As Caleb’s history is riddled with inconsistencies, the story of his own parentage is unlikely to be so simple, and the truth will probably be brought to light in this week’s finale.
The odd thing about all the parent/child references is that, for such a frequently reoccurring motif, they don’t seem to connect to a larger theme or narrative. Showrunners Joy and Nolan are married and have two young children of their own, a son and a daughter born just before and during Westworld‘s run. It seems natural that notions of parenthood would be on their minds, and that the subject would subconsciously work its way into the plot of the show. But multiple dead kids and multiple orphans in a series that really only profiles a handful of families is a bit extreme. With all that said, there just has to be something beyond the surface.
Well, Not necessarily. Anybody who’s ever seen a Disney movie knows that orphans make for compelling child characters. Deceased children make for easy, emotionally manipulative plot twists. But it’s possible Westworld’s parent/child problems will add up to something in the end. Religious motifs can be found throughout the series, and Season 3 has taken them to a whole new level. William muttered that his original sin was enabling the proliferation of hosts, but the true original sin Westworld might be grappling with is the Christian concept of the sins of the father or the idea that people doom their progeny with their own shortcomings. In most of the above scenarios, the female characters come to terms with things rather quickly while the male characters never quite recover, whether they were the orphaned child or the offending adult. Westworld is as many layers deep as are its lifelike hosts, and underneath all those other themes might just be a biblical take on fragile, toxic masculinity.
KEEP READING: Disney’s Dead Parent Problem, Explained
Complicated parent/child dynamics can be found throughout the world of Westworld. But what, if anything, do they mean?