'Westworld': What Ford's Secret Suggests About the Show's Most Mysterious Character

The latest hour of the HBO series adds extra meaning to "the ghost in the machine."
John P. Johnson/HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first six episodes of HBO's Westworld.]

"If you could see your son again, wouldn't you want to?"

It's a compelling question that Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) poses to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) during "The Adversary," the sixth hour of Westworld. The two brilliant scientists mull over this idea in the presence of five blissfully unaware hosts: robotic recreations of Ford's father, mother, brother, family dog and even himself, the same young boy who has helped out both Ford and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) on different occasions.

As it turns out, these replicas of Ford's family were designed by Arnold, the park's mysterious co-founder who died under equally mysterious circumstances more than 30 years earlier. Ford doesn't have many fond memories of his youth ("I'm not the sentimental type," he told Theresa back in episode four), save for one vacation he took as a child. His host family echoes that countryside getaway, from the cabin they live in to their attire and attitudes. Indeed, Ford, who has personally maintained these hosts over the years, even adjusted the hosts' personalities so they better resemble his family. Yes, that includes his father's drinking problem.

Bernard, like the show's viewers, feels "troubled" at the sight of Ford's false family. He has every reason to feel pangs of dread, because the reveal confirms what many Westworld fans already suspected: the park's hosts can be, and in some cases are modeled after actual human beings. This must be not just a troubling prospect for Bernard, but a tempting one as well, given how much he's haunted by the death of his son Charlie. Will Bernard chase those demons off a cliff, to borrow a phrase from earlier in the series? Perhaps, but there are more pressing concerns around the reveal.

Robert credits Arnold with building the false Ford family. If Arnold created host replicas of Ford's family, there's every reason to suggest that he might have created replicas of his own loved ones. Now that it's established that hosts can be modeled after actual people — not just in terms of physical likeness, but actual personality attributes — it's reasonable to assume that some of the hosts from the park's earliest days were based on people in Arnold's life, and likely Ford's as well.

Follow that rabbit further down the hole, back to "Contrapasso," the fifth episode of the series. There's a scene between Ford and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the oldest host in Westworld. When Dolores asks Ford if they're "very old friends," a grimacing Ford replies, "I wouldn't say that at all." Are they enemies, then? Perhaps they are — but in light of the idea that hosts can be modeled after actual people, it's a strong possibility that the very first host ever built in Westworld is a monument to someone. But who? Could it be someone of great significance to both Ford and Arnold? A romantic partner? A business partner? A daughter? A sibling? Who knows, but the idea that Ford sees another entity entirely when he looks upon Dolores only adds to a character that's already brimming with possibility.

Still, the most chilling prospect about Ford's host family centers on the family's creator. According to Ford, Arnold died in the park, his death ruled an accident, though Ford implies it might have been a suicide. Viewers also know that of the two Westworld founders, Arnold was the one who advocated for consciousness in the hosts. Over the course of "The Adversary," two different people speak to Arnold's continued existence, including Elsie (Shannon Woodward). As far as she can tell, Arnold's been meddling with older host models, breaking their loops and changing their programming. As she puts it: "He's a prolific programmer for a dead guy."

"The shadow and specter of that character and who he was for Ford, and the fact that we've never seen him and we don't know who he is, makes you question, in a way, the reality that's being presented, and who he really is, and who Ford really is," director Fred Toye told THR when asked about Arnold's role on the show. "That's what's most interesting. The component of Arnold and Ford together and what their relationship was and what they created, and what each of their priorities were, is fundamental in the undercurrent of the story."

It's the undercurrent of the story for now, but how long before the thing bubbling beneath the surface comes up for air? At the very least, Westworld has strongly implied that Arnold still exists as a ghost in the machine. And what's more, the idea that Arnold designed hosts based on actual human beings gives credence to the theory that there's a walking, talking, flesh-and-blood Arnold currently in play — quite likely in a host's body, and quite possibly in the body of a host viewers already know. 

"They're ghosts," Ford tells Bernard about his fake family. "Survivors of the wreck of time." The idea that Arnold himself is a fellow ghost evading time's almighty reach is a haunting one indeed.

Follow THR's Westworld coverage for more interviews, news and theories.

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