Westworld season-finale spoilers ahead.
Like most folks who tuned in to the plus-sized and extra gruesome Westworld season finale, we here at Vulture had a lot of questions, and one of the big ones concerned everyone’s favorite cyber-Spartacus, Thandie Newton’s Maeve. The quandary was a simple one: Was she in control when she got off the train? We’d learned earlier in the episode that the erstwhile madam’s rebellious streak was not of her own making — it turns out that Ford (RIP…?) had programmed her to play a key role in his uprising-based narrative. She comes very close to riding the Apple Store bullet train out of the park to see the outside world, but at the last minute, opts to hop off and follow up on Felix’s tip about the location of her daughter. So: Was her exit from the vehicle part of Ford’s plan, too? Or had she finally gained the free will she sought so passionately? Well, unlike most of the stuff you’ll have to wait until 2018 for, we can give you the answer right here, straight from the mouths of the showrunners.
Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were guests on this week’s Vulture TV Podcast, and they were very clear about her motivations: She was, indeed, finally throwing off the shackles of her narrative programming. The topic came up during a discussion about recurring shots and filming techniques in the first season: As Nolan explained, Steadicam shots indicate that hosts are doing what they’ve been told to do, but handheld shots indicate that they’re acting on their own. Here’s Nolan dishing on Maeve (emphasis added):
In the finale, when Maeve gets onto that train … the Steadicam is leading her over. Now, it’s just keeping pace with her as she makes the decision. What we understand in the moment is it’s the first real decision she’s made all season. Which is, she’s not going to fulfill the script she’s been given, which is to take this train wherever it’s going, and do whatever else she’s programmed to do. She can get off the train. At which point, we shift to handheld camera, which we’d held back on throughout the entire season until one moment with her, and one moment with Dolores, when Teddy comes to rescue her. We get Maeve off the train with a handheld camera. And I remember watching the dailies and almost being shocked at how effective a cinematic technique can be if you hold off on it for long enough. If you dial it in at just the right moment, that suggests she’s literally like a train coming off the tracks. We’re no longer in programmatic or prescribed behaviors. She’s improvising, and we’re right there with her.
But at the end of the day, does anyone really have free will? Think about it, man.