A man with an obscured face goes through his morning routine: First, he puts a record on, then he makes his breakfast, and after that exercises on his stationary bike. The setting feels off; his home decor is retro, he’s totally alone, there is an eeriness to some of his actions.
This describes the opening sequence of the latest episode of Westworld, but it could also be said for the season two opener of Lost. On Westworld, a host version of the park’s original creator Jim Delos (Peter Mullan) carries out his day in an observation room set up like a fully outfitted apartment. On Lost, Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) lives in an isolated Dharma station, with the same sort of ’70s aesthetic as Jim’s lair. Both are unknowingly part of a larger scheme. Both are being watched. Both have submitted to their grim and lonely reality.
The likeness between these sequences was apparently a fluke. Westworld co-creator and executive producer Lisa Joy — who directed the latest episode, “The Riddle of the Sphinx” — told The Atlantic that she’s never seen Lost. “This is the way that happy accidents make history rhyme sometimes,” she said of the accidental similarities.
But beyond sharing that visual cue, the second season of Westworld has doubled down on its overall Lost-iness. The first season, you might recall, was already loaded with similar storytelling mechanics: a beautiful remote location, godlike men pulling strings, a man in black, time not being what it seems. Season two feels similarly derivative, or at the very least spiritually connected. Here are some of the bigger comparisons between the two series as Westworld continues to evolve.
Divergent groups at war
On Westworld, the hosts and guests are locked in a war of opposing ideologies and levels of sentience. As Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), and Maeve (Thandie Newton) continue to fully occupy their bodies and gain access to their memories, they’ve found themselves at odds with their creators, rebelling against their programming. The groups are fractured and the infighting nuanced, much like Lost’s complicated web that consisted of plane crash survivors versus the Dharma Initiative versus the island natives. The quests stacked up, the revelations unraveled, and nothing was ever quite what it seemed.
On both shows, the differences between the groups are largely philosophical, each laser-focused on their own moral code. Westworld is about the enlightenment of artificial intelligence, while Lost was about the enlightenment of the human condition — similar principles fleshed out in epic sci-fi palettes.
Tigers and bears, oh my
In season two’s opening episode, “Journey Into Night,” Bernard comes across the corpse of a Bengal tiger in the Westworld park. It’s almost a direct allusion to the pilot of Lost, where the plane crash survivors come face-to-face with a polar bear on their tropical island. These giant beasts have no place in these settings, and they offer up clues to what’s really going on. In the case of Westworld, it hints that the other parks are merging (the tiger comes from The Raj, a Delos park modeled after British India), and on Lost, the bear’s appearance alludes to the secretive Dharma Initiative, which did time-travel experiments on the animals.
Speaking of the Dharma Initiative, they peppered the island with secret underground bunkers, where they experimented on and observed the land’s unique, mystic qualities. The island was a special place that could heal, but also destroy. Likewise, Westworld’s park is full of similar underground stations where the scientists and programmers watch their hosts — and also work on top-secret projects.
As we learn in “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” William (played by Jimmi Simpson and Ed Harris in different timelines) had a team working to implant human consciousness into host replicas, using his father-in-law Jim Delos as a specimen. Jim wasn’t able to comprehend this transition, and after 149 attempts, William determined that mankind wasn’t meant to be immortal. But as Bernard remembers, another attempt was made to transmit human consciousness to a host, though he can’t remember who the person was. That question sets up what will likely be Westworld’s big mystery, laying into a trope that Lost also played with season after season: mysterious identities.
Men in Black
If there’s one constant through-line between the shows in regards to identity, it’s the men sometimes known as the Men in Black: Westworld’s William and Lost’s John Locke.
In season one of Westworld, the disparate timelines meant that it wasn’t until the finale that we learned that William and the Man in Black were one and the same, and that his ties to the park — and to Delos — were strong and deep. Likewise, Locke’s identity was compromised in Lost’s final season; he died off the island but his body was revived on the island and occupied by a mystical man known as … the Man in Black. William and Locke are both scar-faced true believers, both trapped in the fantasy of what their individual establishments mean to them and the world at large. Flip-flop any of their long, philosophical interstitials and you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.
“I used to think this place was all about pandering to your baser instincts. Now I understand. It doesn’t cater to your lowest self, it reveals your deepest self. It shows you who you really are.” That’s William in season one of Westworld.
Compare that to this Locke speech to Jack (Matthew Fox) in season one of Lost: “I’m an ordinary man, Jack, meat and potatoes. I live in the real world. I’m not a big believer in magic. But this place is different. It’s special. The others don’t want to talk about it because it scares them. But we all know it. We all feel it. […] I’ve looked into the eye of this island. And what I saw was beautiful.”
Ultimately, it appears William will always be the center of Westworld, whose worldview shifts between that of a cynic and a believer, just like Locke’s. And that’s the true theme of both series: wonderment at what’s really going on, marred by questions of ethics, of principle, and of the cruelty of human desire and curiosity, filtered through the perspectives of fatally human men. And like Jim Delos and Desmond, the audience can only watch as they attempt to understand the world, subjects captive to what comes next.