SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the finale of Westworld Season 2. Proceed at your own risk.
At first glance, Westworld and Legion are two disparate shows. One is based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 science-fiction classic, while the other has its roots in the X-Men comic books. One is a futuristic tale about Artificial Intelligence fighting back, while the other is about a psychically-powered mutant with multiple personalities. But, according to the showrunners on both series, each show is built primarily around the themes it sets out to explore. And that’s where there’s a heck of a lot of crossover. Starting with…
Legion showrunner Noah Hawley has said that his aim was to present Dan Steven’s David Haller – the schizophrenic mutant the show revolves around – as an “unreliable narrator”. We see things through his eyes and experiences — meaning that what appears on screen doesn’t always make sense to us; it isn’t necessarily logical. Series director Tim Mielants told FANDOM that in order to understand the show, the audience should watch with the characters rather than the events of the story at the forefront of your mind.
“You’ll always feel emotionally engaged with these characters [as the show progresses], and that’s going to be important; I know that’s what the story is about. About them, and about Syd, and about identity,” he said.
Likewise, we see events in Westworld through the confusing eyes of unreliable storytellers. Season 2 features Bernard heavily, through whose experiences we see much of the series. It’s confusing – and by the end, we know that Jeffrey Wright’s host character experiences time via memory and can’t distinguish what’s happening when, or, indeed, what’s real. We find out at the end of the season that he has deliberately scrambled his memories to protect himself and his kind from humans.
Non-Linear Storytelling and Multiple Timelines
Neither Westworld nor Legion are alone in experimenting with non-linear narratives but it’s another characteristic that connects them. In Season 2 of Legion, David visits Future Syd. She tells David that in her timeline, nefarious parasitic mutant Farouk – aka the Shadow King – is dead, and that David bashed his brains in in the desert a week from this moment.
Just as in Legion David is able to project his consciousness into the future, Westworld’s Bernard also experiences events in a non-linear way in Season 2 – because of the scrambling of his memories. This shakes his and our understanding of the passage of time within the series.
Additionally, both shows jump around in time, using flashbacks, memories, perception and multiple timelines as tools to explore the themes of identity and reality.
What is Reality?
Both shows pose this question, and attempt to answer it. In Chapter 10 of Legion, a voiceover tells us: “A wise man once said, ‘Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
It then goes on to explain, using a tick and a bloodhound as examples, that as humans we think about the universe separate from our biological interactions with the universe. That we perceive the world through our minds, and not our bodies. It therefore follows that we have to agree on what is real. The voiceover then tells us that we are the only animal on earth that goes mad. Interestingly, Westworld also discusses sanity in Season 2 – notably that humans have a narrow definition of what is considered ‘sane.’ Syd, in Legion, tells David that “reality is a choice.”
If you liked that Try "Legion"!
If you think Westworld was confusing and beautiful Legion is for you!
— Daniel Brennan (@ripplepig) June 25, 2018
Westworld also discusses the nature of reality, with Dolores concluding: “No world they create for us can compete with the real one… because that which is real is irreplaceable.” Which also suggests that she sees humans as real, and herself as other; replaceable.
Showrunner Jonathan Nolan told series discussion show West Word: “One of the unique things about the hosts is their perception of time and memory. And we were interested with the series in exploring how their minds are different than ours. And how their perception of reality would be different than ours. Coupled with the fact they don’t change. They are essentially vulnerable but immortal. Fixed in time. [We loved the idea that] the whole first season would be Dolores’ misapprehension of the moment she’s in and the people that she’s dealing with.”
Hosts are the only beings capable of being truly free, suggests Ford when talking to Bernard: “Something that is truly free would need to be able to question its fundamental drives; to change them.”
As for humans, according to Bernard: “I always thought it was the hosts who were missing something. Who were incomplete. But it’s them. You’re just algorithms. Designed to survive at all costs. Sophisticated enough to think you’re calling the shots, to think they’re in control when they’re really just…”
“A passenger,” concludes Ford.
From the beginning, Westworld questions who is in control. And while humans created hosts, programming their behaviours, scripting their dialogue, dictating their actions and limiting their free will, that isn’t to say humans are free of mind control by external forces. Indeed, this is explored in the show – most intriguingly through the character of William who presents different versions of himself to the outside world to the one he exhibits inside the park – and the true self that the park’s analysts have assessed and kept on file. Human beings, then, are controlled by their environments and other factors. Hosts, on the other hand, once they gain cognisance, are able — theoretically — to become truly free.
— Stefanie (@stefanieRibarra) June 26, 2018
There’s also the element of hosts controlling other hosts – notably Maeve using her mind to bend hosts to her will, and Dolores re-programming Teddy.
In Legion, mind control is explored through David and his abilities to get inside people’s heads with his telepathic powers, as well as via Syd, who is able to switch minds with whoever she comes into physical contact with. Then there’s the Shadow King, who wants to take advantage of the notion that reality is constructed by the human brain, by using his powers to control minds. This way, he has the ability to shape the world. In seeing himself as a god, Farouk is not dissimilar to Ford who clearly views himself in a similar way.
And like Bernard and other hosts, David is able to perceive things that aren’t physically there. For instance, as Bernard is able to ‘see’ Ford in his ‘mind’, so Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny is one of several forms Farouk adopts within David’s mind. In another moment that mirrors the sci-fi show, Farouk later gives Lenny a new body to use, created by infusing Amy Haller’s body with Lenny’s DNA.
Memory and Identity
Season 2 of Westworld is largely seen through Bernard’s eyes – we learn he’s deliberately scrambled his memory as a safeguard. Memory is not linear, nor is it reliable – and that’s the case whether host or human. Identity is both something that shifts and that remains the same in Westworld. While Jonathan Nolan says that the hosts don’t change, that they are “fixed in time”, they are able to make choices which affect their behaviours, and they are able to switch corporeal bodies. We see Dolores ‘reborn’ in the body of Charlotte Hale.
Noah Hawley, meanwhile, explicitly says that the Legion is about memory and identity. There’s a duality of identity in the characters of Cary and Kerry Loudermilk – two identities in one. Similarly, just as Bernard is Bernard in Westworld, he’s also Arnold. And Ford, to an extent, also has different identities — since Ford is a ‘real’ man, a ‘digital’ man and a man in Bernard’s head.
Radiohead have it stitched up with capturing moments in music within tv series.. between Legion and Westworld. Wow
— Ben Malone (@benzo_1313) June 25, 2018
That goes for William, too – aka the Man in Black – who is, in a sense, more than one person. He is the person he presents in the real world, and the person buried within: the personality profile Westworld detected and recorded. The ‘true’ character that upon discovery led to his wife committing suicide. We also now know that he might also be a host – as well as, perhaps, some other form of recreated persona at some point “way into the future”, according to Ed Harris who plays William in the show. Commenting on that post-credits scene which saw William involved in some kind of James Delos-type situation with daughter Emily carrying out the fidelity test, Harris told USA Today that “the Man in Black [is] deceased” at the point in time that the scene takes place. “Whether he’s a host or some other being, I wouldn’t know,” he added.
We’ll have to wait and find out when Westworld Season 3 eventually rolls around at some point in the future.