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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Here’s a solid explanation for all those weird widescreen shots in Westworld

Illustration for article titled Here’s a solid explanation for all those weird widescreen shots in Westworld
Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)

Fan speculation and theorizing used to be an optional indulgence when it came to our favorite TV shows, but Westworld has quickly turned this type of supplemental reading into a necessity. How else are we supposed to know what the hell is going on? This week’s jarring switches to widescreen were particularly disorienting, and Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson has a solid breakdown of what exactly they might mean.

The following contains major spoilers for episode six of Westworld.

“Phase Space” opens with the same conversation between Dolores and Bernard/Arnold that we saw in the season 2 premiere, which keen-eyed viewers will note is in a different aspect ratio from the rest of the show. That opening scene provides the episode’s first big bombshell—Dolores is actually the one in charge here and, though we previously assumed this conversation was taking place in the past, before Arnold died, it is actually happening later, after his consciousness has been presumably uploaded into Bernard’s body.

Later in the episode, Bernard takes a trip into “the Cradle,” which is a sort of data center that houses all of the host’s consciousnesses, and it is filmed in the same widescreen format, featuring surprise appearances from all our favorite hosts and Sir Anthony Hopkins himself. It raises the same questions Westworld viewers have grown accustomed to asking this season: What is happening? When is this happening? Which Bernard am I watching right now?


Though Robinson admits she doesn’t have the answers to all these questions, she does point out that the differing aspect ratio provides an important clue. When Bernard enters the Cradle, he finds himself in Sweetwater surrounded by the stored consciousnesses of all the other hosts. He also finds himself being filmed in widescreen. So, if the show runners can be trusted to follow their own rules, everything that’s shot in widescreen is taking place inside the Cradle, including that conversation between Dolores and Bernard/Arnold.

Bernard inside the Cradle, shot in widescreen.
Bernard inside the Cradle, shot in widescreen.
Screenshot: Westworld (HBOGo)

That would mean these “interview” scenes aren’t taking place in the real world, but are rather just Dolores’ code interacting with and controlling Bernard/Arnold’s code. Also, given that Robert Ford’s consciousness seems to be running amok inside the Cradle, we’re likely to see the two partners interact further in these widescreen-shot scenes. In terms of answering the big questions, it’s not much. But just knowing when and where you are in any given scene is a huge win when watching this show.

You can read Vanity Fair’s whole report here.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Pay me to write for you, you coward.

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