On top of everything else I’m trying to understand on Westworld (like, what’s Charlotte’s deal, who is this cool new chick in the desert, and will Christina/Dolores and Teddy meet again please??? I’m begging you), there’s also a whole new threat: flies. In season 4, menacing swarms of the insect are wreaking havoc in mysterious ways, and in the past couple of episodes, we’re finally figuring out how and why.
It appears the flies are infected with a parasite manufactured in the Delos labs. These modified bugs have a hypnotizing effect, and when people are infected, they succumb to mind control. As we saw in the first episode of the season, the businessman swarmed with flies hands a plot of land to William for free, just as he wished. And in season 4, episode 3, Caleb already starts getting lured in by the flies from behind a glass wall. But eventually he too gets infected when a fly enters his ear.
Charlotte Hale reveals her plan to him in this week’s episode: She’s going to infect all of humankind with this parasite so she can control them. “Your will is no longer your own. It belongs to me,” she tells Caleb. Everyone who comes to a Delos park will become a carrier and spread the disease when they return to the real world. Their memories get botched as a side effect, too. “Soon…everyone will be under my control,” Hale promises. The flies, then, are a tool for her conquest.
But why is she even doing this? Will she just force all humans to kill themselves off like the people she tested on in the lab? No, she tells Caleb. She has “other plans” for his kind.
“I think, for Charlotte, she very much is imprinted by the pain she experienced as she became her own iteration of the Dolores pearl and then experienced that horrible loss of the family she had interacted with, and I think the notion of wanting to be safe and wanting to keep her host family safe was paramount,” producer Alison Schapker tells ELLE.com.
“And I think as an AI, consciousness, humans—they were an impediment that she needed to deal with and control and make sure that her species could thrive. So I don’t think it was necessarily about sadism for us, I think it was more [that] we were a problem that needed to be solved and she went about it her own way. But of course, like everything on Westworld, no plan unfolds without unintended consequences, so it’ll be interesting to see where that goes.”
Hale calls the infection at the park “the superspreader event of the century” and jokes that Caleb is part of the “first wave.” I couldn’t help but wonder, were the flies inspired by the pandemic? After all, this season was filmed during COVID.
“I would not say that it was inspired by the pandemic, but I think it really spoke to the pandemic,” Schapker says. “Because I think the issue of human beings imagining themselves as these closed systems, or having boundaries that are not permeable, or code that cannot be hacked, is a byproduct of the way we go through the world in our anthropomorphic lens. We think that it’s all designed for us, and are not really humble enough to understand that it’s more complicated than that.
She adds: “And I think when something like a pandemic hits and suddenly you’re worried about germs or bacteria or a virus, what’s going to come into your system, you’re like, oh, I’m actually permeable. I’m actually something that a creature could come and hack. And I think that our storyline with the fly parasite raises similar fears and anxieties, and also truths about who we are as human beings.”
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen flies in Westworld. As early as season 1, Dolores kills a fly, indicating that she was starting to become sentient beyond the limits of her programming and could act upon her own will and volition, even committing violent impulsive acts. While it seems like this parasite-carrying fly is different from the kind Dolores smushed, it is an interesting motif to bring back in order to further explore the show’s recurring themes of free will. In this case, what happens when your will is controlled by someone else?
By the end of the episode, it seems Hale does achieve her goal of world domination. Not only are all people under her control, but they also seem to be replaced with hosts. Caleb, for example, is revealed to be the 278th version of himself; the real human Caleb died in the Gilded Age Delos park 23 years ago. But Hale has apparently missed a few key facts. The parasite works on adults, but children resist it (so Caleb’s daughter Frankie was safe). We can assume the rest of Frankie’s present-day crew, or “organization,” in the desert were also immune as kids and therefore survived.
Still, Hale wields immense power. She can make everyone around her freeze by just lifting a finger. That’s a cool party trick and all, but what is it all for? What is she planning next? Only time will tell.