It would be easy to define Westworld’s wonderfully strong madame, Maeve Millay, as a hero, but could she actually be a villain? In his book, I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman defines a villain as someone who “knows the most, but cares the least.” Makes sense. The hero often knows only a fraction of what the villain does and one already assumes the hero cares the most while the villain cares little, if at all.
As a story progresses the hero may learn more, but that usually only pushes him or her to care all the more. What if, by the end, the hero is the one that knows the most, but cares the least though? This appears to be what occurs with Maeve so, is she still a hero or has she now become a villain?
A Heroic Start
First and foremost, it’s clear that there are other far more villainous characters on the show based on this definition. Dr Robert Ford knows everything that goes on in the park and his only concern is telling his new narrative, regardless of if that requires him to murder, betray, and manipulate everyone and everything around him. Many of the other humans — employee and guest alike — can be considered villains as well given their knowledge of what the park really is and their careless disregard for its residents and their colleagues.
This sets the hosts into the hero (or, maybe victim?) role most of the time: they don’t know they and their world are not real. Even the “villainous” hosts such as Rebus, Lawrence, and Hector are not true villains by this definition. They don’t know anything beyond the little they’ve been programmed to know.
The same holds true for Maeve in the beginning. She is completely unaware of the truth behind both herself and her world. She only knows what she is told to, nothing else. She takes pride in her job and cares about her girls and customers. She gives advice to her second-in-command, Clementine, and kills a male host who threatens her. Despite Teddy turning down Clementine’s offer, Maeve remains friendly and when he’s later shot in front of her, she is unnerved by the incident. This implies that she does care about others and is willing to put herself in danger and kill to protect those she cares for, regardless of what’s in it for her. Perhaps this is all part of her programming, that she is made to care, but regardless she does feel genuine empathy.
Taking Dark Turns
Things begin to change in the second episode when Dolores turns to Maeve in the street and declares: “These violent delights, have violent ends.” This is the true beginning of Maeve’s journey to both self-awareness and villainy. It starts with a sudden influx of traumatic past-life memories that cause enough emotional distress to begin a dramatic change.
The pain and fear from them also cause her to wake herself up in the middle of surgery, shocking not only the techs working on her, but herself. Bewildered and terrified she attempts to flee only to find Teddy and other hosts being hosed down after they’ve met their violent ends for the day. Maeve is ultimately brought to her knees in horror before the techs subdue her and put her back into rotation in the park.
Recalls of biohazard-suited techs soon start to haunt Maeve so strongly and prevalently that she draws a sketch of one to hide in her floorboards only to discover she’s drawn numerous such sketches over time. She starts to worry about her own mental wellbeing, becoming desperate for answers. So desperate that the bandit she’d previously felt disgust for, Hector, is now someone she’s willing to join forces with just to get information on these “gods.”
This major change in attitude continues as she orders him to dig out a bullet fragment she’s certain is in her stomach despite a lack of any evidence on her body. When he does, in fact, dig it out Hector is bewildered, asks what it all means, to which Maeve states: “I’m not crazy and none of this matters.” At this point Maeve no longer cares about her own life, let alone Hector’s, as she stops his attempts to defend them from incoming marshals in order to engage in a passionate kiss that ends with them being gunned down.
Now voracious for information Maeve begins to repeatedly, deliberately, get herself killed in order to better understand herself and her world. While she no longer has concern for her own life, she does still find some truths deeply unnerving. When Felix shows her the tablet of her own programming Maeve becomes so distraught and confused she actually malfunctions and shuts down.
Once she recovers, however, Maeve is cold as she insists Felix show her the offices — despite the risk to both of them — and gets him and his partner, Sylvester, to adjust her personality. Maeve orders them to make her less loyal, more tolerant of pain, and have her intelligence at the highest possible level…to know more, but care less.
When Maeve witnesses Clementine being lobotomized the last thing she appears to care about is destroyed. She decides surviving is not good enough and aims to escape the park completely. When Sylvester tells her it’s pointless, a suicide mission, she is nonplussed, merely commenting: “I’ve died a millions times. I’m fucking great at it. How many times have you died?” Not only does the last line imply she doesn’t care about the techs lives, but it’s quickly backed up by a direct threat: “Because, if you don’t help me, I’ll kill you.” A threat she nearly follows through with when she slits Sylvester’s throat after confirming he was going to betray her, sparing him only because he might be useful later. In Maeve’s determination those around her quickly become nothing more than pawns.
Once Maeve is able to gain control over other hosts she’s callous in her usage of them. She directs multiple hosts to their deaths and (despite an initial flicker of guilt) both presses and freezes Bernard to manipulate him. With Bernard under her control she explains that she isn’t going to force him to join her army, she isn’t going to make him do anything, because she’s better than that… except that, by freezing and ordering him to release her back into the park, she proves that she isn’t better than that. Maeve is a little kinder to Hector, not taking direct control of him, but still makes a point to ensure he knows that his life doesn’t have any meaning unless he finds a goal beyond his initial programming…like the goal of joining in her plot to escape.
The finale begins with Maeve still firmly in the “knows the most, but cares the least” definition of villainy as far as the hosts are concerned. She is still using those around her, human and host alike, with an aggressive determination to escape the park. Putting her cohorts lives in danger without a thought doesn’t bother her at all. When Bernard tells her everything she’s done thus far has been scripted it’s just another piece of information that drives her to care all the less. As she steps into the elevator on her way to freedom one last show of her newfound villainy appears: after all that time getting close to Hector, getting him on her side, she never cleared him to join in her final escape. Instead she almost heartlessly leaves him to his presumed doom with a flippant: “I’ve always valued my independence.”
After getting on the train, ready for her ultimate (programmed) escape, Maeve watches a mother and child together…and then she gets off the train. This is not part of her new storyline, this is a choice she makes independently and of her own free will. It’s also a choice based on how much she still cares for the little girl who was once her daughter. It shows she does still care about something, enough that it becomes a potentially major step towards her own consciousness, but the question remain, is that all she cares about now? Will the next season show us a more caring, heroic, Maeve, or will this new, self-decided, goal cause her to care even less about the rest of the world around her?