Should We Fan-Theorize In the Off-Season?

By  · Published on December 6th, 2016

Dear FSR

The show’s over for now – let’s dismantle it?

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

Westworld has been a consuming part of my life for the past few months, like Game of Thrones and Lost before it, leading me down rabbit holes and into conflicts around work break rooms. I’m not TOO obsessed – at least I don’t think so – but I listen to podcasts and read theorizing recaps between episodes. Sometimes I like to bounce my ideas off my husband or co-workers, though I’m not going to blog about it or anything. Some of my friends though, that’s all the talk about. That’s their whole day is obsessing over details and sifting through transcripts and zooming on images. Now that the season is over, there’s only hypothesizing to do FOR A YEAR. What level of Sherlocking is appropriate before crossing over into annoying fangirl territory and how can I get my friends to chill between seasons?


Frustrated Fan of Frustrating Fiction

Dear FFFF,

It can feel overwhelming to be deep in a show’s black hole. No outside light shining in, all friends and relations defined by their status with the show: caught up, watcher but not thinker, or fellow theorist. And in those, we have subcategories of misguided crackpots, skimmers (on their phones, reading with it in the background), and the stubbornly unengaged. It’s a testament to a show’s craft that it has the ability to be a cultural moment, but that moment depends on the show’s identity.

Look at Stranger Things. It spawned some theorizing, some guesses and detective work, but mostly just fandom. Art, costumes, comics, and crossover memes on top of crossover memes. People loved the characters, the world, and its imagery. Now that it’s ended for the season, people bond together over a common fondness for its experience. Westworld had a different relationship with its audience in mind from the beginning and now must reap the uneasy rewards of its success.

Its audience, when compared to the example of Stranger Things fans, will be poring over the previous season looking for clues, adding up small details in frames to lines of dialogue and allusions, to try to be RIGHT when the show comes back. Stranger Things fans are going to be happy to be in the world again, to see a character or two that they loved. Westworld fans (or at least a prominent subdivision, if the amount of post-discussion is to be believed) are looking for confirmation. They’re more easily let down because they’ve been set up to look at Westworld as something with a solution. And when their expectations are judged against the realities of a follow-up season, well, it’s hard to please everyone when everyone has different ideas.

So, deciding what’s appropriate isn’t really up to me, but for your continued enjoyment (of both Westworld and the people around you) I’d recommend not developing too many preconceived notions. Spinning your friends into a more creation-oriented segment of fandom could help stave off the kind of disappointment associated with string-and-corkboard theorizing. Fan fiction, fan art, cosplay – all these allow a relationship between fan and art that doesn’t have the baggage that the between-season lull can invite. It also produces something that allows you as a fan to stretch your creative muscles rather than banging your head against something that has been constructed as indecipherably vague to attract viewers again and again.

Unless you want to become the Alex Jones of your office, constantly railing against irrelevant topics at the top of your conspiracy theorist lungs, I’d save the deep dives to the airing season so that it can be part of a communal enjoyment. You might also introduce them to similar shows – things they may have skipped over like the weirdness of Twin Peaks or hell, some of The X-Files. Scratch that itch in a way that frees your brain up so that when your obsession returns, you won’t have premature burnout.

I, however, will be watching comforting cooking shows for the next year,


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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).