Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x3)

Are you a complex person? I don't mean complexity in the sense of being challenging to your peers, but rather are you sophisticated enough to be introspective, to understand your own self-awareness? Do you have the complex, metaphorical language needed to engage with the world around you in a meaningful way? If your answer is yes, then congratulation you're probably a real person. Last week, we opened with a wide view of what makes a person real--your memories, your biological responses to stimuli, your cognitive abilities to reason, argue think, understand. In this week's episode, "The Stray," we move past what it means to be real and focus on what it means to be complex and whether or not your complexity is derived from experience or manufactured by those around you. Expositions galore this week, but there's so much to unpack in the show's almost meta examination of reality and scripted narratives that I'll take it! Grab your thinking cap and let's go

I do hope no one thinks me uncomplex if my review is a bit all over the place but this show has opened a flood gate of deep philosophical questions and that excites me! The search for consciousness is at the heart of the human experience, that which we are always searching for even when we don't know it. If the first two episodes were essentially about being real, then this episode is tackling the idea of “are you complex?” For clarity's sake, I will be using the word "uncomplex" in place of the more proper uncomplicated. Yes, the latter is more grammatically correct, but the world complex and complicated have two different connotations and the show is playing with complexity over complicated, so I want to follow suit. Onwards! The two ideas--being real and being complex--feed into one another but not in any sort of direct cause and effect clear line. For example, you might say that you can be real but be uncomplex–a newborn baby is certainly real and perhaps physically complex, but he is not complex in an emotional, internal way. He has no self awareness, no complex language or ideas to be able to express who he is, how he feels, how he interacts with the world around him and how it in turn interacts with him. The baby has no ability to create metaphors, discuss or even think about higher order concepts like art, life, religion, politics, aesthetics. We wouldn’t say the baby is un-real, merely new and untrained in the ways of complex thinking. He must be introduced to complexity through growth and interaction. But is our realness dependent on our complexity?What if this newborn baby grows up and still doesn’t have the ability to think and discuss complexity, either because of a biological reason or because he was untrained or kept in seclusion. Is he any less real because he doesn’t posses metaphorical language which leads to introspection which leads to self awareness? Can you be real and uncomplex or does your lack of emotional and internal complexity mean you aren’t real? Teddy isn’t real in the same way a birthed human is real, but he was also really uncomplex for the first two episodes–in fact his character was pretty cliche and flat. But then he’s given complexity by Dr. Ford and suddenly his character has more stakes in the game (the game of life, not just the Westworld game). He’s given a backstory which “anchors” his character and gives him depth to perceive right from wrong and good from evil not only with those around him (his hatred for Wyatt is more than just some vague past encounter). But, can you really be complex if complexity is GIVEN to you? It wasn’t learned. It wasn’t born upon years of interacting with his world, developing a better code by way of life. This better code which leads to complexity was literally uploaded to him! So is he still uncomplex because his complexity exists only at the whims of another?! What happens if Ford decides to take away his complexity?

And then there’s Dolores! While she was obviously having some memory flashes in episode 1 and 2, her responses to Bernard at the beginning of the current hour demonstrate a LACK of complexity. “It’s about change. It seems to be a common theme” is about as uncomplex an answer as one can give when discussing narrative. All stories are, at the end of the day, about change. The story of humanity? About change. The story of Earth? About change. Any story you've literally ever read? About change. That statement–that stories are about change–is as commonplace as it gets and any English teacher worth their salt wouldn’t accept it as a response. Dolores gives the appearance of complexity, hence why Bernard keeps pushing her, but she’s not actually complex until she fires that gun, seemingly coming into some self-awareness that she can control her own story and do that which she was previously unable to do. So, her complexity isn’t manufactured in the same way Teddy's was, so is she more real than Teddy? Can you be more real than another person. A problem that is compounded when we remember that Teddy is not a "person" but a Host---or is he now a person because of his newfound complexity that isn't even natural complexity but designed and manufactured! See. This show is giving me fits; the good kind though.

I’m not overly familiar with the concept of the bicameral mind so I had to do some reading up, but it doesn’t actually sound like it’s been debunked but rather ignored and forgotten and I think this is where Westworld is headed, into the of idea of not only can technology mimic people but it can become consciousness to the point of there being no distinction between a birthed human and a engineered one. The pyramid Ford draws is the basis for distinguishing complex from uncomplex and we have to question if the Hosts of Westworld exhibit these traits? Memory: the hosts have memories but they are buried and deleted during each reset. But these things DID happen and they ARE starting to remember. Improvisation: Bernard commands Dolores to turn off scripted answers and instead use improvisation during their conversations because Bernard is hoping he’ll find consciousness inside Dolores. But is improvisation in the Hosts already? I think it is. Look at the titular “Stray” host Elsie and Ashley went after. Elsie even says it best: “it’s like he had an idea!” Yes, he had an idea that wasn’t part of his script and he went to follow it. I mean it ended badly for him, but that’s part of being a real complex individual. Self interest: Aren’t all the Hosts self-interested? They all want to stay alive, to eat, to drink, to sleep with someone, to go about their day. It’s manufactured self-interest though. So is it…real? Also, there is a running theme throughout all the Hosts so far: the self-interest of freedom. The desire to move past their current circumstance (circumstances of which they aren't even really aware!) and see the world, escape their lives and find themselves "out there" wherever that may be. Finally the bicameral mind; I think what Ford is getting at, and what Arnold died trying to find, was metaphorical language. That you are sophisticated enough to speak complexly and become an introspective self aware individual. And I think that’s what happening to Dolores. But that raises the question of how did this happen? It’s not a glitch or a virus. I thought it came from Dr. Ford’s reveries, but in this episode he seems pretty emphatic that the Hosts are NOT real–he even slices up a face of one to prove his point. But is he lying to himself? Ford also spends a lot of time looking at his creation and marveling at it. He seems sad when one has to be taken out of the park and put into cold storage; he’s the one trying to build an overly complex, brand new narrative instead of letting the head writer create his overly cliche tropes! Complex stories and interactions lead to complexity. How could they not! Whatever Ford is planning in his narrative, isn’t it going to exacerbate the problem his Hosts are having? Isn’t he also chasing consciousness? Is this, to quote another science fiction classic, his final frontier? What's at the center of his Maze? Is it the answer to creating consciousness or harnessing it? Maybe the answer is too complex for me to see right now; but that doesn't mean I'm any less real, right?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Stray

--There is a very popular theory a floating around the internet that my friend sent my way. The Gunslinger/Man in Black is really William, the White Hat. When we see William and Logan, we are seeing the park many years ago when the Future Man in Black was introduced to this park. I think it makes a lot of sense, except that I’m wondering how Dolores stumbling into their campsite fits because if it’s long ago, she shouldn’t be running away from the bandits at her house, right? Unless this same story (Dolores running away after the bandits kill her mother and father) has happened before?

--Bernard is chasing consciousness because his son died.

-- Soooo…who’s voice was that at the end? Who told Dolores to kill the bandit? Was it “God” (Arnold, who I’m gonna go ahead and say is NOT dead); was it Ford; was it Dolores’s own internal self (but why imagine the voice as male? Is it because of her interactions with Bernard? Did her mind make Bernard into God because of their conversations?)

--Something to keep on the back burner, but where does religion come into play with complexity? Are you less complex if you believe in a higher power and think you can hear God's voice? Or are you more complex if you're willing to have faith in something that you can't see and touch?

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