Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x4 and 1x5)

Mysteries upon mysteries and layers upon layers but at the heart of it all, I think Westworld might be telling a very old story. It's a story of heroes and villains and the blurred line between them. It's the story of humans caught in between the cosmic forces trying to survive when gods and devils play. It's a story of how we imagine ourselves and how the world imagines us. The humans are machines, the gods are men and the villain is a nihilistic savior, but it's an old story. The last two episodes "Dissonance Theory" and "Contrapasso" has a lot to say about how our characters view themeselves in light of their experiences in Westworld, either as a guest or as a host, help inform our identity. It's a bit of a confusing jumble and if you're not cautious, you'll lost your path. So imagine yourself as something other a damsel in narrative distress and it will be so. Hold on tight and let's go!

Let's start with a just a bit of a negative. I have a lot of questions and not enough answers. Westworld does a fabulous job at creating mystery but so far it’s lacking in the “solving the mystery” department. Now, that can be a good thing because the mystery is multifaceted, layered, and less about an actual mystery and more about a philosophical pondering on existence and consciousness; but at the same time, there’s only so many times you can add questions on top of questions and keep expecting me to follow you down this rabbit hole. I think there might be…too many stories right now. The main ones are Dolores and her awakening/unraveling; Dr Ford and his increasingly menacing God complex; the Man in Black fulfilling a hole in the narrative as a suitable antagonist while trying to discover the answer to his own journey into selfhood; and the story of Arnold and the park's past which will, I suppose, tie all the other stories together. But along the way we get Teddy, William, Logan, Mauve, the politics of the park staff, and several park-run stories like Wyatt, the Confederados, the new Black hat who set up William and Logan, ect. It’s a bit much because the story needs to be a bit tighter and not go down tracks that only confuse me more. This isn't to say that the story is bad or that all characters are lacking in motivation. We can haphazardly guess at Dr. Ford's motivation, for instance.  I think this is all about control. Every episode so far has brought up the Board that oversees Westworld and it’s pretty clear Ford does not have a good relationship with them (I suspect they are of the fat-lazy-cat variety and care more for profit than they do for whatever Ford’s original intentions were in creating the park, like tackling and unlocking human consciousness). He obviously has a huge ego–one that sees himself as a God in his own world, a God that is now being trodden upon by said Board. His new storyline and what he’s building will establish him as the sole ruler of Westworld, the Board be damned. That's a fascinating motivation and will hopefully become increasingly apparent instead of talked about in riddles.

Our Man in Black figure comes across as a villain but is he really?  I actually think he’s the most honest of all the characters. The MiB made several references to the fact that he’s “here to set people free” because they are all in prison. It’s sort of…Savior language. He’s still a nasty piece of work, but what he’s trying to figure out, the story he wants to discover, is akin to what Dolores is trying find: freedom. While the MiB probably does not have altruistic intentions, his efforts could help the Hosts gain consciousness and freedom. It’s a nihilistic type of honesty, but it’s honesty. He’s bored. He’s read the same book day after day for 30 years; he knows every sub plot, every twist and turn, except the ultimate one. It’s like…a classic mystery novel? Think Agatha Christie. The reveal of the murderer and their entire explanation happens in one swell swoop typically at the very very end. What if you had a book like that but the last page, the one that revealed the murderer and why he did everything he did, was missing? Wouldn’t it drive you somewhat nuts? (There’s a great episode of M*A*S*H that actually follows this exact plotline come to think about it.) The MiB doesn’t even try to hide what he’s after or how different he is from the rest of the world. He straight up tells Hector that he, Hector, is “market tested” and that’s why Hector exists. The MiB also goes around telling people that they are prisoners and he’s trying to find freedom. I don’t think he cares about them, but is so bored and nihilistic that he’s looking for the only escape left and if it means the Hosts get freed then so be it. As a sidenote, what does freedom actually mean here? The more I think about it, the more I think that the Maze and freedom aren’t literal but figurative. The Maze is more about unlocking human consciousness and freedom is less about leaving the Park–we know the guests can leave after all–and more about freedom from something less tangible. I am looking forward to puzzle out the rest of the show as we move into the second half. It's a confusing jumble right now, but an enjoyable one.

Miscellaneous Notes on Dissonance Theory and Contrapasso

--We get the idea that the Natives have turned their memories or their past recollections of the game workers into Gods. Shades, men who walk between worlds, are part of their religion because that’s the only way their mind can conceive of these memories. It must be otherworldly because their world does not have “science” and “technology” the likes of which the extremely modern world of Ford and Bernard has. But is this an organic development for the Natives or was it implanted in them by the park-runners?

--Therese says that the Board has already sent in their representative—is it Logan? I think so. His “family” keeps getting teased and he clearly knows his way around the Park. Plus his line “it’s always business” was a bit on the nose.

--This show is stunning to just look at. The brothel scene with William, Logan and Dolores was like something out of a Renaissance painting depicting the lowest bowels of Hell.

--Arnold sought consciousness but then wanted to destroy his park? Was it because he felt like he had enslaved a people OR did Dr. Ford lie to us about what Arnold wanted and it was really him who sought these higher ideals.

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