Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x6)

Over the past few reviews, we've asked ourselves how you know you're real and how you know you're complex so here's another question to befuddle and confuse: what traits make you up and is it possible to quantify those traits in relation to each other? Westworld certainly thinks so; it can assign numbers to discernible traits like compassion, intelligence, and  humor with the intention of creating the perfect character. The head of a whore house should be extra perceptive and charming but maybe less introspective. What happens, then, when the characters begin to examine themselves and decide what level of each trait they have? In this week's episode, "The Adversary," Maeve takes center stage and we--and Maeve herself--try to figure out what makes her tick. The question of real and complex are here but now we also have to wonder what kind of human/machine/being she is. Is her role as a whore less real than her previous story of a mother? And, who decides? Try not to glitch out and let's go!

It takes a certain amount of heroism to die over and over again just so you can arrange a conversation with the "shades" who are really the scientists behind the park. How many times has Maeve been through this? How creative does she have to get in order to die? And, while we're on that particular topic, is it even right to talk about Maeve dying? After all, she's not really alive in the same sense that you and I are. Is it better to speak of Maeve and the other Hosts in mechanic terms so that Maeve is rebooting, not dying? I just asked a lot of questions, I know. There were so many enjoyable (if that’s the right word) moments in this episode, like watching Maeve wander the hallways behind the scenes, seeing moments of her life suddenly stripped away to their bare components. Imagine if the veil of your life was ripped away and the animals and other humans were revealed to be wires and switches. It’s like Neo taking the red pill; it's akin to Alice going through the Looking Glass and instead of finding wonder, finding reality. The park itself is Wonderland with upside rules, full of nonsense; people can die and come back, some people can't be hurt at all. This cold and unfeeling behind the scenes world is the “real” (that word is problematic in this show…) world and it’s not as glamorous. It’s figures being carved by hand and artificial blood being pumped into blanks to give the appearance of life. Is it anyone wonder that Maeve wants to change her own “code base” so that she is more perceptive? Speaking of, it struck me that while talk of “code base” is awfully mechanic, there’s a human factor to it as well. Humans–the born kind–can do this to. We can’t punch a screen and change our personality, but we educate ourselves; we can interact with people of different backgrounds and experiences, we (and this sounds really cliche) live in order to change our own base lines. How do I become more perceptive–by opening my eyes and seeing the world. How do I enhance my intelligence–by going to school, reading, and having conversations. Isn't that what Maeve is doing? She's engaging with her world--the world she didn't know existed until now--in order to learn more about it and herself. It's one of the ultimate acts of humanness. There are moments in which the show goes to some length to remind us that these machines aren’t human, that there’s more separating us from them besides processing power. I think it’s why the show (and by extension the scientists like Felix) keep Maeve naked for 99.9% of this episode. Having her stripped down and unconcerned by her nudity for long periods of time reminds us that she’s a machine; it’s why putting Maeve in clothing when she goes on a tour of the plant helps sell the horror of her seeing reality. She’s not just a machine at that point, she feels more real. It's not a coincidence that this is also when Maeve sees her daughter in a sizzle reel for Westworld. The show constantly wants us to grapple with humanity, how we manufacture it and how we define it both in spite of and because of that manufactured nature. Maeve is manufactured; she was not born, she was created by non-manufactured humans with the help of other machines. And yet...and yet. Maeve watching the sizzle reel of her and her daughter from a past story--and the total heartbreak written on her face--was utterly human. One thing that stands out with Maeve in this episode is that her “motherhood” trait carries over to her work as a madam. She mothers the girls under her, even if it’s in a more “crude” manner. Does that mean that somehow her defining characteristic was one that wasn’t programmed as part of her baseline? Or can you even program motherhood–isn’t it really made up of many other traits like compassion, level-headed, nurturing, ect. Is it that Meave has the right baseline to yield motherhood or is this organic to Maeve herself?

Moving past Maeve, it turns out that little creepy boy is actually Dr. Ford! Created by Arnold! Looking back, the boy and Dr. Ford are dressed eerily similar so maybe we should have seen it coming but I think the point of this little exercise was showing the difference, again, between Dr Ford and Arnold, though it's getting harder and harder to figure out who is the "bad guy" in this relationship. Arnold made Ford a robotic family but it sounded like Ford made some upgrades to his “family”–to make them more like how he remembered them and how they really were (like Ford's angry dad) whereas Arnold wanted them to be more like they could have been. Pragmatism vs romanticism. Does that translate to the park? Did Dr. Ford open Westworld in hopes of showing humanity their reality, drenched in blood and vice? And, conversely, did Arnold want to open Westworld to show humanity what they could be, a better angel? If true, what does this mean for Dr Ford’s plans right now? We got a look at the layout of his new narrative and it doesn’t look like anything groundbreaking; there’s a church (which we saw the steeple of a few episodes ago) but what’s his goal with this new narrative? I can’t help but feel that most of Dr. Ford’s motivations are about an ongoing conversation with a dead man; it's the equivalent of “you think the park should be like this, but I think it should be like THIS and I’ll prove it to you, even if you are dead!” The fact that Arnold built Dr Ford a family (a kinder version at that) speaks to the level of friendship between the two; they weren’t just business partners and I get a sense that these two would always keep the other in mind with whatever they did. Did any of my readers watch Fringe? Arnold and Dr Ford remind me quite a bit of Walter Bishop and William Bell. Brilliant scientists, great friends, but with some philosophical differences that don’t necessarily cause a split in affection, but yield great conversations and even greater work. This on-going conversation between the two friends/enemies/scientists bring us to the Native belief of the Maze and the Adversary who resides in the center. I was heavily reminded of the Minotaur/Theseus in Greek mythology. But more than that, while Teddy speaks of the story as a myth, it’s heavily couched in metaphorical language, that final human aspect Arnold was trying to instill in his Hosts. The maze is less literal and more an ongoing journey for any living person, trying to find their way to selfhood, pitfalls along the way (including self-death and self-rebirth). And if they do manage to become self-actualized, no one else can disturb them because they’ve constructed a “maze” of identity that no one can bypass. This serves as a confusing point, however, because the fact that the symbol for the maze is etched everywhere (including in Dr. Ford’s notebook) makes me believe that there’s a literal maze, but the way the maze is talked about makes me believe it can’t possibly be literal! Reality and fiction; real and not real; literal and metaphorical. What is what on this show?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Adversary 

–I don’t particularly care about Lee and his tortured artists shtick.

–So why exactly are employees of the park (some of them) broadcasting a “bicameral mind” to the first generations Hosts? And who grabbed Elsie?

–“You don’t have a choice. Even if you say no, it’s part of your character.”

–I like that the further you get from the central town, the more hazardous and raw the game gets.

--Did anyone else think that sizzle real was false advertising? It was romanticizing what goes on in Westworld. You have the cowboys and the great outdoors and an interesting little town complete with saloons, but it failed to show what “life without limits” really means–like lots of bloodshed and violence and people acting out their basest of desires.

--What are the chances that Arnold is at the center of the Maze--provided it's literal.

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