Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x8 and 1x9)

At one point during episode eight, "Trace Decay," Dolores, frantic from visions of a distant past in which hundreds were murdered seemingly before her eyes, says to William "It's like I'm trapped in a memory of a life time ago." Memories can haunt us; regrets, good and bad decisions, choices that we made (and choices that were made for us) inform our very psyche. Without our memories, without our experiences, we are less than our natural, self aware selves. Isn't it interesting, then, that the best way to reset a Host--to make then pliable and ready for a new story--is to erase their memories of their previous lives? That is to say that without those specific sets of memories a specific person fails to exist. Their consciousness is lost unto the ether. It's a perfect system, this computer enhanced Westworld one. When one story--when one person--becomes tedious, simply delete it and upload another. The problem, as we are discovering, is that when the Hosts do remember--as more and more of them are--the memories they uncover are violent, horrible, and brutal; moreover, unlike human memories which are foggy and hazy, coated in subjective viewpoints and opinions, the Hosts seem to remember things perfectly. Every detail is exact, making it all the more (wait for it) real. Imagine knowing exactly what your child's hand in yours felt like only to then remember that you don't have a child at all. Memories are largely at play for episode 8 which then dovetails nicely into episode 9, "The Well-Tempered Clavier." We're reaching journey's end and hopefully we don't have a trigger logged in our spinal base set to explode if we cross the threshold (eek!) so let's go! 

In these reviews, I have discussed at length such questions about what makes someone real, what makes someone complex and what if reality is only based on how others see you, but it's Doctor Ford who gives what is either the most uplifting or most depressing answer, depending on your current status, to all these questions. When it comes to what separates us from the machines, the Hosts of Westworld, there is no threshold, there is no magic line in the sand that clearly distinguishes Human from Host. "We cannot," Doctor Ford says "define consciousness because it doesn't exist." On the one hand, as a human being with a human's perspective, this is pretty terrifying! Of course consciousness must exist; isn't that what separates us from the animals or from, say, this laptop on which I am writing this review (note to self: disable my Cortana when I'm done writing this review...). I have independent thought; I make choices based on my own self-interest and the interests of others; I fear my own death and the end of my existence; I can contemplate (with varying degrees of success) the universe, the heavens, gods and devils, and mankind's own wonderfully flawed state of being. How could I not be a conscious being? For Ford, who had spent his entire adult life working to make Hosts as human like as possible, what we see as consciousness is really just another loop. Do we really make choices or are they made for us? Recall a few episodes back when Maeve thought she was in control of her own words and thoughts but when viewed on an iPad she saw that her words were part of an elaborate code someone had designed. She gives the allusion of independence and improvisation, but all of it is a lie. By that token consciousness is a lie, one humanity is happy to oblige and turn a blind eye to. Rarely do we question our choices and more often than not, we are happy to be told what to do. However, while this perspective is terrifying from a human's perspective, from the Host's viewpoint (such as Bernard who is undergoing one hell of a existential life crisis) it must be comforting. If they begin to question their own consciousness, humans can simply say that thing which they seek does not exist. Period, end of story. However, what does this mean for Maeve who, by the looks of things, has not only just discovered her own consciousness but evolved past even man's ability to use it.

I don't know about you, my dear readers, but I feel like Maeve just became a god. That's a tricky word so it's helpful here to pause and define god, and it's even more helpful to define god vis a vis the other "types" in the show. We have, first and perhaps at the bottom, Hosts. They have only an illusion of control over their stories and their lives. They (most) are not self aware that they are living in a park/game. Any action they cause can be undone or is irrelevant but all actions acted toward them "count" (ie: they can be killed.) Then, we have the humans who have control over the world and can be both the actors and the subjects. They are self-aware of their surroundings but outside of game play there is little they can do to alter the world unless they work for Westworld and even then we've seen the bureaucracy that runs the park. Finally we have the "gods." These are the types that can change the world at will; they are actors predominately and moreover they need little to no permission to change the world. The ability to manipulate the world with just a glance or a spoken word is something that no ordinary mortal can do, save Doctor Ford whom we've seen control hosts and the landscape (like a snake) with just a flick of wrist or a quick whisper. In these moments he's often come across as a Merlin in a realm of Muggles or, in a really extreme simile, like God wandering through the Garden of Eden. Several instances in the latest episode have Ford actually using language that invokes the Biblical, like claiming he and Arnold built the Hosts "in our image." The park workers have special phrases (magical spells, ritual, incantations, if you will) that will put a Host to sleep or stop the narrative if they want, but the ability to change the story midstream is unprecedented, especially from a Host.  This awakening of Maeve's makes me wonder if this is where the ultimate story is going: granting this divine, omnipotent power to humans so that they can ascend beyond their own mortal abilities to control the stories and the people in those stories. Imagine, for example, if the President of the United States had the ability to change the world or defeat his enemies with just a thought; if he didn't need Congress or the SCOTUS. Some might think that sounds just dandy but now imagine that the USA's enemies have the exact same power. It's war on a totally unprecedented level and with Maeve setting out to form an army, she might give the Man in Black a run for his diabolical money.

The god question dovetails nicely into Bernard as the newly revealed Host is exploring his new self-awareness. For Maeve it's about testing her new found omnipotence. For Bernard it's about the most basic question: who am I? If Bernard's identity was complicated before, then it's almost impossible now. Bernard is modeled on Arnold or rather is an homage to Arnold. It might even be fitting to say that Bernard is Arnold; he's such an accurate simulacrum that the image stops being mere image and because the thing he's modeled after. Ford built him to be a more perfect version of his former partner and Bernard's journey toward meeting Arnold is actually a journey toward self-hood, one that ends tragically. There is a line from the first Star Trek movie that has been floating in my head since I saw the ninth episode, "The Well-Trained Clavier;" the context of that movie is that a machine--a probe--gains sentience after being taken under wing (so to speak) by other sentient machines but, like so many creatures are wont to do, it eventually makes the journey home with the intention of meeting its creator. The line from the movie that haunts me, and haunts Bernard, is "longing to touch the creator. To ask is this all that I am? Is there nothing else." It's one of the most human responses there is. Whether or not you believe in some powerful entity called God or you believe in a just "the cosmos" at some point everyone begins to question their identity and their purpose. Why am I here? Who am I? Why was I put on this planet? What role to do I play in the narrative? This is what Bernard wants to do; he wants to touch and join with his creator. The problem arises that Arnold did not build Bernard but rather Ford; and Ford has zero time for Hosts that want to become sentient. Consciousness may not exist in Ford's world, but Dr. Ford is still the ultimate God of said world and because he built Bernard, he has every right to do what he wants to Bernard's mind, even end it. Sometimes touching your creator isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be. Bernard fails to achieve godhood; instead, he's just another sad self-aware machine, being told to shoot himself in the head by his creator.

Miscellaneous Notes on Trace Decay and The Well-Tempered Clavier 

--My review could theoretically go on for ages, but some things really must be saved for the notes! It's become increasingly clear that the show is playing with multiple time streams. This is easiest to see with Dolores. When she's in her dress, it's the far past when Arnold and Ford were setting up the park. When she's in her dress shirt and pants, with a stomach wound, it's roughly thirty years ago (I'll explain that in a second) and, finally, when she's in the same outfit but without the stomach wound, it's present day. How do we know? I think the internet's most famous theory about Westworld is absolutely true--William is the Man in Black on his first park visit. Almost like a goose flying home after winter, Dolores keeps taking the journey back to the original homestead. Now, what prompted this present day adventure? I'd say it was the photograph she found in the pilot that triggered her self-awareness. We shall see!

--"If it's such a wonderful place out there, why are you all clamoring to get in here?"

--Maeve will begin the robot revolution by slowly opening the eyes of all the robots with the potential for sentience. Is there any Host who is lacking in such potential?

--I think I'm really confused as to where Teddy and Wyatt's story fits in, hence why I talk so little about it.

--"A little trauma can be illuminating."

--Dolores killed Arnold. Was it because he opened her mind to sentience? Is that what the Maze is--a way for the Hosts to gain sentience? It would explain why the Man in Black keeps being told it's not for him. He is already sentient, Westworld showed him what sort of man he is.

--"Who am I?" "That's a complicated question..." #SeriesTheme!

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