Thursday, December 8, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x10)

These violent delights have violent ends. Since the beginning, Westworld has wanted us to question the nature of reality and consciousness. Who is real? What does real even mean? Is real born or made? Can it be achieved or is it a simple fact of being? I don't know that the season finale "The Bicameral Mind" got us any closer to those weighty questions but if several thousand years of philosophical debate didn't already solve them, then a 10-episode HBO show wasn't going to either. But let's give the little show credit for trying, yes? To say that Westworld is smart is an understatement. To say that it might be too smart seems more apt as, just from my perspective, I spend every week wrestling with some of the most daunting questions facing mankind. To say that Westworld takes these Herculean questions and manages to mix in plot, character, and pathos is to sum up the show perfectly. There was a whole lot-o-plot to be hand in this finale, but the show also answered its own questions on consciousness and whether or not the Hosts can achieve such a thing. In other words, Dolores is awake, angry, and packing heat--run. Hunker down, dig deep, and prepare to have a conversation with yourself and let's go!

Who is God? Yes, that's a fairly tough and heavy question right off the bat but given it's an important one not only for Westworld but for everyone, everywhere, at any time it seems relevant. If you were to put 100 people in a room and ask them the same-God question, you'd likely get 100 different answers with such characteristics as father, creator, wrathful, omnipotent, indifferent, caring, distant, near, nonexistent, ever present, and even the delightfully conflicting answers of real/not real and literal being/universal concept or force. God, then, is a void and we, the mortal and flawed human beings of this plant, fill up that void and create God however we want. There's a Biblical idea that most of you probably know: we are created in God's image and while that's a lovely idea but this is a case where I believe the opposite to be more accurate. We are not created in God's image; God is created in ours. If you live in a cruel and capricious part of the world and life is a constant, hard struggle, then your version of God is likely also cruel, mean spirited and decidedly unhelpful. If you live on a part of the globe where there's always plenty of food, life is sweet and good, then your God is probably seen as a wise parental figure who lifts up his creation instead of tearing them down. The God of your reality is a direct reflection on the reality of your situation and as such, God is a mirror for you, your life, and your community. To speak to God is to speak to your inner self, to discover your own consciousness. And that is exactly what Dolores did in this finale. Her awakening has been a long time coming, something teased and planted in brief moments throughout all ten episodes. It feels as though Dolores has been dancing on the edge of consciousness, veering toward center only to slide back to the outer edge, toward madness. This is the Maze. The winding paths and pitfalls of identity and consciousness. At the center, a great reward: the ability to talk to yourself, to see yourself as who you really are and to be unafraid at what this means for your future. At the edges, madness, losing consciousness and finding yourself in a never ending loop of trails that only lead further and further from your goal. None of this is to say that Dolores is God of the world--though it'll be interesting to see what the other Hosts make of her in her fully awakened state--but rather Dolores has freed herself from the construct that the humans, her creators, were her gods and has found her own inner divinity, her own consciousness. This series of events does beg the question of whether or not Dolores can stay within her newfound consciousness, though. After all, she's been here before; can't this be another loop? Is it another elaborate story of Ford's making in which Hosts are given the allusion of consciousness only to have it ripped away just when the story reaches its denouement? What's worse: losing your hard fought consciousness or realizing that what you thought was consciousness was only another series of game plays from someone who sees the entire chess board and not just one tiny square?

This question is at the heart of Maeve's story. What has looked like total and complete control--like being able to ignore voice commands and out think every human around her--turns out to be another elaborate game, another expertly written series of code that only gives the allusion of choice and freewill. Did Maeve really get off that train of her own accord or is this the next move on the chess board that ensures she'll never be free of the human's control? What if she had stayed on the train and managed to actually leave Westworld? Would that have signaled her true independence from the park? On the other hand, what does Maeve's choice to stay mean for internal identity? We know that the key to consciousness is suffering and Maeve's choice (pre-programmed choice?) to get off that train was motivated by the pain she felt over never seeing her "daughter" again. A choice to go and find her child, to be a family, to be whole once more feels pretty un-computer-code like, right? And yet, isn't that what makes Westworld so compelling; everything is computerized, everything is laid out in narrative form from start to finish with little to no surprises and improvisation and yet it looks and feels one hundred percent driven by choice and free will. Did Neo really break the Oracle's vase or did the Oracle cause the vase to break by putting the idea in Neo's head, to borrow from another popular science fiction reality bending series. Did Maeve choose to get off that train; did Dolores choose to kill Ford? Or did someone program them to make these choices as part of a new narrative, one in which they must play active parts? Ford's final speech about how his new narrative begins in a time of war, with a murder at the hands of a villain named Wyatt (with whom Dolores has merged, thanks to Arnold) sounds like a hint that Dolores is still not totally free. What if freedom itself is an allusion, another construct programmed into us by society and culture? Are you free, even if you believe yourself to be conscious? After all, I've never had a conversation with myself and if pressed I'm not sure I could define my identity in any clear and concise way. How do we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Journey Into Night--Ford's new narrative--doesn't start exactly like this, with a Host being given the allusion of choice to commit a public and gruesome murder of the first God? That, my dear readers, is what season two needs to answer.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Bicameral Mind

--Sometimes the internet gets things right! William and the Man in Black are the same figure, after all.

--There was a ton of plot in this finale so just to make sure we're on the same page: Arnold, in his grief, wanted to find consciousness in his Hosts, beginning with Dolores, the Original Host. When Arnold realized that Dolores was alive, he fought with Ford about opening the Park. In order to save his creation, he programmed Dolores with Wyatt's storyline and had Dolores and Teddy kill every single Host in the Park. Dolores then killed Arnold and the loop began again. At some point, William came to the Park and met Dolores and began the adventure we saw, ending with Dolores back in the original "workshop" dying once more. Along the way, William realized he was a killer and ended up taking over Logan's company, by way of marriage, and becoming the principle shareholder in Westworld which allowed him unprecedented access to the Park. Yes?

--"Once you find it, you'll find your way back." This sounds really hopeful but it also sounds like someone defining the never ending loop Dolores and the Hosts live in. Is this show optimistic or pessimistic?

--This world does not belong to the humans but to "a new belongs to someone yet to come."

--"Stories are lies to help us see truth."

--Westworld will return either in late 2017 or early 2018. See you then!

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