Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In Which I Review Westworld (2x3 and 2x4)

There has been a question plaguing me since Westworld began a year ago: why this park? If you could create an alternate reality park and fill it with scary life like Hosts, why go for the Wild
West or, as of the episode "Virtu e Fortuna," the Indian subcontinent? You could literally create a world of anything, at any time, with any sort of people so why make one where slavery, rape, murder, general crime, outlaws, and colonialism are very much at the forefront historically? What is to be gained from that? William and Ford might have us believe it's because these less than savory aspects of human history are part and parcel of man's deepest desire. That underneath our socially acceptable gentility lurks the heart of a beast who wants to give licence to the darkness. But I think there's another reason these points in history are being explored in the park, a reason that comes to bear in the episode "The Riddle of the Sphinx." Immortality. Obviously there is a standard kind of immortality happening in the park with James Delos but this idea has been telegraphed to us before the big reveal of James and Williams' project with what kind of parks Ford and Arnold built: ones that are drawn specifically from nationalism and colonialism, ones in which nations attempt to live forever by conquering peoples. James Delos was attempting to conquer death, to plant his own flag as the first ever immortal man.  The parks are serving as a metaphor for what the humans behind them are trying to accomplish, namely a life everlasting. It's a deep piece of irony that while the Hosts are jealous of the humans right to control their own lives and have their narratives written for them, the humans at Delos are trying to become more like the Hosts. Perhaps these two races have more in common than they want to admit. 

The "art" of empire building wasn't just about racism--though make no mistake, the idea of there being a superior race and culture was definitely a major part of nationalism. But, apart from that, another aspect of empire building was couched in the language of a nation that could live forever through its conquering. There's an old adage that the sun rose and set on the British Empire in its hay day in the most literal sense: the sun rose in the east where the British had colonies in India and the subcontinent and it set in the West where colonies were established in the Pacific West and everywhere in between were little Union Jack flags and British embassies. There is this drive, in not only nation states, but also in people to live forever; we're always looking for ways to make ourselves immortal in both literal and metaphorical ways. Literally, we take drugs and medicine to help our hearts beat normally and our blood pressure stay in a healthy range. We exercise and eat right with the hopes that it extends our time on this planet before we, inevitably, shuffle off this mortal coil. Metaphorically, we hope that we can create something of value that lasts on after us; this could be children who carry on our DNA and name or it could be an idea or an infrastructure built to withstand the test of time. As a member of the Ghost Nation tells Ashley Stubbs, "You live only as long as the last person who remembers you." Aristotle is long since dead but he lives on because he is taught and discussed in literature, philosophy, history, and so on classes. Enter, then, the true purpose behind Delos's continued funding into Westworld. It's a question that the series has been building up to since the beginning. James Delos, William's father in law, is dying (or rather, died) but he just so happens to own an amusement park where memories and personality can be written on to an everlasting mechanical body. There are a lot of issues with this, both from a technical and metaphysical standpoint. On the technical side of things, it proves almost impossible for a human's memories to be grafted on a robot body for very long. Eventually the mind reaches a cognitive plateau and falls apart. The mind, a powerful organ that even in 2018 we do not fully understand, rejects the reality around it. This is quite similar to what we saw with the Hosts back in season one as figures like Dolores and Maeve began to reject their own imposed reality because of creeping memories from former experiences and lives. In Delos's case, his "body" begins to reject the idea of his mind being downloaded: tremors, forgotten words, slurred speech all find their way into him at some point. The metaphysical problems are voiced quite clearly by William the very last time he visits Delos (the 149th upload of Delos's memories and personality to a Host body): "People aren't meant to live forever" and while he's been working with Ford and the park to achieve immortality, a realization has dawned on William about Delos that speaks volumes: "Everyone prefers the memory of you to the man itself." From what we saw of the real Delos prior to his death, he was an egomaniacal successful business man who had little time for his children and wife and spent the extent of his life trying to achieve a metaphorical immortality through his works and company. But the metaphor isn't enough anymore, not when Ford and Arnold created what they did. And that seems to be the true purpose of Westworld and Rajworld (and whatever other worlds there might be): a nation of humans who are trying to achieve that which is not achievable because of humanness. Delos wants to colonize death, to make it something he can stake his personal flag in and claim as his own but as his computer program keeps reminding William, "when you cheat the devil you better make a sacrifice."

The other side of this are the Hosts who are trying to achieve some measure of humanness. It's interesting, though, that while the Hosts would like autonomy like mankind, they do not wish to actually become like man and that's likely due to all the negative experiences they've had at the hands of man. Those colonized do not seek to become their colonizers, though they cannot escape the influence of them. They make take their symbols and language but try to adapt it, to use it against the colonizer. We see this pretty readily in Hector and Maeve; Hector declares that his love for Isabella was only a fiction written into him by his human creators and that his true love is Maeve. What's interesting is that Hector uses the same language to describe his feelings for Maeve that Lee, his writer, wrote for him about Isabella to the point where Lee can quote, right along with Hector, every line of passion Hector says about Maeve. Hector, in trying to declare his own agency by loving another woman, uses the words of those who made him. So who's really autonomous and who's really in charge? Delores uses the same tactics of war and bloodshed that the human writers wrote into Wyatt but also into the Confederados and other bands of outlaws; she's living her own life but doing it the way her colonizers forced her and her kind to live Has she, then, really discovered her own voice? Delores may think she killed god (Ford) and is now secure in her own individuality and free will, but we see hints of Ford-as-God throughout the park, blind though Delores is to it. William, for instance, appears to still be talking to Ford somehow through Hosts who are supposed to be fully awake and outside of control; William even declares that "Ford wrote a game and we're all in it." In season one, Ford tells Bernard that someday they might be able to resurrect the dead with their technology and unbeknownst to Bernard, the Westworld park has been taking DNA samples of the park visitors and logging their experiences, a sign that Ford was heading in that direction along with Delos. So who has really achieved immortality? Delores could still die and never come back because there is no one to reupload her to a freshly made body; Bernard is suffering from massive system damage, and James Delos's host body and human mind have been incinerated one final time. But Ford lives on, albeit without body, his mind jumping from Host to Host. If he's our metaphor for God and this is his newest game, it seems that it is he alone who has achieved immortality; what that means for William, Delores, Teddy, Bernard and the others still inside Westworld and Rajworld, we can only guess. But I'll go out on a limb and say, it's not likely to be pretty.

Miscellaneous Notes on Virtu e Fortuna and The Riddle of the Sphinx 

--I did not mention her in the review proper but the woman who escaped Rajworld and seems to know much about the parks is William's daughter, with whom he has a rather difficult relationship.

--What exactly is the Ghost Nation doing with the humans? So far, they haven't killed anyone who wasn't a Host. Is their true programming to protect the humans in case of a Host uprising? It might explain why they appear to have created a religion based on the hazmat-suited humans who come to the park to clean up.

--Samurai! I have no idea what that might mean but it looks like there's still another park, this one based on Japanese culture.

--Poor Bernard; he seems both in control and completely out of it. I wonder how much Ford programmed our favorite bespeckled scientist before the gala in which Delores killed him.

--William told Delos that in another year or two the scientists might crack the cognitive plateau problem. We are also reminded that Peter Abernathy has the same overly complex code-that-is-not-really-code inside his head. Given the makeup job done on Ed Harris to make William look younger when he's with Delos one final time, I'm guessing a year or two has passed and that Charlotte wants Peter Abernathy out of the park because the solution has been cracked and he's carrying the solution inside him.

--"Tell me that was a host and not a human." "I think it was both."

--Bernard promising not to hurt Elsie and then flashing back to killing a bunch of lab techs is a giant flashing sign that Elise isn't likely to live much longer, right?

--"If you're looking forward, you're looking in the wrong direction."

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