Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In Which I Review Westworld (2x5)

Ever since we were introduced to the idea of different parks, a rather pertinent and natural question has been lurking behind that information: what kind of Hosts populate the other parks? What sort of stories have those particular androids had to live through, again and again? It turns out that humanity's creativity is decidedly lacking...the Hosts that make up the park in which we spend most of this week's episode, "Akane No Mai," bear more than just a passing resemblance to Maeve, Hector and the rest of the Westworld outlaw band. I don't just mean that their personalities are "sort of similar;" I mean that their stories are beat for beat the same, right down the rope trick Hector uses when he robs the small town of Sweetwater, Armistice's tattooed face and Maeve's "a better world" speech. Our Westworld heroes are confronted with the knowledge that they are not exactly unique snowflakes; instead they are copies of other characters (or perhaps, these other characters are copies of them) in different worlds who were never supposed to know that they had narrative twins (or triplets!).

Let's say you're an identical twin; your genes are the same, you look scary alike but you are obviously not the same person. At some point during childhood and into maturity you begin to differentiate. Perhaps one twin likes sports and the other is into the arts; maybe one twin has a conservative view on life and other is a raging liberal. We are more than the sum of genetic code and it's our experiences with the world and our reactions to those experiences that help separate us from the other billions of people on the planet, even ones with identical genetic code. But what happens when your experiences with the world and reactions have been pre-programmed? In other words, are actually part of your "genetic" code. When realization of just how alike she and Akane are dawns, Maeve accuses Lee, the writer, of plagiarizing her own story and identity. Lee corrects Maeve that it's not plagiarism, it's supply and demand--he's giving the patrons of Shogun World what they want. Lee then defends himself by saying it's impossible to write three hundred different stories in a short amount of time--of course there would be overlap--a statement that really speaks of the cliche depiction of so many of Westworld's, Raj World's, and Shogun World's inhabitants. Lee doesn't write he knows; he writes what people want and it turns out that humanity wants the same sort of violent delights, no matter the world those stories get placed into. The idea that code is the unifying factor instead of shared understanding of similar experiences is Lee's own perspective, which makes him a fitting devil on Maeve's shoulder, constantly telling her that "it's just code" whenever Maeve speaks of finding her daughter and seeks to help Akane. Maeve, on other hand, believes that she is moving past her code and that it's her own unique take on the world that spurs her forward. After all, even if it was just code that made her love her daughter, it's also still love. Those feelings were experienced, if programmed; Maeve still felt it. It's interesting that even though Maeve knows the stories she has in her head were all written for her by programmers, she thinks of them as hers, hence her affronted attitude toward Lee when it becomes increasingly clear that Akane and Sakura are Maeve and Clementine (and by emotional extension, Maeve and her long lost daughter), just geographically moved. If your stories, experiences, and memories are not really yours because they are not yours alone, does that make them any less powerful and effective? Westworld is going with the answer of "no" and even goes so far as to argue that it's those shared experiences and stories that unite us instead of dividing us. When Sakrua is getting ready to dance for the Shogun (what a repulsive figure, by the way), Akane calms the young geisha's nerves by telling her a story about crossing the shinning sea to find a new world. It's the same story Maeve once told back in her brothel in Sweetwater; it's a story so informative to Maeve's character and understanding of herself that it resonates as she listens to someone else tell it exactly as she did, word for word. Maeve even helps Akane finish the story, a move that links the three women together in more than just code. There's been a lot of conversation this season about finding one's own voice, getting to tell your story the way you want without the aid of a programmer giving you the language to do so. We've seen how this could fail with some Hosts struggling to come up with their own unique language (Hector speaking of his love for Maeve but using the same verbage he once used for Isabella) but Maeve is a perfect example of finding new ways to express your own unique voice; she improvised lies on the spot to the Shogun and she continues to go round after philosophical round with Lee about code versus experiences, something no other Host is currently doing, including Dolores who's just currently shooting every non-Host she finds. If there is truly a new sort of creature being birthed during this time, it's Maeve and not Delores, the latter of whom is taking cues from Hosts and humans and becoming some weird heady mix of Ford, William, Wyatt, and the sweet farm girl. That combination might be unique but I think there's a reason why it's Maeve, not Delores, who discovers her quasi-magical abilities to bend other Hosts to her will with the power of her mind. Delores, when erasing Teddy's memories because she cannot get him to go along with her plan and give up the ghost on a peaceful life together, has to rely on humans and their machines still. The contrast between these two ladies is only getting more interesting and I suspect at some point, the narrative tension between them is going to come to an explosive head.

Miscellaneous Notes on Akane No Mai

--According to Lee, "Shogun World" was a place designed for those who found Westworld too tame.

--Delores plans on stealing a train and taking it out to the Mesa. I'm sure that'll go swimmingly.

--So, we can all agree that Delores is becoming quite the monster, right? Poor Teddy.

--"The real question is not can you trust her. It's can you trust yourself." I'm really glad the writers shifted Lee's character from struggling, arrogant artist, to someone Maeve can play off of.

--Picking up a thread from last week, the Shogunate comes from the Tokugawa period in Japanese history. It's worth noting that one of the policies during this historical period was intense isolationism, keeping the West at bay during a time of incredible exploration and conquest.

--I don't know that I've ever cringed harder during an episode of TV and actually backed myself away from the screen than when Akane was sawing the Shogun's head in half.

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