Tuesday, June 5, 2018

In Which I Review Westworld (2x6 and 2x7)

The human race sucks. This revelation isn't new to Westworld; the beginning of the entire series sets up the idea that when given the chance, the human race chooses base violence over nobility. The humans working in Westworld and the militia who ride up to "save the day" don't care about the Hosts as if they were people, but only care about the information they can glean from inside the Hosts' computerized heads. Humans like Charlotte have Otherized the Hosts and could not care less about whatever measure of free will has been granted to them through Ford's new narrative and Delores's undertaking of that story. Selfish, craven, and cowardly, the Delos company is more concerned with immortality, hence James Delos signing the paychecks for Westworld and keeping the parks afloat even when he thought the amusement park aspect was utter nonsense. But as we see in these past two episodes, "Phase Space" and "Les Ecorches," that is only one small part of the Human and Host dynamic. At the other end of the spectrum is Robert Ford who allied himself with Delos not because he wanted to preserve the human race and make man immortal, but because he believed the Hosts were the future of humanity and that his creation was far to superior to humanity in every way. It's very...God like of him to take such delight in his own designs. 

These past two episodes have been a bit more wheel spinning than is normal of a show of this caliber. The philosophical beats feel familiar and have been hit upon before: the human race is terrible when viewed through the eyes of Delores but complicated when viewed through the eyes of Bernard who is betwixt and between being a Host and being a human. Maeve knows the search for her daughter is only part of the coding written into her by her programmers but this doesn't make her motherly love and desire any less real to her. William is still on his journey to find Ford's story and see the ending through, perhaps not realizing that he's smack dab in the middle of the story. His own relationship with his daughter, Grace, is complicated in such a way to make both parties more sympathetic but not to redeem the violence and neglect William has inflicted upon the Hosts and upon Grace. The technobabble the show has a tendency to trot out washes over the viewer like so many ones and zeroes and we simply accept that, yes, things like conscience uploading could be possible. These aren't necessarily criticisms so much as acknowledgements that the story is trying to reinforce certain key concepts and themes before moving into the final home stretch of the season. The show remains clever and careful and utterly watchable even if there are no genuinely shocking moments or revelations. I could count the return of Robert Ford as a shocking moment but the show established quite early on this season that some ghostly form of him is still in the park, jumping from Host to Host whenever Ford felt the need to reach out. In technobabble speak, Ford has uploaded his conscience to the system and is now a science-fiction ghost who can haunt whomever he chooses. He's also still God, a metaphor present in him all along, not so subtly cued when Bernard finds Ford inside his own creation, enjoying its splendor only to joke, "I don't think God rested on the seventh day. I think he reveled in his creation." The most interesting aspect of the past two episodes has been Ford's return in order to critique Delos's endgame and provide his own counter to why the Hosts are important.

Like God, Ford finds his own creation to be sublimely perfect. Far more just and noble than any "faithful portrait of the most murderous species"  Ford was working with Delos not to make the human race immortal through conscience uploading but to make Hosts the new dominant species on the planet, to wipe away the flawed peoples of the past and let the Hosts have free reign of this world. There would be some merit to this if all the Hosts were like Maeve who, far more than Delores, is a synthesis of both Host and Human. Her counterpart, Delores, seems...stuck. Her gang finally reached the Mesa and destroyed all the copies and stories that had been written for the Hosts but that doesn't mean that Delores and her kind are as free as Delores claims they are once Angela hits the kill switch (er, pulls the pin on the grenade). I've mentioned this before but it's hard to know how much of Delores's story and actions were part of Ford's last narrative. He might claim to Bernard that "she's free now, they're all free" but so far Delores's personality has simply been a hybrid of everything that came before. There's no uniqueness in her like in Maeve. God has granted his creation free will but they can't quite shake those chains that tied them to the world before. Which brings us back to Ford and his counter to Delos, the former believing that the Hosts are the perfect replacement for humankind, a species so terrible that they deserve to be wiped away like so much riff raff in a flood story. Is any of that actually true? Well, no. The human race cannot be simplified to just "bad" and the Hosts cannot be simplified to "perfect." Yeah, there are some really sucky humans (looking at you, William) but there are also humans who see the Hosts as more than what they were designed to be, who have evolved because of interactions with Hosts. Last season, Lee was an arrogant artist who bemoaned that he had to create cliche stories for robots, but this season, because of his travels with Maeve and seeing her desire to find her daughter, he's come to understand these Hosts more and to see them as more real than just characters he got to play with. On the other side of that coin, the Hosts aren't just or noble; Delores recently deleted part of Teddy's own memories and personality in order to have him suit her current needs, a move that reeks of humankind and what Delores is supposedly fighting against. Ford sees his creation through rose tinted glasses (in true God form) but if he were watching more closely, he'd notice that by granting the Hosts free will, he granted them the choice to become like those he was trying to distance them from. The problem is choice; the problem is always choice. Humans choose to give into the violent tendencies inside Westworld; the Hosts choose to repay those tendencies in kind. The Hosts aren't better than us; they are us.

Miscellaneous Notes on Phase Space and Les Ecorches 

--I think I write "poor Bernard" in my notes every single week but really...poor Bernard.

--Ford tells Bernard that all of this is now his [Bernard's] story. What does that mean? Does Bernard have the ability and power to shape the world has he wants? Will he be like Maeve and be a more perfect synthesis of Host and human?

--"We desire to choose our own fate. Even if that fate is death." I hope we see Shogun World again. Also, I'd like to return to Raj World and see more of it.

--I think it very unlikely that William is dead but perhaps this is the start of the next part of his story: becoming a Host himself?

--"Pain is just a program."

--"If we survive this, I'm going back to dental school."

--"An eye for an eye, but all the other parts first." I am convinced that next season will find Delores as the ultimate Big Bad, if it's possible for such a navel-gazing show to have a Big Bad.

--I'm keeping track of this, even if I only discuss it in passing, but both Bernard and Maeve are being set up as Christ/Savior figures (there's some really cool imagery of Bernard as the crucified Jesus when he's having his mind extracted--palms up, arms out to the side, "thorn" crown on his head). I've discussed colonialism quite a bit and if the two people of color end up being the saviors of both human and Host and the white girl ends up being the true evil, I'll take that as a win.

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