Wednesday, June 20, 2018

In Which I Review Westworld (2x8 and 2x9)

Last review I began by declaring that the human race sucks. I'm not going to walk back that assertion but I will attempt to qualify it: the human race sucks...but they can try not to. The familiar beat of choice is readily apparent in the latest two episodes, "Kiksuya" and "Vanishing Point" as two characters, Akecheta and William, struggle with making choices that define them as people. It's easy to forget when you're watching these familiar beats that one is a Host and one is a human and those blurry lines between a person that was made and a person that is "real" become increasingly blurry. Is William a real person? Do we want him to be the one entity humanity hangs its wide brimmed hat upon? Or would we rather see Akecheta as real and made up of those qualities we wish humans would embrace more? As we near the season two finale, it's hard to know what's what and who's who which only strengthens the overall motif of human vs host here in Westworld. 

Akecheta and William both have darkness in them. Now, we could argue that one had that darkness programmed in to them by someone else and one was born with it, but that's a slippy slope of an argument when we consider how often programming is linked to birth in Westworld's dialogue. We've seen that when Hosts are brought online for the first time, they might be fully grown but they are greeted with "welcome to the world" and are unclothed and unblemished by the world in which they are about to enter. Akecheta even uses the phrase "reborn" to describe the lives lived. In other words, Akecheta might have been reprogrammed from a loving and tender Plains Native to a cliche savage but this re-distribution of code is akin to being reborn as a new person. Akecheta's darkness and the savagery displayed as one of the Ghost Nation's chief murderers is akin to William's own sociopathy, his "stain" as William calls it right before he drives his wife Juliet to suicide. I don't think it's a great stretch of imagination that an episode heavily featuring Akecheta is followed by one that is William centric; they are a contrast in how a person--be they Host or Human--could rise above their own darkness because of one factor: love. That sounds Hallmarkian and frankly eye-roll worthy but love as a medium for change isn't not true and in a naval gazing show like Westworld we should expect that the writers will take something axiomatic--like love driving people to be better and do better--and complicate it in such a way to make us question why it's axiomatic in the first place. Take Akecheta for example; despite his rebirth into a Hollywood type of Native, the love he bore for his wife Kohana is so deeply embedded in him that it pulls him out of his violent stupor and makes him who he once was, perhaps his truest self--a lover and not a fighter. But that was a choice, wasn't it? He had to choose to set aside his base code that made him predisposed to violence and acts of savagery and choose to take Kohana into a secluded part of the park to try and live their lives as peacefully as possible. He chose love over hate, chose to not go on a murdering spree when he realized that "this is the wrong world;" instead he "was determined to escape, but I wouldn't leave without her." This means that the other Hosts are equally free to choose; Dolores could choose to lay down her weapons and let go of the Wyatt part of her programming but she's choosing not to. Freedom for her means getting to cause as much mayhem and destruction as she can.

This sounds familiar especially when we consider our other subject in these two episodes: William. Our man in black has an unlimited amount of freedom; he's rich and one might say rich in the extreme. So rich that he could fund an amusement park and a side project searching for immortality. Because of that richness he's able to experience the park over and over again, letting his inner "stain" out to play. There are a lot of different ways William's time in the park could have gone; he said back in season one that he's played every story out which is why the Maze was so interesting to him. But at every turn in every story when he's been given the chance to do good, to embrace the light over the darkness within him, he's chosen wrongly. He thinks it's because there's a "thing" in him, a part of his genetic makeup that makes him a dark individual but we've already seen Akecheta defeat his own code that made him equally dark. Added to the Akecheta example is our lone suffering cowboy, Teddy, who was reprogrammed and re-engineered by Delores to be more ruthless; he rose above that, choosing to end his own life rather than continue down the path he's treading with her. William doesn't have an uncontrollable thing inside of him anymore than Akecheta and Teddy did; the only real difference is that William makes bad choices; he chooses to not try and let love be his guide. He tells himself that he's too dark to love properly and that the real him is the monster in the park and the persona he puts on to the rest of the world is fake. Like his daughter, Emily, I call bullshit. I think he does love his daughter as evidenced by the flashes of her William had as he held a gun to his own head but I think he loves himself more; he's spent so much time in the park, reveling in his so called darkness and convincing himself that version was his true self that when confronted with another reality--that he's not really a monster and that he does have people he loves but he's made piss poor choices in order to feel more important--he runs screaming from it, killing his only chance of a real tangible connection along the way. Poor Emily; her death was shocking but I think it signals the end of any chance William had to get out of Westworld with a chance of a real life. William chooses to believe his delusion instead; much like the lead character of the book where William hid his profile. Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time and as such could not decide which world was real and which was the one he chose to believe was real. With one episode to go, I wouldn't be surprised if William doesn't make it out of the park alive...but I'd also be willing to believe he'd prefer it that way.

Miscellaneous Notes on Kiksuya and Vanishing Point 

--The cinematography in Akecheta's episode was amazing; so many breathtaking shots.

--"Death is a passage from this brutal world."

--Akecheta finding Kohana in cold storage and trying to bring her back was maybe the saddest moment in this entire series.

--Charlotte and her team managed to transfer Maeve's power to Clementine and then the latter ordered a whole room full of hosts to kill each other. I guess we know how Charlotte plans on getting out of the park.

--We finally learned that the Valley Beyond is a massive server that houses all the profiles of the guests in nice and neat code form.

--The profiles of the human guests were collected by the white or black hat each guest were given to wear when entering the park which is...just plain silly. As a symbol the white hat that became black on William worked as an obvious metaphor in season one but the idea that it was a fancy piece of technology is an authorial afterthought. Besides, not all guests wore cowboy hats. And what about in Rajworld and Shogun World?

--"You've been hiding in these false realities so long you've lost your grip on what is real."

--"What is a person if not a collection of his choices?"

--RIP Emily and Teddy

--One to go!

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