Thursday 3 November 2016

Westworld – I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.

Westworld: 1x05 Contrapasso.

In Dante’s Inferno, contrapasso refers to a form of punishment that either resembles or contrasts with the sin that landed the poor soul in hell. There has been plenty of suffering in Westworld, which truly is hell for the hosts that are forced to inhabit it, but we do not yet know the sins which the hosts committed to lead to the specific punishment that has been laid out to them. Teddy is the best example for a host who is trapped in an endless cycle of suffering, but he makes it through this episode alive, but poor Lawrence ends up donating his blood to him, via The Man In Black, whose way to the maze is plastered with dead host bodies. Maeve keeps getting shot, and keepings waking herself up into her nightmare, presumably until she will find a way to rewrite her story too, the way Dolores begins to in this episode. But I think the most likely reason for the title of the episode is that it reveals the kind of relationship that Ford may have with the oldest host in the park. 
Instead of Bernard’s regular sessions with Dolores, this time around, the creator himself forces her to wake up in one of his dreams. He does not afford her the luxury of clothes (which, to steal William’s words, says a lot more about him than it does about anything else), and questions her about her perception of her world, testing for gaps. He also reveals the core of his interest, looking for traces of Arnold. 

Many things come together in this episode. Dolores gets more specific about the voices that she hears, voices that may be Bernard, may be Arnold, or may be herself, as in the scene where she encounters a tarot reader who turns into herself, before having a horrifying vision of pulling something strange from her body (in an episode where Elsie is the one discovering a foreign object in one of the hosts). Ford has explained in the past that Arnold introduced an inner voice to the hosts in hopes that it would eventually become consciousness, and Ford, when he interviews or rather, interrogates, Dolores, hints that Arnold is buried so deep inside of her that not even death can touch it. 
Ford: Have you been dreaming again, Dolores? Imagining yourself breaking out of your modest little loop, taking on a bigger role. Well, I suppose I can’t begrudge you that. My father told me to be satisfied with my lot in life, that the world owed me nothing. And so, I made my own world.
Tell me Dolores. Do you remember the man I used to be?
But I’m sure you remember him. Arnold. The person that created you.?
Dolores: I’m sorry, I don’t think I can recall anyone by that name.
Ford: And yet you can. Somewhere under all these updates he is still there, perfectly preserved. Your mind is a walled garden. Even death cannot touch the flowers blooming there.
He is so eager to figure her out. He asks her if she has been speaking to Arnold recently, if she has been hearing voices, when the last time was that she spoke to Arnold. She responds that it was 34 years ago, on the day that he died, and the last thing he told her was to help him destroy the park. 
The park is Ford’s great masterpiece. How would he regard someone who was so intent on destroying it, and how would he regard Dolores, created by someone who was clearly more brilliant than himself, who managed to leave a lasting impression in her (an impression so lasting that he is capable of commanding her to lie about him, about his presence, about their continuing conversations?). I think that Ford created a punishment for her that fit that crime, the crime of threatening to destroy his life’s work. He put her into her small loop, a loop designed to end in constant, returning suffering for her. She would lose everyone she loved. She would be violated, again and again, by other hosts, by guests, by the Man in Black. Dolores’ entire existence has been designed as punishment for her past transgression, for Arnold’s past transgression. And they are certainly not old friends – how terrifying is Ford, when he finally, if only for a second, reveals his true face?
Except Dolores has been lying this whole time. Bernard asked her to keep their conversations secret, and she did. These last few episodes have put so much effort into demonstrating Ford’s absolute power over the hosts – but it comes to nothing against Dolores. 

Maybe Westworld already has its great villain, and The Man in Black, in trying to become someone he thought the story needed, has missed the greater story this whole time. In an episode where Logan grandiosely disclaims that there are no heroes or villains here (which does reveal more about himself that the world), Dolores clearly chooses to become the hero of her own story, to stop being the damsel. She draws strength from whoever that voice is in her head, and perhaps it used to be Arnold, the voice of god, now become the voice of herself and her consciousness, the voice that makes it possible for her to no longer see one predetermined path, but a series of choices, the possibility of becoming. 
Dolores: When I ran from home I told myself it was the only choice. Lately I’m wondering if in any moment there aren’t many paths, choices, hanging in the air like ghosts, and if you could just see them, it could change your whole life.
William: Is that what you want, you want to change your life?
Dolores: Doesn’t everybody want that?
It is perhaps cynical to see a parallel between the Man in Black, knowing so well that the one thing that drives Teddy is Dolores, and Dolores, recognising precisely what William needs to accompany her on her path to the maze. The only reason why Dolores is free to go on this path, the only way to escape the scrutiny of Operations, is to have a guest with her. She wouldn’t be able to do any of this on her own. When she kisses him in just the right moment and promises that they will find their way on her own, she buys her freedom for a while longer, and they board the train to the mysterious border, with a Lawrence who has filled dead bodies with nitro-glycerine. 
William: They create an urgency, a sense of danger, so they can strip us down to something raw , animalistic, primal. It’s a sick game that I don’t wanna be a part of.
Dolores: This isn’t a game. They will kill us. But together, I know we can find a way out.
William: How can you be sure?
Dolores: There’s a voice inside me, telling me what to do. And it’s telling me I need you.
The greyhound, once it finally caught what it had been chasing its entire sad existence, had no idea what to do with it. Ford appears, like a god, to the Man in Black, well on his path, dragging a weary and tired Teddy along with him who simply wants to fulfil his destiny again and die. The Man in Black wonders if he is getting closer to what he is looking for, the maze, the purpose behind this game, in a world that lacks purpose. He speaks with admiration about Arnold, who he thinks left something behind in spite of the fact that his attempt to destroy this world was spoilt (and spoilt by the Man in Black himself, it seems). 
Man in Black: I think there’s deeper meaning hiding under all that. Something the person who created it wanted to express. Something true.
Ford: If you’re looking for the moral of the story, you quite simply ask.
Man in Black: I’d need a shovel, the man I’d be asking died 35 years ago. Almost took this place with him, almost, but not quite, thanks to me. Maybe he left something behind. I wonder what I would find if I opened you up.
Is that why you came here, Robert. To talk me out of it?
Ford: On the contrary. Far be it for me to get in the way of a voyage of self-discovery.
Ford thinks that the Man in Black’s urgency betrays a certain anxiety, as if his time were running out, but the core thing about their conversation is the fact that the Man, the stranger, who cast himself as the ultimate villain in a world that was lacking one, considers Arnold the true creator who embedded this place with meaning, and Ford as simply a shade of that, the man who was left behind, who is capable of so much less. It is an insult to Ford, as much as Dolores is, and perhaps even a threat. This opens up a lot of questions about what the purpose of this new narrative about Wyatt is, a story that is new to the Man in Black as well, who has seen many lacking villains come and go. It looks like Ford created a narrative around his old partner’s maze  - but what purpose would such a narrative have, if not to finally remove this thorn in his side, this trace of a man who was so eager to destroy Westworld and who, in spite of his demise, still exists unchanged in the hosts he created? 
It is almost as if these traces of Arnold exist in the host, in Dolores, to punish Ford for his transgressions, his lack of value, his cynicism about the hosts. He wants to be remembered forever as the creator of Westworld, but almost everyone, apart from corporate, considers Arnold the true creator. Perhaps he has trapped himself in his own contrapasso, and much like Dolores, he has been trying to escape it this whole time. 

Random notes: 

To help with timing, Logan retells the story of Westworld to William, about the creator who managed to die in the park. Conveniently, he doesn't mention how long ago it was (perhaps it is notable that everyone else has), and that his company is considering buying them out now that they are struggling. He also says that nobody knows what the creators look like, or what their names are, which also is very convenient in terms of leaving all options open. 

I am not sure about where Ford was going with the anecdote at the beginning of the episode about the greyhound – it may apply to The Man in Black and his obsession with the maze (the idea that once he has found it, he won’t know what to do with it), or the hosts and their presumed search for consciousness. 

The Man in Black explains to Teddy that the hosts used to be very different – that, when he opened them up so many years ago, they were perfectly beautiful, but then they were made more human, and were given a form of suffering that more resembled human suffering. Perhaps Arnold’s conception of the hosts was less human in terms of physical body, a different form of consciousness. MIB also says that the choice was more cost-efficient.

There are two subplots in this episode. Elsie proves to be very resourceful in her determination to find out what happened with the woodcutter, and she blackmails her way into getting to his body. She ends up finding a transmitting device and realises that the maps of stars were in fact a target, a way to send up data to a satellite. Someone has been using the hosts to smuggle out data!

Felix, one of the lower level techies who usually just patches up hosts after massacres (and the one who almost lost Maeve) is trying to prove his value to the company by working on a tiny bird (every thing in Westworld is human-made, apparently). Two things here: the way his colleague insists he was created for one thing only, and shouldn’t aspire to anything more, would be a likely indicator that perhaps the human staff of Westworld isn’t necessarily so human afterall, but the following comment about how Felix should have been sorted out at the embryo stage hints that if this is true, the humans definitely aren’t aware of their status, or perhaps, it doesn’t make a difference, because the way the hierarchy works, they might as well be robots. In either case, Felix may turn out to be Maeve’s ticket out, whose personal path has taken her right behind the scenes (which is interesting if you think about it in context of what the maze is meant to be – is she further along? Did she simply find a short-cut?)

Many discussions about whether El Lazo’s identity confirms different timelines – the timing in the episode conveniently allows both interpretation, but there definitely seem to be two diverse stories here, because Wyatt hasn’t popped up at all in Dolores’ and William’s so far. 

We find out a bit more about William and Logan. William was promoted to Executive Vice President of whichever company they are working with (a company considering to buy out Westworld from their economic troubles), and he wasn’t born into privilege the way Logan seems to have been. Logan – either to taunt him into unexpected actions, into revealing himself, or out of honesty, tells him he was chosen both in his role and as his companion to Westworld because he could never be a threat to anyone. This episode, if anything, reveals that William has decided to tell a new story about himself as well (even though that story very conveniently fits in with what Dolores needs from him, because she’s smart like that).  

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