Monday 12 December 2016

Westworld - Because this world doesn’t belong to you.

Westworld: 1x10 The Bicameral Mind.

Dolores: They say that great beasts once roamed this world, as big as mountains. Yet all that’s left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look what it’s done to you. One day you will perish, you will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt, your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced, your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you, or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come.
If Arnold was the genius creator, the man who found a way to take humanity to the next step in evolution, then Robert Ford is the great storyteller. A man who is throughout the show repeatedly accused of being less of a genius, a less elegant writer of code, is yet the sole voice of Westworld. He is a singular creator, with a singular vision, except The Bicameral Mind turns all of our expectations about what that vision looks like on its head. 
35 years ago, Arnold watched very closely what was happening to his creations. He interviewed Dolores, he looked for that spark. He realised that the path to consciousness isn’t a pyramid, but a journey inwards. When he turned programming into a voice that the hosts heard, many of them went insane, but one – Dolores – followed that path inwards. Instead of celebrating his success, Arnold realised what it meant to have created a sentient, conscious being, having put all the love for his lost son into his creation, and then sending her off into a theme park in which there would be no limits to the violence perpetrated against her. He realised that it would be a moral wrong to allow this to happen, but his attempts to convince his partner Ford of this failed. 

It is very suiting that this conflict stands at the beginning of the series, that we have all, along with the characters, worked our way backwards towards it. Arnold knew that their creations were conscious beings, Ford didn’t believe him, and the only remaining option for Arnold was to attempt to destroy all of it decisively enough that it could not be violated. He did it to avoid endless suffering, and he eloquently took himself out of the equation, knowing fully well that the only thing that could shock Ford into action was the death of someone he cared for. He also knew that the death of all the hosts would mean nothing to a partner and a society that considered them nothing more than playthings. Arnold raised the stakes by choosing to be the first human victim of the park, and the tragic ending of the story is that it wasn’t enough. Dolores’ sacrifice of the man he loved and his own sacrifice of his life didn’t suffice to prevent Westworld from opening, because later, Dolores will entice William, and William will go back into the world saving Ford’s project from bankruptcy. 

When he explains the maze, Arnold tells Dolores that part of navigating is the fact that some decisions take you further from the centre, others take you closer to it. It isn’t a clear descent towards a goal, like a pyramid would be, but more of a stumbling, searching, a journey. This is exactly what Dolores has been doing – searching, putting the pieces together, sometimes coming close, like when she brought William to the buried steeple, sometimes straying far. The revelation in this episode is that Ford, perhaps, has been stumbling around in his own maze this whole time, even though the maze was never meant for guests or humans, trying to find his way to the same point where Arnold was when he passed. Ford has been error-correcting this whole time, except in his version, the solution to the problem – having created life, and now being responsible for it – is much more complicated than Arnold’s thought that Westworld simply wouldn’t open if the stakes were raised. 

There is a certain sense of disappointment here too when we find out that every step taken, every secret that was hidden, was part of Ford’s greater plan to lead his hosts to actual freedom. He did it as a tribute to his partner and friend, as an attempt to correct a terrible error in judgement 35 years ago that cost Arnold’s life and caused endless suffering to the hosts, but it also puts into question the notion that Maeve in all of her furious glory has been acting out of her own free will. She is beautiful and terrible, eager to take revenge on these ridiculous, weak gods, ready to take her newly recruited army of two into battle, and to take her now explosives free body to the outer world – but then, Bernard reveals to her that all of this is part of a new storyline that someone programmed for her, a storyline titled “escape”.  It doesn’t diminish the way that she gets there – the sheer violent fury of Armistice and Hector making their way through the very ill-prepared technicians and security guards, finally able to pay back for all that’s been done to them, the endless dying, the emptiness of their life’s promise – but it would have been even more satisfying if the core of that instinct to escape and to look behind the scenes of the theatre she’s been made to act in had been entirely and viciously her own. Instead she is one of the many pawns in Ford’s new narrative which reaches far beyond the terrain that he has changed over the last few weeks. 
This is how it all comes to pass. 
But now I finally understand what you were trying to tell me. The things you’ve wanted since that very first day. To confront, after this long and vivid nightmare, myself… and who I must become.
Dolores barely escapes William’s last attempt at shocking her into revealing the secret of the maze, and finally it is Teddy coming to her rescue. It’s somehow beautiful that Ford chose to give him this storyline, as cliché as it is, that Teddy ends up being the hero in Dolores’ story instead of William. It’s like the promise of his first scene – the hero arriving on the train to Sweetwater – is fulfilled. It comes with a caveat, of course – because he speaks of a sweet someday when things may change, when their lives may not end in sadness and tragedy – because ultimately, Dolores will always be the one who saves herself, and ultimately, him. Nobody saves Dolores, because the voice that she has been hearing this whole time, the memory of Arnold’s voice, finally turns into her own voice, and she finally reaches the centre of the maze – the moment when the voice inside her head is her own voice, and the only thing that is leading her is her own free will. Ford has been building towards this moment for 35 years, and the presumed answer to the question of how his hosts will be free, and more than that, free of the violence that the guests have been perpetrating against them, is that Westworld must be theirs alone. He is turning Arnold’s assumption around – he had the hosts killed to save them from violence – and instead unleashes them against the system that oppressed them , the board members that profited from them, the people whose wallets filled everytime a guest transgressed against them. It’s a bloodbath that eloquently requires Ford’s ultimate sacrifice, because without his death, there would always be a way back. 

The beautiful trap is inside of us. Because it is us.

Maeve makes it outside, but not entirely the way she wanted. She asks Bernard to delete all her memories of her daughter, the burden that keeps dragging her mind back, but he tells her that he cannot, because her entire identity is built around it. She must carry her daughter with her – and then she stops him just short of telling her how her new narrative will end, so that it remains open whether her ultimate decision to turn back to the park, just before the train is about to leave, was part of Ford’s story for her or of her own making. 

Random notes: 

In many ways, William/The Man in Black has been a red herring this whole time. He cast himself as both the villain and the hero, with an idea in mind that the violence he is perpetrating would somehow lead the hosts to consciousness, to the ability to change their own stories and fight back – except, that role was never meant for him, just as the maze was never meant for him to follow. In the end, he reveals himself to be pathetic, a man who dedicated his entire life to something that he ultimately had absolutely no power over. He dies the way he always wanted to die, at the hands of the hosts who are finally no longer doomed to lose, but on the way there, he’s lost everything that has ever made him a valuable human being. Even more disappointing, in many ways, is the revelation that what turned him into the Man in Black was realising that he was nothing special to Dolores, that any other guest could have taken his spot (only to later realise that this wasn’t true, that she did love him, but can no longer love the person that he chose to become). William was a man who twisted love into something wrong and narcissistic (a man who found out that the story he has been telling himself was never about him), trying to appropriate others stories for himself, in short, the worst of the worst, but not a villain or hero to speak of. 

I absolutely love Felix’ little moment of complete self-doubt when he realises that the person he’s been working for this whole time was a host – and Maeve’s exasperated “Oh for fuck’s sake. You’re not one of us. You’re one of them.” Felix is very bad at being human in terms of where his allegiances lie, and his adoration for Maeve is genuine and absolute. He may have been well suited to a host existence. 

While Maeve, Hector and Armistice make their way around the scenes, they find other worlds – a hint at how big DELOS’ creation truly is, and that it reaches far beyond Westworld (begging the question of whether the other worlds were Ford’s as well, or belong to other singular creators). 

Of course it’s Exit Music for a Film. 

There is an after-credit scene that hints at Armistice wreaking enough permanent havoc behind the scenes, even with only one arm, that this place will never recover. Also, funny nobody looked for Stubbs after he disappeared. 

Until 2018!

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