Wednesday 7 December 2016

Westworld – Remember.

Westworld: 1x09 The Well-Tempered Clavier.

There are three characters here, haunted by memories, trying to piece themselves together but finally ending up in very different places. Maeve, returned to Behaviour after she killed the new Clem, is confronted with Bernard, and finally reveals both her own sentience and his true identity. It comes as a complete shock to Bernard, because Ford wiped his previous memory of realising he was a host – but this time around, Maeve grants him the kindness (as always, there is a difference between being nice and being kind) of retaining his memory, of being able to go looking for the whole truth rather than simply a part of it. Bernard does, by creating an ingenious tableau: he knows he wouldn’t be capable of hurting Ford himself, so he takes the old Clementine out of storage and makes use of the fact that her prime directive has been altered, so that she is capable of killing humans. 
Bernard, at that point, is shattered. His conception of himself is destroyed, his idea of his life, his identity, in ruins. More than that, the person that he trusted – his friend and mentor – has turned out to be his jailer, a man who insists that he has every right to do to his mind as he pleases because he created it. This fallacy underlies all of Westworld – that creating a world means being allowed to do anything in it, that creation means complete freedom instead of responsibility. It is the core of the prime conflict between Ford and Arnold, the question of whether the hosts, at least holding the potential for self-awareness and consciousness, are property, or belong to only themselves. 

This episode is also about what each of the three find when they go all the way back to the beginning. Maeve, starting to put the pieces of her escape plan together, considers her constituting memory a trap that will keep her in Westworld. She wants to get out, find that mysterious world where these weak gods come from, a trying to find her daughter is nothing but a distraction, especially as all of these memories were only planted in her head by the same people she hates so much. Maeve exists in this dichotomy, convinced that mind that has hatched the escape plan is her only true self, as it reflects her own wishes and desires, not those of her programmers, whereas all of her old memories are inauthentic, as they were planted in her head. She wants to “break into hell and rob the gods blind”, and recruits Hector to help her, after freeing him from the delusion of his own cornerstone (the safe was always and will always be empty). 

Bernard forces Ford to allow him to travel back into his erased memories, and the trauma he finds is illuminating. He remembers Theresa, and being made to kill her, he remembers sneaking up on Elsie (we do not get final confirmation that she is dead, but we might as well assume) – and he always returns to his cornerstone memory, reading Alice in Wonderland to his dying son in the hospital. It’s his cornerstone, the thing his entire identity is built around, and the only way to travel beyond that point, to find his true first experience, his first memory, is to accept that Charlie is a programmed dream, that his eyes are nobody’s eyes. In a way, Bernard accepts his loss, and there is nothing truly victorious about him finally finding his way back to his first moments, all those years ago when Ford woke him up. 

In a way, Dolores’ journey leads towards the same place, but in a different way. Introducing William to the story the way he has been was almost a red herring – another Tommy, a supposed romantic hero to rescue her, who turns out to be someone entirely different instead. They have been captured by Logan, who sets out to destroy William’s illusion that Dolores is more than just a host, but she eventually escapes, severely injured, and not before making it clear to both of them that she has no intention to leave the park, as the world outside must be just as horrible, considering how eager the people of that world are to flock into Westworld. It’s a salient argument, but also the exact opposite of what Maeve has been up to (the difference may just be that Maeve is out for revenge, while Dolores wants to find that place that she has been dreaming of). 
William is already turning into someone else, the moment that Dolores is no longer there to look at his actions and judge them. His transgressions here, hacking the hosts that he thinks have hurt Dolores to bits, are just an escalation of what he did to the soldier for whose life Dolores was pleading in a previous episode. Whatever truth he is finding out about himself, it has nothing to do with the innocent white hat at the beginning of the journey. Which is another interesting question, in a way – what if the guests depend just as much on the stories they tell themselves as the hosts do? And what happens to them when they realise that these stories are nothing but socially acceptable programmed versions of themselves that have barely anything to do with the monsters that lurk beneath the surface? Dolores doesn’t witness the transformation, but Logan realises he’s bargained for more than he can handle. 
Westworld hasn’t toyed with different timelines as much as just very eloquently created a perspective that mirrors Dolores’ perception of the world. She is trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, shattered memories of the past, and those memories are vivid enough for her not to be able to distinguish between the now and the then. More than that, the landscape itself is changing underneath her feet – the steeple from her earliest memory was buried for many years, and the place that she returned to with William was buried under tons of sands, which now have been removed by Ford for his new narrative. For now, it remains open if it is simply a lucky coincidence that Dolores’ comes back to the place just as it has re-emerged, and is finally able to remember what truly happened 30 years ago. 

While many other hosts were going insane from the voice in their head, she didn’t. She simply followed the voice, and it was Arnold, down the elevator in the confessional (what a suitable metaphor), sitting down to have a chat with his favourite host. Arnold realised where the hosts and the park were heading, and how the existence of both was a moral dilemma. And somehow, the man who looks like Bernard, but is Arnold, managed the impossible – he died at Dolores’ hands. 

Random notes: 

I think it says everything about Bernard that he chooses to give Clem clothes before he uses her against Ford. 

Ford mentions that Bernard has come to this place before, had self-knowledge before, and it always ends the same way, because he has built a backdoor into all of the hosts – and we find out in this episode that someone who isn’t Maeve has been altering her programming, which of course puts to question the idea that she is doing all of this out of her own free will. 

“The humans are alone in this world for a reason. We murdered and butchered everything that challenged our primacy.”

This is perhaps an important quote to keep in mind for the next episode, as it reveals much about Ford’s worldview. 

Poor Teddy. He is putting his own pieces together, but struggles to get there, and now in addition to his violent memories of Wyatt, he also has to contend with seeing Dolores kill everyone, including him and herself. 

There has been a lot of debate about the predictability of all the reveals (one is still missing for definite but gets pretty safely set up in this episode) – I didn’t feel like it took anything away from the season that Bernard being a host, and being modelled after Arnold, was not entirely surprising. There’s a nice little moment in the next episode that makes light of the idea that the mystery “who else is a host” should hold any interest, and I think the show has plenty of other strengths. I’d rather have a predictable mystery than a poorly resolved one. 

Stubbs gets knocked out by hosts when he comes to rescue Elsie. Deep down I want to believe we’ll get some kind of buddy comedy storyline in the 2018 second season with these two… but they’re probably dead. 

The fourth-wall-breaking moment of Charlotte stepping into the Man in Black’s adventure to ask him for his vote against Ford is one of my favourites this episode – and it is a very, very good hint that he is not the hero or villain he would very much like to be, but a sad old man trying to find meaning for his life that isn’t meant for him. 

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