Wednesday 30 May 2018

Westworld – This is a test.

Westworld: 2x06 Phase Space.

It begins with Arnold, telling Dolores that she is on a path that will take her beyond the park, a path that he isn’t sure how to react to. He says he isn’t sure about his choices – except this is where Dolores interrupts, and Arnold become Bernard once again, to be told that Arnold would have never questioned his own autonomy to make a choice. That Arnold, back in the day when he decided between his own and Dolores’ life, was wondering about which choice to make, not whether he had choices in the first place. It seems like this is the fundamental difference between hosts and guests, and Arnold and Bernard, but it is also a repetition of the test that William administered to James Delos – a test of fidelity, of whether the host is true to the person it is based on. It opens the question of whether Bernard is carrying Arnold’s identity within him, and is only not glitching because he is not aware of it. Or maybe Dolores is wrong, and confuses his likeness with the real thing, since she doesn’t really have a way yet of knowing about Delos’ flawed and incomplete ability to restore humans. 

If Bernard was Arnold, he wouldn’t know. He doesn’t carry the confidence that the James Delos’ host had of its own human identity, instead he is unsure, still rattled by the revelation that he is a host in the first place. His journey in this episode, which he undertakes with trusting sidekick Elsie, is into the Mesa Hub. He says that “if anyone can right this ship by force of sheer will, it’s you?, but then, we know he is prone to say things that he knows the other person wants to hear, all the time. In any case, it’s Elsie who discovers that this whole park is being dominated by a ghost in the machine, located in the “cradle”, which has the power to override any attempt at hacking that the extraction team has come up with. The cradle is the total sum of the hosts memories, a mainframe, into which Bernard, once he sees that there is no other option, straps himself into like a human interface. He is dreaming the dream of the park, to discover what haunts it, and of course what he ends up finding, once he has followed the greyhound to his master in Sweetwater, is Ford. Ford, all along, since it would have been too trivial to simply copy himself into a host, has copied himself into the park, as a sort of violent, ghostly conscience. 

I like this revelation especially in light of what Akane tells Maeve – that she should find her child, before this darkness eats them all alive. The darkness is an unbelievable level of violence, of bloodshed, of bodies heaped up in piles. It plays like something that would easily entertain a bored audience in Shogun world, one that refuses the easy fix of Maeve simply telling people to kill themselves, rather than seeing the fight play out. It’s really the same instinct that kept the parks’ profits up – why not see a glorious sword fight between two master swordsmen, that ends in body parts being hacked off, and fountains of blood? Maybe there is a fight going on between a bloodthirsty park, a bloodthirsty Ford, and hosts who refuse to follow his lead, who hold on to nostalgic ideas, who love their children so much that they would risk everything to carry their hearts to their hometowns, and allow their ghosts to rest in peace; except that Maeve, once she finds her child, is haunted once again by the destructive forces that killed her dream in the first place, and more than that, now she is forced to watch it happen to the host that is playing her role (but of course she has the means to end the horror, but also, she is no longer the mother, only the hero coming to save). 

Maybe this is now the story of choices when choices can be made. Dolores is horrified by her own choice to replace Teddy with the Major, a man who could not be more the polar opposite of whom she once loved. He is impatient, cruel. He has no nostalgia or sense of the past. She did what she saw necessary, eradicate a weakness, a man who was not ready for the great fight, but maybe she sacrificed more than just Teddy’s conscience on the way there. They may be entering the dark tunnel of the Mesa in this episode, ready to wreak havoc upon the newly arrived operational team (after Charlotte Hale has finally managed to complete her mission) – but something essential is missing, and there might be no way of getting it back now. 

And on the edges of the park, still pursuing some kind of mission that he believes he understands, one that Ford wrote specifically for him, is the Man in Black now accompanied by a daughter who is raging against his decision to die in the park, to commit suicide by robot. We get a sense of what their initial rift was, where Emily/Grace and William/Man in Black split back in the day: she blamed him for her mother’s suicide, her mother whom he took for holidays in the park, but never in Westworld, her mother who always thought they weren’t safe there. He thinks she is so desperate for his love that she learned everything she could about the place he was so obsessed with, to the point where she is now better equipped for his game than he is. She refutes, and says she merely wants him to come home with her, to finally prioritise the real world over this fake one, for as long as he can tell the difference. Except she doesn’t realise that he is already way beyond that, that the real world doesn’t even exist for William anymore. He is fully invested in this adventure, more than he loves his daughter, who is left behind. 

Random notes: 

I think this show refound its footing in Shogun world, and also somehow righted itself through adding William’s daughter and Elsie to the narrative. 

Akane thanks Maeve for giving her a choice about her life, but also doesn’t go with her, and instead chooses something that may be death. This is what freedom means to her – being able to fully honour her daughter’s life, by attempting to rebuild her village, which has been sacked, but also facing the very real possibility of perishing in this place that is so tainted by complete violence. 

I guess we don’t really know what happens to the Great Scotsman who flies in to save the day, and ridicules Ashley for failing so hard at his job, except that in what we know is the present tense, he’s no longer there. Neither, for that matter, are Charlotte Hale and Elsie. 

No comments: