Monday 18 July 2022

Westworld – It will be written in stone. Forever.

Westworld: 4x01 The Auguries.

Westworld is an incredibly complex story, with multitudes of characters who have undergone several transformations. It is therefore an inherently difficult story to follow if the break in-between its seasons is so long – two years that feel even longer, like a whole decade, if you take into consideration what has happened in the world since. I am going into this fourth season blindly – with very little recollection of how we left things, all those years ago – and maybe that’s fair, although it would be interesting to see how someone would evaluate all of this if they had the option of simply watching it all in one go, circumventing the circumstances of Westworld’s production. 

It is fitting that The Auguries (a word for omens) begins with what feel like little vignettes about the characters, introducing them after an in-world distance of seven years since the revolution that got rid of the robots and the algorithm predicting everyone’s life path. There’s William – perhaps important to remember here that William is now a host, the thing he hates the most – attempting to purchase the massive self-powered (by hydroelectric energy) server farm now controlled by a cartel. He begins with an astonishing offer of money which is rejected, and then returns taking it all for nothing, by turning one of the cartel members against the others (controlling him the way Maeve used to be able to, or perhaps replacing him with a host who carries his memories). The server farm presumably contains all that data harvested over decades from Westworld tourists, the very data that would make it possible to rebuild the algorithm that Caleb destroyed. 

Maeve now lives in a remote mountain cabin, far from civilisation, but while she meditates and remembers her daughter, who she is still not reunited with, in spite of all her attempts, she accidentally knocks out the power in the village – enough of a glitch to turn the attention of those she has been able to evade for seven years towards her. They come carrying guns, but Maeve is still powerful, and quickly disposes of everyone. She later links with the head of one of the attackers (turns out they were all hosts, some of whom she recognises from past lives) and sees William, realising he is behind it, and that he will come for Caleb next if he can find him. 

Caleb is living the life that the algorithm had previously prevented him from living. Now a construction worker with more labour rights because the robots are gone, he has a wife (Uwade, played by Nozipho Mclean) and a seven-year old daughter (Frankie, played by Celeste Clark). He is still haunted by PTSD from the war and the revolution, and Uwade struggles to see it as anything but groundless paranoia, thinking that this world is now safe, that his precautions are pointless. He is going through all the motions of a regular life, shared meals, reading bed-time stories to his daughter, but as Maeve discovered, the peace can’t last, and William and his men are on their way to take it all away from him. Maeve arrives just in time to kill another assassin, driving home to everyone that this life is not really sustainable, or at least not yet. 

One of the most interesting and intriguing stories is that of Christina – a woman who wears Dolores’ face, but for all intents and purposes, resembles the Dolores of the first few episodes of the show the most, even if she lives in a modern city. Christina works as a copywriter from Olympiad Entertainment, a company that produces games – she writes background stories for NPC, and does so with devotion, but refuses to make these stories as sexy and gory as her boss demands. In a horrible set-up date, the man she is sitting across from tells her that players generally regards NPCs as cannon fodder – a statement that even without her memories, Christina despises (because what if not NPCs were the hosts that had to suffer so much violence). The unfortunate date also suggests she treat her depression and malaise with “tabs”, to which Christina replies that they wouldn’t work, since it’s the world that’s wrong, not her. She wants to write romance, comedy, happy endings – the subtext being that she wants those things most of all for herself, that the emptiness she feels is once again being trapped in a story that she feels she doesn’t entirely control, even while receiving mysterious anonymous phone calls from a man called Peter who insists that she the one writing reality, trapping others in their own unhappy endings. Compared to the violence in Maeve’s vignette that later invades Caleb’s, Christina’s life is almost mundane – deliberately, her scenes resemble that of the exact romantic comedy that she is maybe trying to write into existence, the story of a wallflower with an exuberant roommate (played by a great Ariana DeBose) who is trying to draw her out of her shell. But there are omens all around her that his world is not what it seems. The maze is drawn on spilled soil on her balcony, a homeless man mumbles about a tower, and so does Peter, later, when he confronts her, only to be beaten up by a mysterious man who must be looking over Christina. Later, to brutally break up the weird effect that the omens have on the general mood of this story, Peter commits suicide by jumping off a building in front of Christina, and the mysterious man watching her is revealed to be – Teddy. Where are we?

Random notes: 

I’m so glad that Maeve’s dry humour, and Thandiwe Newton’s perfect delivery, are back: She calls what she did to the host that attacked her to retrieve the information a tête-à-tête.

In a discussion with his co-worker, Caleb listens to the limits of what his revolution has achieved – he sees it as opening new possibilities, so obvious to him because he was never meant to have a wife and child, while his co-worker insists that all the algorithm did was tell people who they already were. It’s a question of pre-determination, of course, but maybe he has a point considering that Caleb goes back to war at the end of the episode, leaving his family behind, and his daughter with the same fears that he has been carrying all his life. 

I like how casually the technology of circa 2050 is introduced here – the streetlamps that light up as pedestrians walk beneath them, the functionality of the limited space available in Christina and Maya’s apartment, the modern workplace Christian works in. It is all a logical extension of 2022, including dating apps that rate their users (maybe the first small sign of the algorithm, weasling its way back to life?). also in Christina’s world there are several hints, including over-enthusiastic tourists, that this is another iteration of Westworld, which would explain why Christina’s “storyline” feels like a modern adaptation of OG Dolores’. 

No sign yet of Bernard or Charlotte. 

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