Wednesday 25 April 2018

Westworld - I have one last role to play: myself.

Westworld - 2x01 Journey Into Night.

Dreams don't mean anything, Dolores. They're just noise. They're not real. 
What is real? 
That which is... irreplaceable. That answer doesn't seem to satisfy you. 
Because it's not completely honest. 
The debates before the beginning of the second season of Westworld, which were a continuation of one that happened during its first season, raged about the value of the show beyond the titillation of the mysteries it poses. Beyond being a riddle, or, in more contemporary terms, beyond being a collection of spoilers that could be revealed to people not entirely caught up, what would remain of this show if the creators should reveal all of its secrets in advance of the episodes airing? 
Or, in other words, what would be the purpose of telling this story in three different timelines - openly, this time, rather than cloaked - if it isn't to disguise what the point is, and to reveal it slowly, as to keep people guessing? For no other reason than that something gets lost if the only reason to watch attentively and fully engaged is to find all the clues that lead to the resolution first. I think the ferocity with which the creators reacted to how specifically the season was discussed as it revealed itself means that their intention isn't a riddle for the sake of a series of clues, or for the sake of being smarter than the viewers, or creating a foxhunt for only the smartest of us the figure out before the lights go on, but to tell a story about human and non-human consciousness, a story about selfishness and empathy, about having a purpose and how that fits in with having free will (and many other things). 

So we begin this season with a debate about what is real and what isn't between, what we have to assume at this point, Arnold, and Dolores. It is a conversation that ties in well with a lot of other stories that have dealt with the question of human and non-human consciousness. Arnold (or Bernard, still thinking himself to be human, either of these work) speaks for human consciousness, which is defined by the fact that it ends in death, and is therefore irreplaceable. A sidenote to this is how the park works - that it permits hosts to be killed, but contains safeguards which hold human life sacred. How easily this programmed dichotomy can fall apart with a few little tweaks is one of the main visual cues in this episode - there are literal heaps of dead bodies, and there isn't much that distinguishes dead hosts from dead board members and guests once they've been reduced to corpses (in fact we see the minor difference between the current host models and humans when someone removes the data core from a host later in the episode). 
The person Arnold is having this argument with is bound to have a different perspective on his definition of reality. The hosts aren't human, and their consciousness isn't human, mainly because it isn't bound to a physical body. The hosts memories, experiences, thoughts and feelings can be assigned to different bodies, they can be adjusted willingly, they are manufactured rather than lived, but that doesn't make much of a difference when the result is the same - an identity that shapes actions. The only reason why Arnold can make this argument is because the rules of the park still work, because nothing has gone fundamentally wrong yet. Dolores knows that being irreplaceable isn't a complete definition of what is real because the hosts are by design replaceable. 

This brings us to the current moment in time, where Dolores roams the lands of the park with her army of misfits, delivering speeches to guests in which she points out how little distinguishes them from the hosts now that the park is no longer programmed to protect their lives. Now that everything has changed, she still possess the memories of her past roles, but she is also developing into something new - herself. She refers to this as playing a role too (and aren't we all, to some extent), but we don't quite know yet what the point of that role is, and what exactly Dolores is looking for. 
There's Maeve, who changed her mind just before she was about to leave for the outside, who came back to the command centre to locate her daughter. Her daughter, who maybe doesn't even exist (because maybe all that Maeve has is memories of her, so that the trauma of losing her could become one of her cornerstones). To her, this distinction between real and not real, between replaceable and irreplaceable, is just as pointless, and she is now the only (as far as we know) person remaining who is capable of giving commands to other hosts. The park is sheer chaos and rotting bodies, and the command centre is exactly the same, torn apart by sentient hosts and animals, with nobody left to press the buttons. 

Bernard guides as through two different places in time here - on the one hand, he wakes up after Dolores' massacre of Westworld's remaining creator and the board members and runs off with surviving Charlotte Hale, who turns out to be quite well-equipped for the post-apocalypse (for example, at some point, she replaces her heels with boots, presumably stolen from a dead body). Charlotte doesn't realise who Bernard is, and while he is damaged, and glitching, one of his main missions becomes hiding his identity from her, which becomes increasingly difficult, although being presumed to be weak and traumatised seems to help. Charlotte knows her way to a place within the park in which "drones" extract all the possible IP-protected information from hosts, which, if we remember back to season one, was her assignment - to smuggle the IP out of the park. It failed, because Dolores' father never made it out of the park, which is why whoever hired her is now not sending in an extraction team to save her (or any of the remaining board members in the park). We already know that two weeks later, an extraction team will arrive in the park, to find Bernard by himself, and just as unaware of his identity. At that point, Charlotte has disappeared - and more than that, once the team track down the location of the remaining hosts, they find a whole new ocean that can't really be explained by Robert's terraforming, in which - at least a lot, if not all - the remaining hosts has drowned. 

Of course, a lot more happens in this episode. The Man in Black, since revealed to be William, receives a new mission from boy Robert - and given the introduction to this episode, and Dolores' argument that the argument made was incomplete, we can perhaps assume that Robert, before dying (and his physical body is clearly dead), managed to upload himself into the park. This would be an interesting thought in particular considering how eager someone on the outside is to obtain the intellectual property behind how the hosts work - there are applications for this technology far beyond a theme park for rich people, and one of them may just be a form of immortality that truly undermines Arnold's argument about what makes humans more real than hosts. 
All of this comes down to a question that has never been explicitly asked on the show: what lies beyond the shores of Westworld? We know now that there are other theme worlds like Westworld, but we still have no clue where, geographically, Westworld is, even if it is on Earth. There are hints here of borders breaking apart and the outside moving in, like the wildcat on the shore that belongs to a different environment, and the soldiers arguing with the response team about who has sovereignty over this territory. The easiest explanation is the most mundane, that this is a landmass a corporate entity bought from some government for this purpose, but there are more interesting solutions that are possible, like - is this still Earth, and, what if all this debate about the distinction between hosts and humans is an ironic repetition of something that has already happened in the world that Westworld inhabits, and everyone is a host, but also not aware of it exactly because of how much at the core of human identity the idea of irreplaceability is? 
Robert's new game for William is the opposite of the maze - it's finding a door. It is also, in contrast to finding the centre of the maze, meant for William - who is dissatisfied not only because he has raising the stakes within the games by making death possible hasn't given him any kind of relief or purpose (he always must seek new thrills), but also because that game he had been chasing for so many years of his life was never meant for him. This one is. "The game begins where you end and ends where you began". 
It's an interesting game to play in a world that seems so devoid of an outside. We know that things come into Westworld - the photo that caused Dolores' father to glitch, the train that brings in guests, the board members and workers at the command central - but we have never seen that place. Presumably, William comes from that place as well. Could the door be a literal door, a way to escape the mayhem that has broken out now that Maeve and Dolores rule over this place? Is it a symbolic door, connected to how William only became who he is in Westworld, and lost parts of the person that he was before (he has already ended and begun here)? 

Random notes: 

I think maybe Dolores is very calculating in how she approaches Teddy, knowing precisely how much hope she needs to give him to keep him on board, unless there is a part of her that does want that impossible happy ending after all.  

Dolores here is starting to remind me of Echo in Dollhouse (I know, nobody ever talks about Dollhouse anymore except to mention what Dichen Lachman and Amy Acker accomplish in it, but there are plenty of parallels) - she remembers her old roles but she is also now someone different, a composite with its own identity. 

I don't want to speculate about the timelines too much, because it doesn't interest me a whole lot at this point, but obviously, Bernard awoke after the massacre without a watch and then, in the water, with one, and at some point in-between, he lost Charlotte Hale and somehow made an ocean appear where there was previously none (and wouldn't the only person able to bring all the hosts to that spot be Maeve, unless something changed in-between?). 

Really glad that in this year 2018, there was no way in hell Tessa Thompson wouldn't play a big role in this. 

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