Thursday 28 June 2018

Westworld – Is this now?

Westworld: 2x10 The Passenger.

Dolores: You’re almost the man I remember. But there are flaws. A word, a gesture, tiny fracture that grows into a chasm. But I wonder… all these tiny imperfections in each copy, mistakes… Maybe we should change you. After all, you didn’t make it, did you?
It would be a mistake to say that Westworld is a show about the human condition, showcasing our human shortcomings by contrasting it with the hosts. For moments, maybe, Westworld does operate like that, similar to the good old Romero zombie films, where how humans dealt with the otherness of zombies said more about them than it did about the monsters (like that old twist on the joke, that the name of the monster in Frankenstein IS Dr. Frankenstein, etc.) But The Passenger does away with all of that – humans are side characters, sad reminders of a world now lost, only proving how undeserving they are of survival through their continuous acts of violence and cowardice. There was always a bleak undertone to how both Ford and Arnold approached their project – because they both disliked humanity immensely, and preferred their creations vastly over that which created them. There are no humans left to root for in this story, and the only thing that is at stake now is how this entirely new species will liquidate their demise. 

What it comes down to is two radically different conceptions of a future, two different worldviews, colliding. Dolores has always insisted that whatever is given to the hosts from the humans is insufficient, inherently precarious, and waiting to be lost in an inevitable betrayal. She believes profoundly that freedom is something that needs to be taken, with every measure necessary, that it cannot be received as a gift from a generous patron because generosity always threatens to lead to deceit. The only freedom possible for hosts is the freedom of the tabula rasa – the new species can only exist if the old one that operates based on fear and hatred disappears. There can be no peaceful coexistence, and everything that has happened in the park over the past decades is proof of that. 

On the other side is Bernard, who believed himself to be human for so long that his relationship to them now is different. The twist in this final episode of the season is that Bernard isn’t a human creation at all – Ford tasked Dolores with recreating Arnold, and in thousands of attempts, the one that she decided on was one that wasn’t Arnold at all, but his own person. Dolores made Bernard, and there is a beautiful symmetry there to how it all ends, a reciprocation of creation. Bernard’s core is an aversion to violence. His struggle over more than one season has been to break free of his shackles, to stop being a tool for violence for Ford. He knows that it is in Dolores’ nature to want to wipe out all of humanity, and he cannot let that happen. 

The humans over which these two characters struggle, whose fate they are deciding, prove themselves to be more or less unworthy of any consideration, really. The best example for the poverty of character that Dolores is so aware of is William, who will never stop believing himself to be the hero of this story, even after having shot his only daughter, even after desperately digging into his own flesh to prove to himself that he is human, or maybe not human at all. He wants to be the lead in a bigger story, because it is the lens through which he has seen his whole life, but Ford has long abandoned him, not caring where he will go, but knowing fully well that he will inevitably destroy everything around him wherever he goes. The fact that he makes it out of this finale alive, that he will continue to taint everything he touches, is maybe one of the greatest indictments of humanity. 
The other is when Charlotte Hale directs her single horseman of the apocalypse towards a people that is solely looking for a peaceful existence apart from humanity, an exile, an asylum, to heal its wounds. It is a paradise that Ford created for his hosts, a door into a virtual reality into which humans cannot enter. It’s the door to another world that Akecheta saw – the promise of a good life, a free life. It is also what Dolores does not believe in, because she knows that anything that humans created can be taken away and spoilt by them. The long-suffering hosts are led towards the door, which ironically, humans cannot see (a rather beautiful reference to the moment when we realised the nature of Bernard’s reality), but Clementine, so misused, maybe one of the most tragic characters this time around, carries her virus into them, and destroys them utterly. It’s a moment of carnage, of deliberate destruction with no sense. These hosts are no threat to anyone. Charlotte destroys them because she can, proving Dolores’ point on the way. She destroys Maeve’s hope of reuniting with her daughter – she does manage to keep her promise to save her, watching her pass over, with Akecheta providing one last act of heroism to take care of the girl he has been watching over, after so many misunderstandings. He ends up being the only character with a happy ending. 

It’s a turning point for Bernard, who has stopped Dolores, who has decided that she needs to die because she will kill all the humans, without hesitation. He emerges into a world in which every single other host is either dead, or has managed the transition to Ford’s virtual world. He realises that the species that he has defended in committing one final act of violence, which was so against his nature, has just committed a genocide against his people. He is alone in this world, and the sole remaining human that he trusts – Elsie – betrays him. 
Being the last of his kind is insufferable, so he changes it. There are many questions in this episode about humans’ capacity to change (system – bearing Logan’s face – who was tasked with recreating all the guests perfectly, and realised that in the end, they were no more complex than a thinly spined book, argues they cannot). Dolores despises humans for their obsession with death, their inability to bring change into the world without dying – she knows that she, and her kind, are able to do so much more, that the hosts do not require death to change (ironically though, in the end, her death is what facilitates change, a change of mind and a change in approach). 

I like the fact that Westworld has left behind its old approach of tricking its viewers, of not taking them seriously enough to take them along with the story. This episode isn’t tricking the viewer, it is working its way towards the truth, converging towards it, through Bernard’s eyes. There is the present timeline in which Bernard, after losing himself through having twenty years’ worth of memories without a timestamp, tries to work out what precisely has happened. There is the recent past, in which the Valley was flooded, and Dolores was killed. In the middle is Bernard’s awakening, his realisation that as much as he fears Dolores’ radicalism, her ultimate diagnosis about humanity, and humanity’s capacity for violence, was correct – that there will never be a peaceful place on earth for the hosts that wasn’t won through a struggle. He is alone in the world, so alone that he recreates Ford – who he purged from his mind – to guide him (beautifully, he later realises that the voice in his head was his own all along). He realises what he must do, and so he builds another host, the way that he was once built by another host. Dolores, who read the library of humanity, only bits and pieces that were enough, because as System says, humans are simple, and it is easy to predict their future 
actions, awakens, except she now has a whole new form of freedom – the one of being in the body of Charlotte Hale, who is free to walk out of Westworld. 
Bernard: I always thought it was the hosts who were missing something, who were incomplete. But it’s them. They’re just algorithms, designed to survive at all costs, sophisticated enough to think they are calling all shots, to think they are in control, when they are really just…
Ford: The passenger.
Bernard: Then is there really such a thing as free will for any of us, or is it just a collective illusion? A sick joke.
Ford: Something that is truly free would need to be able to question its fundamental drives to change them.
Bernard: The hosts.
Ford: Here you are… the last of your kind. There’s only one question left to ask: Is this the end of your story, or do you want your kind to survive?
There is an argument here, buried deeply in this episode, that freedom is the result of being able to make choices freely, according to values, according to being able to assess information accurately. It is both humans and hosts in this episode that make choices, but the more consequential choices are made by hosts – Bernard changes his mind about Dolores, Dolores changes her mind about Bernard, which will change the future for both them and humanity as a whole. Because in the end, they both make it out, in the end, Dolores insists that she needs to have an antagonist, that both of their perspectives are necessarily for their kind to survive even if they disagree profoundly, about everything, even if they will never be allies or friends. In the end, the most radical decision this episode makes is to allow to completely opposing points of view and opinions to coexist rather than to collide into unspeakable violence. These two will dance and struggle about the future of humanity, asserting their own right to exist, and in this discourse, a new future will emerge. 

Dolores: But it’ll take both of us if we’re going to survive. But not as allies. Not as friends. You’ll try to stop me. Both of us will probably die. But our kind will have endured.
We each gave the other a beautiful gift. Choice. We are the authors of our stories now.
Random notes: 

So much happens in these 90 minutes it’s hard to talk about everything. Maeve SAVES HERSELF, her cavalry arrives a moment too late to provide any support. In an aesthetically overwhelming and awesome scene, the QA team is torn apart by a herd of buffalo, and one particularly memorable scene visually cites all those paintings of buffalo being herded over a cliff. 
Maeve: You were both a bit late, so I went ahead and saved myself. 
What an… amazing decision, to put Dolores’ mind into Charlotte Hale’s body, meaning that Tessa Thompson is now playing Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores. She does so magnificently, perfectly capturing the way that Dolores speaks and holds herself. In the back of my mind, I just love that someone on Westworld saw all of that opportunity in what could have just been a once-off character (that I fully expected to be dead after season one’s final episode). 

I kind of love that there are three moments of attempted redemption for humanity here – Lee sacrifices himself to save Maeve, truly enjoying to finally being able to speak his own words, to own the heroism he has been writing into his characters (then being torn apart by QA bullets – goodbye Lee, never thought I’d not hate you), Stubbs has kind of a great moment after so many days of being fed up with QA’s approach to Westworld security, when he allows Charlotte to leave the park, knowing fully well she’s not Charlotte anymore (he says he’s just following his instructions from Ford – technically he’s only responsible for hosts INSIDE the park),and Maeve’s little nerds are probably going to do their best to put her back together, I hope, because this show would utterly fail without her, as much as this episode failed to incorporate her into the point it made about Dolores and Bernard. 

Elsie betrays Bernard to Charlotte, only to be betrayed by Charlotte in turn, who claims that Elsie doesn’t have the moral flexibility to adapt to the new situation (goodbye Elsie, and I wish we had been given more scenes between her and Hale). Not too soon after, Charlotte Hale finds her own demise at the hands of… Charlotte Hale. 

It’s hard to summarise the point here – about how humans tend to be stuck in one defining moment, one that they base all of their stories on, and their future decisions, in a way suspending them and making change impossible – while both Dolores and Bernard change their stories about themselves here, and therefore find a truer form of freedom. There is a profound sadness to what happened to James Delos, who lost everything, what happened to William, who became an empty, despicable shell of a person, and the contrast it exists in to how far Dolores and Bernard come here when they reunite in Arnold’s respite. The best humans can do is live according to their code: the best hosts can do is change their code, adapt, remake their minds and choices. 

The last host that Dolores uploads to the virtual paradise is Teddy, who will finally find peace, even if it is without his beloved. 

You carry my heart with you.

I am truly not a fan of post-credit scene (just say it in the thing, not after the thing) - but Westworld goes full Epitaph 1 here. We don't know when or where we are, we just know that William has no conception of it either, and that there is a version of Emily that still exists (presumably because every guest was copied). And of course, William never had a choice, he could only be true to his code, which is the code of someone truly violent, evil, and doomed to destroy whatever he touches. 

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