Saturday, 28 March 2020

Westworld - You may not believe in a higher power, but your mind was built to.

Westworld: 3x01 Parce Domine.

To start off with, perhaps a paragraph about the nature of television in 2020 – no, not the more obvious thing, but about how disorienting it is to pick up a complex show like Westworld after almost two years have passed. I watch a lot of television, and I found myself struggling with piecing together what had happened in the previous season, how we left things off with Dolores and Charlotte Hale and Bernard. I don’t think this first episode eases anyone back into the universe of Westworld, which is maybe a good thing, taking its viewers seriously enough to assume they would find their own way back into the story, or maybe a bad thing, if you think that it’s sometimes a good idea to be taken by the hand of a story that wants to be understood. Either way, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I could because I felt pretty stupid throughout most of it, which isn’t a way I like to feel, but which really works on a meta level, because Westworld is a whole show about the limitations of humans vs machines (after all, Dolores read the book on every single person that has every visited Westworld, and it was pretty slim volume, because we’re not that complex after all). 

Anyway, we are thrown back into the universe of Westworld, in which Dolores Abernathy has escaped the imposed limitations to destroy what has created and violated her. She is tracing the path of all that data that Delos collected for someone within the confines of Westworld, and she gets to hunt down a bunch of disgusting men who raped her on the way. The first one up is a German rich guy (played by Thomas Kretschmann) who mainly proves the point that men who are violent towards hosts in Westworld are just as violent towards women in the real world – and Dolores tries to find a way into a company called Incite, which apparently data-mined all that information gathered by Delos. She also manufactures a befitting end for Gerald, who drove his first wife to suicide with his physical and psychological violence, and he ends up dead in a pool, just like her. 

To make the episode more disorienting, we then jump forward into a future in which Dolores is dating the son of the founder of Incite, and actually lays eyes on the product of that data-mining – a thing called “The System” that looks a whole lot like the quantum computer at the centre of Devs devs unit – and maybe it does the same thing that Alex Garland’s creation does, accurately predict human behaviour based on the data collected (why wouldn’t it be a particular zeitgeist in 2020 to argue that our paths in lives can be predicted by sufficiently advanced algorithms, thereby proving that the universe is deterministic, and our choices predetermined by our nature). Dolores is eager to find the true man behind the machine, a man who can look beyond the outer layers. By the end of the episode, she will have successfully replaced Westworld’s version of Devs’ Kenton with her own man, just like she did with Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale (who is a copy of Dolores, or a version of Dolores, or a new thing altogether), now a leading board member of what remains of Delos. 
The same Charlotte Hale who, through the same timeline that sees Dolores get closer to the centre of power of Incite, argues that Westworld needs to remain open in spite of recent events. 
Somewhere else in the world, Bernard, the antagonist that Dolores created because she understands that the world requires more than one point of view to work, is working a basic job as a butcher, and he has a button with which he can turn his capabilities on and off – and he is also running, both from and towards something. To understand this storyline, it may be good to revisit season two, but in ancy case, ultimately, Bernard is trying to get back to the island, maybe for Maeve, maybe for something else entirely. But it does seem poetic somehow that Bernard and Dolores have ended up in such contrasting places – Dolores at the centre of power and money, Bernard in a South-East Asian robot-human-mixed-labour slaughterhouse. 

And the bits where we get glimpses of how this technology-driven world works are the best, and we get most of that with Aaron Paul’s very Blade-Runnery character Caleb Nichols, an army veteran who is battling PTDS from losing his friend and trying to survive in an economy where human labour is mostly, if not completely, replaced by automation (an iconic scene in which he has his high-rise lunch sitting alongside his robot co-worker). He survives with a low-level blue collar job and a second career in crime, driven by an app that recruits crime workers like air tasker. While he tries to work through his trauma with a therapist who, of course, is not human at all, because human labour is more expensive than free labour, he ends up tangled in Dolores’ path, when he stumbles across her bleeding from a gunshot wound. And we know how Dolores occasionally needs good men – godspeed to Caleb, may he find peace the way that James Marsden’s Teddy did. 

Random notes: 

An episode that unites a dude with a Viennese accent with Cleo The Condensation Phoebe Tonkin – Austro-Australian friendship, just like my real life. 

In this episode’s greatest Black Mirror moment, a visibly distressed Caleb realises that the therapist he has been speaking with is not a paid human person – that’s 100% something that’s already happening in our world, right?

It feels weird to be watching this show in 2020, still going to work every day because I’m working an essential job, knowing that at the moment, it doesn’t look like any of these low-level and deeply felt cultural anxieties about automation and robots killing our jobs and then us will actually come to fruition after all. 

No comments: