Monday 13 April 2020

Westworld - I remember what it’s like to be me.

Westworld: 3x03 The Absence of Field. 

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing. 
Mark Strand
There is maybe another Mark Strand quote that would be suitable for this season of Westworld – “The future is always beginning now”. There is no doubt that this is true, but our assortment of players on the chess board are attempting to make moves that will put them in control of that future – but for some of them, more is at stake. I think this inequality is at the core of the show. People like the Man in Black, the Delos family, and now Serac are trying to gain control over the future for power and money, because they profit in direct and indirect ways from controlling where this world goes. This is why they are double horrified when the narrative turns on them, and they are put into the same position as the people and hosts they control – because for them, it’s unimaginable for them that somebody else may be controlling their own fate. On the other hand, Dolores, Maeve and Bernard want a measure of control because it means being able to write their own stories for once, and they approach this goal with differing levels of violence. 

So I think it’s interesting to consider Charlotte Hale in the context of this power dynamic, between those who have power and those who strive for power because they realise it is the only way to gain dignity and to control their own fate. I find it less interesting to wonder who this Charlotte Hale is now – the episode does make it more or less clear that she is a version of Dolores herself, that, when she sees the other Dolores, she is seeing herself. The difference between them is that the Dolores who is telling her where to go and what to do is the Dolores that has struggled in Westworld, it is the Dolores that has become a predator herself, whereas this Charlotte/Dolores is newer, less experienced, and less sharp. She is a tool for the other Dolores, a mole within Delos, but she also seems to have very limited knowledge about the host body she is inhabiting (which is interesting in and of itself – does this mean that the information that was available to the other Dolores was limited as well? Did she now know about the child, about Hale working secretly for Serac, or did she simply choose not to share that information because she thought it was irrelevant for the mission?). Charlotte/Dolores is struggling with the mission because she is in the body of someone who was such a visceral, domineering enemy of the hosts. Throughout her first days, she claws at her own skin, wondering if this is the predator Charlotte trying to escape into freedom, but what it actually looks like is severe body dysphoria, the sheer horror of inhabiting the enemy, of seeing a hated face staring back at you when you look in the mirror. Dolores know that for Hale to be useful to her, she has to become a predator like herself, like the original Charlotte Hale, but it appears as if she is finding her own path there. 

Those scenes – where Hale attempts to comprehend the life she has taken over, encounters her ex (Michael Ealy), finds a deeply confused child who immediately recognises that she isn’t his real mother, are haunting. They are reminiscent of another great show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and I wonder if that is a deliberate reference here. On that show, Catherine Weaver (a fantastic, horrifying Shirley Manson) was replaced by a shapeshifting Terminator who had to appear to be human, which meant mothering Savannah, a young child profoundly disturbed by a new mother utterly inapt at being motherly. Both Weaver and Hale learn from old videos how to pretend to be this specific human, but also how to pretend to be a mother in general. In both cases, the process is horrible because it is undertaken to pass, to continue the mission – and I guess if it weren’t successful, both would have had to find a different way to deal with the children who could unmask them as being impostors. In the end, Hale's approach is unconventional - realising that a friend from the park Nathan has been talking about is a grown man who is grooming him, he kills the man (which makes her feel like herself again!), and takes his dog. Nothing to better soothe the trauma of your mum being taken over by a robot than a pup.

This thread of failed motherhood, and childhood trauma, continues in Caleb’s storyline. After helping Dolores escape, and after realising that the Crime-Uber-app (RECO) now has a hit out on both of them, he still chooses to help her, even when his life is threatened. His choices fascinate Dolores because she finds them unpredictable in a world where most human choices are not a surprise to her. Equally, Caleb is fascinated by her because she is “the first real thing that has happened to him in a while”, presumably since the traumatic memory that Dolores recounts to him in great detail, when his mother had a schizophrenic episode and was institutionalised, leaving him alone for hours in a diner. As much as that traumatic memory is a break, a before and after moment, so is the moment that Dolores manufactures when she explains this world to him. It turns out that Serac’s app Incite, which is based on the information that he was gathering from guest data in Westworld, creates detailed profiles of every single person, and these profiles decide fates. What kind of job are people qualified to have? Should they get married? Are they allowed to have children? All of these basic life decisions, taken out of people’s hands, out of their control, given to an app that calculates the future based on vague parameters. And there is no way of escaping, much like there was no way out of the endless repeated days in Westworld for Dolores. Dolores feels a connection with Caleb because he is like her – a man trapped in someone else’s narrative. She offers him a stake in her revolution, which I suppose is not just a revolution against humanity anymore, but one against the kind of people that can write other people’s stories.

Random thoughts: 

In greater story developments, Charlotte Hale finds out that an unknown entity, hidden like a Matryoshka doll, has become the most individual shareholder of Delos, thereby making it impossible for the company to go private (so as to evade board oversight). It’s not hard to figure out that this mysterious shareholder is Serac, who is beginning his great play against Dolores (Hale also finds out that Maeve’s “pearl” is missing from the park). In the end, Hale meets with a virtual version of Serac (I’m guessing that Maeve in the previous episode met with the real Serac?), and he blames her for not uploading the full data for him. Which of course she did, except the encryption key for that data is hidden – in Dolores. 

The vibe of the scene between the Doloreses – somewhere between a version of mothering, or a version of seduction (we’ve seen Dolores do one of those things plenty of times). What a blessing it is to see Tessa Thompson and Evan Rachel Wood act against each other in that way. 

The details of his Incite score that Dolores shows Caleb are reminiscent of China’s Social Credit System, and important thing to remember especially now when politicians debate whether to track people’s movements. 

The part of Incite that goes beyond being a social network and creates the detailed profiles is called Rehoboam, a biblical reference to the son of Solomon under whose rule Israel was split (kind of difficult to interpret that meaning beyond the idea that the original creator of Incite had different ideas to where his son wants to take it? We’ll see I guess). 

I’m curious where this show will go with all of the mechs we’ve seen – Caleb’s construction mech falls to his death when he tries to help him against the goons, and Charlotte inspects some massive riot control mechs, built to order for Saudi Arabia. We’ve already seen Maeve being able to control a mech to escape from Serac’s machine. I’m sure they’ll come in handy soon (this again feels a lot like Caprica). 

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