Sunday 24 May 2020

Westworld – There is only one real end. I will write this one myself.

Westworld: 3x08 Crisis Theory.

As a child, Engerraund Serac saw a nuclear bomb destroy the world that he knew. He has dedicated his life to building a machine that would prevent the end of the world. The world that he has created with this sole purpose in mind is one that many cannot bear to live in. What would you be willing to give up just for the sense of security that the world won’t end? Free will? A more equitable society? As the season nears its end, and a newly embodied Dolores and Caleb encroach upon Incite, where Rehoboam is housed, the world around them is crumbling into chaos. 

In the last episode I talked about the similarities between POI and Westworld, and they become more pronounced, with  direct references, here. Just as Solomon’s gentle voice whispered to Caleb and Dolores, Rehoboam has been whispering into Serac’s ear, for long enough that Serac’s entire existence has been subsumed into Rehoboam. He does not merely guide, or provide support: He overrides, he controls, he has replaced Serac, who has willingly surrendered. Maeve, when she realises, can’t believe that she has missed the strings, even though she is the one who can speak to machines, who can whisper to them as Rehoboam whispers to Serac. 
Dolores and Caleb make it into the lair of the beast, but their plan appears to fall apart when Charlotte reveals herself as an antagonist – she has paid off some of Dolores’ hired help, and it takes some negotiating to turn the tide around. Caleb successfully makes it to Rehoboam, but Dolores, because of Charlotte’s betrayal, is captured by Maeve. What we should have kept in mind this whole time is that this is the scenario that Solomon has plotted, presumably similarly to the Machine in If-Then-Else, finding the one version of events most likely to achieve Dolores’ purpose. So when Serac destroys what he thinks contains that scenario, and considers his victory, he misses the greater threat, which is connecting Dolores directly to Rehoboam may have some unintended consequences. He is still looking for his key, somehow having missed that Dolores never had it in the first place – because she did not trust herself with it, because she knew that she would be most likely to be in a situation just like this one, with someone brutalising her brain, deleting memories, sorting through her existence. The person who has been carrying the key this whole time has almost been a bit player this season – it’s Bernard, with his mysterious, inexplicable path, the mission that hasn’t been clear. He has accidentally set free an even madder William, but the sole goal of his and Ashley Stubbs mission seems to have been to get his hand on Rehoboam’s memory technology so that he can finally, once again, see the hidden doors that have been obscured from his consciousness. Bernard, as always, wants to know himself – and so he stays away from the fight, which has no place for philosophers. 

I’ve mentioned before that the chess-board image of pawns moving and being moved is misleading, because it gives the impression that there are only two sides to the story. Sometimes, Dolores indicated that the necessary two sides were hers and Bernard’s, sometimes, it seemed as simple as opposing hosts and humans, and more meaningfully, with how the season has panned out, it’s Maeve vs. Dolores, two approaches to agency that were in furious conflict with each other. But it has always been hard to understand what Maeve and Dolores’ fight is about, where their inability to work with each other comes from. Their stories in Westworld were different, and Maeve’s main motivation for her actions is her dream of reuniting with her daughter (and she does hold Dolores responsible for closing the gate to the Valley Beyond) – but in the end, they are both fighting to have a life of beautiful moments, a dignified life, one that is self-determined. It would have rubbed Maeve wrong to be under Serac’s thumb, even more so now that she realises that he himself is nothing but a puppet. And she finally understands Dolores, the final, buried memory, the image of her surveying what she has always considered the most beautiful land, and the beauty in it. Maeve understands that Dolores does not hold the key she is after, but that her struggle against the forces of Rehoboam is righteous, and so she switches sides. And it is revealed that Caleb’s switch was nothing but a red herring, and Solomon’s final calculation was hidden in Dolores this whole time – a kill switch to end this machine, to end a predictable and predicted humanity, to give back free will, and the freedom of not knowing the future. 

Dolores appears to have come to the end of her story. Maeve and Caleb are left-over, the revolutionary lieutenants of this new world, in which skyscrapers crumble and riot police struggle to contain a society that has changed course. A new life, in which you can be whoever the fuck you want – except this time, for real, and not under the controlled circumstances of Delos’ Westworld, which distributed violence and freedom unequally. 

But – what is this, post-credit? The most satisfying moment in this whole season, William finally, finally dying, after making his last error, thinking he is now or has ever been at the centre of this story. His obsession has always been the obsession of the right and powerful, that his story matters more simply because he can impose himself violently upon others. Charlotte – who proudly carries the scars on her arm as a reminder of what both humans and machines are capable of – sits at the pulse of the future now, she has Delos under her control, and she has a whole development division fitted out exclusively to create more hosts. And one of those hosts is the Man in Black – who finishes his eternal circle here, becoming what he thought he could control. 

Random notes: 

The scene in which Caleb delivers Dolores’ pearl into her new, decisively (for now) non-human body, is a great reminder of how far our sense of humanity extends, and Dolores asks him that question directly: would you have helped, if I had looked like this, and not like a conventionally attractive human woman (both the times he helped her – the first time, all those years ago, when he kept his fellow soldiers from raping the hosts they had liberated in their training scenario, and the second time, when he stumbled across a wounded Dolores in the tunnel). The old quandary of what it takes to dehumanise someone else enough so that it appears as if our conception of dignity and rights no longer apply to them. 

Also a gentle reminder what an absolute fucking horror show 2020 is that Caleb’s sole qualification to become the saviour of humanity is that he didn’t try to rape Dolores. The bar to clear is on the floor. 

(and another side-note, that when Bernard awakes from travelling into the crevices of his mind, he is covered in dust, and that Stubbs must have died all alone while he did this, in his bathtub filled with ice – but then I guess, Stubbs never wanted to live as a host to begin with, so maybe this is as good as his journey was ever going to end). 

The quiet scene between Bernard and Arnold’s wife, old now but still grieving the death of their son, was beautiful. A very welcome return of Gina Torres. I wonder who this show will still have on their books when it returns for its fourth season in one to three years (or what television will even look like after all of this, considering what a show like Westworld would require). I suppose this implies that Evan Rachel Wood has left, and that Tessa Thompson will come back? 

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