Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Deep And Dreamless Slumber, or More Thoughts on Westworld Season 1 (Now With Spoliers)

Interestingly, Season One of Westworld follows William’s first and last visit to the park, starting with Billy, as portrayed by Jimmi Simpson and who he evolves into, Ed Harris’ Man in Black.  It’s an unlikely transition from Liam McPoyle to Jackson Pollack, covered in a hasty flashback in the Episode 10 reveal that needed more attention, if not an entire episode.  The disappointment in his realization that Dolores is not truly sentient and has no real feelings for Billy causes him to use the park to explore and indulge his dark side until he becomes bored seems forced and disingenuous.  However it is notable that William talks honestly and without agenda to the hosts in both timelines, I think he’s the only human in the series who treats them with that basic dignity.
When Billy steps off that train, the first hosts are closer to the 1973 original movie, while the series focuses on the nature and our interpretation of dreams and reality.  It’s ironic that the host’s dreams of their maintenance in the Delos facility is the real world, our reality, while Westworld, their “reality” is completely manufactured and a dream world for the amusement of the human patrons.  And what a dream, Westworld is presented as a Disney murder rape-land for rich douche-bags, as if we need any more confirmation that power and money corrupts or of a decadent future where people yearn for that final thrill.  Robert Ford hints at that in his conversations with Bernard, when he wonders if humanity has reached it’s highest pinnacle and subsequently, its decline.
The maze was designed by Bernard to raise the consciousness of hosts, and throughout the season both the audience and William become obsessed with it.  But the maze isn’t meant for guests, the Man in Black is told at least three times that I can recall (Lawrence’s daughter, once by Robert Ford and once by Dolores).  William already possesses consciousness, free will, a “soul”, so in point of fact he is searching, like the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin Man and Dorothy, for something that has always been right in front of him.
Robert’s hidden agenda, his new storyline, seems to be to create a new species and wipe out humanity in a robot war.  Throughout the season he orchestrates everything, a literal puppet master while maintaining that gentlemanly, malicious aloofness that Anthony Hopkins has become so famous for.  He compares himself to Oppenheimer and is truly the man behind the curtain, but unlike The Wizard he's no fraud, and spends ten episodes forcing consciousness into the hosts and creating his own personal extinction event.
The brilliant Jeffrey Wright, who you may remember as Dr. Valentin Narcisse in Boardwalk Empire (2013) or the eponymous artist in Basquiat  (1996, with David Bowie as Andy Warhol) has the most sympathetic character as Bernard, which is also interesting because he’s a host; there are no sympathetic humans in Westworld.  (Arguments can be made for Elsie, and perhaps Felix, but they’re minor characters).  And yet as likable as he is, his back-story is a fiction, he wasn’t really married to Zoe Washburn; he was given that history to anchor his character and for us, as the audience, to sympathize with.  Bernard may not feel manipulated because he's a host, and yet we should and do not, owing to the strength of Jeffrey Wright’s performance. 
Arnold’s conversations with Dolores are the only time we see Bernard as actually human, and it is notable that Dolores kills Arnold before the series starts, and Robert and the end of Season 1.  Even when the hosts initiate change, they remain in recursive loops.  Logan tells Billy that the park shows you who you really are, but this applies to Dolores (and all the hosts) as well.  She’s lost in her memories, and these loops are presented as single narratives to reinforce that maze metaphor.  Her journey as she unravels those memories and discovers her true identity parallels the viewer’s experience, and Evan Rachel Wood’s performance is concurrently haunting and anguished.
And what are we to make of the phonetic significance, if any between Dolores, and Delos, the corporation that owns the park?  Delos is an island in Greece where the ancient gods Apollo and Artemis were born.  Is Delores, in fact, a new god?  Has she become Death, to paraphrase Oppenheimer, Destroy of Worlds?   Both Robert and Maeve exhibit god-like powers within the confines of the park, but outside of its walls the hosts will have to rely on their superior intellect and strength. Unless of course, there are more hosts out in the real world than we know about, which was essentially the premise of the sequel to Westworld (1973), Futureworld (1976).
Season 2 debuts in 2018 and runs the risk of losing momentum and audience interest; a lot can happen between here and there.  And how are we to proceed without the polite madness of Anthony Hopkins’ Robert Ford?  The brilliant Sidse Babbett Knudson, who you may remember as the Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg in Borgen and the kinky dominatrix in The Duke of Burgundy (2014) is ultimately wasted in her role as Theresa Cullen.  Her story, along with Shannon Woodward as Elise, Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore and Luke Hemsworth (yeah, the older brother of Chris and Liam) as Ashley Stubbs are ultimately fake-outs; distractions designed to keep us from looking for the maze.  Unless of course those threads are picked up and expanded upon in Season 2., which we won’t know for another year.
Incidentally, and speaking of recursive loops, did you notice that Clifton Collins Jr. as Lawrence is saved from execution twice?  Both times he’s blindfolded, and flinches as the bullets fly around him.  Even the Man in Black can’t help playing his part in the overall pattern.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).