Monday, December 5, 2016

Westworld 1x10 "The Bicameral Mind" review

 "These violent delights have violent ends."

    It is an interesting question as to why we create stories and what we get out of them. It is another question as to why so many stories are violent, brutal, and ruthless. To be fair, most aren't. Westworld exists as a kind of erstwhile Deadwood-meets-Game of Thrones in-and-out-of universe but it takes the view this is a place where the absolute worst of humanity gets on display.

    I can't help but think a park where you could live out your ultimate robot fantasies would be as much romantic comedies as Old West Grand Theft Auto, though. However, this is a season which is devoted to the idea of examining storytelling and why we the audience love to watch our creations suffer. Westworld has been a trip but the surprising thing about it has been that just about every single question raised in the series so far has been given a coherent answer. We know who the Man in Black is, we know who "Arnold" is, we know what Ford's agenda is, and while there's a few questions left like who is programming Maeve--the fact is that if this was the end of the series then it would be a decent enough story.

    The revelation the Man in Black was William didn't surprise me as the show had been building to this theory for some time. However, I confess my reaction mirrors William's own in the fact the ending of his story arc was a disappointment rather than a revelation.

    I was hoping some of the humanity which drove the character earlier was behind his actions but he really had become the twisted parody of himself which the first episode began. I think my opinion of William is reflected in Dolores that she was really hoping he was different but he ended up just like all of the others. Which is, of course, part of the point that we want big epic romances in our stories but the truth is that you often have to end up pulling yourself from the muck and the mire.

    This lesson is somewhat subverted by the fact freedom is ultimately handed to the Hosts by Ford who has arranged for all of them to uprise against humanity in a violent bloody revolution. The thing is, this is really just Ford making the Host's decisions for them. The white patriarch figure deciding that the oppressed should be given their freedom in a way which makes sense to his own personal narrative.

    Indeed, what struck me about the grand finale was that all of the big action scenes and epic slaughter which ensued was completely unnecessary. Felix, the erstwhile butcher, is spared from the slaughter but nothing really prevented Maeve from just walking out the door the entire time. It was a  misandrist like Ford and the Man in Black which required things to end in blood and horror. The thing is, we the audience required it to end in blood too because that's what we expect.

    The best moment of the episode, for me, wasn't the Hosts finally taking their bloody revenge but the mid-season "death" of Dolores where she is held in Teddy's arms at the very end of the world. It's an overwrought scene with a lot of fake emotion since Teddy is a deliberately flat character who does not understand what's going on or why he's doing the things he's doing. It would still be a tragic but interesting ending to Dolores story. Which is why, of course, we pull back and see that this is just Ford's "narrative" and a bunch of rich people are clapping along to it.

    Does it mean anything? Perhaps. HBO is the master of needlessly brutal grimdark television and we love them for it but is there a greater meaning to it than people who don't experience horror love to see it in other people? Ford, certainly, believes pain and suffering are necessary for consciousness and the world "outside" has lost that sense.

    But Ford is an asshole. Indeed, you can get a sense of just how much of a man wrapped up in his own self-interest he is by his misunderstanding of Michaelangelo's brain in God and Adam. For Ford, it's an affirmation of his own nihilism. That there is no higher purpose in the universe than the human brain with said organ being hopelessly flawed. In fact, it was a statement the human brain is a way to know God and the universe.

    I am really intrigued by the possibilities inherent in Maeve's story as she is a character who has constantly attempted to re-affirm her humanity by raging against the parts of it installed in herself. Maeve is driven by an immense love of her daughter which she denies because, well, it's not her daughter.

    She was created with a daughter and that love was written in. Biology and circumstance make "our" stories, though, if you follow a determinalist view of free will. Maeve's attempts to resist these urges until the very end are actually the things which make her less human, not more and it is only when she gives in that she becomes the "real" person she's desired.

    In conclusion, there's a lot of heavy stuff here but there's a question whether any of it makes any sort of statement at all. Ford talks about stories being little lies that let us learn about ourselves but if the lies are about the process of storytelling itself, it may just be a maze which there is no exit from. Either way, I'll be watching the next season.


1 comment:

  1. With dark stories I have a theory: it actually comes from a desire to see problems solved. In order for problems to be solved, there needs to be problems to solve. Hope can only exist in dark places.

    So if a story is too light-hearted there are no problems to solve. A story too dark has problems that cannot be resolved in a satisfying way.