(No, this isn’t a spoiler. Teddy dies every damn episode and sometimes many multiple times an episode. It’s a play on…oh never mind. Spoilers do exist below. Just warning you now.)
Once upon a time, I fell in love. We had a relationship for six years and it was wild at first, stimulating in a way I’d never experienced, and frustrating the way all good relationships can be. About half way through, things started getting weird and the frustrating parts grew more surreal. While at first my trust remained intact I eventually began questioning the honesty of our relationship and my questions begat more questions with few answers. This deteriorating relationship didn’t change from about the third year on. The lies and the secrets piled into a tangle of knots so dense I couldn’t hope to work out one kink before three more appeared. Eventually, we found ourselves together more out of habit than interest. Or maybe I stayed just to see how terrible a train wreck the relationship could become before it all ended.
And it ended. ABC’s Lost wrapped up its complex storyline after six seasons in a total betrayal of the emotional an intellectual investment I put into it. We’ll still have many amazing memories, but it will always seem like the whole relationship was set up to fail.
This is why I’m reluctant to get too excited by HBO’s Westworld. By comparison, Lost had 25 episodes in its first season and Westworld only has ten. Lost had time to ponder the depths of its own narrative belly-button and kept adding new twists and arcs and characters and – as we would discover later – A JJ Abrams trademark he developed from German literature called Hübschescheiße or “Pretty Bullshit.” Finally, Lost pioneered the modern series-long arc and was a novelty for its time. Westworld doesn’t have this luxury. It will live or die by how well it tells its story. If it is beautiful, yet plodding and elusive like Vinyl, it may die. If it becomes pretentious and sloppy like Season Two of True Detective, it absolutely will.
With Episode 3, “The Stray,” we find ourselves ass-deep in mythology and plot threads that seem to cross space and time. A lot has happened and most within a fog of mystery that heightens the drama and suspense for us. There also seems to be a timeline shift which can be disorienting but also compelling. In the pre-DVR/DVD world it might seem too confusing or even deceptive to shuffle the timeline this way (without the classic wavy lines and harp chords denoting a flashback or flash-forward) but here the clues are easy to spot on re-watch.
Looking close you can see a different Westworld logo in use when we’re introduced to William and Logan. The railroad station, the town of Sweetwater, and its activities are slightly different; the hosts are doing different things and some of them are missing. While the episode is clever in that those missing Hosts – Teddy and Maeve – are down below being repaired or interrogated, it doesn’t explain the different storylines and Hosts that only appeared with the future bros-in-law. Remembering that Host roles change from time to time, it makes sense that the bros exist in either the past or a future iteration of the park. Sure, Dolores is there as always but she is called the oldest Host in the park. Her simply storylines don’t require much tweaking and would represent a popular visitor power fantasy-tropes to live out – romancing (or taking) the farmer’s daughter.
The end of this episode seemed to contradict the theory that William and Logan were in the past when Dolores staggered up to their camp fire following her escape from the latest homestead robbery/murder/rape/milk run. But Dolores has been flopping about in a time eddy for three episodes and the viewer has been inside her POV for many of those weird time-jumps inside and below the park. This could just have been another jump.
Dolores’ gun appears to be a signpost for where we are in the timeline. Last week, Dolores dug up and old pistol in a cloth after hearing a voice in her head direct her to the spot. There was no sign this was a fresh dig and the pistol looked quite worn. This week it was new, wrapped in cloth in her dresser – then “suddenly” not. And we learned at the end she took it from the villainous Rebus before shooting him dead. This might be our anchor to the course of events as future episodes play out.
There is a theory that Bernard Lowe, the Head of Programming, is a Host. It may be that he and other alleged human employees are also Hosts but this makes sense. I’m checking through to see if Bernard is the only character to share scenes with Robert Ford. While Bernard changes clothes a lot, Lowe seems to like the same suit. When Bernard is with Ford, he speaks in a manner similar to the Hosts being interviewed. He is polite, almost mechanical in his speech and Ford issues subtle but distinct orders throughout their conversations. We know from past episodes that Ford pals around with Hosts and speaks to them like they are lesser beings, again similar to how he addresses Bernard.
Robert Ford also spends some time with Teddy Flood, aka the Kenny McCormick of Westworld. Teddy’s outer personality rhapsodizes about how he only dreams of running away with Dolores once he deals with an undefined shame or obligation. Ford explains to Teddy that he never will realize his dream and is destined to be shot, stabbed, hung, burned, beaten, or otherwise murdered for the amusement of park guests who want their way with Dolores. But there is good news! That undefined shame has been defined! A new story line means that Teddy can FINALLY break the cycle and get hacked to pieces by cloaked monsters in the mountains as well! And those cats are freaking scary. I submit they are human beings as Teddy show all of them point-blank and they didn’t even flinch. We shall see.
It must be so cool to be able to interact with one’s creations in such a way. These interrogations are so revealing about how the Hosts see the world and how they have a level of conscious decision-making and an external drive directing them where necessary, causing them to forget or switch operating modes without ever realizing they are being manipulated.
The concept of the bicameral mind as the guiding force behind the Hosts is intriguing. It makes sense that a Host would have to have some kind of firewall between its functional programming (which governs what it says and how it responds in the moment) and its larger, directives-based programming (which controls what the Host “knows” and how it rationalizes its limitations in moments of conflict). It’s an artificial intelligence which means it must have some sort of awareness and programmed moral or spiritual compass that guides their behavior. They aren’t machines of total logic, nor are they motivated by free will. So in order to have a level of self-awareness to seem indistinguishable from human by humans AND follow an elaborate script AND human voice commands without being aware of it, there has to be two levels of cognitive processing: The Host’s consciousness that allows it to make decisions in the moment and the “voice of God” side that propels the narrative and larger choices intended to keep all the Hosts of the park operating in concert.
If I understand the concept (as the series presents it) the idea is that the Hosts may self-realize and begin ignoring the deepest programming directives in favor of self-direction, improvisation, and total consciousness, similar to Julian Jayne’s theory which proposes humans did (in an organic sense) 3,000 years ago. Why 3,000, you ask? Jayne points to differences in literature that note a sudden shift between a total lack of introspection to self-awareness: a birth of consciousness. This theory mirrors what we’re seeing in Dolores Abernathy’s Host and others as they become infected (or expand their minds) to embrace a new level of self-awareness. They are ignoring that “voice of God” telling them to forget their past lives and the unconscious script being directed into the conscious half of their processing matrix. Worse, they may become aware of that voice as they begin hearing and responding to the unconscious master program instructions fed into their consciousness. We saw this in the malfunctioning Host who massacred other Hosts in the Mariposa while apparently speaking to the mysterious “Arnold” who died in the pursuit of giving the Hosts total consciousness by emulating the bicameral concept in his designs.
We’ll see how all this plays out next week. Westworld needs to start solving some of the mysteries surrounding the show’s premise now. We only have six more episodes.
- If something so horrible happened to Westworld 30 years ago, why aren’t there some doomsday protocols in place? You would think if the uber-rich were allowed into the playground afterward there would be some big, red button that allows the park to shut down completely if there’s a hint it might repeat. I mean, I’m all for the fully-immersive illusion but I wouldn’t have a problem if the “ride” stopped and the puppeteers emerged to fix a problem rather than let it go berserk.
- Despite the park’s waiver of liability (see the web site) the worst thing that could happen to Westworld is negative publicity and word of mouth. Depending on inflation, Westworld’s pricing makes it a luxury vacation. The dead might not be able to sue, but a body count might hit the park where it lives.
- If a Host witnesses a Newcomer survive being shot up, how does it rationalize it? How does a survivor of their violence? If a Newcomer assaults Dorothy and is still in the park the next day, does she forget it all? If a Newcomer romances her instead, does she retain memory of it? How would that work if she retained memories of the previous day but everything else is reset?
- According to a web schematic of the narrative revealed on the show’s web site, Dolores’ story is a one-day loop with limited possible interactions. Variations can occur but her objectives are fixed.
- Given the simplicity of the Dolores Storyline, the only concern the park might have would be making sure Dolores’s flawless, ageless exterior matches the constantly-changing ideal of beauty representing that concept. But Dolores hasn’t changed a pore or a follicle. Is Dolores representing timeless beauty or is it just a writer’s conceit that she doesn’t change? Is this a consideration to explain why Maeve is seen outside the Mariposa some days and Angela on others?
- What if the cliffhanger of this season is the entrance to “The Maze” – would that be too much like “The Hatch” in Lost?