After the masterpiece of the 4th episode, the 5th slumped down again significantly. I remember I wanted to write about that episode as well, but I forgot everything about it. I just remember the episode itself was kind of boring despite showing the samurai world and being filled with fanservice, but it just didn’t work for me and it didn’t show anything really meaningful. Then I got busy, and I watched episode 6 and 7 one after the other. I enjoyed the 6th more, the 7th was all over the place, quite chaotic. I’m rooting for Dolores and sad she didn’t get to kick Charlotte out of the picture, because at this point she just became obnoxious and I can’t tolerate her anymore.

But hey, this season did succeed at making me empathize with the hosts. I have no empathy left for pretty much any of the other actual human beings left there.

This 8th episode is interesting. There are a few nice things here and there, but overall it was a really slow, really boring “filler” of an episode that if it was cut probably nothing in the balance of the overall story would have changed… But. This was actually an excellent episode that goes against the grain. Most of it doesn’t quite work because you expect things moving, only two episodes are left. But there are things under the surface and as with episode 4th we see a story within a story that can exist on its own. And if you look closely, it’s excellent. It is the point. On one side the plot is lost behind, even the connections back to the first season are just a surface and really not all that revelatory, but on the other side this episode nails again “theme” and function. Even if it’s a disconnected episode from the narrative, it’s instead connected at its core.

What was this episode truly about? Gods, love and meaning.

What do god, love and meaning have in common? They all are bullshit.

It is curious to look at Westworld for what it is explicitly doing, even if most people won’t question it for what it is, I guess. After Maeve we now have a second character who embodies a contradiction (and that at the end even uses a sort of Jungian collective unconscious to reach her through her daughter). Both Maeve and this ghostly guy are characters who are “being moved”. Ironically, because these are the two characters who are actually “awakened”. So we suppose they move themselves instead? Nope. This is the contradiction: the two characters who are awake, are the two who are slaves to something else the most.

What is it that moves them? Love. Love is the true underlying agent that moves them onward, that pushes them on their both symbolic and literal journey. There’s a scene where the ghostly guy meets his literal maker. Ford who, as a god, stands on this funny threshold of clarity and darkness. Ford looks at the ghostly guy and not only he programmed the ghostly guy to be “curious”, but Ford is curious himself and has to go through “analysis” to understand if the guy is simply following his programming in the intended way, or if his behavior is the product of some kind of side effect of that code. That hint of absurdity is what makes the scene meaningful maybe even beyond what the writers intended (so many “meta” layers, Westworld’s writers observe unintended effects the same as Ford observes unintended behaviors as results of the code he himself has written).

Love in Westworld is an explicit “false track.”

Maeve is looking for her daughter, that she loves because the code says so. The show tries to blunt it a little, hinting this love is “true” because it is sustained after the awakening. As if it’s made true because it comes after an act of free will that transforms it. But the underlying truth is that these awakened hosts are being moved by these false tracks, in the way us real human beings are moved in the same ways. Love is a tyrant. Love is the darkness that moves.

Then Ford shifts back toward clarity:

I built you to be curious, to…
look at this empty world…
…and read meaning into it.
All this time…
you’ve been a flower growing in the darkness.

Ford knows the world’s empty. Meaning is a construction. And love is the most powerful construction. Both Maeve and ghostly guy chase after love while being aware that this love is a false construction. Yet even for them the only thing that FEELS truthful is love, and they discover themselves being moved by it again and again. They do not care that it is just code, as long it feels right. They are made aware they are following a false track, yet the only thing they do is following it, because nothing else matters.

The ghostly guy dies and descends in the “underworld” in a literal way. He goes underground to witness the “afterlife.” He meets his makers, and comes back as a prophet. In this context gods aren’t created in a kind of anthropological modern view. They are “delivered.” They are found in the same way love is found, in the same way meaning is found.

This is the bottom line, the metaphor is real. It’s not valid just for those hosts. It’s true for us, out here in the real world. It’s the predicament we find ourselves in.

– I can see all the way to the bottom.

Before I started watching the newest episode I had been writing a comment somewhere saying that, no, Westworld doesn’t deal with the theme and problems of AI. It deals with theory of consciousness and, by extension, the construction of reality at a fundamental level. It’s more about metaphysics than physics. Or at least those parts of physics that are metaphysical-like.

That’s the main reason I was unimpressed by how this new season of the show started. I commented the first episode here on the blog, not much to say about the second. The third was better, but not significantly so. The main reason is that the core that I saw in the show just wasn’t present in this new season. It’s not anymore about the foundations of reality, it’s not anymore about metaphysical perspectives and observing systems. It is instead about going through more classical motions, just adjusted to a sci-fi setting. An effective metaphor, well executed, but an old message.

This fourth episode is a whole different matter and goes straight back to that core that was missing. Qualitatively it makes a leap upwards, becoming immediately one of the highest points of the whole series and a masterpiece in its own right. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a relatively self-contained episode, telling a story whole, and that might even be watched and understood by someone who has never seen a single episode… to an extent. Comprehension still relies on certain assumptions that come with the setting, certain things that you are meant to grasp at a glance, but it’s all structured so perfectly that it’s admirable in its simplicity.

The title I used is “screenplay and ontology” for a reason. The episode starts with a long take that doesn’t simply foreshadows the meaning of the scene we’re watching, but that is implicated at different levels at the same time. At first you notice that the camera moves following a strange pattern, strange because it’s not just linear. Then at the end of that first sequence you realize the motion was circular, the camera was following the walls because this room was a circle. I didn’t realize the implications after that first scene, I had to see the beginning of the following one, at the middle of the episode, to finally get the whole thing. And that’s when I realized this thing was simply sublime. This is movie language that becomes ontology, and becoming ontology it means we’re projected BACK right where it MATTERS. I was disappointed that Westworld lost sight of the point. The point being the observer. The point being not AI, but consciousness. The point being the construction of reality.

What might have been missed about that scene is the implications. The circular room wasn’t just a room, it became reality. From inside it was the WHOLE world. From the outside it was a PRISON. Screenplay becomes ontology because the MOVEMENT of the camera here is the metaphysical structure of reality and nothing less. It moves because it represents a process, and that process is consciousness itself, its loop. All you see is all there is.

But it doesn’t stop here. This scene also offers something downright impossible: a confutation of Idealism. Idealism being also a theme I wanted to write about the newer Twin Peaks. In the past year I spent countless hours arguing with a student of philosophy about all the themes that move around the idea of consciousness, and in particular his own studies about idealism and phenomenology. One of my conclusions and argument I used as a weapon against his views was that idealism’s bigger strength is also its weakness: it cannot be refuted empirically. But because it cannot be refuted, it also cannot be proven.

The scene we see hands us instead what is otherwise impossible. A plain and simple, direct refutation of idealism at its most basic level. And what it is? A sheet of paper handed over. That was simply amazing, the dismaying simplicity of a “proof” that has eluded us for thousands of years and that has kept busy philosophers and scientists without ever reaching a conclusion: a sheet of paper and a few lines of text.

That is what it is. The proof that consciousness isn’t what you think it is. What it feels like. The whole phenomenological perspective comes crushing down. It’s the death of philosophy as an entity. The implications are staggering.

But of course it is not real (yet). That simple sheet of paper can only exist within Westworld. BUT. That simplicity that is embedded into this device that destroys knowledge hints directly at the fragility of what we believe in. We don’t have (yet) a breach into consciousness, but we can see here, through this show, a glimpse about the implications.

It is not just a circular room. From within, nothing outside exists, and from outside nothing that is within exists, because it can be reshaped at a whim. The construction of what there is, is TOTAL. It’s the power of a writer, or a director, who DECIDES what to show and what to erase. And here, the moral implications dislodge the rest of what Westworld is doing as naive simplicity.

If you can rewrite reality, you can rewrite morality.

And that’s why outside this construction there’s another scene that chainlocks with the main one: the Man in Black. The MiB is on his quest to rediscover humanity in a world where the concept has literally just ceased to exist. And it is only through human experience that he can navigate this new territory, like a compass. But this is just an inner loop, slave to the other.

The main scene that is represented by the circular room is made into metaphorical hell. This is relatively straightforward, transforming “man” not into god, but into the devil. It becomes Heart of Darkness, when Elsie and Bernard enter the room to find Kurtz. But this is about consciousness. What’s important is the place they reached, not who they found. This is a place like real hell, where reality falls apart, where everything is rewritten. They set the place on fire, but the implication is that what they saw is reality itself, the bigger set they inhabit.

You stare into the world, the world stares right back at you.

P.S.
And despite this episode is an outstanding achievement, it’s hard to say if the season as a whole will be worthwhile. This episode was so self-contained that it also won’t impact the following episodes. It was so masterfully conceived and executed, but it doesn’t push the season itself on another level. We already saw it all coming, we just didn’t expect the story to go there yet.

I’m reading this was a directorial debut for series’ creator Lisa Joy. If this is the result it might be a good idea to let her deal with the whole thing by herself. She significantly outperformed everyone who came before.

Whenever I write about TV stuff I feel a tiny pang of regret for not having written down my thoughts about Twin Peaks’ new series, but it has been a long time now and I couldn’t do it justice without watching the whole thing for the second time…

I don’t even have much to say about this first new episode of Westworld, mostly because it didn’t leave me with a solid, definite idea. It’s automatic to make comparisons to the excellent first episode of season 1, and in that case there were a number of truly memorable and inspired scenes that carried a distinct personality. Instead this first new episode is overall a lot weaker and no sequence really stands out. The impression I got is that it feels more chaotic and disjointed but it also might be… the point. It’s not the episode itself to be in disarray, it’s the situation being depicted, including the confusion, lack of control, events taking a chaotic, wild turn that scatters the narrative trajectories. It’s an aftermath.

But… It was predictable and all the various scenes to present new set-ups didn’t show a lot of creative drive. If you pick 10 random people to sit around a table for a while to figure out how the story would continue after season 1, the possible results wouldn’t be all that different from what we got.

I guess the show needs something to say. In season 1 there was a lot of dissembling in order to assert at the end what we already know in the “science” of consciousness. So the narrative/thematic trajectory of the first season was an elaborate tangle to then return to that science. But now, after that statement is made, and so the line between AI and humans been removed, what’s left is a fairly monotone and straightforward examination of common human morality (almost exclusively through retribution). And I find very little originality in that. It moves and acts exactly the way you expect.

I suppose the authors are now really wary of the audience “guessing” the game too soon, and so I suppose they put a lot of work to obfuscate as much as possible. There’s an evident sign they are going to toy again with “timelines”, but I wouldn’t rule out they have different plans and use instead those expectations to hide a new trick. In any case, the explicit motions of the plot right now seem much less interesting and I don’t feel engaged enough to even want to play the game.

There are some good scenes and dialogue, almost exclusively those with Dolores. The rest is a lot more awkward. Bernard, no matter the timeline, just stumbles around in a daze. It makes sense, but it doesn’t make a compelling story. Maeve is just plain boring. And I already cannot even remember if there’s anything else. The Man in Black. He does nothing at all besides moving into repetition. No real clever lines beside uninspired rehash.

All characters are out of their depth. Again, this makes sense considering the context, but this first episodes fails to find its creative vein and drive.

We’ll see. For now it’s 6.5/10.

P.S.
If I have to see Simon Quarterman’s pecker, why can’t I have at least Tessa Thompson’s tits as well? Disappointed.

The first is Erikson, the last Bakker. They aren’t together because I think they are really related, but I read them the same day.

“Traditions die. And those who hold fast to them, cursing and filled with hate as their precious ways of living are torn from their hands, they dwell in a world of dreams where nothing changes.”

“Tradition was not a thing to be worshipped. Tradition was the last bastion of fools. Did the fisherfolk see their final fate? Did they comprehend their doom?

And oh, how they all grew fat and lazy in the weeks that followed, their bellies soft and bulging. There are fish in the lake, the elders said. There have always been fish in the lake. There always will be fish in the lake.

The elders stopped telling their stories. They sat silent, their bellies hollowing out, the bones of their wizened faces growing sharp and jutting. They spat out useless teeth. They bled at their fingertips, and made foul stench over the shit-pits. They grew ever weaker, and then slept, rushing into the distant dreams of the old days, from which they never returned.

The layering of memories built tradition’s high walls, until the place made by those walls became a prison.”

“There were two pasts; he understood that now. There was the past that men remembered, and there was the past that determined, and rarely if ever were they the same. All men stood in thrall of the latter.”

Annihilation seems to be some sort of sister product of Arrival. I had problems with the way Arrival structured its theme, but the movie was still exciting and interesting to watch. Annihilation not even that. It’s a movie without even ONE good idea, filled with flashbacks that only add bland sentimentality, and with an elaborate final scene that is inspired visually but that only apes symbolism without putting anything of value within. It’s as if one took the final sequence of 2001 Space Odyssey and stripped that visual fancy eye-candy away from any deeper meaning.

The problem is: the large majority of the public is stupid but enjoys thinking itself clever. As long a movie apes the motions of something clever and “mysterious”, most people are going to believe it. They are going to believe about deeper meanings, esoteric revelations and whatnot. The dumber the movie, the smarter they feel. And Annihilation is really dumb.

So this is what we got, straight from the wikipedia:

It received praise for its visuals, performances, direction, and thought-provoking story, but, suffered from being deemed “too intellectual” for general movie audiences.

They think it’s too smart.

an impressively ambitious—and surprisingly strange—exploration of challenging themes that should leave audiences pondering long after the end credits roll

a bracing brainteaser with the courage of its own ambiguity. You work out the answers in your own head, in your own time, in your own dreams, where the best sci-fi puzzles leave things.

deserves several viewings, and your brain’s whole attention

In order to be smart you’d have to actually say something. This movie suggests, without saying. This is the usual technique when you have nothing to say: you just pretend and let people imagine whatever they like. It’s typical illusionism.

That’s why I tend to agree more with this description instead:

I’d say this film is more “feels-provoking” than “thought-provoking.”

That’s euphemisms to say it’s manipulative.

Once the basic context has been established in the movie, nothing else is being added or even expanded. Some sort of thing arrived from the sky and produced an area where all life forms experience strong mutations. The movie ends with the spectator having the exact same information delivered already in the premise (the final revelation is that the bubble causes the DNA to “refract”, which is a functional synonym of “causes mutations”). Simply put: the movie goes nowhere. It’s more like a documentary on visual effects. It’s, if you want to be kind, esthetic poetry.

Maybe I’m too harsh but I resent when I watch a movie for two hours and the movie doesn’t even offer one worthwhile tiny idea that I can take away from it. And because the movie itself only delivered some pathetic horror scenes amidst the sentimentality bits, it was also annoying to watch. At least sometimes movies can be bad movies but still offer interesting themes and ideas. In this case it wasn’t entertaining and I haven’t taken anything worthwhile out of it either.

Without having read the book (and currently no desire going there) I don’t know if there are some actual ideas that have their legitimate roots there, so I can’t say that my “explanation” of the movie is complete. What I got out of it is that this organism interacts as an agent of change. The movie explicitly defines it “annihilation” and it is described as a process.

But of course on top of this mechanistic process that affects all biologic material there’s also contact and interaction with the “real” deal: human consciousness. That’s what makes the movie disappointing, because it’s like they had an infinite number of possibilities. The potential to really go deep. But absolutely nothing happens.

When the process interacts with consciousness what we get is that the squad of women progressively dissipates to one woman (to mirror the “morale” the movie infodumped at a previous point: that often organisms seek self-destruction for no reason). As in Arrival, the plot seems to be justified through sentimentality, but I honestly didn’t grasp the reason why one only survives. Without the book I cannot even know if some lack of “symmetry” is an artifact left by the imprint of the book itself, or a deliberate choice. For example you could interpret the finale by saying that the goal of this organism was to infiltrate humanity. So “mission accomplished”. But why two “doppelgänger” instead of one? Why the bubble didn’t dissipate when Kane came back? And why it did instead dissipate only when Lena does?

You could hypothesize that while Kane killed himself, leaving the doppelgänger, Lena instead tricked the organism into suicide. That’s quite silly, but it seems coherent with some themes in the movie (apoptosis). But this solution doesn’t hold up, because in the final scene we are shown identity between Kane and Lena. Either both are “transformed”, or both are the same. This suggests that whatever happened, happened to BOTH, in the same way. So why, again, does this organism disappear after producing two new organisms instead of just one?

You can justify that as poetic license. Plot-wise Kane came back for Lena, and Lena came back for Kane. The cycle is complete at that point. But it’s just artificial and not satisfactory.

There’s only one idea the movie does play with, and it’s the one I put in the title. This is the central point, but the problem is that the movie does nothing with it, beside simply using it. The Ship of Theseus is a philosophical concept that focuses on the idea of “identity” and what it truly means (or the illusion that builds it). In the context of this movie: what happens when all the cells in your body are recreated, are you still the same person? Are you a different person? But if you are a new person, why do you still feel like “you”?

This idea is implicit in the movie. We end up with two doppelgängers, so two “copies”. Does it mean that both Kane and Lena died and what we have now are two “impostors”? The idea that this organism recreated only the physical shape of these two individuals, in order to “infiltrate” humanity, doesn’t hold up, because they both retain, for example, language. Both Kane and Lena return not just with a physical body, but also with knowledge of human language and behavior. Human language and behavior that you aren’t BORN WITH, but that are built by living in a society. That means that these doppelgängers not only retained the physical features of their originals, but also the *minds*. How much of those minds? Well, we cannot know, but if they retained so much of that human knowledge it means they probably retained all of it. Minus some silly recent memory wipe as if they smoke a large amount of weed?

In any case, without the confirmation of the book, this is what I recognize as the central theme. These two doppelgängers might be complete, accurate copies. So how can we say that something “new” was produced if what we obtained is identical to what we started with? With the two original bodies gone, nothing was destroyed, and nothing was created.

It was all a dream.

There are going to be spoilers here that while vague and abstract might give a good hint about how the first season of the show develops.

Before I write what’s left in my memory about the new Twin Peaks I thought I’d write down about the “mythology” behind Dark, a recent miniseries on Netflix that I watched when it aired (so this too has been a while). I’m only writing on the mechanics of time travel.

The aspect I want to focus on is that Dark is built on the same conceptual mistake that can be found in “Arrival”. Both of these try to reach up for some sophisticate science/mythology that awes the average spectator, but that breaks completely down with careful analysis. When I saw Arrival I ended up writing SEVERAL walls of text to analyze it from every angle possible. This time, thanks to that heavy lifting I did back then, I’ll go straight to the point without being too pedantic.

Both Arrival and Dark (or Dark limited to its first season) are built on a fundamental principle of “time travel” that set itself apart from the tradition of time travel mechanics in fiction and movies like “Back to the Future”. In that case a modification of the past creates a new timeline, so the output of that method is a branching reality like a multiverse of possibilities. Every small change creates a brand new universe. And this way of seeing time travel is so widespread in popular fiction that all of us are able to conceptualize and understand it without any problem. It’s part of us now.

But Arrival and Dark use instead a new concept: time is a solid. That means that even if time travel happens, it only “causes” events to happen in that precise determined way. Change is always “apparent” because things are (pre)determined to go only in a certain specific way. Time as a solid means that time is fixed and unchangeable. In Arrival information can travel through time, from the future to the past, but only to make so that events happen exactly as they are “meant” to happen. Time as a solid means there’s only one timeline and it all happens “at once”. There effectively are no “loops”, and no branches and alternative timelines.

What happens in Arrival is that a woman starts experiencing events in the future the same way we would normally have memories of our past events. As if her memory stored past and future events both. Eventually even letting her reaching for information only available in her future to use this knowledge in her “present” time, effectively making that information travel through time. This of course possible because the concept at the foundation, as already explained, is that time is fixed. It can be “known” (hypothetically) because it’s already determined and so, in a certain way, always available.

This leads to a kind of paradox or counter-intuitive scenario where this woman would have in her “present” time a memory of a future event, and then when the times comes she would have to live again that event as if she was an actress tying to mimic exactly that scene the same way she remembers it.

Since thinking about this stuff can be very confusing and mind-bending, I’ve shaped an example that’s extremely simple and intuitive, and still retains all the features we’re examining here.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

– Let’s reproduce the same scenario. The hypothesis that time is fixed, and there’s a woman who can see the future because that future is already determined.

A room, two chairs, me (just a normal being who can’t see the future) and this woman (who can indeed see and know the future). I simply ask the woman to decide and then say aloud between two options: A and B. Letting her know that if she says A, then I’ll say B. And if instead she says B, I’ll say A. (and that’s exactly what I want to do as soon she speaks)

Here’s the trick: before the woman makes this choice I ask this:
“This experiment is meant to prove to us that you can indeed see the future, and that the future cannot be changed. So I simply ask you, what is the next thing I’ll say, A or B?”


This is the experiment. It goes without saying that, if the thesis is right, then time is fixed and the woman knows EXACTLY the next thing I’m going to say. Time cannot be changed, so there cannot be any other option beside what she already knows. BUT, this experiment is built so that as soon the woman offers her answer of what I’m going to say next, I’LL SAY THE OPPOSITE. Because that’s exactly what I told her. If she says I’m going to say A, then I’m going to say B, breaking her prevision.

I’ve now offered this thought experiment to quite a number of different people to see if someone offered a new angle and prove what I’m saying has some kind of flaw. But the reaction is generally always the same. Usually people suppose there’s something wrong with the way the experiment is built, so they’d generally say, for example: she can’t answer because she knows that then it would produce a contradiction, so she’s in a position where she just will stay silent.

The problem with this explanation is that people want to cling to their intuitive model instead of realizing that the model itself is broken. This thought experiment has a solution, instead. The solution proves there’s a fallacy at the presumption the thought experiment is based on.

SOLUTION OF THE PARADOX

The paradox is easily solved. The concept of time as a solid is built on the premise nothing can be changed and so follows a complete description, set in stone. There’s nothing incorrect in this premise. The mistake is built on the next aspect: the presumption that the state of this system can be “known” from inside the system (like this woman who can see future events) without this knowledge producing any effect on the system itself.

What happens in this scenario, when built correctly, is that whenever the woman receives memories from future events, those memories are new information that is going to ALTER the system. This means, in ALL cases, that every information about the future WILL alter the future.

I repeat: if time is truly a solid there’s nothing wrong. But if time is a solid then it cannot be possible to take information from a future moment and give it to an agent (this woman) in a different moment leaving the system unchanged. This creates a recursion where information in the past has to account for itself in the future, then goes back in the past, causing the future to shift again, and so on and so on. In technical terms this system never closes and continues to grow without reaching a final state. So creating an infinite recursion where we will never obtain a fixed state. And so a system where future events can’t be known because the time is always shifting, which is the opposite of the premise “time is fixed”. It cannot be fixed if it can never reach a closure and so a final state.

Applied to the thought experiment above the result is that when the woman receives information from the future (for example that she says A, and I’ll say B), and then she correctly predicts and say B, by saying that she ALTERS the flow of time, so that I’ll instead say A. But this will alter again the future, so she’ll instead know I’m going to say A, and so she says I’ll say A, altering AGAIN the future and making me say B, which will change again her vision of the future, and so on and so on.

“Time is fixed” presumes there’s a final state, and that this state is then recorded and unchangeable. But what I’ve proven is instead that if you build this system under those rules what you obtain a system that is caught in a recursive loop similar to the concept of “infinite regress” so that this system can never possibly close, so denying the possibility of eventually reaching a fixed final state.

So you’ll ask, how does “Dark” fit in this picture? Dark (trying to not spoiler too much) shows characters who see themselves doing things in the future. Then the time comes, and they do EXACTLY what they previously saw.

It’s stupid. Because as I’ve explained here knowledge of the future necessarily changes it. In fact Dark seems built on the premise everyone’s an idiot. It cannot afford thinking characters because there’s no way to make it work that way. They have to somewhat wave all that away and “make believe” in a clumsy way and convenient Deus Ex Machina. That guy couldn’t make 1 + 1 and so ended up doing the same thing he tried to avoid. Because time is fixed? Nope, because he’s stupid and because if he wasn’t the plot wouldn’t work.

Both Dark and Arrival take a concept that is quite valid. The hypothesis that time might be “fixed” is a good one. That’s why people naturally accept it, and it’s already famous because it’s part of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. The point here is that Nietzsche wasn’t an idiot and he didn’t make THAT mistake. The mistake of imagining time as fixed AND giving that information to entities that are part of the system without realizing that doing so creates an infinite regression.

If we imagine a system where time is fixed, all is correct. There’s nothing “paradoxical” about it. Just as long the information on how this system evolves can only be known when you observe the system without interfering with its process (like observing from outside). But if you take this information and you push it INSIDE the system, then this information HAS TO account for itself and alter the system. Because it’s brand new information that perturbs the system and sends it in a new state. And having done just that means that time isn’t anymore fixed: you created a recursion that never produces a fixed closed system.

Recursive systems are a bitch. Please handle with care, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

When I criticized the conclusion of “The Leftovers” TV show I relied on my own alternate theory and on the fact that the official explanation was instead brittle to the point of being objectively unacceptable.

So, in my mind I groped around to explain this concept. I knew what I meant, but I struggled to manifest it. Today, I found out that there’s a scientific concept that is built exactly on that idea. So I can finally explain concretely what I meant with a more universal evidence.

For me the show already went past a threshold and reached a breaking point with episode three of the very first season. There was something in that episode that was like a statement, a line being drawn on the ground that wouldn’t have allowed going back anymore. No matter how many more episodes and seasons there were going to be. Now I know that breaking point isn’t just an abstract, subjective idea, but a well known scientific concept that is instead quite concrete.

The thesis the finale completely relies on is that what is being shown has to remain “ambiguous”. That means that even the weirdest events that you see always have a “scientific” explanation and a more magical one. The whole show thrives on that ambiguity, keeping both paths open and never explicitly choosing one.

But as I said, I think instead that the show made a crucial mistake already at episode three. That means that instead of remaining ambiguous, the show actually made a “statement”, by showing something that I consider unambiguously impossible. That is: episode three shows something that can ONLY have a magical explanation. Hence, that episode codifies the rest of the show as something that only appears as ambiguous, but that has instead one solution only. Like a collapse of the wave function: those two superpositions collapsed into one, already with episode three.

What’s this breaking point about? It’s all about reverend Matt winning at the casino after following the will of the god. The show simply wants us to accept that outcome as a statistical but still plausible anomaly. But it is not. In my head this event was already way past the threshold of ambiguity because it was a lot more than an anomaly.

One thing is to consider the “anomaly” of red three times in a row related to the totality of the games happening in that casino. In this case “three times red” is going to happen relatively often. It’s far from impossible. But if a specific person “decides” at a specific moment that red is coming out three times in a row, and this does indeed happen right at that moment, then in my mind this statistical event is shot way beyond what can be considered plausible, and right into a magical realm. Because we aren’t more seeing an anomaly that is made possible by a large sample, it’s instead an anomaly right when it’s “desired”. That’s the threshold.

Today I found out there’s a scientific concepts to determine exactly that: a way to scientifically decide when en event just cannot have a rational explanation (to simplify):
p-value

I’m not an expert of that stuff, so I don’t know if my thesis is actually right. But now I know that it is possible to study that episode to determine if it’s actually true that Matt winning three time at that precise moment constitutes something that goes under the p-value. It can be objectively measured.

The concept of p-value works even in reverse: if we know the system isn’t rigged, and the result goes below the p-value, then it means that something “magical” happened (a relationship between the god and the winning). That there was an interference. That in this case is obvious: the writers of the show intruded in the fabric of that dimension. So, either you consider that as a “writing mistake”, or, as I did, a statement that “collapses the wave function”. That makes The Leftovers come out of its ambiguity and take one path explicitly.

I might be right, I might be wrong. But it can be calculated.

(p-value also needs more contextual evidence, if you read carefully, and the show provides plenty of it, even if you could ideally write that out as “poetic license”. The contextual evidence is that the number “3” is echoed explicitly through the whole episode. Providing more and more statistical anomalies that would contribute lowering the p-value.)