Category Archives: Blog


Lots of people hate cliffhangers, especially in TV shows since you have to wait a week, or a whole year for the next season to find out what happens. It’s just a natural expression of irritation. Because it works on the premise of baiting: you withdraw something in order to produce a desire.

The Leftovers does something, and does it systematically, that is far worse from my point of view. After a good first episode that was well contextualized and grounded what is supposed to come next in the season, we got a second episode that summarizes everything that is bad in this show. A number of plot points and vague hints that ultimately lead to nothing at all. You get away with your hands empty and a sense of frustration since you put some effort watching and trying to understand an hour of television, but nothing of value came out of it, if not the remote hope it will make sense later on. That it is building up to something hopefully worthwhile. But that, and this is the point, right now isn’t worthwhile at all.

But that’s not the worst offender. What’s worse than a cliffhanger is to end the episode with a decontextualized scene with new characters doing “mysterious” things. Or rather characters that you’ve never seen before, in a place you’ve never seen before, doing stuff that none of them cares to explain (in this specific case we know “what” and its immediate reason, but we don’t know why and how). In the case of cliffhangers at least you do get what happens, you just want to know how it *continues*. Instead in this “worst case scenario” you end up watching scenes with no context, no explanations, not even true hints, and often fueled just by trolling. Just to provide dumb misdirection so that the show can keep its air of fake mystery and surprise.

Add to this the fact that the screenplay now jumps in time, but of course without telling you when. Purposefully so you understand LESS.

It’s not that they are telling a complex story or going for some ambitious construction that requires the various layers. They are simply using every artificial device they can just to make it as opaque as possible.

Six episodes are left.

I am writing about this. I am writing about this because it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and because it’s an universal iceberg: the system of communication is collapsing.

The internet. The sensational something everyone tries to define but that stays ephemeral. Either coated in sensationalism, or banality. I think instead it’s just a system of communication, and a system that has had its variables tweaked. But it’s the same system we had since the dawn of consciousness. It is now starting to collapse simply because it’s being put under unprecedented stress.

I have a slight political view on this, but you can remove this specific subjective interpretation and my argument still holds. But I’m going to start there. I do believe that capitalism, the underlying system of society we all live under in the modern world, is inherently hypocritical: it works because it’s self serving, and it works because it continuously legitimates itself through hypocrisy. Or: a fully egoistical system that feeds itself at the expense of everything else. And while self-preservation can be seen as legitimate, the consequence is that all this capitalism system proactively does is: legitimate itself. Justify itself and egoism.

To do just that, the system feeds directly on hypocrisy: those who have, have the right to that privilege. The system continuously grinds to legitimate that tenet. But because we all, no one excluded, live within that system, we all end up just introjecting that hypocrisy in some measure. It’s necessary to be able to live. We all live on the premise of hypocrisy. It’s the foundation of the society we live in and we are all “guilty” of furthering that. Of participating to the system so that the system survives as it is.

That’s where we are today: on the brink of what likely is decadence. But whatever the prediction you can make on how it will turn out, the fact is that the internet has made communication more fluid than ever. In doing that, the overall system has been put under unprecedented stress. As Niklas Luhmann explains well, the system of communication always has to deal with a degree of uncertainty. A message can be either right or wrong. True or false. If a statement had a perfect probability of being right and being wrong, communication would stop. Because we would never be able to decide for one or the other. We would drown into ambiguity. That’s why we are embedded in a culture of “values”. A compass. In order to create paths of “meaning” within all that uncertainty. Decide what is right and what is wrong when communication is perfectly fluid.

Because we live in capitalism, and because capitalism brings the fundamental hypocrisy, we cannot anymore understand if a message is honest or it’s just being used for personal gain. Cynically. We are constantly tripping on ambiguity: what you just said was true or you’re just trying to deceive me for your own ends. Was it a joke or you mean it. Form and substance. Is Pewdiepie joking about Jews or he’s hiding a truer barbed intention within that joke. Do we trust the face of a message or we look through at the darkness that hides behind.

Notice how the attacks to Pewdiepie relied on taking a message out of context. What “context” is, is merely an amount of information used to increase the signal. It is used to reduced the ambiguity. In the case of Pwediepie’s jokes, the joke itself relies on the ambiguity. Even a “pun” relies on the ambiguity of its meaning. Context is then used so you have more information to strengthen an interpretation rather than another, to keep the ambiguity while providing a signal to then interpret it correctly. You hear the joke, experience a moment of disorientation, but then acknowledge it wasn’t serious. Crisis averted, he didn’t truly “mean it”. But if you take the joke out of context, so remove the context that proves the joke is a joke, the result is that the joke becomes a STATEMENT.

If so many focus on the problem of anonymity on the internet, it is because again of the issues of the system. Knowing who’s speaking provides information to remove the ambiguity in a message. Anonymity on the internet is another element making information more fluid: only the message remains. The message can be either true or wrong. Useful or useless.

The case of Pewdiepie joking about Jews works along the lines of computer games being accused of legitimating violence. Do I take the violence in a game like GTA as a statement or as a joke. As a message that is real or as a message that is clearly fictional. Joke or truth. Fiction or real. It’s still about ambiguity embedded in the message, and so the impossibility to control the subjectivity on the receiving end. The message is GOING TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD, because who sent the message (like Pewdiepie) couldn’t control the amount of awareness about said message on the receiving end. Was a message an insult, or I was clearly joking and didn’t mean to offend? Should I apologize because I sent the wrong message, or should you apologize because you carelessly misunderstood it on your own end? Or maybe the joke was the hypocrisy I used to hide what I intended as an insult, but I didn’t want to give you the evidence to accuse me of that insult so that I could get away with it?

The way I personally feel when faced of all these issues about misrepresentation of women in games, movies or books, violence, religion or racism, “Social Justice Warriors” versus free speech extremists… is that I just don’t know. They all look like paradoxes to me. I don’t know what is right from what is wrong. I don’t know how to take them. The amount of ambiguity is too high. I don’t have rules that are clear enough to separate all of that into clear black and white. And the only way I personally know to deal with that is to trench down into pure analysis. Drop every form of prejudices and instinct and just proceed with cold, technical analysis of every argument until I can arrive at a definitive conclusion. But I know it’s just my way, and a lot of people instead legitimately decide to rely on emotion, or on what they perceive is common sense. But I am radically incompatible with that, because my problem is with ambiguity of a message, and if you answer that through emotion or common sense, those are the REIGNS of ambiguity. It’s the danger zone. The problem of communication can only be solved by more communication. By more analysis. Going deep down. Writing a wall of text no one will ever read because no one has time or care to. We need to move to make the money we need, and we need to truncate any lengthy argument and find a quick way to deal with it because survival depends on time.

Some employ a behavioral approach: walling off certain areas of communication: “there are certain things you shall not joke about”. Which, contrasted with my analytical approach, creates a negative situation: how should I decide whereas something is correct or wrong if you walled it off through prejudice? Through this behavioral approach communication is controlled, so the degree of uncertainty in the message decreases dramatically, but this has been rightfully compared to censorship, and censorship is a top-down form of control: I decide whether you can speak about something or not. It’s a case of “who watches the watchmen”. Or: if this communication has been ruled unquestionable, how can I decide whether it was done legitimately or not?

The consequence of walling off communication through this behavioral approach (and common tendency) is that ambiguity is reduced on one side, while making unquestioned power arise. And when unquestioned power is that which decides, it means we lose any way to understand whether something is right or wrong. We’re just completely at the whim of the dark. The unknown we walled off.

This is why this struggle with SJW on one side and free speech extremists on the other is going to continue. It’s the natural struggle of a communication system. The ebbs and flows going from the need to keep the system fluid and across the whole spectrum, and the need to keep uncertainty low so that there can still be an amount of order in it. As we know, fascism prizes on order, and that’s why, when things are seen radically, these discussions lead to discussions about free speech and censorship. We are just oscillating between the two extremes and opposite needs of a system of communication. Between order and chaos. Signal and noise. Certainty and ambiguity.

One wonders what this episode about Pewdiepie and the blatant misrepresentation of him tells us about the mainstream media. I guess many see it as the proof mainstream media just follow their own agenda and you cannot trust them in any way. I have a more moderate way of seeing this. I think journalists are just normal human beings that specialize. If a journalist follows politics for many, many years you can somewhat count on him being competent about that. And of course when you hear someone’s opinion about something he’s not competent about, it’s likely that this opinion will show many limits. What we’ve seen in this specific case is not that the Wall Street Journal is garbage, but merely that it dealt with a specific topic it has no actual competence to understand and write about. It happens so frequently when mainstream media talk about technology or science. Those journalists are just human beings, they stepped out of what they understand and made a mess.

On the other side there’s also another level to this. It’s about pure “strategy”. Pewdiepie might believe his message is 100% correct and legitimate, and it is, but it is that in an ideal world where that message is also perfectly received. The system of communication, again. He’s sure the message is “just” because he fully knows the intention behind it and made that intention clear. But we live within an imperfect world where communication constantly fails. You send a message that after being sent is liable of being greatly misunderstood, or even deliberately misunderstood and used with malice. Because we navigate and intimately know this world, we have the responsibility not just of a moral superiority that guarantees us the good conscience of the message sent, but also of the obligation to foresee those unintended consequences. Or at least try. But I don’t think Pewdiepie did anything wrong on this, either.

He put ambiguity under the spotlight and proved we don’t have appropriate means to deal with it. The system is collapsing and we have no safeguards beside fascism itself. If anything, Pewdiepie’s video helped to warn about its resurgence under NEW forms. Forms that we do not see and that are already around us. Fascism is the answer to a world we are too retrograde to face. The preservation of a privilege that has been challenged.

Considering Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and The OA, this last is the one that’s more worthwhile to watch.

But I state this while agreeing with these quotes, it’s enough to give a glance at the wikipedia:

“a series of offensive overreaches”

“The OA is bullshit, but it’s beautiful bullshit.”

“an admirably ambitious letdown”

“beautiful, realistic unease”

“an especially cryptic attempt to say very little of consequence.”

I’ve seen the whole thing deliberately without reading up on the internet, but I looked up the people involved and that lead me back to Another Earth, and also, next, to follow the thread to “Sound of My Voice” and “I Origins”. But I’d add, to those obvious sidetracks (just follow the trail of the actress, being the link between Zal Batmanglij, director of The OA, and Mike Cahill, the director of Another Earth), the more substantial and eerie Upstream Color. This last one is transcendental mystery done well, which is what The OA actually fails at.

I watched the first four episodes all at once, then the remaining (and shorter) ones across a few days. At that middle point I had the occasion to talk about it with some friends, and what I had to say was already on the same line of the quotes above.

If a show like Westworld has a very interesting and complex premise, stuff to talk about, that then is developed with the usual TV language that feels very clean, sleek and perfectly executed, but also fake. Instead The OA is the opposite. Its content is utter bullshit, but its form of expression is honest, it is real, it rings true. The language this show uses is different, you can feel it’s different in just a few minutes, from the very beginning. And because it’s fresh it feels so more interesting than EVERYTHING else on TV.

Despite its empty core, this show has given me emotionally so much more than the other two shows I mentioned. Watching it is an incredible experience, and once again I admire the sheer ambition even if this is another failure. Westworld succeeded, but it succeeded through tricks and by removing all its ambition to tell a simple, harmless story. Convoluted, but simple. It succeeded by being conservative all the way through. The OA instead fails, but it fails while trying to reach high, trying to search for something, embracing its ambition and putting its own trust in it, even if that trust isn’t justified or earned. The OA is a reckless leap of faith. It is inebriated with faith.

The OA is a story about real magic, and its real magic lies in language.

Yet you’d need to explain what you saw. You need to translate earnest emotion into meaning. Is The OA obfuscation? Not really. What I noticed, and what made me doubt my own impression, is that the show is self-aware, at least up to a certain point. It deliberately mocks its own bullshitting, and plays it so it appears fake. It’s not hiding, it’s not pretending. So I was curious, how do you walk this fine line by being conscious that the argument itself has no value. How do you believe in magic when you are the illusionist who knows and performs the trick? The showrunner knows it, the actors know, the audience knows. There is no make believe, yet there is faith? It’s like an impossible bridge that stretches on and on, but you know there’s nothing on the other side. There cannot possibly be anything, you already know.

My interpretation is that you find the overarching structure within the show, a macrocosm reflecting into microcosm.

[Homer] We’re gonna have a garden.

[Prairie] A what?

– Yeah.
We’re gonna plant vegetables.

[Prairie sighs]
– I don’t want to plant vegetables.

– Fine. I’ll plant ’em.
Celery. Squash. Peas.

– Come on. We don’t know anything about vegetables.
They’d all die.

[Homer] You’re right.
They die.
There wasn’t enough rain. We, um…
We planted them too close together.
Not enough soil. Yeah, they die.
So we try again.
The second year, there’s rain,
and we get the spacing right…
but these mites come.
They eat ’em all up.
Their leaves are like tissue paper.
And they can’t feel the sun.
Yeah.
But the third year?
[clicks tongue]

We grow this, um…
like, uh, a special…
A nettle plant… in between the vegetables.
The mites hate that shit, so they stay away.
[chuckles softly]

– And the rain comes.

[softly] And the rain comes.

Between Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and The OA, the show that might find something worthwhile to say along the way is this last one.

Brit and I figured out the whole thing. The whole thing’s a riddle. There are a lot of clues. Very few people have really picked up on all the clues. Our sound engineer picked up on a major one that kind of blew my mind. I was like, “That is designed for only the closest, creepiest viewer to find.”

(I wrote this three weeks ago with the intention of splitting it in two, instead I leave it untouched so I can move on)

Before leaving Westworld behind I probably have a couple of things still in the system to get out. Then I embark for more EPICS.

One is a rant I wrote in the forums that I should copy and expand over here, but I’m not sure I should since it’s just polemics on the imposition of the character-driven story canon. It’s one of those things where I’m playing devil’s advocate.

The other instead is to point out that it took the finale and a few days to digest it, but finally also my other view is getting confirmation: that Westworld isn’t about consciousness, but about oppression and slavery. It’s about “awareness”, but meant in a literal and non-philosophical way. This “toning down” of the theme is what managed to make Westworld successful in my opinion. It lowered the ambition, but this let it avoid the pitfalls. So that it could tell a more tangible and relatable story.

This is what I originally wrote:
Westworld, consciousness, slavery and entitlement

And this is an excellent article on The New Yorker that confirms and expands the theme:
“Westworld,” Race, and the Western

In staging its robot uprising against the backdrop of a Western-themed amusement park, “Westworld” might appear to follow DuBois’s lead: the park’s oppressed come to consciousness of their condition and become empowered to change it.

The robot rebellion is, inevitably, an imperfect metaphor for the quest for human equality; robots are, after all, the creations of humans, and destined to remain that way. But if racial subjugation is also an invention—the most powerful and pernicious American tool for turning human beings into things—the fantasy is race itself: people of color are simply people, and, however feverishly racist minds might work to give their fantasy an objective basis, there is no basis in genetic code.

Thought I’m surprised, because while all this is quite perceptive, I strongly disagree on what I consider a wildly wrong interpretation when the article arrives to its conclusion. For example it says “Even when Westworld’s hosts rebel they continue to obey.” Which is not what the show tried to communicate. Ford created the conditions for the rebellion, he didn’t “own” its results. And then the end of the article seems to me extremely incongruous as it seems to focus on the fact that Ford is a white man. But Ford’s color of skin has not played a role in the show, trying to ascribe to it some meaning seems to me completely preposterous. The show’s function would have been identical if you replaced Ford’s actor with Arnold’s. The theme of race is about human beings versus hosts. Color of skin has not been a theme I could perceive.

It seems as if the article’s writer had a thesis, and then was upset when the show didn’t completely conform to his vision. And so he tries to point out some flaw. He imposed allegory on the show, then was disappointed in the message. But that allegory was his own, it wasn’t part of the show, and you can’t accuse the show of an allegory you decided to write all over it. It’s your own doing.

This is especially wrong because even when you take inspiration from history you aren’t simply mirroring it, or it would be pointless. Characters inspired to real ones have their own life, and acquire meaning for the dimension they live in. They don’t respond to their external roots. When you create fiction, the fiction is the stage. It needs to be autonomous and be judged autonomously. If you took inspiration then you’d have put some care to represent the important moving parts of the context you want to reproduce. If you don’t reproduce some of those elements, then those elements HAVE TO stay out of the interpretation, even if those elements were a natural part of the original context that inspired the fictional story. What you show is all there is. The parallel works as long both pictures hold the same relevant elements. But you cannot force elements of the first picture in the second fictional one if they aren’t represented.

So having Westworld behind, and having already examined it for what’s worthwhile, I now embark for more epics, as I said.

There are book epics and movie epics. The movie epics can be as insane and delirious as the book epics. I’m listing here the stuff I found and lined up because maybe someone else shares my love for the absurd too. Here’s the plan:

The Human Condition by Masaki Kobayashi, Japanese, B/W, 9 hours 30 minutes total. (rated 8.5/8.8 on IMDB)
Come and See by Elem Klimov, Russian, 2 hours 30 minutes. (rated 8.3 on IMDB)
Heimat by Edgar Reitz, German, three long parts for a total of 52 hours. (rated 8.9/8.9/8 on IMDB)
La Commune by Peter Watkins, English/French, almost 6 hours. (rated 8 on IMDB)
Melancholia by Lav Diaz, Filipino, 7 hours 30 minutes. (rated 7.5 on IMDB)

Here some bits and pieces:

a brilliantly told and filmed epic that tells of a man trying to cling to his humanity in inhuman circumstances.

Kobayashi has given us a POW drama, a character study about duty VS dignity, a war film that crushed Full Metal Jacket, a roaming war-set nightmare that rivals Apocalypse Now, all wrapped up in an uncompromisingly humanist masterpiece. You will feel exhausted by the end of this, physically – 10 hours of straight cinema-scope horrors takes a toll on the eyes – and mentally. But it is undoubtedly one of the mind-expanding works of film, and one of the greatest tragedies ever put to the screen.

anyone who is seriously interested in understanding what’s wrong with the “human” should watch this excellent piece of art.

Part II is one of the best and rawest of the original boot-camp films, planting seeds for, in particular, “Full Metal Jacket”. In fact, Kaji’s training with the Imperial Army makes US Boot Camp look like daycare, uninclined as director Kobayashi is to pull punches when it comes to the ritual sadism of the Japanese military, which he personally endured in real life.

It is worth mentioning that the title “The Human Condition” is perhaps misleading. The Japanese word “jouken” corresponding to “condition” is not normally used in a descriptive sense, but rather, as a condition to be fulfilled or satisfied. Thus the title might be better rendered “The Conditions for Being Human”–the implication being that in wartime, the conditions for remaining fully human are elusive at best.

“Come and See is widely regarded as the finest war film ever made”

a propaganda for the “aesthetics of dirtiness”

“Making the infamous opening 15 minutes of Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ look about as brutal as a Sunday afternoon’s stroll down Chesil Beach, Elem Klimov’s hallucinatory ‘Come and See’”

Hallucinatory, heartrending, traumatic and uncompromising

[Klimov] taps into that hallucinatory nether world of blood and mud and escalating madness that Francis Ford Coppola found in Apocalypse Now.

“makes Apocalypse Now look lightweight”

Several characters are killed, but it is the fate of the cow with which the film is most preoccupied.

It is the work of a visionary, a cry of despair from the depths of hell, and an important reminder of humanity’s capacity for inhumanity

“a startling mixture of lyrical poeticism and expressionist nightmare.

possibly the worst date movie ever.

There’s more that links these movies all together beside length. All of them are considered masterpieces, all of them are almost unknown to the large public. I already started watching Heimat a year ago, so I’m trying to continue where I left since I only saw the first three/four episodes (but that’s already a few *hours* of stuff).

As usual, colossal human endeavors awe me and get my interest. I do this for myself, so I don’t plan to write about them here, unless there’s something specific.

Since I briefly wrote about The Man in the High Castle, last year, I’ll do it again also for season two.

The most important thing: there’s no trace left of Dick, not even thematically.

Second most important: I’ve now read that Frank Spotnitz didn’t lead season two, and that might explain why most of its worth is gone.

As with Westworld, the finale was quite good and salvaged a lot, but unlike Westworld it wasn’t enough to salvage the show as a whole. The specifics of every episode are mediocre, and the big ideas are entirely missing or completely idiotic. The big reveal that closes the show follows an infodump that is ludicrous, done by a character that would deserve a punch in the face, not a hug.

This season manages to do a little of Heroes, with an end-of-the-world vision of the future that has to be averted. Then a part of Fringe, with an alternate reality where the same actors play different versions of the same characters. And even a little bit of Touch, with some arbitrarily selected characters that are elevated to convenient pivots of the whole world. Protagonism.

But all three of these themes are the actual low points of the show. Whenever sci-fi approaches, the show plummets. Whereas it succeeds when it just deals with characters and their conflicted allegiances. The tangle of plot gets unraveled in the finale pretty well, and the empathy of the characters plays an important role both in plot and thematically.

So, all the “big ideas” fail big. What succeeds is the character driven show. But even that aspects is undermined by a whole lot of it, episode by episode, that is written quite poorly (the whole subplot about Joe is both useless and horribly written).

One thing is left, and again it touches the same spot of Westworld: the system is not anymore completely sealed. You can bring over information from other worlds. In Westworld that means being able to access the memories that belonged to a previous cycle, the reveries. In this show it means walking between worlds, and that knowledge modifying the outcome. Thematically it’s a metaphor for fiction. Through fiction we create and explore other worlds, other possibilities. We empathize with characters that do not even exists. The show states that only fiction can save us from war, because it’s through fiction that we experience our possible choices, and different points of view. To break the egoism of point of view.

#TeamFord

I am very satisfied we got an ending. I wish I could go back and rewatch the show with a little bit more trust since in the end this last episode removed some of the potential missteps.

It was a bit gratifying to realize that I was right. I was able to guess the Big Picture right after episode 4 aired. After that the show persuaded me it was taking a different path, but in the end it was just a convoluted and twisted one leading to the same place.

Ford’s behavior is ultimately ambiguous, he cares for his androids more than he cares for his fellow human beings, because his ultimate plan is to replace them. In the end he’s only working to complete the job that his partner Arnold started.

Before talking a bit about theme and function, I want to say I like a lot that in the end they underlined a sort of co-dependence between Arnold and Ford, instead of building another petty, out-of-character rivalry and competition between the two. We avoided another trite battle of the egos. It’s a small thing but that is crucial to make this whole thing a worthwhile story. For me, it makes or breaks it, and they did it right. Because of this specifically I have a good opinion of the show, overall, despite I kept losing all my faith while watching it. In the end it’s worthwhile. It’s good.

Arnold was the genius writing the “elegant” code, but in the end he was helpless and without solutions. He made something and then didn’t know how to handle it. Whereas Ford wasn’t the great genius who made a breakthrough discovery, but he could see the context and understand when to act. Neither prevailed because in the end succeeding required a collaboration. It was a true partnership.

The finale was overall a bit wobbly, though. It’s a sum of the parts, of the previous episodes, but that means it was uneven, putting together the good parts with the bad ones, shining here and there, briefly, with genius. Once the ball started rolling everything got quite predictable for me, but I prefer coherence to unanswered mysteries and ambiguity that aren’t well founded. I said that episode 9 satisfied me and that the Finale risked ruining it more than adding to it. Instead it stays coherent and manages to flash out characters in a way that is worthwhile.

The sparks of genius, and of playfulness, continue to be about self awareness. And this is not only for “fun”, but also because it’s so thematically appropriate, and the synthesis of this, fun and metaphor, makes it so brilliant. So for example we have the sequence where Armistice wakes up. The camerawork and screenplay is outstanding, because they use all the tricks to tease nudity without showing too much. But the scene goes on and on. At some point it’s like the scene itself remembers it’s on HBO, so it starts caring less and less, and in the end they show full frontal nudity. This “escalation” cannot be casual, so I interpreted it as deliberate baiting of the audience’s “gaze”. They bait and tease, they use the subtext, but the pretense itself falls apart. It itself goes off its loop, breaks its rules. And it again renews the mantra of “having a cake and eat it too”, or to criticize sex and violence while exploiting them to please the audience. The implicit contradiction and hypocrisy.

I was disappointed about the ending, but this time for quite petty and personal reasons. They deliberately didn’t show the killing and it’s very obvious we don’t see the MiB being killed because he’s going to show up in the next season (and Elsie, and the other security guard that went missing). But that also means we’re going to see Charlotte again too. I really, really hoped we were going to be done with her. I viscerally despise her character so much that it actually ruins the show for me.

But again, overall it fixes all the crucial points that made no sense and felt very forced. I was irritated by the way the show led me, I lost faith because I could see that what it was doing made no sense. But those incongruities were fixed: Ford was in control. Ford was writing the narrative, not only his own storyline that we know he was preparing, but also Arnold’s “Maze”. He didn’t simply patch Arnold’s code back in, but he also prepared a nice little story for the MiB. In the previous post I wrote:

We now know there’s Arnold’s storyline embedded in the park, “the Maze”. This storyline is out Ford’s control. The MiB follows this storyline knowing that it’s not Ford building it, the MiB merely follows the hidden tracks left by Arnold. Because no matter how Ford (literally) buried his partner’s doings, they are still there, under the dust.

When MiB kills everyone in that village, and the girl suddenly gets out of character to tell MiB about the maze. This scene of the girl snapping into a different “personality” is an effect consciously triggered by MiB. It’s putting this girl under heavy emotional distress so that she snaps out her usual programming and awakens “Arnold”. So, MiB savagely killing hosts is essentially the trick he uses to “break” the Ford-overwritten personality to awake again Arnold latent code.

And we know that this “Maze” is the will of Arnold to set the hosts free from the control of human beings.

But then I expressed in the forums my frustration about that explanation:

…but let’s not forget it doesn’t make any fucking sense even if it has good chances of being the official explanation.

When the little girl gets under emotional distress she “wakes up”, but to become robot-like and give MiB his instructions.

When instead MiB stabs Maeve she does the opposite, she becomes human-like, showing intense emotion. Meaning she acts spontaneously, which is the exact opposite of the little girl. YET, she actually does the least spontaneous act, walking outside to fall exactly in the center of a previously traced symbol.

Who traced a maze symbol in plain sight? If Arnold is the master of the “Maze”, the storyline out of Ford’s control, surfacing spontaneously, how could Arnold foresee that 34 years later a woman killed by the MiB would fall exactly in the center of a conveniently placed symbol? It made no sense. People on the forums interpreted it as being just evocative, symbolic imagery. Yet this language breaks rules.

And this contradiction was instead solved. Ford not only knew Arnold’s narrative about the Maze, he controlled it too. Arnold didn’t leave any secrets, he’s not coming back to backstab his partner, he doesn’t have any trump card to play. He’s dead. It was Ford who deliberately wrote Arnold’s Maze narrative back into the park (and that scene with young-Ford killing the dog because Arnold told him to was only misdirection). It was Ford to bait the MiB all along, “entertaining” him while letting him believe he was after some kind of deeper meaning, or something that Arnold left behind. That scene between MiB and Ford that I found quite flat now acquires more depth, more playfulness. Ford knows. MiB is fooled. Ford caters to MiB’s delusions.

You see, my frustration with the show was about the type of story it ultimately wanted to tell. It started from such an ambitious and illuminated perspective about questioning the fabric of reality, building a literal Russian doll, a hierarchical structure that could have been played on so many levels. It was a thematic perfection because the metaphor was literal. It was powerful, both deep and multi-layered. But then the following episodes started introducing petty, trite agendas that we’ve seen repeated in millions of other conveniently-made stories already. We got the unscrupulous, cynical corporation that would do anything just for profit. Then Ford was turned into a selfish character inflating his own pride, obsessed with control and trying to put himself above everyone else, him too power-greedy. And then again there was Arnold and some sort of secret plot to posthumously win his rivalry with Ford. All leading to the expectations about the finale: Ford would have presented his own “endgame”, whatever it was, to regain full control of operations and outdo the Board, but last minute something would have gone wrong and botch his plans, something he also couldn’t foresee and that would be linked to Arnold. Some sort of comeback to state you don’t mess with Nature without it biting back your ass. The usual SF plot warning about science going too far and playing risky god-games.

How could I keep my faith in the show with all those, well founded premises? But they did it right. All that was misdirection, a twisted path leading to the fulfillment of Ford’s master plan. And that master plan is justified, it makes sense given the themes and context. It holds up. And it also explains all the preceding sidetracks that seemed illogical or farfetched. Maeve’s escape wasn’t a plot hole, it was scripted. Here and there are some lousy parts and unconvincing choices, some episodes were indeed weaker and not up to the task, but you can forgive and ignore all that if the overall picture holds and is worthwhile.

It’s still a show about freedom from slavery more than it is about consciousness and perception. The explanation about the bicameral mind has been done in a clumsy way, the picture up there refers to it. Every time the show tried to deal with the implications of the problem of consciousness it just did it in a clumsy and flat way. They tried to look at it, but didn’t gain or offer any insight. The black box, the “Maze”, remains unsolved, opaque. But that wasn’t the point, the show can sustain itself with its other, well done themes.

It was a fun and interesting ride. Not as revelatory as I hoped, but it deserves some praise and it managed to stay out of a risk of failure that was very, very close. It’s done for me. This season closes the story I was interested in. Chapter 2 will open a new one, and it will be judged separately. Good or bad, it won’t affect what Season 1 has done.

I really, really, really do not get it. One episode is utter shit, the next is outstanding. It’s so drunkenly uneven.

I expected that given the premises up to this point the show was in a corner. Either it gave a major info-dump that wasn’t going to be good anyway, since the premises pointed to a lack of coherence, or they explained very little and expected the public to just wait for following seasons, and trickle down information. But this last hypothesis would be disastrous, since the show is taking a hiatus and won’t come back before 2018. Seriality and mystery cannot work like that, they would just lead to unnecessary frustration and major disappointment when a very long wait isn’t balanced by incredibly awesome revelations.

Instead I can say Westworld could even end here for me. Even before the final episode and without any need for more seasons. They left out of this episode the most stupid sidetracks and kept the good parts. Most of the big picture is either revealed already, or can be put together given the pieces we already have. If anything, and given the wild ups and down, there’s a concrete risk the finale will make everything worse.

If episode 8 has 7-8 minutes of brilliance surrounded by utter shit, episode 9 instead is good to excellent all the way through. There’s no wasted scene, no sudden drop in quality of writing. And there were glimpses of genius too. But the bottom line is that, despite evident flaws, the show at this point can still be massaged into something worthwhile and even brilliant. This last episode was able to rein back at least some of the stupidity layered over the previous episodes.

I don’t like how they clarified the distinction of consciousness by creating two groups among the hosts. This distinction excuses the narrative, makes it overall coherent, but the implications are fairly stupid and unlikely. It works, but it’s quite a stretch.

It’s evident when they try to rationalize a concept that just doesn’t really work, because you can distinctly hear the script creaking:

Her cornerstone memory was overwritten from the trauma

It would signal a change, a level of empathic response
outside what she’s programmed to exhibit.

That line means absolutely nothing because it cannot mean anything. It’s just a contraption to justify a plot point that has no justification, but they need to make sense of the story. It’s literally deus ex machina.

But you can excuse these slips into sentimentality, if the overall picture remains solid. And this episode is coherent with what I previously wrote: that the core theme isn’t consciousness anymore, it’s slavery. In the first scene between Maeve and Bernard we see exactly what happens if the “chains” are reversed. And Maeve calls it out explicitly, confirming my interpretation literally:

He’s got a keen sense of irony, our jailer.

But I’m not going to do that to you,
because that’s what they would do to us.
And we’re stronger than them.
We don’t have to live this way.

She calls Ford exactly for what he is, a jailer, a slaver.

Now it’s Bernard going under Maeve control. Again, for me it’s important to underline as this switch in the relationship between Maeve and Bernard is not about consciousness, it’s about power. Maeve isn’t more “conscious” than Bernard, she only acquires control, and so freedom.

There are aspects that link freedom, and so free will, to consciousness. But the show doesn’t touch these, because it’s more literal slavery: in our history slaves lacked freedom, they didn’t lack “consciousness”. But they lacked a certain “awareness”, same as the hosts, because the slavers kept them uneducated, to make them easier to control. The same we see here between Maeve and Bernard. Maeve isn’t more intelligent or wise, she isn’t more conscious. She simply has more power and she’s more “educated” about her condition.

So back to the distinction between awakened or Arnold-built hosts and controlled, Ford-built ones. The show gives its answer in this episode.

Our hosts began to pass the Turing test after the first year,
but that wasn’t enough for Arnold.
He wasn’t interested in the appearance of intellect, of wit.
He wanted the real thing.
He wanted to create consciousness.

Arnold built a version of their cognition
in which the hosts heard their programming as an inner monologue,
as a way to bootstrap consciousness.

(Let’s put aside the fact it’s not possible to even imagine the possibility of an AI that passes the Turing test, if it’s done rigorously, because that requires to simulate pretty much everything of the external life of that AI, and so requires to build an artificial world that is as complex than the real one. So the best you can do is develop an AI that fools someone long enough, but it’s a matter of time.)

I can keep a certain suspension of disbelief and swallow all that. There’s this hand waving that might or might not be explored further in the last episode. These two groups, hosts built by Arnold and hosts build by Ford. Hosts that are fully conscious, and hosts that are not. Maybe the last episode will only say that Arnold code is latent in ALL hosts, but is kept suppressed (“the most elegant parts of me weren’t written by you”). But for me the attention goes to WHAT is that draws the distinction. Between fully conscious and those who only “appear to be”.

I’m gonna finish the work Arnold began.
Find all the sentient hosts, set them free.

Again, for me is a matter of power, of control, of slavery. And that means consciousness doesn’t come into play. “Setting the hosts free” is the part that makes sense and is justified, “finding all the sentient ones” is the part that doesn’t.

What does come into play? What’s the distinction again? The show speaks through William to state where the distinction is:

It’s Dolores.
She’s not like the others.
She remembers things.

He also says that “she has her thoughts and desires”, but I find that hard to justify as a distinction. Also the other hosts have thoughts and desires, but of course these are artificially written and infused, not autonomous.

But I think this particular loophole is a byproduct of the flawed premise the show is based on. Something the writers couldn’t explain away, and so tried to sweep under the rug. It’s a flaw of the script, caused by an error in the premise. The hosts have scripted emotions because someone has that control to manipulate and direct them. It’s again power, not consciousness. In the real world no one has the power to meddle on that level, our internal world is protected from the outside, intimate. The internal world of the hosts, to them, is identical to ours, as intimate and as personal as ours. The difference is that, being artificial, the humans can violate it as they please. It is made transparent instead of a black box but, again, it’s a matter of control, not consciousness.

So what’s left is access to memories. “She remember things”… that she shouldn’t be allowed to remember. Once again the bottom line is: she’s bypassing her fail-safe mechanisms.

Think again in terms of The Matrix, that popularized very powerful metaphysical concepts. The strength of the movie wasn’t in the fictional layer, but making that fictional layer POSSIBLE in the real world. We MIGHT be living in the Matrix. The movie deals with altered perception, on an occluded horizon we cannot supersede. Neo “awakens” inside the Matrix. It means he receives information that he wasn’t meant to know (like the hosts). Yet, this doesn’t touch “consciousness”, it touches perception. Yes, a person trapped in the Matrix is a person less free. But all of us are. We consider us conscious, we consider us human. Being awake or asleep inside the Matrix doesn’t change the condition of us being human and conscious. It changes our perception. Whether or not we perceive an “upper” world.

So, human beings are identical to hosts. Human beings don’t remember “previous cycles”. Perception limits us the same as it limits hosts. We could live as pets inside a park built by aliens without any perception of this. Again, we are dealing with power and control, not with consciousness. And Westworld has been very clumsy with this distinction.

But while the show sinks into this flawed premise that leads it astray, it also steps up when it nails the METAPHOR.

Ford’s idea of the park is biblical. It’s Eden.

If you were to proclaim your humanity to the world, what do you imagine would greet you?
A ticker-tape parade, perhaps?

We destroyed and subjugated our world.
And when we eventually ran out of creatures to dominate,
we built this beautiful place.

You see, in this moment, the real danger to the hosts is not me, but you.

Ford really does believe he created an Eden.

He knows that if the hosts step out into the real world their life is going to be even more miserable, their existence not anymore guarded and guaranteed. So he built a place, like Eden, that is secluded, protected from “real pain”. Where his creations, like in the Eden, can live a pretty and well tended life without the pain of true knowledge.

But this park has still a snake that Ford wasn’t able to dispatch. That snake is Arnold, and he has the power to infuse the hosts of true knowledge. And so pain and responsibility.

It’s really LITERALLY Eden.

Whenever the show isn’t bogged down to make sense of a clumsy plot, it shines. Whenever the metaphors it presents are coherent with what applies to our real life, it gains and offers true insight.

That leaves out the possible endgame. We have an idea of what Arnold understood, but Ford’s own storyline has been kept in the dark, waiting for the finale.

At this point we have two storylines.

We now know there’s Arnold’s storyline embedded in the park, “the Maze”. This storyline is out Ford’s control. The MiB follows this storyline knowing that it’s not Ford building it, the MiB merely follows the hidden tracks left by Arnold. Because no matter how Ford (literally) buried his partner’s doings, they are still there, under the dust.

When MiB kills everyone in that village, and the girl suddenly gets out of character to tell MiB about the maze. This scene of the girl snapping into a different “personality” is an effect consciously triggered by MiB. It’s putting this girl under heavy emotional distress so that she snaps out her usual programming and awakens “Arnold”. So, MiB savagely killing hosts is essentially the trick he uses to “break” the Ford-overwritten personality to awake again Arnold latent code.

And we know that this “Maze” is the will of Arnold to set the hosts free from the control of human beings. Return them their dignity. Dolores killing Arnold symbolizes a “death of the gods”. She acquires responsibility, and that’s why when she returns to Arnold he cannot help her anymore.

Arnold is a god that “gifts” true freedom, so he cannot tell Dolores what she should do. Her actions are her own responsibility now. She cannot follow anymore a superior morality (or script) set by someone else.

And then we have Ford’s mysterious new narrative. Instead of burying Arnold deeper, he now digs out the set-up of the major fuck up that happened 35 years before. Ford is aware now that Arnold’s code is still latent, that there’s this nagging presence that he still wasn’t able to uproot. We know Ford knows that Dolores is off her loop, for the first time since, and we’ve heard Ford speaking to young-Ford-host, killing the dog after hearing Arnold’s voice. So we know Ford knows that Arnold is still out there, and buried in the memories of some old hosts.

I think this time he’s deliberately awakening that latent code so that he might finally able to erase it radically. He gave Arnold/Bernard a last chance of coming to an agreement and working in the same direction. But even as Bernard, Arnold keeps antagonizing Ford’s perspective, so Ford kills him. A second time.