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I decided to keep this separate to write a few comments on what I think the show does right with its metaphysics.

The premise convinced and surprised me. I knew that it was about these people suddenly vanishing, but I was surprised that the show didn’t do any “dressing” of the event itself. People just disappeared. It’s the “purity” of the event that is so powerful. If in other mystery stories something happens that produces a change, here what’s important is that the event happens once and never again. And it happens without actual direct consequences. The event happens without links to anything else. It’s not simply unexplained, but it is unexplainable because it’s not connected to anything else. There is no “whoosh”, there is not weird alignment of planets, or ominous prophecies, or sudden blackout, or a storm, or eclipse or whatever. It’s just a one time glitch. The gap opens and closes so quickly. It doesn’t even “happen” because it’s not a phenomenon. It’s not something that is consequence of something that happens. It’s the absence of an “event”. A touch so fast and so light that was not perceived.

That’s why it is interesting and solid: what happens if our belief system collapses? That’s what the event is about. We believe and exist on the premise of an objective external world. On the fact our experience is “stable” and we can rely on it. That’s why the show then enjoys to play with a character that has an “unstable” experience. But that’s personal experience, you can be crazy. What if factual reality stops being stable, for everyone? This is The Leftovers.

How do you answer the event?

The show is solid because it’s up to humanity to give answer. And they try. How can you answer the event? Through science, through statistics, through correlation, through belief, religion, or through superstition. The show examines all these variations in their detail, because as I said the purpose is to use the event as a lens, to understand how human beings live their life and how they work. In the absence of an objective world, endless possibilities open.

When you unseat science, because science has to rely on a stable external world, what is left is raw. It is purer. It’s not anymore a sporadic case of someone becoming unhinged, it’s all humanity that becomes unhinged. It’s a form of freedom. The world becomes open, truly free. Yet nothing actually changed, on the outside. The world was unaffected, untouched.

WYSIATI. What You See Is All There Is.

Here it becomes the opposite. The dark side of the moon: What You Don’t See Is All There Is.

The world is unchanged by the event, but it’s the end of the world. Apocalypse. The world has ended. Eschatology, rapture. What this means is that the world is internal.

As constructivism would say, the external world is a projection of what’s inside. And what’s inside is what you cannot see, but is all there is. People are missing. Absence. The show examines how absence becomes more powerful than what is there. That 2% becomes more important than the 98% that is left. What’s missing manipulates what remains, it conditions and transforms the world. It’s a shaper of things. The shape given by what is not there.

The “light touch” gives the story its power. If something else also happened, it would immediately create a pattern. Two points that make a line, a connection. And examining that connection would lead to a direction, a way to lay the foundation of another belief. Metaphysics, the premise to build a new world. But because instead this doesn’t happen, because there’s nothing left outside to pick up, all that is “externalized” becomes all that is inside. And what’s inside is, often, trauma. And trauma is catastrophic, fundamentally reshaping everything in dramatic ways. In the maximum freedom, the characterization becomes the only cage. Unfiltered, it becomes pure and raw. Because there’s no other way to go than deep inside.

After the momentary obsession over Arrival I was looking for something equally compelling and bold. I found The Leftovers, that creates a neat link going from Westworld, through The Man in the High Castle, and especially The OA. I’d say The Leftovers is an interesting mix between LOST and The OA. I probably won’t write anything that is really a spoiler in the sense of events and plot, but I’m going to write about the overall structure of the two seasons.

This was a good time to watch a show like The Leftovers. The main reason is that two seasons are complete and in two weeks the third one begins. It’s the final season, so this story is going to have a definitive conclusion. It’s done, it will come. And it will come soon, since it’s just 8 episodes, so this June it will all be wrapped up. This is/was NOT a show that you want to watch while it is ongoing.

The Leftovers is essentially a mystery show. It should lead to some sort of revelation, or twist. So this makes it a show that relies on a good finale, a good finale that justifies what comes before. That infuses some meaning, that offers some answers. That escalates towards something that is meaningful, hopefully even revelatory or transcendental. But is The Leftovers really about this?

When I wrote about The OA I said that it was a deliberate “leap of faith”. Nothing is explained there, it’s a bridge that spans a darkness. A Bugs Bunny that keeps on walking on thin air, just as long he doesn’t look down. The OA was a show that asked you to Believe. The Leftovers instead is less directly meta-narrative, it doesn’t stare you back in the face. It’s not the abyss. But it still deals directly with the theme of “faith”. And because it focuses primarily on this, it does a much better and profound job compared to something more ephemeral like The OA. This means The Leftovers is not a mystery show as I said. It’s instead a character study, and an excellent one.

What happens when 2% of the population disappears? Without a reason. One second they are there, the next they are gone. Nothing else is changed. It’s a “what if” scenario. An hypothesis. But when you make this sort of mental experiment you create a split. On one side, The Leftovers’ side, you imagine how people react, how the world deals with an unprecedented event. “Arrival” is similar: what happens if aliens suddenly appear, visible to all of us? How humanity deals with them? So, The Leftovers becomes a character study, the “event” (of people vanishing at once) is purely an excuse to examine what happens to people when they go through this type of unprecedented stress. How their mind adapts when something upsets a balance that was believed immutable. But this is one side of the split. The other side requires that you give a reason to why this happened. “Arrival” requires you to imagine who these aliens actually are and what they want. The event of people vanishing requires the writers of the show to take some kind of stance toward it. Why did it actually happen? How? So the split. You want to examine what happens, using an impossible event like a “lens”, to observe through it. But you also want to imagine a context that makes that lens possible. Consistent with what you are imagining. Not just magic, but rules. Metaphysics.

This split is a constant in all similar “mystery” stories. Just these days there’s a resurgence of interest for Stephen King’s IT, because the trailer for the movie(s) just came out. IT too had to deal directly with this split. The core of the story is another “what if” scenario: what happens if there’s something truly evil living in the heart of a town? How people change, how this town is transformed along its history. For me, the interesting part is that Stephen King didn’t wave it away, he didn’t retreat, he didn’t pull the hand. Not only he writes the (excellent) character study, but he also faces the other side of the split: he will tell you how that “evil” ended up in the town, where it came from and what it actually is. The author commits to something. It’s not just “magic”. And in just an handful of pages you get explicit answers. Well, these answers kind of suck. IT’s metaphysics stays afloat without an actual foundation. It’s kind of bullshit and not rooted into something true or profound. It’s weak, just not really good at all. But I do appreciate that the author still committed to it instead of fleeing from it. The author was brave enough to laid the substance bare, to be judged. IT’s still excellent for everything it does, the metaphysics suck, but it was still “brave”.

So what’s the strategy for The Leftovers? When I started watching the first few episodes I commented saying that it was “getting the metaphysics right”. I meant it doesn’t step out of the line. It takes its bold premise (people that vanished) and handled it properly. The context the show creates is 100% valid and solid. The character study that follows is not simply “credible”, but powerful because it goes right at the core. Absolutely nothing changes in the world, but EVERYTHING changes for the people. The event, even if actually small and circumscribed, is catastrophic. It’s the end of the world. And this because the authors do get it. They understand that the SUBSTANCE of the show, and the substance of experience for all of us, is not a “fact”, but the way we perceive and believe in a world. The way we believe in reality, the way we create and narrate experience, and identity. The event itself is so negligible because just a few people disappeared, but the fact of the possibility of this kind of event UNDERMINES REALITY ITSELF. It undermines experience and rationalization.

I’d say most of season 1 goes along with superb writing, characterization that is well done, deep, and that respects that basic premise. It shows something new, and it does it properly. The show is kind of slow, and sometimes a bit dull. But it is “inspired”, and has true depth. Episodes 3 and 6 are close to masterpieces.

I’m still talking of one side of the split, the character study done through the lens of an impossible event. The character study is excellent and worthwhile. It goes in depth on the nature and consequence of belief. It’s powerful. And the fact that the event is framed like that, closed in that single moment and completely empty of real consequence or purpose, makes me say they handled it the best way possible. The show is faithful to its premise. But this also means the show closes itself to the other side of the split: it says nothing.

But is The Leftovers really saying nothing about what actually happened and why? Quite the opposite. I only glanced at the wiki about the novel form of the story, and it’s possible that this description applies there. That the book doesn’t answer in any way the mystery of the story. The show is different, though. It is made absolutely explicit already during the first season the fact that something “magical” is going on.

This caught my attention. The story here is built in a way that could have completely avoided the supernatural aspect. Weird shit that happens, in a show with similar premises, could be eventually explained away. When you go deep in the study of how “belief” works you arrive to the natural conclusion that people are deeply delusional. And the show does that. It shows how people would rather believe what’s convenient and reassuring rather than what’s “true”. Perception and reality, and perception altered by belief. It’s a true story, and because this show does a good job, it goes deep and “truthfully” into this. But it also does something else, and it does it deliberately. It’s not a misstep, it’s purposeful.

If on one side you have the context to explain it all as a delusion, on the other side the show actively refuses this “easy”, more straightforward way out, to state something. And what it states, unambiguously, is that weird magical shit is actually going on. Weird magical shit that isn’t going to be explained logically. The authors did go there, decided to go there even if this kind of show could have been solid and worthwhile regardless. It could have been closed neatly, but it didn’t. The weirdness lingers and it is put there, explicitly, so that it demands an answer. The authors decided to straddle very dangerous territory.

I can also say that after two full seasons absolutely NOTHING has been answered or revealed about the nature of this side of the split. Do I trust the writers that an answer will come in the final season? Hell no. I would be a fool for trusting Lindelof. But I’m still curious because the show didn’t need to go there, but decided to. I want to go see. At times the writing is so inspired it almost borders a transcendental level. It happened far more rarely in the second season, but I’m in.

The weird shit is too deeply rooted now. Ok, so you’re committing to this. How far are you taking this? Waiting for instructions.

Like LOST, from meta-fiction to metaphysics, fully embracing it.

All of this was tolerable because I could watch all of it at once. I do not envy those who had to wait week after week. That’s insanity for a show like this. The Leftovers is PURE TROLLING. When in the second half of the first season the episodes started to be uneven, I made a chart mostly as a joke. It looked like season 1 was doomed to collapse into shit. I had no idea at that point. The first half of the season was so solid and well written, then it started to slip into dangerous territory. It could have gone either way. You can see how it goes down for episode 9, and that started a trend. The episode itself isn’t complete shit, but it’s the first hint of how far the trolling is going to be pushed. The structure is like this: they end episode 8 with a cliffhanger, so you have to wait a week biting nails, desperately wanting to see what happens. And what happens? That episode 9 is entirely a flashback, and also 100% useless, adding absolutely nothing worthwhile to the story. Purely filler. Torolololol. Now you have to wait another week. But eventually the finale was good, sort of. It was dramatic, but it was weak in substance. It didn’t say anything meaningful and didn’t add anything worthwhile.

So I began season 2. Imagine waiting a fucking year for that. Because the first episode is UNBELIEVABLE. See me giving it a “2” on that chart. So you’ve waited a year to see what happens in that story? Enjoy a whole episode wasted to introduce new characters you never saw before and about who you don’t give a shit, doing things you don’t give a shit, including “artsy” sequences accompanied by just music that are 100% useless and actively, deliberately irritating and infuriating. Where the fuck is the story and characters I care about? Why are you wasting my time? Why the whole episode is gone and I don’t give a shit about anything you’ve shown me? But hey, here 5 minutes at the end with the characters you actually know about. Like, a cameo. So you go right into episode 2, because episode 1 was just more troll. And what you get? A damned flashback episode again! It goes back to the characters we know and care about, but it’s another full episode that covers just the gap and that ends at the same spot of where the first episode ended, without furthering the story one inch. And episode 3? TROLOLOLOL! Episode 3 goes back to ANOTHER set of characters to tell you what happened to them in the meantime. So, you have to wait until episode FOUR to see any shit actually fucking happening. All mixed with a bad habit of starting episodes with loud music and scenes out of context with unknown people doing unexplained stuff for 5 or 10 minutes before any kind of plot actually happens. Just to irritate you more.

I watched it all at once and I STILL wanted to punch Lindelof in the face (I wouldn’t punch him in the face, of course, but oh boy I have all the rights to imagine doing that, because he deserves it). It’s a fucking troll of a show. It doesn’t respect you in any way. As a serial it’s just an exercise in pure irritation. …And then it eventually find itself again to rebuild a story and lead toward a new finale. But you know what happens with episode 8 and 9? Symmetrical trolling! Episode 8 of course ends with a big cliffhanger, and episode 9 once again moves to a completely different story. Trolololol again. But my rating stays high because episode 9 ends with its own cliffhanger, surpassing the previous and honestly surprising me. I didn’t expect anything like that. Season 2 finale is more inspired than the first, and it works better as a culmination. It has some more substance, some moments that ring true and that make me forgive the other moments that are there just to be exploited for their dramatic force. Around minute 45 I was sure the episode was over (and already good), but then I checked and there were still another 25 minutes before the end. That was just a surprise. This “second ending” was also good, full of meta-fiction, and done well.

We wait for season 3, now. I’m now in the flock along with everyone else, waiting for Lindelof to troll all of us some more. It’s just 8 fucking episodes, though. You have less space to play your pranks. I don’t trust you but I’m going to follow.

Where are you taking me? I don’t understand. (You understand.)

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.