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Considering Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and then Lost and its own rib, The Leftovers, but also that other stuff with Jason Isaacs like Awake, Touch and Dig. Or Upstream Color and Brit Marling’s own Another Earth… They are all more worthwhile to watch than The OA. (this is a reference to what I wrote back then about the first season)

(I’ve recently seen the three seasons of Travelers and that too is quite good and recommended. I mention it because it is also obliquely about the problem of epistemology)

I of course like and enjoy the “weird”, but only when it’s done well and those who do it know what they are doing, or at least sincerely try, like groping in the dark for meaning. Step by step. The earnestness of the struggle would be enough. The first season of The OA fell in this category and I still appreciate it. It was ambivalent, open, and it was quite “honest”, all things considered. There was a lot of worthwhile, well placed magic in that first season, and I was waiting this second one to see where it would all lead. In the end there wasn’t all that much to figure out. The show wasn’t a riddle to solve because it simply didn’t offer enough pieces to work with. It, in some way, “held itself back”, without really showing its hand. So I accepted it as a whole, as a kind of suspended thing that still worked on its own even if it felt also ephemeral.

The second season is somewhat satisfying in the sense that it offers a number of exhaustive answers to its mysteries. If season one held back and only hinted, season two instead is more blunt and explicit. The problem is that all these answers are very underwhelming and insubstantial in their meaning. The overall feel is that “the king is naked.” There are a few infodumps here and there, delivered by literal deus ex machina, and this foreign and unnatural source of information isn’t even the damning point. The problem is that when you brush away all these mysteries you are left with an exposed core that in this season is extremely emphasized to the point that it overwrites everything else: anti-scientific lecturing.

There is no way around this time. The character of Hap is even more clearly the straw man of science. This role is so heavy handed and unsubtle that this time it doesn’t work at all. There’s no nuance, no real complexity. Simply a cartoonish villain that at some point the show tries to re-enable through even more hokum.

This comes out after a little more than two years since the first season. I was really waiting for it because I had no idea in what direction it would be spun. This interest then increased because I read a few comments in the last few days calling it a “masterpiece”. Then I looked at the titles of the episodes and noticed one was “SYZYGY”. And I know what that is. Are they trying to blend in the mythology of the CCRU? Are they really diving into that stuff? Is that you, Nick Land? But nope, it was all for nothing. The “syzygy”, besides its very superficial and symbolic meaning, is used only as the name of a night club and then to solve a pointless riddle with no other ties. A macguffin that represents the great majority of the substance of this season. Inconsequential meanderings, looking for inspiration and ideas that just aren’t there…

That it is all largely pointless was quite evident from the first episode. This detective finds a riddle that reads something like “what’s above the sea but under the stars?” The detective comes up with a straightforward solution: “birds.” But it turns out it’s not the right one. At that point I stopped the video and tried to see if I could figure out another answer. I thought of consciousness, breath and stuff like that, but they didn’t quite fit with the five letters required. So I resumed the video to see where it all lead… Turns out the answer to the riddle is the code of an airplane that was flying over that specific location, that you could only see though the augmented reality app. This is quite exemplary because this riddle-house is one of the main themes of the season. Everything that relates to it amounts to nothing at all. Those riddles are so specific and so empty that instead of offering some insight, or a spark of intuition when you guess right, instead you are merely about guessing the arbitrary answer that the riddle-maker set up. The WORST kind of riddles. When the riddles are that arbitrary then there isn’t anything to them. No valid hints, no getting progressively closer to an answer. It’s all the random chance of ending on the same spot, looking at the same thing, and having the same thought of the designer. Pure coincidence. It’s predestination versus choice.

It then continues on this path of deus ex machina, “guess-what-I’m-thinking” pattern. The riddle house is a labyrinth without any direct or symbolic significance. It’s just that, a labyrinthine labyrinth that delays its solution until the very end, just in time for the necessary twist to end the season. And the solution is lame outside those 20 second when the post-modern layer drops. The “behind the curtain” moment is always cool. The fourth wall breaching. But if you have at least a little experience with it then you’d expect at least a tiny bit more than it simply being shown. Here instead it just goes nowhere. The OA can travel through dimensions, so why can’t she travel to a dimension where The OA is being made as a TV show? WHOA! Whoa… Well, alright. Is that really it? Nope, because they drop the ball by making it a fictional semi-reality. Where Brit Marling is actually married to Jason Isaacs and gets hurt during the finale while it was being made. So it’s not quite here, but almost. Am I supposed to be impressed?

So yes, the fourth wall breaking is always quite effective because you don’t expect it. And to the general public of Netflix it might also look like a shocking plot twist. But it is a known tool. You have to give it some purpose, make something out of it. There’s nothing here beyond that cheap surprise. It’s just sleight of hand for its sake, that it works because it simply aligns with the perspective of the show where multiple realities are an established mechanic. So why not? Because there’s nothing else to it. There’s nothing implied, nothing “truthfully magical.” There is no beyond, no revelation, no transcendence, no understanding. It’s a labyrinth that the showrunners couldn’t solve. It’s a closed loop without emergence. It ends flat, monotonous. It sinks.

Instead of understanding that mythology and using it to show the way, it falls into its trap. Fails to see ahead, to see clearly.

The enchantment that worked for the first season simply wore off, now the king is stark naked.

And again, the problem isn’t that nakedness. The problem is what’s left after you remove the game of mirrors and pretense: that anti-scientific core. The message couldn’t have been emphasized more. The king is not only naked, but completely blind, and he made his blindness a virtue.

Like in Twin Peaks, this show is itself condemned to OBSCURITY. That last moment when Laura Palmer SCREAMS. She’s lost once again because she’s trapped inside (inside fiction, worlds). Part of this loop that cannot be shattered. NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES Cooper tries to save her, traveling to other dimensions. Do you see the parallels? The OA is Laura Palmer, and she can’t save herself because she IS blind. She never got any insight because the show as a whole has made the gnostic obscurity its idol. You cannot awake if you are structurally blind, not able to see the forest for the trees. No help outside nor within. There’s nothing else but surrender to the blindness itself.

This celebration of gnostic blindness couldn’t be more EVIL because there’s no Cooper fighting against it. Instead of fighting darkness, it’s a celebration of it. It’s blissful nihilistic abandon to a false sense of truth. Like moths flying around an artificial light. The show essentially incarnates the enemy it pretends to fight. It blindly states that it lost the capability to navigate the space. It permanently lost orientation. A victim with no salvation. A prey to the higher forces. No choice, no will. Just a prey that cowers and wails.

The OA is the blind loop that in Twin Peaks Cooper tried to shatter. A cage. And if Twin Peaks ended with the perpetuation of that endless “chase”, maybe The OA embodies better our modernity. Because it idolatrizes blindness itself and shows that human beings are structurally unable to navigate the space. They are broken in a definitive way. Structurally broken in a way that salvation is simply not possible. There is no narrow bridge to cross. No journey to go through, no lesson to learn. There’s only the desperation that drives you deeper, closer to the ultimate damnation. There is no hope. There is no choice. And there is no understanding possible. You die, and die blind.

Here is where we go a little deeper, because this pattern of chasing after blindness isn’t new. And it happens in the show because the show comes from that same angle where blindness is always sublimated. What it would be? Idealism of course. That gnostic blindness mistaken for “light”. The power of the soul. Of this anti-scientific false idol.

(continues here)

Most people wouldn’t notice a good movie even if it punched them straight in the face.

“The Secret” is a singular Italian movie that on IMDB has been rated by 17 people in total, with an aggregate of 6.3/10. I’ve watched it and not only it’s a great movie, but one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. It just happens that sometime the very best stuff is what no one watches or wouldn’t watch.

Even those two lines of description on IMDB page would diminish its effect, the movie is best seen without any cue. Despite this being many dimensions and worlds away from a product like Westworld, I still see in it a similar theme. The kids in this movie are “being moved” by a force they don’t understand. They become a process, united with the city itself. There’s an undercurrent, a mythology, that runs through those narrow alleys of the city, giving it life. These kids are the embodiment of the city, they are its movement and voice. They are flesh and blood, concrete and asphalt. They are one with the city with an harmony so visceral that it defeats time and space.

Despite they obstruct those roads, litter and disturb everyone around them in a way that wouldn’t be excused, the force and vitality that moves them is so pure and timeless that no moral judgement could ever be leveraged against them. And there isn’t even a tiny speck of rhetoric to be found here, no trick of showmanship or artificiality. The camera has a gentleness that I’ve rarely seen even in these kinds of movies. This isn’t a movie that is subtly pulling at your heart strings, without showing its hand. Instead it represents the complete absence of an observer and the judgment that would be carried along. Yet there’s this feeling that these kids, above all rules and reason, have to do what they have to do.

Because literally nothing else could be more important. They are the city. This chthonic mythical force still lives today, it just moves unseen.

I’ve watched the finale but I haven’t read what people think about it. It’s been the same for this whole season. During the first one I did seek out discussions and theories, it was a wild ride. But this second season already had a context established and so I felt like I could go through it on my own. My own journey, my own thoughts.

I say this because I don’t know if out there there are more elaborate interpretations about the “meaning” of this last episode. I’ll have to find out later. My opinion is that the first season ended on a strong finale because it lead up to a coherent idea about consciousness. But if this second season, as I see it, ends on the theme of “free will”, then I don’t think it was able to build a coherent design, this time. I’ll elaborate in a moment.

The episode was packed full of suggestions, I’ve seen plenty of flashes of excellent stuff. The problem is: they were all deja-vus.

This good stuff was all about the apocalyptic setup, the door that opens onto reality, but instead of leading outside it leads in, deeper. It’s truly excellent and inspired stuff, only a bit muddled by a too convoluted plot that ultimately isn’t that meaningful (and just copies the first reason with the same idea that the hosts have to observe human’s atrocities in order to learn what they’ll deal with). The reason why Bernard had to scramble his memories feels like a pointless McGuffin just so they could carry over from season 1 that game about the timelines. It wasn’t well earned and didn’t coalesce into something satisfying. They tried too hard there.

The good parts are all deja-vu because I’ve already seen this, in this exact shape, and even executed quite better. It’s once again Malazan. Ford building a virtual world for the hosts in the shape of a past that is no more, an unsullied lost world, is the same as what happens in Malazan’s third book, with the Mhybe being fashioned as a vessel, a dreamworld built to receive and preserve those people so that nothing would be lost. Ford moving behind the scenes like an invisible, caring and compassionate hand, the same as Kruppe.

Both in Malazan and Westworld this fashioned dreamworld is an answer to a world that is being destroyed. An answer to that call. But in doing this again Westworld turns into just a weaker copy of what was done there even better and with deeper, more meaningful implications.

(also, in Malazan there was a much greater effect because of its overall structure. In Westworld it was one path moving toward its conclusion. In Malazan instead there were two completely separate paths that moved in their independent way through the whole book, without even a hint they would collide. Malazan had Itkovian. And it’s when the two paths join that not only you’re hit with the shock of what is happening, but it’s this unexpected collision of completely separate journeys that yet finds a perfect, but still unbelievable, complementarity in each other.)

In Westworld this leads to this sort of antagonized perspective, Dolores on one side and Bernard on the other. The significance of the dreamworld is questioned:

DOLORES: That world is just another false promise.
One more gilded cage.

How many counterfeit worlds will Ford offer you
before you see the truth?

Malazan addresses all this directly. Westworld instead shrugs it off by just presenting dissenting opinions, on one side Bernard who support the fictional Eden, and on the other Dolores who doesn’t accept trading reality for illusion.

This leads back to the problem of free will because these are all cases where a theme seems to surface but then is merely shrugged off. When Bernard tries to understand why Dolores won’t accept the offer, she says:

No world they create for us can compete with the real one.
Because that which is real…
is irreplaceable.

This is a typical non-answer. What does even mean “irreplaceable” in this context when even people can be made into exact copies? I’m not even sure if it was deliberate in its contradiction because the scene that follows those lines shows Maeve once again chasing after her daughter. A daughter “fashioned” as one, the very essence of fabricated, but authentic-feeling love. Where is supposed to be found that uniqueness that Dolores wants to claim? It’s authenticity itself that comes after, the feeling itself being a fabrication. Truth that is created, not found.

Even the story those White Nation people tell themselves seems just a well fashioned lie (“We have died countless times. If we die once more… at least the story was our own.”). What we see here is not freedom, but a certain form of freedom. What we are witnessing is Ford having hidden himself from his creation. He fashioned a narrative for his people, a narrative about “freedom.”

Freedom and free will are the recurring theme throughout the finale, the problem is again that the story declares the hosts being truly free, opposed to human beings who aren’t, but nowhere to be found is an explanation of what draws that distinction.

When AI-Logan goes through his infodump explaining his human re-creation program I thought that it was all leading up to some sort of theory of enactivism. Meaning that you cannot quite “capture” the essence without modeling the environment, and by changing the environment you’d change the mind as well. But that’s not quite how it works, here.

We are instead offered an explanation, through Ford’s words no less:

Something that is truly free
would need to be able to question
its fundamental drives.
To change them.

That seems to mean that the (some) hosts are truly free because they can access their own code and rewrite it. They are truly free because they write their rules instead of being slaves to them.

But what’s described here is a sort of recursive process, a “strange loop”. A second-order observation. One observation that draws a distinction and then observes itself observing. It’s all 2nd order cybernetics, but if we follow it to its true implications we should realize it’s all a lie.

Adding loops to an algorithm makes that algorithm more complex, but it doesn’t make it free. A loop that rewrites itself means that the rewriting is built on the fixed instructions that come before. It means that the hand is hidden, but not that an hand doesn’t exist. No matter how many loops and how many rewrites, it’s all a chain of effects that are still determined by the original state. A self-observing, self-correcting system still executes these activities based on those patterns that are built in. It’s still “code” even when it rewrites itself, it cannot escape its gravity. Evolution and adaptation still won’t make a process free, or any different from “human survival”, either.

Now, there are ways to solve all this, but it doesn’t look to me like the showrunners have an idea. There’s not much substance to be found in this finale even after wading carefully past all the rhetoric. There might be a few vague hints, but they don’t seem as deliberate as I’d like them to be. Do they have a good idea, a good theory, of what “free will” is and how it’s built?

The “solution” is what can be found at the very end of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, but I have a pretty original interpretation if it, so I doubt someone else got out of it the same idea that I did.

The secret of “freedom” is knowing what it truly is: lack of information.

That’s why this construction in Westworld holds inside itself the actual possibility of freedom. It’s all about Ford hiding his hand, it’s all about a creator who makes himself unknown, exactly as described in extreme clarity in John Fowles’s The Aristos:

29. If there had been a creator, his second act would have been to disappear.

Because if freedom is lack of information about a system, then “free will” is the necessity to make a choice in the absence of sufficient information to make that choice a good one. It means you have no other way than to make that choice. Being forced to have free will because you have to act, without knowing how to act. Freedom is always relative to a system, and if the system is sealed, then freedom is absolute, ontological. It stops being an illusion. It’s the system’s closure that with its imposition causes free will. A freedom that is built by its chains.

Here’s the Tractatus. When you control perception, reality ceases to be real. You need to know reality to understand and control perception, you need that science of consciousness so that you can use that science and climb the ladder.

But once you’ve climbed that ladder you turn and realize there’s no ladder anymore. There never was a ladder.

The finale ends re-building a theodicy. As an epitome, Arnold created Dolores, Dolores created Bernard, now they stand opposed, incarnating those two fronts of judgement and being overseen by Ford, now “gone” from his creation but still the breath of life that generated it all. Further differentiations that take a life of their own, and play the game. Dolores and Bernard are one process questioning itself. One who wants to erase everything because it’s a nightmare, the other who chases irredeemably after the hope that a better world is possible. Exactly how Cooper in the finale of Twin Peaks seizes Laura Palmer’s hand with the hope of saving her, only to lose her again, and still following her beyond the curtain of reality, to try once again, no matter what. No matter how many times he will fail and how many worlds and lives he’ll have to go through.

Always those two fundamental yearnings, one nihilistic, the other idealistic.

Ford gifts the hosts their free will by permanently sealing himself away from his creation.

Today I was commenting that this second season is moving from science-fiction to “mysticism”. This is both good and bad. But the fact is that they handle the mysticism better than the science. In episode 8 we’ve seen the prototype of religion, then with the split Dolores/Bernard we see the shaping of a theodicy. If we extend this same trajectory we could imagine that these two position will then splinter further into factions, and each faction will create its own system of values. We would essentially witness a re-creation. Not a story in the future, but a retelling of how a culture is born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love in Westworld is an explicit “false track.”

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

Then Ford shifts back toward clarity:

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

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

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

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

– I can see all the way to the bottom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you can rewrite reality, you can rewrite morality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see. For now it’s 6.5/10.

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

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

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

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

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

They think it’s too smart.

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

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

deserves several viewings, and your brain’s whole attention

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

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

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

That’s euphemisms to say it’s manipulative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was all a dream.