Category Archives: Westworld


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.
Why?
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:

THE GODGAME
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.

P.S.
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see. For now it’s 6.5/10.

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

(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.

#TeamFord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her cornerstone memory was overwritten from the trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford really does believe he created an Eden.

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

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

It’s really LITERALLY Eden.

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

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

At this point we have two storylines.

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

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

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

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

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

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