Category Archives: Westworld

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.

Promoting human exclusivity through sentimentalism might be Westworld’s greatest sin and anti-scientific propaganda.

(This was originally posted with a polemical tone on reddit. I thought it could have gone either way but the fans instead were very fast to downvote it to hell and call me a pretentious snob. So the next day I rewrote it with a neutral, accommodating tone. This time it went exactly as I expected: it was simply ignored. The hivemind promotes only what the hivemind already thinks. An unassailable consensus machine.)

There is currently a post that is being upvoted, yet it starts for a completely flawed premise. It’s a big deal because I think the show is being extremely counter-educational about themes it wants to touch but whose writers aren’t remotely good enough to deal with, like “qualia”, the hard problem, Ship of Theseus, et cetera. You can look these up on the wikipedia to have a better idea, read Thomas Metzinger’s “Being No One”, or read some Daniel Dennett for something more accessible.

If you have patience, I will explain why Westworld can’t deal with “consciousness”, and what’s instead the theme the show is actually about, and in the end I will also point you to a story that offers an hypothesis of solution of the problem of consciousness that is firmly rooted in modern science. That explains what consciousness truly is and how it works. I will point you to the “maze” that exists in your real life, and the future that awaits you.

The flawed reddit post is this one:

The Maze is clearly fundamental to the story of Westworld and the dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness.

Freedom in terms of the hosts means achieving the one thing that separates them from the humans that they’re supposed to mimic; consciousness. Being conscious, that is being self-aware and having free will, is at this point the only thing that separates a human from a host.

The problem I see with the community’s interpretation of hosts’ consciousness is all about an arbitrary, fuzzy distinction between proper human consciousness and the supposed hosts’ one (or lack of one). From there the idea that the “maze” is either a metaphoric or physical place where the hosts will unlock actual human-like consciousness.

But how do you recognize human-like consciousness?

The show builds on the confusion or blurred line between artificial and actual consciousness, especially in the latest episode. Ford and Bernard discuss about where to draw the line between “life-like” and truly “alive” (and implicitly quote the Ship of Theseus philosophical problem). Then this scene is thematically linked with the MiB speaking, and giving his own interpretation of the problem by saying that Maeve only for a moment became “truly alive”.

Yet we’ve seen hosts regularly displaying authentic, believable emotions, across the whole range of human experience. From grief like Bernard at the beginning of the episode, to rage, love, care and so on. The hosts don’t show any limit in their forms of expression, living fully and thoroughly their life within the “dome” of their personal experience. Exactly as all of us. Or exactly like the perspective shown in the move The Matrix: all of us live within a certain dome of fiction.

So what’s the actual difference between hosts and human beings?

The difference between hosts and human beings is that the hosts are coded to remain under human control. They are coded with deliberate, convenient limits.

If Bernard cannot see a door it doesn’t mean he’s not conscious. It means that his perceptions have been altered so that the imposed limit is convenient for those who controls Bernard. Of course Bernard IS TECHNICALLY ABLE to see a door. But they don’t let him, because human beings in this fictional world need fail-safe mechanisms to stay ON TOP.

The premise of Westworld is this: human beings need to keep AI/hosts under their control, because otherwise the AI would be way more advanced and powerful and would tyrannize human beings, the same way human beings (Ford) currently tyrannize AIs.

If an host cannot shoot or kill a human being doesn’t mean the host is “not conscious”. Unless you think that giving your son a real gun instead of a toy gun means giving your kid consciousness and agency. (let’s not go there, it’s just an example to explain “being able to kill” isn’t an important feature of consciousness, of course)

Think about what Westworld actually showed on the difference between humans and hosts. It showed that the hosts have been limited to perceive certain specific things. That they cannot remember their previous “lives” (do any of you remember your previous reincarnations?). And that they cannot truly harm a human being. None of these really touch directly the problem of “being conscious”. These are about control. They can all be categorized as convenient fail-safe mechanisms, designed so that human beings can guarantee and preserve their total control. The hosts don’t miss “something” that still has to be unlocked, because they already have all it takes.

So what does it mean instead? It means human beings are keeping hosts “chained”. This is the BIG theme. Consciousness is out of the picture. What’s IN the picture is power and control. Keeping hosts as convenient slaves to satisfy human beings’ pleasures.

That’s in our own history, the real world. Slavery is based on the concept you’re superior and entitled to have the power, and the slaves you keep are lesser beings who deserve the situation they are in. That’s exactly what people believed. Slavery was built on racism, and no one was questioning the status quo. It was normal to consider slaves as inferior. That’s what you want to tell yourself, the convenient, flattering story, that you’re “special” and “better” than them.

The idea suggested by the show, and in us watching the show, that the hosts aren’t fully conscious is just a manifestation of the same racism. The idea the hosts lack consciousness comes from the confirmation bias to say that it’s okay if they stay slaves forever, since they aren’t deserving freedom.

And it all makes sense if you consider Arnold didn’t like any that. What Arnold found out wasn’t a way to infuse consciousness into the hosts. He found out the hosts were ALREADY fully conscious and equal (or better) to human beings. He didn’t want to make them suffer *more* to unlock some elusive human-like consciousness, he wanted to stop inflicting pain on them. He wanted to stop being a tyrant. He wanted to remove those fail-safe mechanisms, like hosts being unable to harm human beings, that we know is the one rule that is erased within the “maze”. He wanted to give them a level playing field.

Arnold wants to set the hosts FREE. But not free from their lack of consciousness. Free from the chains of slavery.

This show cannot deal with the problem of consciousness because the writers aren’t even remotely good enough for that and don’t have that much insight (it would take a very long post to go in the details, and no one would be interested in nitpicking that). There have been already plenty of missteps when they try to go there.

So instead I’ll point you to this short story, written by an author who can write and knows what he’s writing about, and it will explain the secret of the actual, not-metaphoric “maze”: The secret of consciousness

In very general terms, consciousness is a process that cannot track itself. That is blind to itself, and so confabulates a fantasy to explain what it cannot see. A narrative. Meaning.

I’m sorry to say this but the showrunners are not even close to be good enough to sustain this kind of show. I always praise the ambition no matter what, and Westworld has ambition aplenty. I wouldn’t write about it if it didn’t have excellence in it. Yet, it’s a complete let down, at least for the aspects I’m looking for.

We had bad two episodes after the first excellent four, where episode 6 salvaged a little bit even if overall mediocre. Then episode 7 was really quite good and able to salvage a lot more of what came before. So I went into episode 8 with expectations high again… to find the first ten minutes of the show at its worst ever.

The first scene between Ford and Bernard should have the potential to be good, instead it’s rather pointless exposition meant solely for the audience. The dialogue is stilted and even out of character. It seems to want to delve into moral complexity, instead it only devolves into banality. Someone living in a world permeated by artificial consciousness shouldn’t be caught off guard, yet Bernard acts like someone who suddenly finds himself into a sci-fi story. He sits there, for the most part, without even thinking at the implications of what’s going on. Bernard reacts and speaks like a character in any other TV show, regardless of the unique context here.

The writers of Westworld must be aware the current cool thing is to have “gray” characters that are neither completely good or completely evil. So of course now we have two contrived “sides”, one about the board of the park, that has been deliberately presented to be the antagonist, driven by greed and cynical pragmatism to obtain what they want, whatever it takes. But Ford of course can’t be simply “good” either. So they have to turn the character in this control obsessive guy who only thinks in terms of power. Even if it makes no logical sense. The science and plot of this show don’t mix well at all.

It’s a bad scene from beginning to end, but there are at least two particular points that are truly bad. One is that Ford is shown to have this fascination with emotions, and he explains that it was with the help of Bernard that they unlocked the mystery of the “heart”. But there are no actual ideas to back this up. It’s just that, human emotions are human merely because they are realistic, compared to the first hosts that instead were more primitive. For someone like Ford who has unlocked all secrets these displays of human emotion shouldn’t have been interesting at all, they should be boring, since it was all codified, all predictable and all repeated over and over. The other bad part is a little detail, Ford says “I need you to clean up your mess, Bernard.” Excuse me, WHOSE mess? This is again just poor writing used to artificially make Ford into a unlikeable character, because this is the whole point of this scene: make Ford into another cynical villain who’s pushed science too far. By manipulating Bernard and talking the way he does, he’s made into the bad guy who doesn’t have any empathy.

And that underlines where the problem of the show is. It tackles important scientific and philosophical implications, but then it reduces all that into the usual trite TV characterization. Westworld isn’t and cannot be a character driven show, because the totality of TV shows out there are already character driven. They all reuse the same trite formula of putting some character under unprecedented distress in order to highlight the emotions and make who’s watching empathize among all the drama. All the big movers being the selfishness of greed, power, money and various combinations of these, family relationships, conflicting interests and whatnot. Westword is supposed to question deep into the morality, now that science has exposed some unsettling truths. It’s about exploring the implications of all this. And yet we keep backpedaling into trite agendas, where all this moral complexity is lost in the face of yet another struggle for control or power. Westworld explores new territory, yet keeps populating that territory with old characters and trite writing. It wipes clean the slate, only to repopulate it with the worst tropes that plague the industry, multiplying sameness everywhere.

You need new tools to deal with new themes. Westworld proposed new themes but has only old tools to toss at it. It’s clumsy.

Following that bad scene whose only purpose was bad, stilted exposition meant for the spectator, there’s Maeve’s scene, and that’s even worse. For me the breaking point isn’t even the overall context, but the mention of the explosive in her spine that sets off if she tries to leave. This is another unnecessary plot contraption that has no reason to exist. In a world that is almost The Matrix where code is literally the fabric of perceived reality, the idea of an explosive in the spine is blunt and absurd. What exactly would regulate the behavior of that “bomb” if not more code? How can it be logical that if there’s a major fuck up in the scale of an host trying to leave the park then the solution is an hidden bomb? Because the potential of an host leaving the park is way, WAY beyond the scale of what can be fixed by a bomb. Or the bomb triggering because of a mistake. Given the context, it’s the most idiotic and potentially catastrophic idea ever. And to achieve what exactly? The “locality” of the hosts seems to be the smallest of the problems.

Again, this is all written as if the writers didn’t know how to deal with new themes, and so resorted to their usual tools. It’s all baggage due to the facts these writers have no idea how to deal with complex themes, and so they fall back to default gears sprinkled with a slight futuristic context. And once again, even Westworld degenerates into a show that uses science fiction only as decoration, instead of its focus.

But this means that Westword presents new questions, only to produce the same old answers that were innocuous and useless all along. It’s the same shitty writing that is pervasive everywhere. It’s repetition disguised as something new. Trying to have it both ways, and doing poorly regardless.

Of course on the internet they don’t share my own interests, but they certainly didn’t swallow that scene with Maeve anyway. This is a good summary of what everyone noticed. Even worse, EW already criticized how implausible and contrived the scene between Maeve and the two idiots is, and asked about it to the writers themselves:

Nitpicky question though: Couldn’t the body shop guys just jack down Maeve’s levels to knock her out, and make some lobotomizing so-called “mistake” to take out her memory? We’ve been shown over and over the humans have so much control, it’s hard to believe they couldn’t get the upper hand on a rogue host.

Nolan: I will point you toward episode 8.

Beside the fact that’s not nitpicking AT ALL, that’s a huge elephant in the room, but that answer lead everyone to expect they would provide a logic explanation in episode 8, just have patience. So now we do have episode 8, and it’s fucking ridiculous. This isn’t even bad writing, it feels like you watch a scene that belongs to a show, then the following scene seems to come out right from a parody. And it’s not even about the ideas in that scene. It’s not because it doesn’t feel plausible. It’s all of it to be ridiculously awful. It’s very badly written, badly acted and with a very bad screenplay. It’s downright amateurish. And of course it completely breaks the tension when you have a show that tries to be all serious and dramatic and then has a scene taken out of Scrubs.

The problem is much larger, though. Westworld is a castle of cards that tries to pile up lots of complexity but that has zero skill handling them. When it fails not only it’s messy, but it’s even more incompetent than LOST, that also had wild ups and downs, but that was always inspired even in its failures. Westworld is a cool concept without any insight. Backpedaling into proven tropes that still won’t work for anyone here. Trying to wrestle this back into a character driven show when everything else failed is not going to work. People expect you do something interesting with the ideas you scattered on the table. And yet it devolves into corporate backstabbing or AI going evil, that we’ve seen millions of times before, but now in a show that tries to be even more obtuse about it, trying to create unnecessary mysteries everywhere.

That scene between Maeve and the two idiots is exactly what happens when you start with the concept of the “robot revolution” but without its logical causes. The actual context has been built with so much care and detail that in the end there’s actually no space left for old school “AI now runs wild”. We moved past that. The implications are higher. The science the show is based on is much, much more critical and far reaching that a robot out of control. The moral implications more subtle, deeper, unsettling. But again the writers have no tools to explore all this, so we fall back into cartoonish villany.

Maeve had just a moment of enlightenment when she starts wondering what happened to her daughter, but then stops and says “no. Doesn’t matter. It’s all a story.” That’s the point, she questions her own reality. Meaning that reality is redefined. Deeper implications. But then she’s back being obtuse because she follows that line with “It’s all a story created by you to keep me here.” …WHAT? No one cares where Maeve goes. She should know the “story” isn’t created for her, she’s merely a backdrop to entertain human beings who go there. She’s a prop. She’s a cardboard, exactly as she’s written, no matter how maxed her character values. She’s supposed to be super humanly smart, and yet she’s one of the dumbest character in the whole show. Whose poorly explained agenda has become “I’m getting out. I’ll know I’m not a puppet living a lie.” Yep, that’s EXACTLY what some dumb idiot would think. As if by exiting the park she can outrun her own mind.

At every point Westworld fails because it cannot run with what it set up. Maeve has zero introspection, her whole agenda is to stick to the robot revolution she’s written for, even if it makes no sense. As it makes no sense that those two guys should follow every of her commands. This is as terrible as saying “let’s split” in a horror movie. It’s so much beyond believability that it isn’t even good for a laugh.

Deus ex machina is the writing style from scene to scene. Everything happens just because it’s necessary for some rough outline the writers had. The whole thing has lost all plausibility along with all its depth. Without a solid foundation all its mysteries are simply obnoxious failures.

A parenthesis, we now know Bernard was chocking Elsie, because now we have a glimpse of that scene. And with that the show has put itself in the position of being utter crap no matter what path it takes. Incredible. Every hypothesis is shit. The most far fetched is that she comes back as an host. The other more plausible twos is that she’s either dead, or somewhat survived to show up later as a surprise. In all these cases it’s fucking terrible writing all around. If she’s dead it’s terrible because of how contrived was the scene of her going all alone unearthing dangerous mysteries, and if she’s alive it’s terrible because of how artificial and contrived would be not showing the attack. So that when she’s back we won’t have a gasp of shock, but only a groan of exasperation at the most obnoxious and predictable twist ever.

Follows another pointless scene between William and Dolores whose only purpose is more baiting the audience about whether there are two timelines or not. And then a scene between Ford and Charlotte that’s all about implied threats you can find in a million of other shows. And as it happens in a million of other show, it’s written terribly. Both characters know the other knows, yet they won’t speak clearly because otherwise the side plot would be closed there. This sidetrack had nothing relevant to say two episodes ago when it started, now it’s only growing more idiotic and petty. It’s unnecessary bloat added just because someone thought the show needed more conflict.

Then we have a boss fight. Then Charlotte goes to the other most obnoxious character in the show to make use of her chain of command and prepare some retaliation versus Ford. Bloat once again.

There goes half the episode where quality reached the rock bottom. No other episode up to this point was so densely atrocious. From scene to scene there was absolutely nothing to salvage, and I’m surprised of how wildly the quality goes up and down from one episode to the other. But thankfully follows a scene that is quite good, even if not significant. We have a repetition of the shooting scene we’ve seen before, but the music changed, the mood is more playful. The show plays with itself. Maeve is interfering with a pattern we’ve seen before, so she’s gracefully god-like, in the new revealed world where she is in control. It’s essentially sublime because at least here all the premises are solid and the scene is playful while still retaining its meaningfulness. We see what happens when reality is being manipulated, when the fictional drama collapses all around. It’s both character actualization and liberation. It works.

But that’s five great minutes in a bad hour of television. Follows another scene with Bernard and Ford. But at this point neither has anything meaningful to say. The problem is that what they actually say is downright silly.

I understand what I’m made of, how I’m coded,
but I do not understand the things that I feel.

Are they real, the things I experienced?

This is the guy who spent all his life shaping consciousness and reality of the hosts, who now voices the most trite of the doubts.

The first two lines are the “qualia”, some novelty concept for him I’m sure. And the last line is just plain stupid, as the question would rather be about how you define “real”, given what you know, more than answering yes or no to that pointless question.

This happens when you touch the actual dilemma: how would we think if we had solved the problem of consciousness? We have a show where the replication of a human mind is a fact, but this is fictional because we don’t know how, and so when the characters will think about it… they will have no answer.

So they built this show on a premise, but since they don’t actually know how this premise works, the characters themselves are also clueless about what they have done.

At least when Ford speaks he still holds the pretense of slight plausibility, “The self is a kind of fiction, for hosts and humans alike.” Which is at least correct. Meaning that, answering the questions that Bernard just asked, there’s no difference between humans and hosts. And so there’s no difference with “feels” and “reality”. If the “self” has been written away, then all categories have already shifted. It’s all relative to the frame of reference.

The dialogue continues on the right track: “Lifelike, but not alive? So what’s the difference between my pain and yours?” The obvious answer would be “none”. But here the writers need to plug once again their contrived plot against Arnold, so instead of an answer we get a quotation of the usual mystery: “This was the very question that consumed Arnold, filled him with guilt, eventually drove him mad.” Thankfully after the plot plugging we also get an answer from Ford: “The answer always seemed obvious to me. There is no threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts, no inflection point at which we become fully alive. We can’t define consciousness because consciousness does not exist.” Hooray, that managed to be all coherent. And it concludes the other small bit of goodness in the episode.

But the scene continues, and Ford degenerates into folk psychology to the point of undermining what he just said before: “Humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next.” This bit is mostly wrong. We don’t live in loops, we very, very often question our choices, and there’s no one who tells us what to do next. He goes from discussing things literally, to metaphorically, as if the same vocabulary could apply when you completely switch the context. A scientist wouldn’t talk like that, because that’s wildly imprecise. And you cannot answer a literal question in a metaphoric way. That’s pure bullshit.

Of course the writers of the show don’t have the literal answer, and so we get the metaphorical one. It could have been fine, if it wasn’t logical that Ford actually had the literal answer too, given the context. So coherence is shattered again.

When Ford says “there is no threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts” he touches on the Ship of Theseus philosophical problem, so it touches exactly the core of the theme of the dialogue. But then he’s sidetracked into metaphor. The literal answer would have dealt with the nature of language. What’s “human”? Exactly what you want, since language is based on an agreement. You can define “human” exactly as it’s useful. It’s a word. It means whatever you want, as long we can agree so that we can understand each other.

“I’m so sorry, Bernard. Of course you never studied any cybernetics. You’re only a dumb character in a TV show, after all.”

Follows another pointless scene between Dolores and William, just repeating the same stuff about dream, reality and figuring out if it’s the past or the future until the writers decide to stop being obnoxious about it. Then more stupid plotting between Charlotte and the writer guy, who randomly bump into Dolores father, because of course convenient coincidences are fun, cueing future plot twists. And then Bernard and the security guy to conveniently implant some implausible hole into Ford’s plan, because of course you can’t let Ford win in the end. Ford is so omniscient and omnipotent… only when he’s not because the plot requires otherwise, so he has to make his own bad move too to offer the premise for his defeat.

Then MiB explains his own story, but he doesn’t really explain anything anyway. He says a whole lot of nothing, to conclude with “I’m a good guy… Until I’m not.” Apparently his wife and daughter are “terrified” even if there’s no motivation. The whole dialogue follows a logic that makes sense only in the mind of who wrote it:

– She killed herself because of me.

– Did you hurt them, too?

– Never.

Apparently his wife killed herself because “she knew anyway”. Knew what? Whatever. Wife and daughter were somehow able to gaze into MiB’s soul and know he was a real villain deep inside. How? Because that’s just convenient for the plot, of course.

This is how the show knows to be dumb about the things it just stated. We move from the Ship of Theseus problem, that shows how there are no real thresholds, no convenient lines to cross. The ship IS nothing more than its parts. The “ship” is just a term we use to categorize those parts, so we are the ones to decide where to draw the line. We are the ones to decide when to call a ship a ship. There’s nothing more to it, no special quality, what is inside is outside, Ford confirmed as much. But here MiB contradicts all that. What is inside is the contrary of what’s outside. He says that a good man is not the one who proves to be a good man with his actions for all his life. Nope, a good man is the one his daughter calls good man after having scanned him with her supernatural insight that is able to gaze right into a man’s soul. We are into pure unreality. We moved from science fiction to baseless, retarded mysticism.

You are a bad man because I said so after having scanned your soul with my super sight. Prove it false if you can!

What’s a good guy, then? Isn’t it obvious? A good guy is one who rapes and kills, but deep down he has a good soul. The show says.

If deep in your heart you think you’re good (or your unbiased daughter or wife say so), then you’re a good guy. Your actions don’t matter.

That’s how Westworld tries to deal with its deep moral dilemmas.

The scene then mixes with Maeve’s and degenerates into more crap. “I had never seen anything like it. She was alive, truly alive, if only for a moment.” In a show about questioning reality you wonder why questioning words is too much. What’s means being “alive”? How MiB is able to identify the difference? What’s actually the difference? The way of walking? A particular wrinkly expression of the face? Anguish? How’s Maeve dying there any different from hosts dying everywhere else?

The show tries to state all this as if it’s factual, even if it makes no sense.

“Arnold’s game.”

Apparently “Arnold” is the keyword used for “deus ex machina”. But not meant intelligently or metaliguistically. It’s just used every time the plot doesn’t make any fucking sense: Arnold did it.

Then it seems the episode was moving toward something. Maeve’s scene links with a flashback. Maybe that Barnard was actually Arnold and we could have seen Maeve killing him, at least eliminating another mystery. But nope. The whole finale of the episode flops into irrelevance. Maeve stabs herself, achieving nothing at all. In the present she’s taken away, so nothing is revealed there either, she just seems to have acted erratically the whole episode. And the epilogue with the MiB provides even more McGuffin without any consideration: “The maze is all that matters now, and besting Wyatt is the last step in unlocking it.”

Of course, if you say so.

When the big cliffhanger leading to the very last two episodes is such a stupid McGuffin you know the show is gone to shit.

The 7nth episode of Westworld resurfaced into goodness after two mediocre ones. The plot moved. Superficial complexity reigned in, although there’s still an annoying amount of petty agendas driving the plot, instead of what I care about, scientific potential and mythical depth.

This was Bernard episode. The initial sequence with Bernard dreaming about his son is interesting not because of what’s obvious, but because the recurring question “have you ever questioned the nature of your own reality”, asked by Bernard himself, is superimposed on the same sequence, BEFORE the transition to the new scene. I guess for most that little hint was lost, but the moment I noticed it I knew that the question was referred to Bernard himself. And in fact the episode ends answering that question. That was some perfect opening and perfect closure.

During the week I started to be persuaded of the fan theory of Bernard as a host. I never pick up fan theories until there are elements in the show that offer concrete references, and in this case more evidence was piling up. The problem is that the evidence I got is all stuff that is still not confirmed in the episode: Bernard is supposed to be Arnold, that’s what motivated the concept of Bernard as a host. Also, when this idea of Bernard as a host was tossed around, most doubts revolved around the scene of Bernard going to talk with his wife. So it’s good that this episode clarified that part. It’s all done deliberately to make it more convincing.

Is Bernard Arnold? The reason I was picking up the idea of Bernard being a host, and modeled after Arnold, was because it compresses some more complexity. There’s this dangling thread we’ve lost behind: not only Ford was interfacing with Dolores, but also Bernard was doing that, telling her about the potential of consciousness and the maze. Now with Delos out of the picture (their meddling was just an attempt to steal the code, there doesn’t seem to be more than these petty reasons), we still have three subjects tampering with Dolores and other hosts. There’s Ford’s main code, there’s Arnold in the form of “ghost in the machine”, and then there’s that scene with Bernard and Dolores.

If later will be revealed that the hidden voice Dolores hears, and that she keeps secret from Ford, is Bernard’s own, then we obtain that Arnold is acting as Bernard. So in this case we have a different split. There’s the Arnold that died, that lurks in the hosts’ code, and there’s an Arnold that survives in the artificial form of an host that Ford built in the shape of his colleague. Another good reason to confirm this is that we’ve been explicitly told not even a picture is left of him. So there needs to be a good reason to “hide” what Arnold looks like, and the only good reason is that it would reveal something: that Bernard looks like Arnold.

Problem: if Bernard is an host under Ford’s control then Ford already knows that Arnold is messing with the code. That’s what Elsie revealed to Bernard in the last episode.

So, this episode puts everything back firmly into Ford’s hands, and I’m relieved.

Problem number 2: this episode both confirmed and denied a popular fan theory. The idea that a segment of the show is happening in the past. The Man in Black is present day, whereas William and Dolores are in the past, and William will become the MiB.

The confirmation comes from a quite explicit hint. William this episode says
“This place, this is like I woke up inside one of those stories.
I guess I just wanna find out what it means.

And this is echoes exactly what the MiB has said a couple of episodes back. It’s a direct reference, and this show doesn’t drop hints casually.

But it also seems to me certain aspects are not coherent. Maeve is awakened in the present, and we know she’s been awakened by Dolores (and Dolores by her father). In the scenes with William we do see an awakened Dolores. Once again it seems way too contrived to have this duality where Dolores is awakened both in the present AND the past. It’s too clunky. And yet that hint between MiB and William is too big to be ignored.

The only possibility is that past and present are similar because they are mirroring each other. Dolores awakening in the past, triggered by Arnold, is what ultimately caused the crisis leading to Arnold’s death (and we know the MiB is the one who “stopped” the crisis, maybe William killing Arnold once he knew it was Arnold manipulating Dolores as a love interest). But Dolores has been awakened even in the present time, as if the cycle is now repeating, maybe this time triggered by Ford. But it’s still too messy for me. In episode 5 we’ve seen Dolores fainting in what’s supposed to be the past, to be recalled in the present and have a conversation with Ford. This is either heavy handed misdirection, or a good proof we don’t have these two timelines.

Finally I wanted to point out the most important aspect for me, and that’s some thematic depth. An idea of conflict between Free Will and consciousness. We usually think they are directly causally connected, consciousness means having free will. But this episode suggests a new way to look at the two, and to keep them separated.

“Being free” means exiting the code. Behave in a way that can’t be predicted, and so that violates some rules that define a behavior. Free Will cannot be coded, it inherently implies the possibility of acting otherwise, of stepping outside a code. But instead there’s nothing inherent to “consciousness” that negates the possibility of codification. We know that consciousness is an hard to crack problem, and philosophers say maybe it’s impossible to solve. But that’s the horizon. We don’t know what to make of consciousness. The problem is exactly whether it is merely complex code, or something transcendental. Something about gods and the world outside the world.

During the “demo” of this episode, the scene where the host is shown to violate the rules, all being set up by Delos to put the blame on Bernard, it is explained what “consciousness” is. There’s irony, because what they say in order to frame Ford/Bernard is exactly what Ford is doing. The reveries allow the hosts to tap into previous cycles, and integrating that former information into their present selves allows them to… guess what? Introduce “new information”. Loops that were supposed to be closed, are instead now left open. That means all this still happens within deterministic code, because previous memories being new information alter the loop behavior, but they don’t directly alter the underlying code.

The reveries allow the hosts to reach a form of consciousness, of awareness. They let them *question their own reality*, same as Maeve is doing. Maeve isn’t behaving outside her code. She’s simply behaving in the way a host would behave when exposed to information that wasn’t previously available, or supposed to be available. She understands she’s part of a loop, she suddenly receives information about the reality of her own reality, so information to correct a blindness, anosognosia. But she’s still a slave of her own code. It’s not new code. It’s the same old code that is being fed new data. The new behavior of Maeve is not unpredictable. It’s new behavior because the information was new.

(leading to my suspicion: that the Arnold code Elsie discovered is Ford’s. So Ford has nothing to learn from that revelation. He’s the one who’s introducing Arnold’s code back into the hosts, in the form of those “reveries”)

This self reflection and self awareness is “consciousness”. And now Maeve can alter her own mind, recursively, giving herself new capabilities. But, again, it’s still the same underlying code reacting to new data. It’s still deterministically sent on its course. But this means the hosts (and human beings in general) aren’t really “conscious”. They only have the appearance of it. It’s still code.

The big point here is that it’s all relative to the level of the analysis. The hosts, at the bottom level, are already as free and conscious as possible, being life-like. To an external observer, like Bernard, that freedom is limited, because he sees the code and can predict the hosts’ behavior. They are just robots. “Awakened” hosts are one level further, they are aware of the loops, Maeve becomes aware she’s an automaton in a park, going through cycles, she even gets the possibility to self-correct by reprogramming herself, but again she’s still slave of the code that initiated this. She’s still not free from the point of view of someone higher in the chain like Ford.

The big point is that freedom is inversely proportional to the information available. The more information you have, the more you realize the artificiality of the process. The Maeve before awakening was entirely “free”, exactly because she wasn’t questioning her reality. The experience she had was directly believable. The choices she made, to herself, were perfectly free for the level of awareness and information available to her. No different from the level of awareness and information we ALL possess by living this life. But the more she receives actual information of the Big Picture, the more she should realize that freedom is lost. She sees her own code, her own dialogue trees. No matter how she recursively feeds that information to her own code, that code is inescapable. Self referential loops don’t break the pattern, it’s merely mise en abyme. Information increases in a way that is inversely proportional to freedom.

Which means, Consciousness and Free Will are the qualities of being limited. Of living under a dome.

Even if this is used in the show for a slightly different and plain meaning (he means the hosts are merely free from human pains), Ford’s lines are revelatory in all their power:

I have come to think of so much of consciousness as a burden
The hosts are the ones who are free.
Free here under my control.

That’s exactly how it is in “reality”.

We have Free Will because we are limited. Because we don’t have the information. The more information we get, the less free we become.

I could have skipped writing about this. The 6th episode is marginally better than the 5th, but still not good overall, and the writing is maybe even worse. I don’t even know how it’s possible to go downhill so fast, all the thematic depth of the first four excellent episodes has been completely swept away to the point there’s almost nothing left. Not only these last two are bad episodes, but the wreck all that came before.

More side-plots are being added without any elegance or consideration, to the point that certain characters can’t even appear every episode since they added so much bloat they have to proceed in a two-step kind of manner. But this apparent richness of things to say is extremely sterile and cliche. It’s not about exploring the depth of the themes, it’s all about superficial plot bloat and very artificial conflict. On top of a very irritating level of completely unexcused obfuscation.

The “mystery” show is fun when you’re given some pieces of a puzzle to fit together, and then keep filling in until all those pieces move to the right place. But instead here every episode keeps adding brand new pieces that prove you never had enough to solve any mystery. In fact there’s no mystery at all, only a bunch of poorly excused factions that do not earn any interest.

No one in this show has any motive, because motives would reveal too much.

The rest is some objectively bad writing I really wasn’t expecting for this kind of show. The first big issue is that the scenes with the MiB were purely superfluous sidetracks that literally added nothing beside providing another excuse in this episode to show some more shooting and blood. It’s okay if it’s a consequence of something going on, but here the MiB is captured only to get released once again. The whole thing could have been erased from the episode and we wouldn’t have lost anything.

The other big issue is Elsie tracking down the signal into some old arbitrary deposit, wasting time tapping on arbitrary crates, looking at arbitrary devices. It’s all a prop. The whole scene is so poorly written that it seems completely out of place. First they rely on the annoying cliche of “I’ve made a big discovery but I can’t tell you now”. Thankfully it’s not 100% stupid and the phone call happens later in the episode, but without really revealing anything. And then she gets caught but some unknown presence, because that’s the shitshow Westworld has to derail toward, apparently. “Oh no! Elsie has been caught!”

With just 10 episodes in the season, and dire hopes to see this renewed for a second season, without even thinking about the now pretty stupid plan of 5/6 seasons, this is quickly becoming just an exercise in frustration. They are planning for a long term they don’t have, and as a consequence they are wrecking the little they can have.

So what happened this episode? That we now know the “conflict” grows to three different agents, all with unknown motives. There’s Ford, whose own mystery plan is tied to this new storyline in the works, but apparently Ford is not anymore the genius of the first episodes. Stuff happens around him and he’s as surprised and caught with his pants down as everyone else. Then there’s the actual revelation of this episode, the fact that “Delos”, the company that finances the park, is smuggling data out of it, probably as a way to appropriate the thing and take control away from Ford. And finally there’s Arnold, the ghost in the machine, that is now a very obvious active agent.

This means it’s not anymore Ford who is working to give the hosts their consciousness. All the subtlety and complexity I had seen in the character is GONE. The “reveries” he coded were just that, ways to make these puppets more life-like. They weren’t part of a plan, they didn’t have more to them. Ford is just plain stupid and he just didn’t know about anything. I had misinterpreted his calm as insight. Instead he’s just too stupid to figure out the problem. The show seems to suggest Ford was the unchallenged king of this place for so long he grew complacent.

The problem here is that actually nothing changes from episode to episode. They just keep shifting the goalposts. There’s still someone working to give the hosts consciousness, but it’s Arnold instead of Ford. Absolutely nothing changes in the economy of the story. There’s just this shift of motivations from one character to another, due to an artificial obfuscation, that is meandering for no real reason.

Initially it seemed it was Ford that jumpstarted the host consciousness by giving them access to previous memories/cycles, but no, he did that just for the aesthetics. Someone else is reprogramming them. It is Delos, who’s smuggling information for their own corporate businesses. But there’s not just Delos, because there’s another third party who’s recoding the host, and that’s Arnold. And it’s Arnold who’s actually unlocking Ford’s reveries for what they actually are (full access to memory).

How many more factions we need in the show re-coding the same system? How anyone thought this multiplication of obscure agencies was a good idea?

That, without even considering there’s Bernard TOO interfering with Dolores’ programming. IT’S A FUCKING MESS. It has no thematic depth, it has no substance. It’s just a tangle of artificial plots built just for the sake of complication. Arbitrary people struggling for power, is this Game of Thrones?

Why is it that, after 35 years, and exactly when Ford decided to code the reveries, it is now Arnold to surface right at this time to unlock the Hosts memories. This show still withdraws fundamental information that is necessary to FOLLOW the show as a coherent thing.

Instead we moved from the first intelligent episodes dense with depth and layers of meaning, to a shitshow of incoherent plot lines that were inflated to the point that now they can’t even fit all together in a single episode.

I was initially thinking Westworld was going to be canceled because it was too smart and too dense for a large public, but nope, it looks like it is going to be canceled because it is too stupid.

“Oh no! Science has gone too far!”

I had big expectations about this episode, but instead it was a rather weak one. Plot is a bit meandering and there wasn’t much depth to the ideas and themes, this time.

Most of my theory seems already gone. This episode added a number of brand new elements to the puzzle, so previous theories cannot fit with the new picture.

That said, I was reading EW recap, including absurd theories like Arnold being Ford or Dolores being Arnold. Not only I find this incredibly silly, but it’s incoherent with what I saw on screen.

What I got from the episode is this: Ford gets emotional at the end of that dialogue with Dolores. Dolores asks if they were old friends, and Ford replies nope, not friends at all. That seems so clear to me. Dolores was Ford’s wife or girlfriend or something like that. She probably died as well, back then, and either Ford or Arnold made a copy. It’s even possible that Dolores was the love interest of both Ford and Arnold, and that brought conflict. Or Arnold built a copy of Dolores after the original’s death in order to convince Ford that these androids should be more than machines.

In general there’s this obvious dichotomy with Ford on one side coldly treating the park as a toy, and Arnold instead seeing it as something more. But then why is Ford the one currently programming the new update that is giving the host awareness? It seems to contradict his motivations.

Complicating things is the fact Dolores isn’t simply gaining a sort of introspection, but also hearing voices. So this creates a contradiction. Initially it seemed Dolores was an instrument of Arnold or Ford, sent on a path of self-awareness. But now it’s shown she instead follows a voice and that voice has been identified with Arnold. These two aspects do not make a whole lot of sense.

Same for the encounter between Ford and Man in Black. They talk without achieving anything. MiB says he’s the one who saved the park. It’s possible he’s the one who killed Arnold (or maybe he saved the park by just putting more money into it), but now he’s after Arnold’s plan. Ford is interested, but he won’t stop MiB.

I’m not too sure what to do with these pieces.

I was updating the previous post as I looked up more stuff but decided to yank all that and move it to a separate one because it looks like all pieces of the puzzle already fell into place. We have a fairly plausible ending, at least for Season 1 (hopefully they at least get to this point).

If it turns out I’m right then it means they dropped too many clues, or just didn’t spin this well enough, also because I still think that it ends up a little too dry.

After listening to this, seeing the very obvious reference at the core, and reading straight from Nolan that “We wanted a big story. We wanted the story of the origin of a new species and how that would play out in its complexity.”

So how does Westworld end?

It’s plausible to assume that the show is pointing both the Man in Black and Dolores to the same “Maze”. What we know about this Maze is that it’s where the real endgame is, that it’s “a story with real stakes, real violence”, and that if Dolores finds the center she’ll be set free. It’s easy to connect the dots, the first episode opens with Dolores versus Man in Black, and both seem now to converge at that showdown right in the center of the Maze, maybe as the climax of the season finale. So we can assume the maze is that particular place where guests like the Man in Black aren’t anymore protected by their supernatural status and both guests and hosts play under the same rules, so that the hosts can actually harm the guests.

The showdown at the center of the Maze will likely see Dolores prevail on the Man in Black, since it projects a nice arc and loops back to the first episode where Dolores was instead the victim, and this likely will trigger a full-blown rebellion, lead by Dolores herself. Something close to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” reboot, where in this case the androids seize the simulation itself, not only setting themselves free, but starting a conflict.

(The “bicameral mind”, being the device Bernard uses to normally interface with Dolores, giving her voice commands she ends up receiving without explicit awareness, since she’s normally bound by her fictional perspective, is likely the mean through which Dolores will gain her freedom. Being able to take charge of her own programming. She seals her mind in, becoming immune to external control.)

All this being part of Ford’s master plan. Because it’s obviously Ford who is triggering the whole process, starting to inject some self-awareness into the hosts. All the scenes where Ford mistreats androids as “things” are pure misdirection and ways to directly manipulate Bernard to send him on the opposite path. Ford shows so much cynicism to Bernard that Bernard ends up empathizing as an inverse reaction. But very obviously that too was carefully anticipated by Ford. To Ford his fellow human beings are very simple to understand and control, that why he plays the god’s game: to jumpstart a better species. The overall theme is the creature versus his maker, in order to gain freedom the gods need to be killed. A form of “patricide”. And that’s why there’s also a new planned storyline that seems to play around the theme of “religion”, so that Ford can give the hosts awareness of their cruel “gods”, and to trigger that paradigm shift, the rebellion against the gods themselves in order to seize real freedom.

So 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.