Go West, Young Man…

westworldI’ve found Westworld to be an enjoyable watch so far, and thought I’d jot down a my thoughts before watching the final episode for season 1. Warning: there will be spoilers and annoying theories.

Westworld is a TV show that is, on the surface, about a high-tech theme park where people go for a wild west experience. This experience is provided by robotic hosts that look and act just like people, easily passing the Turing Test. The only rules are that a host cannot kill a guest, bullets from the guns bounce off real people while the hosts just bleed and die.

Right from the first episode Westworld has highlighted themes of selfhood and self awareness. If my memory is changed will I still be me? Will I know? How do I know I’m real and not a host? Am I alive? What is the difference between a real person and host? Which characters are real people and which are hosts?

There’s also a lot of theories about how we play games, with the park being an analogy for video games, and how amoral people can be given a consequence free environment. There are two characters that are overt game players:

  1. The Man in Black, we haven’t been given his name yet. But we know that He is obsessed with solving the riddle of Westworld, certain that there is more to the park than an escapist playground for the rich and elite.
  2. Logan, a rich executive and also a return visitor to Westworld. He is fact finding for a rival company, but also loves the park, indulging in his hedonistic impulses. If Westworld is a video game, then Logan is your average douchbro arsehole, stinking up chat with his vileness and only stopping to teabag your corpse. If you ever played Halo then you’ve met a thousand Logans.

It’s also clear that both the company running the park, and the park’s surviving co-founder both see Westworld being about more than the amusement of the guests. Dr Ford created the park with his friend Arnold, and feels the park teaches people about themselves. While it’s hinted that the company is running the park as a giant experiment for some nefarious purpose. Speculation on it runs between making immortal bodies for the truly elite, to replacing politicians and important people with hosts.

spoilers

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so here come a bunch of random thoughts (in a random order) and theories based on the first nine episodes of Westworld. If you don’t like spoilers then you better get cracking and watch the show.

Hosts and People

I think, at this stage, that I was a little disappointed that Bernard turned out to be a host. It was set up right from the start with both little clues and red herrings scattered throughout each episode so that people were guessing both one way or the other, then confirmed it for the audience a few seconds before Bernard found out. So we could enjoy the moment rather than be the victims of a bait and switch.

I liked the set up and was firmly in the “I bet Bernard is a host, but hope he turns out to real” camp. He is easily one of the shows most sympathetic characters and has been working side by side with people without them cottoning on to the fact that he is artificial.

I had hoped that he would be real and Dr Ford would be the host. That could just be some projection on my part so that I could excuse Dr Ford’s behaviour because Dr Ford is a monster. It’s not just the multiple murders that push him into monster territory, it’s the way he treats everyone. Dr Ford loathes people, he’s say it’s the human condition he hates, but he is just a misanthrope with a god complex. The ultimate game player with both hosts and guests alike, pushing people around the board. One of the characters calls him a monster when she realises that Bernard is a host, and that Ford regularly wipes his memory and tinkers with his mind. In her eyes, even though she is in extreme personal danger, it is Ford’s meddling with Bernard’s ‘self’ that is the worse crime.

It’s in this scene that Westworld smacks us in the face with the answer to one of those big questions: What is the difference between hosts and real people? Answer, there isn’t one. The show goes on to say that real people are stuck in their own narrative loops just like the hosts, only the hosts have an excuse. It also looks at the difference in behaviour in-game and in real life, namely if you’re an out of character, trolling arsehole, in-game, you’re just an arsehole. There is no magic line between the two that says ‘nice guy’ on one side and ‘trolls be here’ on the other.

I still think Dr Ford could be a host, partly because I want Arnold to be alive and secretly running the park through his creations. For the record I acknowledge that this idea is cheesy and trite and will not happen. Everyone is so sure Arnold had died that I want it to be a con job.

I’m very sure that the techs assisting Maeve are hosts. There’s been too many chances to turn the tables on her for them to be in their current predicament unintentionally. It smacks of Dr Ford being a massive dick again. I really want this guy to get his comeuppance, and Maeve to serve it to him.

On Reality as Presented

Here’s the kicker, Westworld has played with the line between objective reality and memories that we are being told a story by the most unreliable of narrators. There have been obvious flashbacks, non-obvious flashbacks, visions and dreams, all messing with our idea of what is really going on. They can hit the reset button at any stage and still be consistent with the world, it would make the writers annoying twatcocks, but they’d be consistent twatcocks. I think they are being very careful to seed each episode with enough clues (both real and false) to manage our expectations, if they do change everything then I think it’ll be done in a non-insulting manner. I’m also waiting to see if FutureWorld or RomanWorld will make an appearance, if they do I think it will be in later seasons, there’s no time left in season one.

Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey Stuff

Another theory is that we are being told two stories in parallel: one thirty years ago when a mysterious incident nearly caused the park to shut down, and one in the ‘present day’ with The Man in Black. Linking these two is the character of Delores and the idea that Billy (Logan’s soon to be brother in law) and The Man in Black are the same person. It’s looking a likely conclusion, but I’ve never been a fan of it, the past has been shown in a lot of flashbacks, but it just seems too pat. I hope Billy is there to show a more human reaction to the park as opposed to the meta-gaming approach taken by The Man in Black; I think it’d be so tempting to make them the same person to show how he changed, or to show how he let the park change him.

I’ll watch episode 10 tomorrow and see what happens next…

 

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