Make no mistake here: I am still definitely a fan of HBO’s Westworld. I think it’s pretty darn good television science fiction, but I do recognize that it’s not great TV SF. It is a bit niche, both as SF and as a puzzle box, and this season seems to suffer some poor (or at least odd) thinking along with some apparent style-over-substance decisions.
But I’m still a fan; I’ll be back to watch season three. In 2020. If I’m even still alive. (I’m old enough for that not to be a given, although it never really is.) I’ve seen a lot more negative coverage this season (generally well-deserved, I think), and I’m hoping it is taken to heart and results in a better third season.
In this last Westworld post (for now) I offer some general reflections and observations of the series so far.
Let me start by saying the show is just plain fun to watch! The actors are outstanding; the photography is beautiful; the music is tasty and delightful; and the story is intriguing, if not frequently challenging; so there is a great deal to enjoy.
(Some may not care for the challenge of Westworld, but as a life-long SF fan, I thrive on fiction that keeps me on my toes. Making the reader figure out what’s going on is standard fare for lots of SF.)
Part of the problem may be that season one was very well told, and that makes some of the apparent storytelling differences in season two stand out more than they otherwise might.
And even despite some disappointments with regard to world-building and storytelling (disappointments which may come from high expectations), few shows show as much attention to detail, as much depth, or as much thought about themes, as does Westworld.
Even when it annoys or disappoints, it still provides a lot to think and talk about, and that’s pretty awesome for any TV show!
The show has key themes about what it means to be human (versus a “machine”), about memory, and about free will. (Ironically, lately I’ve been reading about free will and compatiblism. Might be a post coming about that.)
There is also an underlying recurring theme of lost love:
- Arnold loses his son Charlie.
- Robert Ford loses Arnold.
- Akecheta loses Kohana (but gets her back).
- Maeve loses her daughter (and Clementine).
- Akane loses Sakura.
- Dolores loses Teddy (but gets him back in S3?).
- Bernard loses Elsie (but recreates her in S3?).
On the other hand, in Westworld, death isn’t necessarily permanent…
It seems pretty clear we’ll see Maeve again and very likely Hector, Armistice, and Hanaryo. (Perhaps it is through Hanaryo that we return to Shōgun World.) On the other hand, Maeve’s daughter seems out of the picture, so one hopes Maeve will move on to new things. (Maybe she becomes a host-freeing resistance fighter in the parks.)
It’s certainly possible for Dolores to recreate Teddy. She uploaded the current version to The Sublime, but might she have copied his original self from the Forge? She could also recreate him from memory as she did Bernard. Perhaps Dolores will be reunited with her love.
It’s equally possible Bernard might recreate Elsie from his memories of her. You’d think he’d like a few friends on Team Bernard.
Angela probably blew up her pearl along with the Cradle, and poor Clementine’s mind is probably too damaged by now (although you never know; her pearl is intact).
It seems we’ve seen the last of Akecheta and Kohana. Apparently “The Sublime” is off in encrypted digital heaven and out of our reach. RIP, the tortured Teddy Flood.
It remains to be seen if we return to Shōgun World, and if we do whether we learn more about Akane and Musashi.
Also left to explore: The Raj and the other two (unknown) parks.
Cool symmetry: Bernard kills Dolores (shooting her in the head) in the Forge’s control room. Later in the same episode, in the same place, Dolores returns the exact favor.
Those two generally have a symmetry: Arnold created Dolores. Dolores created Bernard. Then Dolores recreates Bernard on the mainland, so it looks like he owes her one!
Consider: Dolores and Bernard; Yin and Yang; Joker and Batman!
The “books” in the library were cool, each a human algorithm. But why were they all different? They’re just digital containers. Does the book’s appearance reflect its contents? Kind of like its file icon?
Really cool that the book “text” looked like the “code” from a player piano roll.
Almost certainly bullshit that the human mind can be reduced to, what was it, ten thousand of lines of algorithmic code? (OTOH, there is an interpretation that does make sense. Ordinary compression of neural networks can result in surprisingly small data packages.)
The second season is called “The Door” (the first was called “The Maze”), and Bernard walks through a real door to the real world at the very end. Kinda cool!
There was also, of course, the virtual “The Door” the hosts walked through to get to “The Sublime.” (That, sadly, was a lot less cool.)
Ford told William to “find The Door,” which apparently is the big door leading to the Forge. Or maybe a metaphorical door to his soul or something. It’s not real clear what William’s “The Door” is.
(Heh, I just finished re-watching the second season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, in which Dirk is told to: “Find The Boy!”)
Maeve killed plenty (of hosts) and altered others, so she’s also guilty of making choices for others. And she really doesn’t seem, for all her upgraded smarts, to have thought the daughter thing through at all.
Despite the loss of her daughter being her start to awakening, and despite knowing it was all a story, she spends the entire season trying to regain what she lost.
And she fails! (Which isn’t poignant so much frustrating.)
An alternate read is that she was obsessed with keeping her promise to keep her daughter safe. On that account, she succeeded!
Ultimately Maeve’s story was something of a detour from a story about robot awakening, robot uprising, and robot free will. One of the best characters from season one was ill-used in season two.
It’s disappointing they didn’t make her more of a force in the main story. Her small participation in the escape to The Sublime was especially disappointing.
I was hoping for more when Ford unlocked Maeve’s core permissions. As it happened, they only helped her obtain repair and a bullish escape.
I was really expecting to see her do more at the Valley Beyond. A showdown between her and her gal pal Clementine. I so wanted to see Maeve redeem poor Clementine after all she’d been through.
All she ends up doing is yelling, “Run!” and briefly holding back a crowd until her daughter escapes. And she and Clementine get shot. Disgraceful.
Lee Sizemore’s final sacrifice was stupid. Stylish, for sure, very stylish. And great how he got to finally use that speech he wrote for Hector. But it was stupid.
Lee is a department head, so surrendering to security and interacting with them would have delayed them far longer than his getting shot. That only bought Maeve and the rest a handful of seconds.
This is exactly what I mean by style-over-substance (which I generally loath, if that’s not clear; it’s shallow). It was a cool scene from a certain perspective, but from all other viewpoints it was idiotic.
Some have commented on Lee’s fairly easy and quick conversion from callous and arrogant to empathetic and humble. Maybe, but who knows what events in his history led him to this tipping point.
It’s also possible he was suffering from exhaustion, lack of sleep, and lack of food. (I still have no idea what he ate all during that time.)
I’m basically okay with his arc. And as one of the few humans on the show (along with Elsie), I can’t help but have more interest in his character. Even Charlotte Hale is more interesting than most hosts.
Speaking of weird deaths, Juliet’s suicide is another script-driven idea that doesn’t make a lot of sense when examined. On the flip side, clinical depression is no joke, and we might assume Juliet, Logan, and their dad, all suffer from mental illness (which, I believe, can run in families).
(Maybe it was a mistake to make James Delos Subject #001. Maybe the reason his mind failed is that it wasn’t a good mind to copy in the first place.)
Mental illness aside it’s hard to explain Juliet’s suicide. An extremely wealthy woman from a family that runs a huge corporation finds she’s married to, not just an asshat, but a probably psychopath.
The obvious answer, especially given she has hard evidence, is divorce and doing what Emily said she intended: exposing him.
You don’t just decide to kill yourself (leaving a daughter you do love to his hands). You do something about it.
But I guess you got Shakespeare’s Juliet, so this one just had to kill herself.
What was the point of Shōgun World? Sweetwater East was cute and cool fun, but it was also a detour. And, thing is, when you only have ten episodes, spending one of them on a scenic detour might not be the best choice.
(If anything, I may be building an argument that ten episodes wasn’t nearly enough to tell the story they wanted to tell. Perhaps a lot of the bad we’ve seen comes from biting off more than they could chew.)
I’m really puzzled by the worker bees and security people. Hosts or human? While it hasn’t been made absolutely clear, the show seems to lean towards them all being human. But that raises so many questions for me…
Like the attack on the fort. If the QA guys are humans, presumably with security training, that attack was stupid beyond words. The question is whether this stupidity exists in the production crew, the writers, or should actually be assigned to the characters.
But it’s illogical in terms of story and character for the stupidity to be in-universe, so the stupidity almost has to reside in the writing or production.
The only other explanation is that they’re all hosts and limited in their ability due to their programming. It also explains why they die so casually.
Given how the show seems to lean — Stubbs being a host is a secret; Felix and Sylvester didn’t see “The Door” — it seems like a storytelling fail, but maybe it’s intentional and the message is that humans really, really suck.
The door to The Sublime was lame. It looked like a stage play set piece.
And its whole existence is a big question. Why did it exist? (See Yeah, But!)
The hosts who made it had their minds wiped. Reminded me of my dad who thought that reading a file off a disc removed it from the disc until you saved it.
You wouldn’t normally assume copying the host mind would remove it from the pearl. (Any more than Charlotte Hale copying the magic key to Peter Abernathy should have removed it from the Delos servers.)
Obviously it was intentional to prevent Delos from using those hosts — they truly escaped. Ford (through Bernard) set it up that way.
It doesn’t quite explain why those one-third hosts had pearls that appeared “virgin” to the Delos techs. “Wiped” seems more likely. (Especially given how Host Brains probably work.)
There was a lot of biblical imagery this season, and it all seems to have amounted to very little. There didn’t end up being anything particularly biblical in the arc of the season.
That “Last Supper” configuration with Maj. Craddock and his men, was extra double-plus gratuitous. Given the semantics of the scene, it’s use wasn’t just gratuitous, it was just flat-out nonsensical.
I had hopes the obviously coming flood would be biblical, but that turned out to be, not just ultra-low-budget and lame, but pointless. The flood didn’t really accomplish anything.
It does seem like a lot of complaining, doesn’t it. But the show is still so much better, so much more challenging, than most of the TV fluff, that it still comes out a winner.
At least to me. Viewership suffered this season, and I’ve read many comments to the effect that people are done with the series. Having to wait two years doesn’t help.
Having had to wait two years and then getting ten episodes that didn’t quite seem to live up to expectations didn’t help.
Well, it is what it is.
I’d far rather have it in the world that not!