Westworld: Death & Consciousness

There’s a line in The Dark Knight – co-written by Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan – that I find very illuminating when thinking about Season One of Westworld:

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight

Something about Harvey Dent’s turn of the phrase rings true to several characters in Westworld, notably host Dolores & Teddy but also The Man in Black aka William/”Billy”.

As was revealed in the Season One finale, William/”Billy” is actually The Man in Black and has spent 30 years searching at first for Dolores, then for himself, and finally for the deeper mystery of the park. He assumes the deeper meaning is contained in Arnold’s code – within the maze – but, as Ford and a young host point out to him, the maze was never meant for him.

William learns early on, in the absolute timeline of the show, that Dolores is special and may, in fact, be conscious. What he does with this knowledge is feed his own inner bloodlust in a vain attempt rescue Dolores. The part of William’s transformation I find most interesting is that, after initially rejecting Logan’s appeal to explore the darker potential choices he could make, he embraces the role of villain. Having been unable to fulfill the role of the hero, he takes up the mantle of the villain in the hopes of liberating the hosts somehow by solving Arnold’s maze.

By his own admission William states that the lack of skin in the game for the guests – their inability to die at the hands of the hosts – is a fatal flaw. It would be a mistake to dismiss this insight out of hand, since I believe it informs both Ford’s conception of how the hosts achieve consciousness, but also how his (Ford’s) new narrative exploits this fact. 

I think Ford realizes soon after Arnold is killed that he too must play the role of the villain. He must subject his creations to a Sisaphayen underworld from which they cannot escape, in order to build up a reservoir of suffering upon which Dolores or Teddy or Maeve can call upon when they are allowed to remember. 

I’ll go one step further and ask what if, instead of a generic backstory of pain, loss or grief, the only thing that triggers consciousness on the part of hosts is killing? This could happen gradually due to their own repeated deaths – either as a part of a narrative or from a guest – or it could be sped up as they are allowed to remember atrocities they were made to commit or were done to them. 

In this way I think Ford has always been playing his own part in the meta-narrative, stringing William along just enough to feed William’s perverse need to find the secrets of the maze through repeated, brutal killings. Ford needed a human being to play such a villainous role – the contemporary counterpart to Arnold’s Wyatt – to be the violent tool, doing the work of planting in the hosts’ minds the seeds of suffering that might sprout in to consciousness.

We, the viewer, are eventually told that consciousness is less like a ladder or formal hierarchy and more like a maze. It is not something that comes directly from external stimuli, or bootstrapping, or backstory but from introspection. But, as Bernard rightly asks in the penultimate episode, “How can you learn from your mistakes if you can’t remember your past?

Ford’s answer, in as much as he gives one, is that “the divine gift doesn’t not come from a higher power, but our own minds“. This is the lesson of the maze, that the hosts must look inward to find themselves. In Dolores’ case (and I assume all others) the hosts would have to hear themselves and not Arnold or Bernard or Ford. 

Maybe I haven’t connected the dots well enough, but I firmly believe that Dolores coming to terms with her own ability to kill (Arnold initially and, later, Ford) despite the programming of her personality is the truest test of humanity, if not consciousness. We must all recognize in ourselves the potential for violence and evil. 

William, a human guest and not a host, is the perfect embodiment of this concept. He resists succumbing to the baser desires the park has to offer for a while, only to do a complete transformation in an attempt to find a deeper external meaning by becoming the instrument of death incarnate. Ironically, he becomes more like a robotic killing machine than Hector in the process. He doesn’t even fully understand what he’s killing for anymore, just the promise of the maze.
Dolores’ killings play out in the opposite fashion. Instead of having some external desire that forces her to kill or sentences her to death, all she has are the killings and the death that have been foisted upon her, and she has to work her way inward to make sense of the senseless. 

I don’t know if I’m making sense or not, but William thought all that externalized violence would set him free (just like so many other guests). They thought they’d find themselves, and maybe some did, but only after they considered how acting so savagely could change them, not by blindly continuing to kill without consequence.

Dolores can’t kill – or is it least very limited in her ability to mete out violence – instead she is forced to suffer it. But once she’s allowed not only to remember it, but to consider for herself how she would use it, she becomes self aware. 

Ford obviously expects her to become “alive” and chose to kill him, but this is less narrative and more simple, human manipulation. Any rational, sane being who had been kept and exploited in this manner would choose to punish their oppressor. It’s the final, violent act that signifies true humanity (in all its ugliness) that differs from the performant simulacrum of the reveries. 

So Ford’s plan, or my estimation of it, is the violent mass uprising we begin to see as the episode ends. Whether or not all those hosts fight their way to true consciousness or not, I don’t know. I only hope that Bernard, Maeve and Teddy are able to join Dolores.

I’ll end with this last bit of foreshadowing, in the form of the phrase several characters spoke this season:

“These violent delights have violent ends.” – Friar Laurence, Romeo and Juliet

It’s interesting to note that the character of Friar Laurence drives a good bit of the narrative in Romeo and Juliet. Some of his words and actions, like that quote, foreshadow the tragedy that unfolds in that story. 

It’s a dire warning to the Delos board as Dolores opens fire upon them.

It’s the epitaph for William, 30 years too late. 

It’s the promise to Dolores that her own redemption may come from accepting that she’ll have to become the thing she has fought against in order to find her freedom.

I think I’ve fried my own brain enough for one day. I can’t tell if I’m conscious or not. ;-)

Feel free to leave a comment to agree, disagree or just plain +1 the effort. 

Until next season …

Lost: The End

So here it is.

Finally.

The End.

I’ve been putting off writing this post at least in part because it signifies not only the end of the series, but a significant portion of my blogging activities.

For the better part of the last 5 years (I didn’t start blogging about individual episodes until the Premiere of Season 2) I’ve taken my Thursday (or, as it ended, Tuesday) nights collecting my off-the-cuff results and putting them out there for the world to see, share & comment upon.

It’s been very gratifying and enjoyable, but at times it was also a lot of work.

More often than not, I’d have a long list of comments and theories waiting in my inbox the morning after.

I became an addict of Lostpedia, Dark UFO, FYL, Doc Jensen, the official Lost podcast and several of their alternate reality games.

I got LOST and I loved every minute of it.

Now some folks are using the LOST metaphor to completely justify the series finale, The End. I’m not going to be quite so gung ho, but I did enjoy it very much. It was a fitting EMOTIONAL ending if perhaps not the most INTELLECTUAL ending that many folks anticipated.

First, I’ll dispense with my minor quibbles:

  • Purgatory
  • Using Season 6’s Flash Sideways storyline as a weigh station for our Losties as they moved between their (mostly) Island-based lives and the afterlife was brilliant in one sense. It provided a nice cover/thumbed-nose to all the haters who speculated that the Island itself was Purgatory.

    Well played, Darlton!

    But exactly what relationship did that reality have to the overall story arc of our Losties?

    Some have theorized that each character gave themselves the kind of “life” in the Flash Sideways that they thought they deserved.

    Others (myself included) thought it was another parallel universe/reality/timeline that would eventually merge with the Island storyline.

    Darlton had always said that this wasn’t an alternate/alternative to the Island, but something equally “real”. If that’s the case, if the exposition there served to greater explain our characters, I’m still going to need some time to unravel all the little bits we learned about everyone.

    I’m actually undecided about whether or not we can learn anything new about each character from this Flash Sideways if, ultimately, it was only a rest stop between Life and Death.

    Like I said, a quibble.

  • Eko, Michael, Walt
  • I understand the realities of making a television, I honestly do, but I really wish we’d gotten more closure on the fates of some of the first two season’s BEST characters.

    I could care less about these questions:

    What was Walt’s power?
    Why did Smoky kill Eko?
    Why is Michael stuck on the island as a whisper?

    But I would’ve liked to have known just a little more about those connected to them: Yemi, Vincent the Dog (who looks to have lived out his life with Rose & Bernard [though he wasn’t in the church] & Susan.

    Again, minor nitpicks, but I wanted some of the closure for those outside of the church group.

    We can discuss Ben not entering the church, but I think that’s just an indication that he wasn’t ready (or someone he was waiting on) to move on.

    And I realize that Eko’s exclusion was contractual in nature: they didn’t want to pay him a king’s ransom.

  • ABC’s added confusion
  • I also understand that promo departments have to drive viewership, but I think part of the blame for fan confusion/backlash about the ending stems from the heavily promoted axiom of “answers” as opposed to “closure” or “goodbye” that would have been more in keeping with the timbre of the finale episode and, ultimately, the series overall.

    Phew. What a wreck of a run-on sentence.

    Also, they truly fucked up airing the beach view of the plane crash post episode/over the credits.

    Many mistook this to mean that the Island was not real (contradicting Christian Shephard) and thought everyone died in the initial crash. Not so.

    Others thought this meant Ajira 316 crashed a second time. Also not true.

    ABC had to issue a press release explaining themselves, but they really did marr the ending and mess with the perceptions of the fans, many of whom were looking for some kind of Deus Ex Machina to tie up everything. [Sidebar: the mere fact that episode 19 of Season 1 is named Deus Ex Machina should have tipped you off that maybe they were going to toy with questions & answers a wee bit]

    I think what we got was much more satisfying, gratifying and respectful than Desmond’s Electromagnetism, Faraday’s “Constant” or Mother’s “Light” explanation could ever have been.

    That said, I still want to know where Christian’s body was after the 815 crash. ;-)

For those that want closure/exposition/explanation, let me direct you to 2 minutes, 50 seconds of awesome, narrated by nerimon, who closes thusly:

“For me, Lost is a show that isn’t about the story, it’s about how the story is told.”

Amen, brutha.

We had flashbacks, flash forwards, flash sideways, time travel and all things Desmond. We got to see the survivors and their antagonists/protagonists through a huge number of lenses and told to divine (pun intended) our own truth about their natures and ultimate destiny for ourselves.

Brilliant!

On the flipside, there are unanswered questions, which I’m happy to discuss, if that’s the kind of thing you’re in to.

My own take?

I’ll just put out a couple of though-starters:

  • Jacob::Old Testament God; Smokey::Satan; Hurley::Jesus Christ/New Testament God
  • YMMV, and I know there’s enough religion going around on LOST to start our own denomination, but that’s my reading on things.

    Add in Adam & Eve in the cave (actually Mother & Smoky) and maybe the island is some kind of Garden of Eden, minus original sin.

    I don’t know. Makes my head hurt.

    Maybe the Island is just a MacGuffin after all, and I’m OK with that.

    I even thought Mother’s “Light” explanation of things was a bit too squishy for me. Better to leave those Midi-chlorians undefined, IMHO.

  • The symmetry/asymmetry of Lost’s storytelling
  • The first decade of the 21st century gave us both 24 & Lost, two shows that played with the rules/mores or TV storytelling like no other shows had done before.

    While it infuriated new viewers, frustrated current viewers and sometimes confused the Hell out of both camps, the circular, flashing, interwoven storylines are what made LOST great.

    I looked forward every week to reading blogs for Easter Eggs, book & music references and the subtle, hidden connections between each and every character.

    If Jack’s “Live Together, Die Alone” statement was a rallying cry for the Losties, the finale showed us that each one had to “die alone” so they could eventually “live (forever) together”.

    I’d still like to know what happened to Hurley, Ben, Desmond & Penelope after Jack closed his eyes, but that’s a different story.

    Did Sawyer really reform after Ajira 316?
    Did Kate go back to a life of crime (or was she captured) [she survived TWO plane crashes!!!]?
    Did Lapidus get a hero’s welcome?
    Did they start their own “Ajira 6” backstory to explain everything?

    As you can see, my questions aren’t about Dharma (science) or Others (faith) since, to me, those groups were just stand-ins (at times) for various sides to the Island argument.

    Jacob v. Smokey
    Locke v. Jack
    Ben v. Widmore

    All of them explorations of what we saw back in Man of Science, Man of Faith back in Season 2.

    In the end, I got as LOST as the characters, and LOST *in* the characters, as I ever wanted to be.

    No explanation of time travel or the numbers or the light or the hatches would ever be as satisfying as the thought that what mattered, to those people, was spending eternity together based on a few hundred days together (plus three years) on an Island.

    MacGuffin or not, I’m happy that plane crashed and even more happy that the story was told (and eventually ended) with us winding our way back and forth over times and stories to a place where we’d all have to sit back and reflect on what happened.

    I’ll leave you quoting the inimitable Bud Cadell:

    Sorry friends, but the writers didn’t ‘waste’ your time, that community you’re griping to is what they offerred you.

All of this here (and maybe even the show itself) was just my two cents. Agree or disagree, like or dislike, I’ve enjoyed the journey and your company on it.

If you ever lurked or commented or linked, please stop by in the comments and say hello and/or goodbye.

I’ll see you in another life, brutha.

:-)

Lost: What They Died For

First off, here’s a fan-made trailer for the series finale. Much better than the promo we got at the end of tonight’s episode.

Here are my very brief thoughts on tonight’s episode, What They Died For:

  • Choice
  • Now we hear it straight from the horse’s mouth: Jacob wants the candidates to choose who among them will take his place.

    If Lost is about nothing else, it’s the choices we make as self-defining versus the immutability (destiny) of some outer appearance of the self.

    Good times and I think we’ll see even better choices this Sunday in the finale.

    Which leads to …

  • Secrets & Grudges
  • I loved the fact that Widmore trusted Smoky enough to whisper in his ear almost as much as I really loved Ben shooting him just to get even vis-a-vis Penny & Alex.

    Just when you think all the still-living Losties have somehow learned their lesson and grown personally, Ben goes back to being Ben, at least on the island. His statement to Smoky about “who else do you want me to kill” was almost as chilling as him calling himself Henry Gale that first time. I didn’t trust him then and I don’t trust him know. Love him though!

    Also, interesting to note that even in the revelations of both Smoky and Jacob, there’s still some level of uncertainty. Neither one is omniscient, just very, very powerful. I think there are still some compelling secrets to be revealed and at least one more double-back by one of the main players, likely Desmond.

    Des’ part in the flash sideways is brilliant, by the way. He’s become so much more than that button-pushing, sweaty, Widmore lackey. Happy to see him keep pulling secrets out of his pockets and hopefully that continues on the island in the finale.

  • Regret
  • Jacob seemed to share some regret about “creating” Smoky (Very God and the Devil, don’t you think?

    Widmore seemed at least a little penitent for playing his prior part in the island’s history (not that it stopped Ben from taking his revenge).

    Sawyer regretted the choice (see above) he made about the bomb that ultimately led to Sayid’s death.

  • Duty
  • One of the most under-referenced themes of the show (or maybe I’m just tone-deaf) is folks doing things “for the island”.

    I think a lot of those impulses come from a sense of duty and, some might put it, purpose.

    Good to see Jack drink from the well of knowledge (Adam eating the apple?) and “be like Jacob” but also fun to see Ben accept his role.

    Off island, I really dig Desmond getting the band back together and Hurley as one of the major driving forces. Weird to think that flash sideways Hurley would accept leadership more than island Hurley. Would’ve bet on the other way around. Good on ya, writers.

Other tiny bits:

Good to see Ana Lucia, but now I’m curious how Sawyer gets roped in. Maybe he goes to the concert with Miles after all.

Also happy to see Mira Furlan (Danielle) and Ben get domestic.

Here’s some other random links:

On Lost & Creativity. A great read.

I think I’ll need this t-shirt once I’ve seen the series finale this weekend.

Or maybe I’ll bid on a prop in this auction.

You should also check out The Muppets visiting the production offices of Lost, especially The Swedish Chef. This is “Mostly Muppet” after all. ;-)

Until Sunday!

Lost: Ab Aeterno

Tonight’s episode of Lost, Ab Aeterno, was unique for this season in a couple of ways: first, it was told in the familiar “flashback” style (being almost completely comprised of one, long flashback) and it featured Richard Alpert, who hasn’t been featured previously.

A little Latin lesson to begin: Ab Aeterno is “from the eternal” or, literally, “from the everlasting” or “from eternity”.

What I saw:

  • Guyliner
  • In 1867? Seriously, Lost?

  • Hell?
  • I don’t buy that the island is Hell, just as Purgatory has been debunked. Jacob dunked Richard in the water repeatedly to prove he was still alive and, save for Locke & Sayid, no one is dead (or undead).

  • Magnus Hanso
  • Why did the prisoners need to speak English?
    Were they really headed to the New World?
    Was the shipwreck the event that spurred the creation of the Dharma Initiative or were the seeds of that organization planted before The Black Rock sailed?
    Who else feels vindicated in seeing Richard on The Black Rock?

What I think:

  • The Island as Garden of Eden
  • That’s not exactly right, but Jacob as some mixture of Old & New Testament God and The Man in Black as (obviously) The Devil makes a ton of sense.

    The title of the episode also speaks to a place that is out of time or that has existed since before time.

    There’s death on The Island, so we have Original Sin and a state of being after the Fall, but it’s apt enough.

    Maybe the better analogy is a bottle universe or a bottle city (Supergirl fans, unite!)

  • End Game/Oz
  • I’m more convinced than ever that our characters eventually end up in the Flash Sideways. I think that the “reset” button worked in one sense but the consequences of that action – getting out of the Yin/Yang “game” between Jacob & The Man in Black has its consequences.

    I think that, eventually, folks will have one last shot at choosing their fate (free will) before the realities synch up anyway (destiny).

    Clear as mud? Good!

I had some other thoughts, but I’ve forgotten them (and my notes suck).

Curious to hear what you think in the comments.

Until next Tuesday!

Lost: Lighthouse

Down and dirty tonight, folks, until the Producers or ABC’s promo department start answering questions. I want to be led like Hurley was tonight, not left to stare at the ocean:

Things we ALL saw:

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Actually the annotated version. Anyone read it?

    Not the first time.

  • MacCutcheon Whisky
  • In Christian’s study.

    Not the first time.

  • 108 Degrees
  • Bets on who(m) that might be? Desmond Hume, perhaps?

    Not the first time.

Shots in the dark:

  • Seven Wonders of the Island World
  • We’ve already seen a Temple, a Colossus and a Lighthouse (tonight). Was the greenhouse/Orchid Station analogous to the Hanging Gardens?

    Bone up on your Seven Wonders and offer up your thoughts on whether we have seen/will see three remaining wonders.

  • Jack’s Forgetfulness
  • Is it Amnesia?
    Is he a different Jack from a different time-stream/reality?
    Who is David’s mother? Sarah?
    Is David actually Jack’s son or the result of Sarah’s affair?

  • Claire is the new Rousseau
  • I don’t know that I’ve thought this through the whole way, but maybe Rousseau was one of the Man in Black’s pawns too?

    I also think that Jacob’s statements about Jack – “You’ve Got What It Takes” – are what even the island version of Christian (also MiB-controlled?) couldn’t tell Jack.

    Still don’t know what my endgame is here, but I like the connections and contradictions Season 6 is showing us here.

I have a few other half-thoughts, but I’m blurry and baby-tired from the three-week-old holed up in our bedroom.

Pray for me.

I really want to hear what you think. Leave a comment.

Until next week!