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 …

If You Need The Muppets …

I didn’t go to San Diego Comic-Con this year to see the 10-minute pitch reel for The Muppets (styled as “the muppets.” in the graphics package) but, luckily, I didn’t have to. The whole thing is now online for all of us to enjoy:

The whole thing feels a bit more full-featured than the cutdown version of the 1975 pitch reel that Henson did for CBS which you can find on the Season 1 DVD set of The Muppet Show.

There had previously been a trailer of the new series which was, itself, just a cutdown of the new pitch reel.

If that’s not enough Muppet goodness for one week, you could always check out this mashup of Miss Piggy & Rihanna. It’s a little NSFW but probably worth it.

No word if Piggy will be out on tour with Rihanna, but The Muppets (the muppets.) will be on ABC on Tuesdays this Fall. Check your local listings, as they say.

Maybe in the Fall I’ll start blogging about each episode.

Until then …

It Is Known

The wonderful/frustrating/truest aspect of blogging (or any writing for that matter) is this: thinking about doing it and actually getting it done are two very different things.

I’m the undisputed champion of leaving myself the digital equivalent of sticky notes in the form of open browser tabs, half-completed link lists, Evernote notes and ill-conceived blog drafts, but my actual blogging output has diminished (charitably) of late.

I’m not going to try and make up for that egregious silence all at once, but I am going to clear the cache in more ways than one.

Here, then, is a post about Game of Thrones that is both timely – the second season of the HBO series wraps up this weekend – and useful. If you’re a fan of the source material or the TV show, you should find these links right up your alley, whether that’s the King’s Road or leading in to Flea Bottom.

For those looking backward to the book as source material (either because you read some/all or just because you’re curious), here’s an interpretation of all the major houses, their colors, their words, their sigils & their castles

For those looking ahead to tonight’s episode (and perhaps beyond), here’s a handy character chart put together by Paste Magazine at the start of this season. Good for establishing branches of family trees and telling bearded faces apart, especially if you haven’t read the books.

And if you’re the curious type, looking for updates on new characters for next season, it seems like that information is floating around now.

For those who are happy right where they are, thank you very much, here’s The National’s version of “The Rains of Castamere” which played over the closing credits last week. Based on the lyrics found in the book to a song of the same name, it describes Tywin Lannister’s defeat of House Reyne of Castamere. If the show continues for several more seasons, this won’t be the only time that song is mentioned or sung.

Until next season (or I finish another book)!

A Very Muppet Oscars

It’s always amazing to see first-hand just how fast the internet moves.

What started yesterday with Brett Ratner out as Oscars producer and continued this morning with Eddie Murphy out as Oscars host has culminated in the rapid ascension of a pop culture idea like no other: a campaign to have The Muppets host the 2012 Oscars.

Don’t believe me? Just check out Facebook or Twitter and you’ll see just how serious things have gotten.

Articles have been written.
Lists have been listed.
Wiki articles have been proferred.
The story has been storyfulled.

And now an anxious nation waits.

But while we’re waiting, I’d like to take this opportunity to think positively and assume they’ll get the gig. Here, then, are my three suggestions for how The Muppets should light the lights and get things started at the 2012 Academy Awards:

  1. Go BIG (musically)
  2. If viewers and fans fall all over themselves when Neil Patrick Harris hosts an awards show, just imagine how nuts things would get with a Muppet musical number to open the show.

    The Oscars are the ultimate variety show spectacle and The Muppets have that genre nailed. Start the music.

  3. Sweetums as enforcer
  4. Winner’s speech running long?
    Presenter’s jokes falling flat?
    Have Sweetums come on stage and physically threaten a celebrity or two. Problem solved.

  5. Statler & Waldorf
  6. They bring the heckling sensibilities of Ricky Gervais without all the previous awards show baggage. What actor could seriously have a problem being razzed by a Muppet?

    Give them the balcony seats already!

In the very unlikely event this is more than a pipe dream, The Academy should seriously hire Jason Segel to write/produce, have Steve Martin as a special guest star and watch as every Gen X TV set in America tunes in.

You’re welcome!

Separated at Birth: Judge Alex & Rob Riggle

This post is little more than a goof on my normal, regular (and oh-so-serious) Separated at Birth posts.

Running on the treadmill the other day at the gym I noticed the show Judge Alex was on. I wasn’t listening – I had my headphones plugged in to my iPhone – so my first thought was “Is The Daily Show/Saturday Night Live doing some kind of skit about syndicated Judge shows?”

I honestly thought Judge Alex was Rob Riggle. Then again, I only watch TDS/SNL online so I didn’t know Rob was mostly just shilling beer now.

My bad.

Anyhow, here’s a brief look at the “facts” which somehow colluded to cloud my already addled mind:

  Judge Alex (Real name: Alex Ferrer) Rob Riggle
Judge Alex
Judge Alex
Rob Riggle
Rob Riggle
DOB 1960 April 21, 1970
Physique/Presence Imposing Intimidating
Hairline Widow’s Peak Rakishly Fraternal
Military/Police Experience Former Police Officer Lt. Col, US Marine Corps Reserves; currently working with as a public affairs officer NYC Public Affairs

YMMV, but I honestly thought they were one and the same. Hey, they’re both on the TV!

Happy Thursday!

Previous incarnations of Separated at Birth:

Malin Akerman & Jennifer Morrison
Sasha Alexander & Jessica Capshaw
Ron Perlman & Tom Waits
Jeri Ryan & Cynthia Watros
Peter Lorre & Evan Handler
Lauren Ambrose & Hillary Tuck
Chuck Liddell & Sloth Fratelli (John Matuszak)
Dave Foley and Vicent Kartheiser
Javier Bardem & Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Maria Bello and Mary McCormack
Gerard Butler and Clive Owen
Christopher Meloni and Elias Koteas
Lisa Rinna and Nicholson’s Joker
Janine & Mariska