Westworld: Lost and Found
By: Nick Givas”
Spoiler ALERT: This past Sunday I switched on my Apple TV and saddled up to watch the season finale of HBO’s popular new show, Westworld. Episode 10 entitled, “The Bicameral Mind” drew a series high audience of 2.2 Million viewers, and an internet audience of 1.4 million. I had been touting this show for weeks to all my friends. With A-list Hollywood writer and producer Jonathan Nolan at the helm (The Dark Knight, Interstellar) and Anthony Hopkins leading a cast of young talented actors, what’s not to like?
It’s no secret that the Hollywood box office has been suffering these past few years. Surprises like Dr. Strange and Hacksaw Ridge are recent phenomena. Hollywood’s refusal to embrace originality has created a vacuum for more original content. That hole was quickly and happily filled by TV and internet shows. Some of the most titillating dramas and deepest plots come from shows like Mr. Robot, Fargo, Glitch, Black Mirror, and of course Westworld. Not the silver screen.
When the 90-minute episode finally ended, I was left with a feeling of sadness. It took a full day for it all to sink in. We were forced to watch the mental breakdown of the closest thing the show had to a hero (William), and the best actor on the show may be gone for good (Hopkins). However, in stepping back and looking at the entire season, I think HBO has found another winner.
Sadly, some on the internet disagree with me. One article published by the Federalist and written by Sean Davis surmised that Westworld was just “LOST with Robots.” It took continuous shots at the Westworld audience and LOST followers. I felt it necessary to respond, not only as someone who enjoys Westworld, but someone who rates LOST as their #1 show. Despite sharing a producer in J.J. Abrams, most of LOST’s original writing came from David Lindelof (Leftovers, HBO). LOST centered more on spirituality, and viewers could easily separate the heroes and the villains. In Westworld, it’s shades of gray. There isn’t any true hero to root for.
In the opening scene of LOST, a spinal surgeon risks his life to dive into burning airplane wreckage, to save his fellow passengers. The tone was set early on. There was a clear distinction between who was good and who was nefarious. Westworld blurred those lines and never gave such an endorsement to any character. Everyone had an agenda and a secret. This format reminded me less of LOST and was more like an episode of Game of Thrones; Another HBO hit and a fry cry from LOST.
In the latter part of the piece, Davis addresses Westworld’s twists and turns and accuses the showrunners of creating so many possibilities, that nothing matters anymore. I disagree with that assessment and think that the idea of limitless possibilities is what makes Westworld appealing. We even got a quick glimpse of Samurai hosts dueling with one other in the finale. Eastworld anyone???
Another theory posited that Hopkin’s character Ford isn’t dead. He swapped himself out for a host. This is entirely possible, but in no way diminishes the show’s substance. If anything, it would be a masterstroke by a character who was holding the strings the whole time, without us even knowing. Ford wanted to play God and this was his opportunity. Tale as old as time.
Davis goes on to accuse Westworld of not being honest with it’s viewers. His main argument is that everything is open to revision and nothing is concrete. The fact is that if you look at other popular television shows today you would see that by comparison, Westworld has divulged a great deal of information for one season. We were given the identity of the Man in Black, we saw Arnold’s origin, discovered what the maze really was, and the shootout at the end may have been real for all we know. Sure, we might find out something surprising, but it was nothing like the wait for Mr. Robot, or the ridiculous Walking Dead cliffhanger.
As for the show’s impact, I respected Westworld’s ability to elevate the national conversation on the definition of consciousness, and the ethics that come with such a revelation. Not only does it foster healthy debate about a sensitive issue, it also forces the viewer to look deep within themselves and ask tough, but vital questions. Inquiries that will help us make hard decisions in the future. This reality of “hosts” could be seen in our lifetime. Westworld is the ultimate embodiment of the old saying: Life imitates art and art imitates life.
LOST wasn’t so much a social conversation as it was a journey of self-discovery, and a commentary on faith and destiny. Davis speaks of Westworld “falling into the LOST trap” but then brazenly compares LOST’s hero Jack Shepard to Ed Harris’ character of the Man in black. The Man in black was a mixed up, sadistic, soulless man. Jack Shepard was a hero surgeon who never stopped giving to save the other survivors. He even gave his own blood in one episode (Do no Harm, Season 1 ep 20) to one of the injured passengers.
I also took issue with the article saying that LOST baited and switched it’s viewers and didn’t reveal that the characters were dead the entire show. According to LOST actor Matthew Fox, that isn’t true. On Jimmy Kimmel’s “Aloha to Lost” finale special, Fox reaffirmed Kimmel’s theory that everything that happened on the island was real, and that Season 6 had a separate vision of everyone in purgatory, after they had each lived out their lives. There is a faction of the LOST audience that has been convinced that they were slighted and cheated by the writers. However, if you listen closely to the ending of the show, it is explained in full by Jack Shepard’s father played by John Terry.
To say that Westworld has taken a page from LOST and surrendered all meaning doesn’t add up. If anything, Westworld is sounding the alarm. Like all great Michael Crichton stories, it’s showing what happens when humans discover a power they cannot control. In response to the article’s claim that Westworld is not reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s writing, one need only look at the propensity for hubris and mistakes. From the incompetent technicians, to Anthony Hopkins trying to play God, this show screams Crichton. Like all his best stories, Westworld is commentating on technological leaps and the consequences they bring. Considering the quantum leap we have taken in the past 15 years, can you imagine where humanity will be in another 10, 20, 30 years? We will soon have to face the reality of advanced A.I. and it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about the ethics involved in such a discovery.
Lest we forget, Anthony Hopkin’s eloquent episode two speech was about how the park’s guests don’t keep coming back to be told who they are, but to “get a glimpse of who they could be.” We too need to find out who we could be. That sentiment rang true, and made me think that we can always be better. There exists this greater version of ourselves that we are close to becoming, but we just can’t quite make it. It serves as a reminder that there is always room for improvement in the foundation of our character.
LOST and Westworld do have two striking similarities: First, they are alike because they ask the bigger questions. For LOST the questions were about destiny and faith. Whereas Westworld simply asked: What is consciousness? Both delve deeply into the psyche and force the viewer to exercise their mind. For me, that’s the payoff. Not some cheap plot trick or device that is designed to keep me in love with the show. It’s the scene that makes me look pensively out the window and think deeply, that I want on my watchlist. As Ford says, “it’s the subtleties.”
The second major similarity is the backlash these shows received for the direction they chose. This seems to be the major constant that they share. Perhaps their questions went too deep and hit a nerve? I for one enjoy that aspect of dramatic fiction. As do millions of others who will continue to watch Westworld and LOST, for their groundbreaking innovations in entertainment and storytelling.