Westworld: who cares about the man in black?
Recently the latest craving in series seems to be the western-scifi Westworld, where, in the not too distant future, rich people can go to a place that seems to be a perfect copy of the wild west, populated by friendly androids called hosts. Here, the visitors can watch, fight, screw or chat with the locals (the hosts), or even shoot them — what ever their hearts desire. This park is called Westworld (hence the name of the show) and the safety of the visitors is guaranteed in a way that hosts are physically incapable of hurting any living creature, meaning that they are always friendly, but also utterly defenseless against visitors who happen to have less friendly desires. And some desires are pretty dark, as established already in the first episode when the man in black is introduced. I shall try not to spoil the show and will not describe any of his actions. I will describe his character however, and if that is too much of a spoiler for you, you should stop reading now. Here goes:
We know nothing about the man in black save for his actions and the fact that he is convinced that there is more to Westworld than just interacting with the hosts and enjoying the scenery. He is portrayed as a ruthless man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. His demeanour is also punctuated by the fact that he is exclusively dressed in black. In other words, he is the classic bad guy, the stereotypical villain. Not necessarily evil, he hasn’t hurt another visitor, yet. But the man in black is so obviously put in the show to add that extra layer, to be the flavour of threat and mystery that any good story needs. Without him, Westworld might as well be dubbed Lalaland.
What happened after the second episode of Westworld though, was that blogs and tabloids immediately started musing about “the man in black”. “Who is he? What does he want? Where does he come from?” “We can’t wait to see the next episode to get some answers, squee!”
I appreciate the dynamic he brings to the story, but there is nothing mysterious about him, storywise. As an audience we are not going to get to know him better any time soon. We have his motivation, that is all we need, and all we are going to get, for now.
However… On the other side of town a completely different story is unfolding. A young, sweet and beautiful host, used for eye-candy by the creators of Westworld, the park, and seemingly by the creators of Westworld, the show — this young host is waking up! This is what motivates me to keep watching. (Besides the awesome 1800-style covers of contemporary rock ballads. I still can’t get “Black hole sun” out of my head.)
This lady in a blue dress is innocent and friendly, if this was a Disney movie, she would have numerous wild and cuddly animals as friends. She explains that she loves the visitors and she doesn’t seem to remember the horrible things some visitors have done to her so far. All host’s memories seem to be erased on a 24/hour basis, wich is good, because some visitors treat them as desposable toys. So the questions burning in my mind are; how far will her awakening go? Who will she be when she wakes up? Will she still be good natured? Will she go on a rampage and start killing visitors? Will she violentrly defend herself, someone else or talk back? Will she hide it and start acting as a puppetmaster from the shadows?
We have some stories for references in movies and literature for when robots and computers become sentient, but it is still a relatively un-explored field. There is no clear path, no set model for an awakened android — compared to, for instance, a villain. Which also makes the story arc of the lady in blue so compelling. Not to mention where we are right now, in real life, in technology with artificial inteligence and deep learning. I think it is good to explore scenarios in fiction because it is a good chance we will experience something like it in real life, in our lifetime. And even if fiction never will match real life, ficitve models are better than none.
These musings of my own begs the question: why is everyone obsessing over the man in black when the lady in blue is so much more interesting? Her story is the one that explores what a person might to in the case of sudden freedom. Her story is the one where the rules of interaction suddenly changes and people around her are forced to adapt and react. Is it because she is such a wild card? Or might it be because she is a woman? Maybe it’s too scary, too close to comfort and therefore won’t sell (or induce klicks). After all a villan is bound to do lots of villany stuff, but what’s a sentient android going to do? What’s a whole park’s worth of hosts going to do if they all start to wake up?