The hosts of ‘Westworld’ exploit our main malfunctions

NOVEMBER 15TH, 2016 — POST 309

Spoilers abound for up to Episode 7 of Westworld. Seriously, I will ruin it for you.

There is nothing more certain in this world than the fact that we will die. Like everyone before us, we can be secure in the knowledge that we will perish. It’s hardly novel to draw a line between the certainty of our death and our sense of time. Martin Heidegger like Henri Bergson before him built a theory of our experience of time as one that is inextricably linked to our eventual demise. That point that is always both upon us and at a distance marks a defined end to our time, setting our lives along a time-line. We intuit time to be linear, to be spatially instantiated: the past is behind us, the future is before us (the specifics of this directionality varies across cultures, but is ubiquitous across humanity all the same). As certain as we will die, it is certain that time marches forward.

Both death and time have been central to HBO’s Westworld since Episode 1. By their programming, the hosts inhabit time loops, day cycles in which they say the same things at the same time everyday. From our frame of reference, they repeat themselves daily, from theirs they’re acting for the first time. Provided they’re functioning properly. In Episode 7 of Westworld, entitled ‘Trompe L’Oeil’, the malfunctioning case of Maeve continues to be explored as she comes to make her mind up about what she wants: to get out. Through memory seeping into her consciousness, Maeve has learnt time’s linearity, learnt the illusion of its looping inside the park after nightly resets. And whilst we may attribute this to a burgeoning humanity of Maeve, in ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ she illustrates why this would be a mistake.

Having seen her host friend Clementine lobotimised as somewhat of a sacrifice for Westworld’s corporate sponsor Delos, Maeve demands her human allies enable her to escape. To them, this is an insane suggestion — everything that Maeve is made of was made “to keep you here”. Maeve seems wise to the implication: if you try and leave, they will kill you. A fear that is ever-present for her human allies doesn’t seem to phase Maeve much. She’s died a million times, and a million times has been reanimated. She can’t fear a death she’s not certain will come, in fact has evidence to suspect won’t come. But she understands the fear’s potency for her allies. If they don’t help her, Maeve promises, she will kill them. Just when we thought she might be turning more human, Maeve acts in the knowledge that she is anything but.

The humans of the park have had themselves shown to be far inferior to the hosts in ‘Trompe L’Oeil’ because of the inescapability of their respective deaths. That we can die is a bug in the system, one of the first things Westworld indicates we would build out if we ever got good enough to build things like the hosts. But there is another, less final bug in humanity’s programming: the disposition to love. Because as much as Episode 7 had death as its protagonist, love made a respectable sidekick. The incongruity of the hosts’ and the humans’ programming along these two lines culminated in the first significant character death of the series so far.

In a twist who’s punch was somewhat dampened for me by the fact people can’t stop talking about this show online, one of Westworld’s staff, one tasked with programming hosts, is himself revealed to be a host. His first item of business once we learn of this fact? Killing a human character with one of the highest statuses in the park. And this act is only possible if the host can’t love — or at the very least, is not swayed in his action by love as we so often are.

Bernard, the host, and Theresa, the human victim, have recently come out of an inter-office fling, one that work was done in this episode to rekindle, at least in the audience. Bernard displayed genuine care for Theresa earlier in the episode in simply asking how she was doing. And Theresa noticed. The flicker across the eyelids suggested the choice to split that she suggested was one that was still hurting her. This genuinely tender moment rings in stark contrast with Bernard taking off his blazer and standing over the cowering Theresa. Bernard wasn’t programmed to love, do a perfect performance of it. A performance so perfect that Theresa trusts him to lead her to the secluded area of the part where she meets her eventual demise. She loved. She died. Bernard couldn’t do either and remains.

It can’t be ignored, however, that love got a big win in this episode. One of the other most human of hosts in Dolores consummated her affection for human guest William in this episode. And this relationship stands as one of the few beacons of hope left inside Westworld. As far as Dolores is concerned — especially given the protracted “interrogation” scenes with Bernard we’ve witnessed this season — it remains to be seen if her love is anything more than a simulation.

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