Westworld: The Absence of Field

Posted on March 30, 2020

Hmph.

Well. If there absolutely must be a Maeve-less episode again – which there must, because the show’s creators love to set up narrative loops and motifs each season – then we suppose this was a pretty good episode of Westworld. Okay, yes. That’s a very begrudging compliment on our parts. We’ll reboot and start again.

Despite our impatience with Dolores as a character and our up-till-now only minor interest in Charlotte Hale, this episode took the story in intriguing directions even as it signaled to the audience once again that you can’t really know or understand what’s happening onscreen. The frustration of watching Westworld is a feature not a bug. Obtuseness and obscurity is pretty much the whole point. This season, instead of trying to figure out which timelines we’re watching and when everything is supposed to be happening, we’re expected to wonder who’s in what bodies and whether or not we’re in the real world or a Matrix-like simulation of it. Fine. These are standard sci-fi tropes dressed up in a lot of fantastic art direction and deliberately vague writing, but that makes them no different from the “robots become self-aware and revolt” storyline that dominated the first two seasons. The show has moved away from ruminations on the nature and birth of consciousness and will now be dealing with questions of identity and reality. There’s a part of us that wishes the show had never left the genre confines implied by its title (we kinda miss the saloons, horses, and gunplay of the first season), but we’re starting to admire how expansive the story is revealing itself to be and how well it all seems to follow from its original concept.

The structure of the episode made it feel a bit disjointed, as Dolores attempted to straddle the storylines of the new Charlotte Hale and the newly introduced Caleb, but by the end, it felt like it had all come together in a way that made sense – and that’s not something we can always say about your average Westworld episode. Of course we left the episode with more questions than we had going into it, but at least the questions are interesting. The puzzle of Charlotte’s true identity doesn’t quite tantalize, nor does the idea that there is some sort of Matrix world in existence which we may or may  not have visited already. Experience tells us that these are magician’s tricks on the show’s part; sleights of hand meant to inspire millions of words of speculation on Reddit or Twitter. Who is Charlotte? Are we in the “real” world? We’ll leave it to the more obsessive watchers to ruminate over. For now, we’re much more energized by the idea that the showdown between Maeve and Dolores might not be as clear cut as we originally thought. Put it this way: if Dolores really is fighting for freedom against an oppressive, reality-defining machine (instead of simply wanting to kill all humans), then the various other players – including Bernard – may not be on the collision course they think they are. In other words, we’re less interested in who’s who or what’s what and more interested in whether the various factions are going to come together or destroy each other.

We’ll admit that we’re just shallow enough to be dazzled by the art direction and production design this season. It helps us get past our frustrations with the storytelling. From the architecture to the fashion to the driverless vehicles and drones, it’s all gorgeously seductive eye candy hiding what appears to be a pretty dried out husk of a world. Maybe this isn’t a story about a robot uprising. Maybe it’s a story about biological and synthetic life overthrowing corporate fascism. And y’know? That suddenly sounds extremely appealing. Granted, it is by no means certain that Dolores is fighting for freedom rather than plotting the destruction of humans. In her mind, the two more or less mean the same thing. And it’s not like she can’t be duplicitous.

And our best guess, if we absolute must, is that the being in Charlotte Hale’s body was not originally designated female. Which, if true, will add an entire other layer of meaning to the story. Might as well throw gender into the mix if you’re going to question the natures of identity, consciousness and reality itself.

Now if we could just get all these robots to speak louder than a whisper.

 

[Photo Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO]

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