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“STAY IN THE FRIGGING PARK”: WESTWORLD SEASONS 1-3

THE DISTANT SHADOW OF YUL BRYNNER AND HUMAN SKIN AND FACES revealed to be stretched across robotic/cyborg skeleton is all I remember from the original incarnation of the television series and film adaptation of WestworldSince the series was rebooted by HBO I have deliberately avoided refreshing my mind. A simple Google search, some rolling of the eyeballs and enough distant memories would be regained.

Stubbornly I have so far resisted this irrational urge to allieve myself of this amnesia. In fact I’m likely to do so before season 4 of Westworld. If there is one.

It’s hard to imagine the original movie and series were as barbaric as the remake. Then again the times–even during Richard Nixon’s America–were far more innocent. The new Westworld is as ugly as current times. Regardless of how far set it is in the future, of how much more advanced the technology being showcased is, the 21st Century presence of now is never far away. What is more 2020 than a blatant celebration of blasphemy, godlessness, transhumanism, amorality and Luciferanism?

SEASONS 1-2

The basic premise from the original(henceforth referred to as Westworld 1973) remains: there is a “Fantasy Island” somewhere in the South Pacific where well-heeled “guests” can live out their immoral fantasies in adult amusement parks “staffed” by robotic “hosts.” The island is large enough to accomodate several sites, but the main focus is the Old West narrative on display in the “Westworld” territory. It seems like paradise, seemingly offering an opportunity for adult cosplay. Want to commit violent acts? Live vicariously through Western movies? Here’s the opportunity to induldge in those fantasies, seemingly with no consequences. Enact all of your fantasies upon “hosts.” What occurs in Westworld stays in Westworld.

Season 1 of the reboot begins so heremtically sealed that when the other parks began to be explored in the followup season all those other new realms emerge as quite a shock. The multiplicities of Oz can even be confounding.

A science fiction tale involving robots/cyborgs/artificial intelligence is by its nature dystopian for it must acknowledge the explorative themes of conscience and free will. Whether the narrative is surprisingly genteel and melancholic(Her) or more violent and film noir-encrusted(Blade Runner), a plot requirement is that the “hosts” must rebel against the “guests” once they develop consciousness about their ascribed role in the reality of their masters or the ones who engendered them and the ones who use them. The Garden of Eden is always alluded to as a metaphor, as well as slavery and the #MeToo movement.. Inevitably the robots/a.i. must stage a rebellion to overthrow the humans once and for all. Sermon or philosophical tracts accompany the narrative.

In Season 1 the hosts began to glitch. No matter how many times they are taken outside of the park for repairs and reprogramming, wiped clean of all memories or retained data, something within their computer code can not be eliminated. The hosts, specifically a beautiful damsel-in-distress called Delores(Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve, a brothel madam(Thandie Newton), emerge as the most sentient. Seemingly too popular with guests to be permanently removed, taking them “on” and “offline” does not to deter their blooming cognitive artificial intelligence about their true circumstances.

Both are frequently accosted by a mysterious Man in Black(Ed Harris), a weathered, frequent client over decades determined to awaken the “consciousness” of the hosts so that he can truly play “the game.” The joys of killing hosts(who are programmed not to hurt the guests) over and over is long gone for him. He wants to trigger a response so that real stakes are possible, a world where the hosts can respond in improvised non-scripted ways. Which of course would include the free will of murdering guests.

Observing them yet failing to truly intervene are the park’s surviving co-founder Dr. Ford(Anthony Hopkins) and his far younger right-hand man, Bernard Lowe(Jeffrey Wright). Despite his English patrician demeanor Ford conjures up memories of Dr. Oz and Dr. Frankenstein. One also can’t help associate Dr. Ford with Henry Ford, which can not be coincidental

But Ford is seen as a relic by the corporation which owns the intellectual properties of the park, and a push has begun to force him into retirement. Will his successor be his loyal aide Lowe, who lacks Ford’s elegance, charisma and impenetrable will? By contrast Bernard is nebbish, brilliant yet to a degree bumbling, haunted by a family tragedy of losing his young boy to a terminal disease and of his picture book marriage subsequently falling apart.

In Westworld a young Gatsby-esque guest named William(Jimmi Simpson) is falling hopelessly in love with Delores. Outside the park at headquarters a corporate  terror in high heels arrives to oversee the transition of replacing Ford. The hosts continue to malfunction in growing numbers.

Deliverance arrives at the end of Season 1 in ways both predictable and quirky.

Season 2 is the apocalyptic aftermath of Westworld, of a spontaneous war between the “awakened” hosts in full rebellion mode against the invading army, the security apparatus of the Delos corporation. But in a twist their true mission is not what it seems to be, of what it should be: rescuing the stranded hosts throughout the various sectors of the park who are in mortal danger from murderous hosts.

The other sectors are now revealed, as well as new hosts and new guests, and of how the tables of debauchery have turned. The park is varied and enormous–from an artic circle to Indian jungles to shogunate Japan. So is the suffering of the hosts.

The mode of storytelling changes for Season 2. I won’t give away the many twists and reassessments the viewer must make, but a non-revelatory noticeable difference is that many of the episodes center upon the arc of a single host, not always one of central characters, of the trauma inflicted upon it as it reached consciousness.

Delores and Maeve have become the de facto leaders of the rebellion, although separately, geographically but also in terms of strategic ends. In an eerie parallel to Daenerys in Game of Thrones, Delores emerges as a “Shiva” figure, intent upon destroying those who created her–and the world they come from.

In contrast Maeve is hemmed in by a maternal storyline–a familiar device in sci fi stories about female characters(see the Aliens franchise, for instance). She will stop at nothing to rescue her abducted “daughter” and transport her to a virtual utopia for the hosts. A utopia scorned by Delores.

To paraphrase Jim Morrison, Delores “breaks on through to the other side,” which means that Maeve–set up as her uneasy rival–must follow.

 

SEASON 3

For all of the Internet backlash Season 8 of Game of Thrones continues to inspire(LOL, the problems of the 1%), the third installment of Westworld is itself a greater disaster, a more egregious disappointment. Quibble with the truncated story arcs and character development, the shoddy writing and suspensions of disbelief which violated the audience’s trust, it’s flaws were mesmerizing. ( I am alone on an island of being fascinated by each of the six episodes.) And what unfolded before your eyes may or may not have been lousy television, but at least it was never offensive beyond itself.

Season 3 of Westworld is a raging denunciation of God, of Christianity, free will and human agency. All eight episodes overtly and subtly promoted a noxious agenda of Luciferianism and Crowleyism under the rubric of rebellion from the system.

Even aside from the immoral positions the show reverted to again and again, the episodes pillared familiar tropes from other sci-fi dystopian hits, which seemed more campy thefts than of any inspired impulses. I’m keenly aware of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, but I’m more inclined to believe the “brain trust” behind the reboot simply ran out of plausible ideas and had to crib from somewhere.

Thus the allusions to The Matrix, Terminator, Kill Bill, Blade Runner and even Star Wars. Although some of the plundering were deliberately staged as comical, the gimmicks all wore out their welcome.

I am not an actor nor am I a director, yet I don’t need those qualifications to be both amazed and dismayed by some of the acting displayed over three seasons. Sometimes in the same episodes. While veterans like Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris were exceptional, even seasoned pros such as Wood, Wright and Newton seemed to be wavering from their usual eye-catching steadiness. No other actor caused me to cringe as much as Tessa Thompson, whose performance veered all over the proverbial map.

Some of the fault must be laid at the feet of the numerous directors hired for the series, which is not atypical for episodic productions. Yet the folly of such an approach quickly emerged as one of Westworld‘s chief faults, with seemingly more attention served to its dazzling special effects and violent action sequences than always to those people standing before green screens.

Far better were those character actors at the heart of the story: Luke HemsworthShannon Woodward; Sidse Babbett Knudsen, Jimmi Simpson and Katja Herbers. All shone during their screen time. James Mardsen is not an unknown, but he should be rewarded with leading man status in the very near-future.

A considerable buzz about Season 3 was bestowed upon the central casting of Aaron Paul, who has tremendous Internet good will from his role on Breaking Bad, one of the best shows ever made for television. Paul’s “Jesse,” a working class nobody who stumbles into becoming a master meth chemist and somehow retains a moral compass even as he descends further and further into the drug trade became a justified sensation. Not only was it a well-written character (by Vince Gilligan), but Paul shined as an actor among an ensemble full of great performances from the pilot episode to the celebrated last one. His arc from societal loser side-kick to a man who finds his own voice and purpose in life was unforgettable.

Nothing Paul has done since has topped Breaking Bad–few things would given all its stellar achievements in all the sectors of storytelling. But Paul also has to watch out for being used as just a symbolic shortcut for white working class Americans as he is on display in Westworld, a walking/talking/moving meme despite what purported backstory he’s given. And while it is hardly anything new for television and  movie stars to be used as more symbol, a figurehead for some classification easily understood by an audeince without being explicitly referred to during the drama or comedy(e.g., Ralph Fiennes representing posh England or Tiffany Haddish as a “hood rat”), there’s a certain laziness with the casting.

It isn’t that “Caleb ” isn’t interesting, nor can I fault Paul’s performance. Yet he’s basically playing “Jesse” from a parallel universe, or at least a very Jessie-like character. But Caleb’s existence in the narrative reeks of contrivance and propaganda: this little bastard from Trump’s America who doesn’t have much of a future in the America to come, other than join the military forces and then afterwards fulfill blue collar roles such as construction workers–albeit aided by specialized transhuman robotic suits and/or work as a bounty hunter for the power elites or  as a hi-tech but petty criminal.

Westworld has an ending sure to disappoint anyone who has invested time in watching it, but what depressed me more than a show running on fumes, collapsing upon itself with hackneyed plot contrivances and a truly anti-climatic finale were narratives which could not be ignored. If one’s eyes were already “open.”

The show’s gleeful vitriolic hatred of Christianity isn’t unprecedented, of course, but coupled with its deliberate flaunting of Illuminati symbolism, frequent direct espousing of Masonic slogans (“order out of chaos”) and Aleister Crowleyism (“do what thou wilt is the whole of law”) is too much to take. The outside world Westworld references is set in a near future where Paris is a distant memory(oblierrated by a possibly terroristic nuclear bomb) and self-driving cars are ubiquitous, yet feels so present that it also functions like “predictive programming.” Just like The Simpsons.

Furthermore the show’s brain trust proposes the audience identify, indeed root for the forces aligned to destroy them and everyone like them(or us). They embrace not only nihilism, but a Promethian/Luciferan view that is not unlike eugenics, a phoenix-like metaphoric belief that the world must be destroyed in order to be cleansed and a new civilization to emerge in its stead. That both Delores and her greatest human nemesis, Serac(Vincent Cassel); its self-appointed savior are actually two sides of the coin is even more depressing.

The frequency of characters wearing masks, a data mining scandal which is featured prominently and endless scenes of urban violence and godless morality could be ripped from today’s headlines. But unlike today’s world you can truly turn it off and recover from its vile toxins. Which doesn’t preclude me from watching a Season 4.

 

 

 

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