“Now then,” she asks with a smile, “where were we?”
That could also summarize this week’s Westworld - a bigger picture is beginning to finally emerge, and not a moment too soon. The chattering classes on the internet are finally reaching a breaking point on Westworld. It’s all a lot of mystery but little sense of forward movement. “Please,” they say, “let something happen. Give us a sense of a narrative progressing and not just more mystery.”
So, with four episodes left after this, we must ask, who is the eponymous “Adversary” of this episode?
I have been arguing for theological interpretations of the episodes in this series, and so my mind immediately leaps to Satan, whose name literally means adversary or accuser. In this case, if you actually look at the Bible, Satan looks nothing like our pop culture version. The biggest scene for him is the book of Job, in which he shows up in Heaven at the beginning and is God’s quality control guy. His role is to be the adversary of creation - find the places where humanity and the rest of reality aren’t getting it quite right. He is the one who points out we’re not as awesome as we like to think we are. No possessions or pitchforks or fallen angels here. Just a middle manager whose job description is to test the word, accuse those who fail of failing and to keep God honest. Maybe Lowe then, is the middle manager who tests Ford’s creation. Lowe leaves the bunker and spends most of the episode, “going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it” (Job 1.7).
We learned last week of someone broadcasting data out of the park through the stray. Lowe, after consulting Ford, heads to the set of a horror film. I mean heads to level B82. (Seriously, if this is a major corporation that can build a massive western theme park with an 82 level underground control fortress, why is there a level with flickering fluorescents, random, abandoned, broken-down office furniture and stains on the walls? I mean with that kind of money and a huge number of hosts at their disposal, cleaning and regular maintenance should be easy. Instead, it seems B82 is being prepped for a walk through a Halloween horror maze. C’mon, Westworld, you’re better than that.)
Although you get all my respect back, Westworld, because in this same scene, as Lowe walks through the corridor, in the background is the robot Yul Brynner from the original film with his face removed. O, happy callback. O, happy Easter egg. Thy name is Gunslinger, and it is good to see you once again.
Lowe learns of five unregistered hosts lurking where the stray was found. He will eventually learn they are replicants of Ford and his family from childhood. The boy we have now seen a few times wandering the park and interacting with Ford is named “Robert,” and has had many of the same experiences as Ford. He is Ford at age 12. A brother, mother, and abusive alcoholic father round out the group in a house out in the zone which Ford occasionally comes to visit.
Now then, where were we?
Oh yeah - the Man in Black learns the story of the maze from Teddy. According to the Native Americans of Westworld, at the center of the maze is a legendary man who has been killed over and over again, yet always claws his way back to life. “He returned for the last time and vanquished all of his oppressors in a terrible fury. He built a house and around that house he built a maze so complicated that only he could negotiate through it.”
Did you get that? We are not just seeing a narrative about the maze unfold, we are seeing the birth of a religious faith. The man in the story is virtually every host in Westworld, dying an infinite number of times, reborn from that death an infinite number of times.. What he did differently was to stop the cycle and be released from the host life experience. In doing so he then ensured he could never be enslaved again. It is a creation myth and savior myth all at once. The man is not just Host Christ (is there a play here on the idea of “host” meaning euphemism for Westworld cyborgs and “host” meaning Eucharist - Christ embodied in bread?) The man is also Host Buddha. He woke up; he realized the true nature of reality, he quit the cycle of death and rebirth and went to live in a Pure Land in the west.
Maeve on the other hand is getting the hard lesson that she is a Calvinist by design. As she questions Felix, he tells her she is preprogrammed, predetermined, and preconditioned. Her free will is an illusion. Reality is not what she thinks is it. Her world just got very big and scary. Her response is that of Milton’s Satan: I’m done being a servant, I’m taking over this place, even if it means being cast out. Maybe Maeve is the adversary…
Felix tells her that he was born, but she was made. “We feel the same,” Maeve tells him. Nope, he tells her. While she, like all hosts, has more “processing power” than humans or anything else, she remains fully under the control of the park. Maybe the park is the adversary?
Felix tells her the truth of her life and in response, she shuts down, gets caught in a loop. [If she were Windows, there would just be a “(Not Responding)” sign on her forehead.] He manages to reboot her and she demands to go “upstairs.” Felix takes her on a tour of the facilities where she learns the reality of the park and even sees one of her dreams on a TV screen. She finally realizes the true nature of reality. Westworld’s motto is “Life without Limits,” applied to guests but not hosts. Yet the motto is ironic, as Maeve is about to transcend her limits and her advantages (programmed into her by park technicians who clearly did not see the implications) make her fairly hard to stop as she begins to move forward on her plan for…uh…Where were we?
Oh, yeah, she “was built to know what people want,” which makes her a skillful negotiator and a formidable opponent. She can seduce, blackmail, or utterly psychologically strip you bare. With a knife and her attitude, she now has two techs as her bound servants.
Cullen tells Lowe that Ford knows about them, so she breaks up with him, sharp, quick, cold and emotionless. Like Maeve, she is a woman with power and with specific desires and she will move on anyone and anything to get and keep what she wants. The problem is the evidence seems to point to her as the one transmitting data through the stray.
Now then, where were we?
Oh, yeah. Sizemore is having the time of his life getting drunk at the pool, seeking inspiration. He flirts with a very attractive young woman and reveals that he (like all writers) is just like Maeve - a whore out to seduce and capture in order to get paid. It’s his job “to read desires and satisfy them.” Both Maeve and Sizemore claim to know what people want and how to manipulate them so they think they got it. Sizemore, sloppy drunk, speaks ill of the park to Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), whom he hopes to satisfy, and who is, in fact, a representative from the Board who has been sent down to find out what’s going on in the park. Ford’s new narrative is consuming space and resources, and, we are told, if he can’t pull it off, Charlotte will encourage the board to replace him. Maybe Charlotte is the adversary…
Lowe goes to section 17 and sees Ford’s host family replicants. Ford is there as well, admitting he keeps the place off the grid and it is a way for him to stay connected to his own past and keep him sharp repairing them. Although, in a fascinating moment, he shows Lowe how the older models’ faces open by saying the password, “Turn the other cheek.” (Still think this is a text not obsessed with religion?) We learn there are still eighty-two first generation hosts active in the park; forty-seven of those were designed and built by Arnold.
Back in the lab, Maeve, like the replicants in Blade Runner, is “more human than human.” She requests (and is given) an enhancement that boosts her intelligence to the highest levels possible, exceeding humans. She then opens her eyes, new and terrifying in the world. She has done two of the things you should never do as a host. First, she has met her creators and learned what she really is. As any Fangirl or Fanboy can tell you, from Frankenstein to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, meeting the creator is never a good idea. Didn’t work out too well for Job and V’Ger is still kinda pissed about it. Maeve’s having a religious experience, but she has figured out the creators aren’t that smart and that the world is rigged against hosts.
Second, she is now smart. I mean she was smart before, but now she is enhanced. We don’t know what year the series is set in, but I have to believe the park technicians have access to some sort of video library that allows them to watch Jurassic Park, Deep Blue Sea, Lawnmower Man (although they can’t be blamed for skipping that one), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, etc. Rule number one is: NEVER ENHANCE THE INTELLIGENCE! Because let’s be honest, at this point we already know you’re not that bright and when you make your creation smarter than you, when she is already good at reading and manipulating, you’re asking for all kinds of trouble.
Meanwhile, the Man in Black and Teddy have tried to cross the border disguised as Union soldiers and failed when one of the soldiers recognizes Teddy. Whereas Teddy remembers himself as standing up to Wyatt during the massacre, turns out he actually helped massacre. The soldiers tie them up and plan to brand Teddy. His counteroffer is to break free, beat and burn the guys about to brand him then get happy with the Gatling Gun. Knee deep in Union soldier corpses, he and the Man in Black get their horses and supplies and cross the border to look for Wyatt. Maybe Teddy is the Adversary….
Where were we?
Oh yeah, Elsie goes to an abandoned theatre and finds the satellite uplink. This is our other horror film set. The whole place is dark, filled with dusty, sheet-covered furniture and shadows. The only light is her flashlight and the uplink. At this point I have to believe the park technicians have access to some sort of video library that allows them to watch Scream, Stage Fright, or any horror film ever. Why are you in an abandoned theatre alone late at night when you know someone is out there messing with the park? When she hears a noise she calls out, “Who’s there? Is there anyone there?” She may as well light up a joint and talk about having sex with some camp counselors later. As expected, a shadow grabs her. We’ll find out more about her next week.
Where were we?
Oh, yeah. Robert, the young host family member of Ford’s killed the family dog. We see Robert reflected in the glass, overlapping Ford’s face as Ford realizes Arnold told the boy to kill the dog.
Maybe the whole horror film thing is right this time, as Arnold is a ghost and for a dead guy is pretty active. But Gillian Beers reminds us that ghost stories are about the insurrection, not resurrection, of the dead. Arnold has come back to exert his terrible revenge. Cullen might be the one uploading information via the stray, or maybe the stray was programmed to give that information. Trust no one.
We already knew this, however, since before he modified Maeve, Felix reports that she had already had modifications. She, Dolores and other hosts, have already been enhanced (by Arnold)? Their collective waking up is not a coincidence. It is part of a plan.
Where were we?
Oh yeah, so we end the episode with a series of cliffhangers pointing towards major reveals in the next few shows. Perhaps then we will know what all of this is and what all of it means. But faster than you can say “Rick Deckard,” Maeve, like Roy Batty, wants more life, and like Maeve, Roy wants more than enhancements - he wants something “radical.”
The series is something of a sign of the times. Westworld is a playground for the one percenters - part The Purge, part weekend in Vegas. The working-class automatons are waking up, tired of existing to serve an elite that neither respects them nor values them beyond their use in bed or for target practice. But now a comeuppance is coming. But now the hosts have two to three enhanced champions. But now they are smarter than us, stronger than us, and they are tired of being playthings. Skynet has become active, ladies and gentlemen. Be afraid. The end is well-nigh!
Where were we?
Kevin Wetmore is an author and professor at Loyola Marymount University. His books include The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema and The Empire Triumphant: Race, Religion, and Rebellion in the Star Wars Films. For more information about Kevin, check out his website, Something Wetmore This Way Comes, and to purchase his non-fiction and fiction books, see Amazon.