Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
The opening lines of Dante’s Inferno (which if you have not read, shame on you - go read it and then come back)1, which, roughly translates, “As I had wandered halfway through our life’s way, I found myself in a shadowed wood, for I had lost the straightforward path,” begins an epic journey that takes thirty-three cantos to work its way through nine levels of hell and a whole bunch of sublevels through the craziest landscape you will ever encounter. Hell is full of the famous, the infamous, and the common. Dante keeps fainting, but he keeps going because the woman he loves, Beatrice, sent the poet Virgil to guide him through. Gotta keep going, Virgil reminds him. But Dante, when he is not fainting, is also constantly stopping to chat with the residents of hell.
Whatever happened to Sunday night? Used to be a fanboy/fangirl could enjoy The Simpsons then The X-Files and, if feeling really kooky, maybe watch a late-night rerun of a ST: TNG episode. Now, my goodness, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Westworld, and Fox’s ongoing animation sort-of-domination have made Sunday a Tivo-filling night. Add in John Oliver, and I’m swamped. [Note to self: Stephen Ogg appears in both The Walking Dead (Simon) and Westworld (Rebus) - crossover character? Is he the thing that ties all of Sunday night’s narratives together? Must watch to see if he shows up in GoT (looks a little Night Watch-y), Simpsons, or Preacher.]1
In our second excursion into the theme park, the plot has thickened, more mysteries are brought forward, and more themes have been revealed. I wish to point out three recurring elements of this episode that point towards a fourth as a means of viewing Westworld: stories, secretsm and player pianos, all of which culminate in ruminations on the real.
Starring: Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, Alfre Woodard.
“Who could have thought a black man in a hoodie could be a hero?”
The above quote doesn't come until the end of the series, but it's an apt one. With the release of Marvel's Luke Cage on Netflix, the story of the “bulletproof black man” is something that is not only relevant in terms of the series, but of the world as a whole. While Cage has been around since 1972 (when he was imagined by George Tuska, Archie Goodwin, and John Romita Jr.), his presence is just as important now as it's ever been, if not more so.
Like the canyons and mesas that form its beautiful, if artificial, backdrop, Westworld is full of echoes. One can see and hear many, many other texts resonate through this one, including, but not limited to, Battlestar Galactica, Quentin Tarantino films (most notably Kill Bill and Django Unchained), The Hunger Games, Terminator, and any number of “killer robot” films, including the original Westworld. (Tangentially, was Michael Crichton beaten up at a Six Flags or something? Between this and Jurassic Park (also echoed), we get it - theme parks are evil. I’m still keeping my season pass to Universal Studios!) References to other texts, to history, and to our world abound (not like in Stranger Things, in which virtually every reference is for nostalgic purposes, but rather to give us a world we think we know, but don’t really). Yet for all these echoes, what results on screen is a highly intelligent and original (if a little slow), unfolding narrative with great promise. Part of the pleasure is playing spot-the-allusion (especially the music - the player piano rendition of “Black Hole Sun” is worth the watch alone!), but much of it comes from learning about this world and then seeing everything we think we knew (both from assumptions while watching and from presumptions based on earlier texts that do similar things) reversed or erased.