HBO’s Game of Thrones played the episodic series structure differently. Think back to the number of genre shows that would end their season with a big climax and perhaps a cliffhanger. This structure was de rigueur. (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead and every Star Trek series from the nineties!) Then, along comes GoT and suddenly the penultimate episode (number nine) is the big climax. The finale is for cleanup, reset, and setting up the next season, not as a cliffhanger, but as the next arc of an ongoing story. Westworld might be following this model.
As Shout! Factory’s periodic releases of Mystery Science Theater 3000 get closer to creating a complete library of the show’s original run, some of the more esoteric episodes are finally making their way onto DVD, and the newly released Vol. XXXVII showcases four of the more impenetrable movies Joel, Mike, and the bots ever faced.
Maeve wakes, dresses, and walks the street. Behind her two men bump, turn, and shoot - one falls. She does not even turn. She is fixed and focused. She enters the Mariposa Saloon and Hotel where she is the madame and relieves Clementine of a newcomer who looks like he plays rough. She insults his manhood, taunts him as he prepares to have sex with her, and then encourages erotic asphyxiation by further insulting him while he assaults her. She dies and wakes on the table looking at Felix.
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.