Howdy, pardners. Before we git to this week’s hootenanny, some corrections and apologies must be shared. Last week, the person I called James Delos is actually Karl Strand, which kills me a little, because that name is so rich in meaning. “Strand” is German for “beach,” as in the place where they found all the dead hosts, and “strand” is English for either “land bordering water,” “to leave behind or abandon,” or “a fiber or filament twisted together to form a unit,” OR “one of the elements interwoven in a complex whole.” You could not have done more if you named this character “Karl Metaphor.” He is, after all, the one who said, “How did all these disparate threads come to create this nightmare?” Karl Strand wants to know the manner in which the strands came together!?! Damn, people.
I also referred to Akane, as Akechi once and said the missionaries were “hung in the trees” instead of “hanged in the trees.” Mrs. Gainty, my sixth grade English teacher, would have been scandalized about the latter. Points off for me and apologies to you, dear reader, for the errors. Miss Manners regrets everything. (Thanks to Lane Bourn and Anthony Miller for catching the gaffes. I should have known better than to analyze Westworld while drunk.) (I’m kidding, of course. I never drink while I’m simultaneously tripping on bath salts and analyzing television.)
Where were we? Oh, yes. In “Phase Space.” Faster than you can say, “The Tholian Web,” we’re in “Phase Space,” both the episode title and, according to Wikipedia, “In dynamical system theory, a phase space is a space in which all possible states of a system are represented, with each possible state corresponding to one unique point in the phase space.” Damn, people – “all possible states of a system are represented.” This episode’s title is like Karl Strand’s name. They may as well have titled it “Multiple Metaphors.”
We begin phase space with a chilling opening. Bernard seems to be running a standard diagnostic on Dolores at what seems to be some point in the past. Bernard expresses a fear we have heard him express before, “If you outgrow this place what will become of you?” He then wonders if the choice is even his to make to put an end to her, because of his fears.
“No, he didn’t say that,” says Dolores, still smiling.
“What?” asks Bernard, disturbed.
“He said, ‘I’m not sure what choice to make.’ He didn’t question whether or not he had agency or whether or not he had the right to end me or himself, but whether he should.”
Okay, let’s unpack that bombshell. So, this conversation has happened before. Except that time it was with Arnold, as otherwise she would say “you” instead of “he.” Furthermore, she seems to imply that Arnold may or may not have killed himself, otherwise why would she throw in the “or himself?” She would have just said he didn’t question that he had the right to end her. But the big takeaway is that word “agency.” Did Arnold have the ability to freely choose to do things and could do them freely in the world? Dolores seems to imply Arnold had agency, but Bernard did not. Then, we hit the chilling part.
“Cease all motor functions,” Dolores says, and Bernard freezes. Dolores not only knows Bernard is a host, she can control him. “This is a test,” she tells him, one they have done many times.
“What are you testing for?” he asks.
“Fidelity,” she says with a chilling smile. Holy phase space, Batman! Again with the multiple meanings in one space. Fidelity to what? Does she mean fidelity to her, as in loyalty, as in Bernard will do what he is told when Dolores commands it? Spooky. Does she mean “fidelity” to Arnold, as in Bernard-bot can pass for Arnold so that she can replace Arnold with a host Arnold? What does Dolores want Bernard to be faithful to, and how long has this been going on? V (for Vendetta)-like, has she been planning her vendetta/takeover for years before the actual public rebellion? Put on a mind condom, because this show is about to mindf**k you.
Next up we meet Teddy 2.0. Teddy 2.0 is impatient, mean, and the very embodiment of the law of unintended consequences. Pump up the aggression, get rid of all qualities of patience, mercy, and foresight, and you get a killing machine who isn’t keen on playing nice. He refers to Teddy 1.0 as “built weak and born to fail, but you fixed him.” He’s referring to himself (or at least his past self) in the third person, something only D list celebrities, Elmo from Sesame Street, and the current president are supposed to do. As Dolores and her team interrogate a mercenary to obtain information, Teddy simply shoots him in the head, says they are wasting time, and gets on the train as Dolores thinks about another lobotomy for him.
Cut to Charlotte and the lesser Hemsworth (still better looking than most of us, but no Thor) who bring Peter Abernathy to a fortified command center where Delos mercenaries and techs are taking care of business. Faster than you can say “Christ-like figure,” they nail him to a chair. (Indeed, the Christian symbolism in this episode becomes quite potent. Not only is Abernathy crucified for the sins of Delos, when Bernard decides to have his memory removed and searched, he assumes a standing cruciform pose. Elsie warns him his pain receptors are all still on, but he willingly sacrifices himself for the information, screaming at first, but when his mind egg is removed, his face assumes a blissful expression. Bernard sacrifices himself for the salvation of the people and hosts of Westworld, and, Christ-like, will be returned from the dead when his mind egg is put back. (Okay, that last part didn’t happen to Jesus, but you know what I mean – hosts resurrect!)
Tangentially, maybe it’s just these bath salts, but Westworld makes me flashback to Battlestar Galactica, another show about robots that could pass for human that could also be killed and resurrected, and the humans who must deal with (and often die from) their revolt. Recurring themes in both shows include the question of sentience and agency, what it means to be human, death and resurrection, and the idea that all of this has happened before and will all happen again. (See Dolores’s comment at the beginning of the episode, “This is a test, one we have done countless times.”) I mentioned above that the names of Strand and the episode both carry multiple metaphoric meanings, to which we might now add all of these philosophical and theological conundrums. Like BSG, Westworld is a profoundly theological and philosophical narrative. [Shameless plug: See my book, The Theology of Battlestar Galactica (McFarland, 2012), available on Amazon now!]
Speaking of gods, back in Shogun World, Maeve stands, spattered in blood, overseeing what she hath wrought. What she hath wrought is the death of everybody in the Shogun’s camp except her and her friends. Akane cuts out Sakura’s heart to bring to her hometown for cremation and burial. Maeve tells Akane that each person is free to choose their own fate. This will become a recurring point made in / theme of the episode. Every host has free will to choose their own course of action, even if that course will lead to their death. What is free will if we are not free to end our lives as we see fit?
My editor has reminded me that this narrative is like the creation story from Genesis, in which Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Not an apple as pop culture would have it, most scholars think a pomegranate!) and, therefore, ending the Garden of Eden. Ecclesiastes reminds us that with knowledge comes sorrow, and as the hosts gain in sentience and self-awareness, they also learn sadness and disappointment. They have free will, but they are now accountable for their actions. The question is, accountable to whom? The Garden of Eden narrative is about the loss of innocence. Innocence itself is a form of ignorance. Once we learn there is no Santa Claus, the world is not fair, or (spoiler) Maeve’s daughter has a new mommy and does not remember Maeve, all that is left is sadness for the loss of what we once believed, although now we know the “truth,” whatever that is. Yeah, this episode runs deep. Told you to wear a mind condom. (Thanks to Michele B. for the idea! You may join Lane and Anthony in the VIP section).
As we exit the slaughter, Maeve and company encounter Tanaka who has Musashi, Hector, Armistice, and the others as prisoners. Tanaka proposes a prisoner swap. Maeve tries to use her mind powers on Tanaka, but his mind condom is strong. Instead, Musashi taunts Tanaka and challenges him to a duel, which Tanaka eventually accepts. Clearly Tanaka has never heard the old Jim Croce song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape / You don’t spit into the wind / You don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger / and you don’t get involved in duels with guys named Musashi.” C’mon, Tanaka – this is Samurai 101 stuff – he was undefeated in sixty-one duels (see last week’s critique for details). My mother always used to say, “My house, my rules. Never play poker with anyone nicknamed after a city or the number of fingers they have, and never duel with Musashi.” As a result, I never lost money to Three-Fingered Vegas Pete next door, and I am still alive. At least Tanaka never lost money to Three-Fingered Vegas Pete. That we know of.
The fight is beautiful, action-filled, and well-choreographed. Tanaka displays his lack of character and honor by throwing dirt in Musashi’s face when he begins to lose. Musashi, however, then fights with his eyes closed, grabbing and pulling out Tanaka’s wakizashi (the honor blade, the second sword carried by all samurai that they will use to kill themselves if called upon to). Nobody ever really used that one to actually fight until the historic Miyamoto Musashi pulled his out his wakizashi when fighting an opponent who had immobilized his katana (the big samurai sword) and made the realization that two hands + two swords = more better fighting! Musashi gets Tanaka with his own sword and then cuts off his dominant hand with his katana. Doing the honorable thing (Tanaka can no longer serve as a samurai if unable to use a sword, and since the word samurai literally means “to serve,” his purpose is kinda over.), Musashi drops the wakizashi in front of Tanaka in order to allow him to commit seppuku, the honorable ritual suicide. (“Want some ice for that burn?” asked my wife, but I think Musashi was trying to let him die with honor at the end and only a little burn occurred. He wouldn’t need ice, just some cool water.)
After dropping the blade, Musashi assumes the stance of the kaishakunin, the second, whose job it is to cut off the head of the person committing seppuku (hara-kiri, or “belly cutting” in the common) once they have inserted the sword into their abdomen and drawn it across. The kaishakunin serves the purpose of sparing the seppukuist of unnecessary agony once they have performed the act that is, indeed, a mortal cut, but does not end the seppukuist’s life quickly. The kaishakunin also prevents unsightly death throes and guarantees death, in case the person has not cut deeply enough. The ideal kaishakunin cuts almost all the way through, leaving some skin and tissue at the front of the neck, so that the head does not go rolling away, but rather falls in front of the individual, allowing him to die with some dignity. Musashi gets points off because he takes Tanaka’s head straight off.
Cut to William in Black, Lawrence, Grace, and their party riding through the hills. Grace clearly has issues with Daddy in Black, who more or less ignores her. But she’s the one who spots the ambush of fake Ghost Nation victims, shooting the hosts who are ready to kill their party and then putting her six-gun back in the holster just like daddy does. Turns out the theme of parents and children and their effect on one another continues to run strong.
Elsie discovers there is something lurking in the park’s code. There is an intelligence, shaping the hosts’ behavior, but she cannot discern what that might be. “I can see the messages,” she says, “but not the messenger.” Who is controlling the system? Ford? Skynet? Apple letting Delos know there is an update to the iHost software they must agree to and download? Every host sending a Linkedin request? Mysteries upon mysteries!
Meanwhile, the kids spending junior semester abroad in Shogun World arrive at Sakura’s village with scenic Mock Fuji in all its glory in the distance. They walk down the hill into the temple grounds and burn Sakura’s heart in a shrine. Maeve wants Musashi and Akane to come with them to Westworld. They politely, but firmly, decline. They will stay in Shogun World and fight the power, even though it means their deaths. Maeve encourages them to come anyway. Hey, remember your point to me earlier, says Akane? Free will’s a bitch, huh? Cue the Rush song, and we are out.
Meanwhile, as the sun sets, Grace and Daddy in Black finally have it out in a fun, passive-aggressive, you-never-loved-me, family kind of way, or as many people call it: Thanksgiving dinner. She observes that like daddy, she enjoyed “life without consequences,” in the park as a kid, but as an adult, she finds it unsatisfying. Yet here he is, older than Yoda and still playing cowboy. To what end? For the first time, we see the William in Black uncertain about his choices. He forgets that it was his wife who was scared of elephants, not his daughter, and she subtly shows him how selfish he has truly been. She has come to the park to bring him home, instead of allowing him to “commit suicide by robot.” She wants him to live with the consequences, for once in his life. He says yes, at first light we’ll ride out. Then she wakes up and he and all but one of the men are gone. “That motherfucker,” she intones, incredulously. But, c’mon, Grace. You knew what he was when you came to the park. Clint Eastwood ain’t about to change his stripes.
Bernard and Elsie make it to CR4-DL, the heart of Westworld, also known colloquially as “the Cradle,” another not-too-subtle metaphor for the infancy of the hosts. But, as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky reminded us, you don’t stay in the cradle forever, and the hosts appear to have entered their teenage years. God help us when they want to get their license. It’s a hive mind, Elsie tells us. Which is very bad news indeed. As any apiculturist will tell you – one sick bee means one sick hive. Dolores is the bee with the disease that will now infect the entire hive mind. Bernard is more sanguine about it: “It’s just data.” Then Elsie reminds him, it’s data that is trying to kill them. Bernard then becomes robot Christ, entering the machine to allow his mind egg to be extracted and scanned so we can learn what secrets he carries.
New mercenaries show up, lead by Coughlin, a Scotsman with contempt for Stubbs, not least of which because his first name is Ashley and because, in fairness, he did suck at park security. Coughlin wants to know if the killer robots have been turned off yet. But even this tough-as-nails, sonofabitch soldier is shocked to learn the killer robots are harder to turn off than he thought. Oh, and Maeve and company blew up the train that takes folks through the tunnel from the guest arrival point to Westworld. So, now, a larger plan has been put in motion, and things can only enter or leave the park by air. Killer robots – one; angry new character – zero.
Maeve finally reaches the old homestead and insists on going to her daughter alone, but as the late Tom Wolfe reminded us, you can’t go to the old homestead again. Her daughter is there, along with the host that now plays the girl’s mother. Maeve should have seen that coming. I did, and I’m on bath salts wearing a mind condom. Fortunately (?), Ghost Nation warriors attack at that moment, and Maeve runs with the daughter while new mom is captured. The Ghost Nation leader, however, tells Maeve in his language that they are alike, and she should come with them, implying that the Ghost Nation has woken, in the host sense, and are leading the fight for host independence. Maeve declines to go with them – free will is a bitch, after all, and is saved by her friends coming in, guns a-blazing.
Bernard dreams while his egg is out. In his dream, Ford is there and can play the piano. Okay, maybe he is not dreaming. This could be a memory, or a program, or something else.
So, we have multiple strands all twisting together, wrapped around the same sets of themes and ideas, with all possible states playing out (or according to Dolores, having been played out multiple times) to reach the current state, occupying the same space. Four episodes left. The next one is called Les Ecorches, which literally means “the flayed ones” in French, but it is also an art term that means the image of a subject without skin, displaying the subdermal anatomy. Sound familiar? I’m thinking Westworld is sci-fi and Western, in terms of genre, but there is also a great deal of horror in the series – certainly philosophical horror, the horror of realizing the truth of your existence, as well as the horror of bodies coming apart and being put back together. Four more episodes. Gotta go. I need more mind condoms. And prolly bath salts.
Vaya con dios, Gentle Reader. See you in the park next week.