Some brief analytical thoughts about that Westworld Season 2 finale

Disclaimer:  Spoilers. Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the Westworld Season 2 finale.

I was a huge fan of Westworld Season One. It had very strong narrative, a core theme (the nature of consciousness) that it hounded relentlessly, if in a slightly confusing way – the maze.

And eventually, the maze was explained – it’s a meme that propagates between hosts, unlocking some key pattern than forces them towards self-awareness. It’s done in arguably one of the most beautiful TV episodes I’ve ever watched – the story of Akecheta, which took so many linguistic, philosophical and narrative risks and tied them together phenomenally. I mean, take a bow, Lisa and Jonathan, that was incredible.

But after watching and re-watching the season finale, I’m more confused than exhilarated.

Firstly, Samurai World was criminally underdone. As was the British Raj. It was interesting to see the analogue characters between SW and WW, but what could have covered interesting ground was diverted back into the barren scrub of the original park. Let’s get that out of the way and onto more serious ground.

The core themes of Season 2, as far as I can make it, is about humanity’s drive to achieve immortality – by duplicating human consciousness onto Host bodies – and well as the Host’s drive to become self-aware and independent.

There are various plot elements that come in here, but the key for me was what appears to be a very self-aware artificial intelligence (Logan) confirming that it’s possible to recreate a consciousness by observing how it reacts to events. That, granted, may be true. It’s a lot like postulating the nature of a shape by observing its boundaries. That said:

  1. We finally see the Man in Black’s motives – to find Ford’s Door and the Forge, to prove once and for all that he can’t be quantified by the system. Laudable. No wonder he acts differently in encounters.  But what’s the core theme here? Is it the Man in Black’s view that humans can’t be fully quantified (which he saw firsthand with Delos) or is it the AI-Logan’s view that humans are too damn easy to turn into data?
  2. Regarding turning humans into data, the Park seems like an inherently flawed construct for observing the parameters of a person. One, it’s a place with no consequences (for humans), and humans rarely have the freedom to act in total freedom, freed from the bonds of family and acquaintances. Our lives, as David Mitchell said, are not our own: from womb to tomb we are tied to others.Given this, what value is the data collected from observing human-Host interactions in the Park? Especially given that the Park is not just a fantasy in terms of choice, but also in setting  – it’s literally the Wild West.
    Despite this gaping hole in the data, Westworld posits perfect recreation – Arnold was recreated perfectly, to the point where he committed suicide again: the Man in Black seems to have been recreated the same way. How?
  3. Maeve was self-aware, perhaps more than anyone else (including the predictably Machiavellian Dolores). Why then does she still pursue her core drive (daughter) knowing that it is just a story? Even the poor Teddy managed to logic his way out and take his own life. Why does she chose to give her own life in service of the story?
  4. The AI proposes that humans are actually simple programs, far less complex than the Hosts. Ford adds to this argument, saying that the only truly self-ware/conscious creature would be one that can read and modify its core drives – a Host. This seems very promising. But why then do we have such an inconsistent failure rate in simulating the humans inside Host bodies? Delos failed. Ford says he can’t live outside the simulation. Arnold, for whom there must be less data than for Ford (Dolores says she was the only person who knew Arnold fully) was recreated perfectly, even fine-tuned into the Bernard construct. That’s a 2/3 failure rate for strange (and IMO, plot-driven) reasons.
  5. “The Valley Beyond” is clearly some untouchable dream-sim for the Hosts that escape, where they can find consciousness, so to speak. But given that all the Hosts headed there as if on instinct, are they actually self-aware and choosing to do so, or are they still running on Ford’s narrative? Will they just end up endlessly replicating their narratives in the promised land?

That done, a few inconsistencies/thoughts.

  1. Maeve the Master Controller. What a waste. Probably my favourite character in the show.  Went nowhere in the end after all that buildup.
  2. The Forge: wasted. It would have been very cool if the Valley Beyond / Forge combination was some master plan of Ford’s to upload the Host minds onto human-like bodies and set them loose on the real world (we know it can be done – see Dolores-Hale and Arnold-Bernard). But instead, it’s a glorified prop used to set up a flood scenario.
  3. Ashley Stubbs being a host, or being a human tasked to look after hosts. After some thought, I’ve decided that he has to be human, because people would surely have noticed their immortal Director of Security hanging around for thirty years (but then again, nobody noticed ageless Bernard).
  4. The Man in Black plotline: I felt this touched and expanded the theme of consciousness enough that it could have stood alone as a plotline without having us have to wade through the Dolores-filler. But then again, it would be folly to pretend that I am as good a storyteller as the Nolan/Joy combination, so basically this could just be me grousing that they didn’t play it as a safe as I would have.
  5. The Bernard plotline: Bernard literally doesn’t develop at all. You’d think all the madness with Ford and with his own nature would have caused some sort of change in the man/Host. We know Dolores certainly went off the rails . . .
  6. The narrative structure: yeah, clearly not meant for a show that releases one episode at a time. This thing needs to be binged.
  7. To quote Wired, “literally everyone is a deus ex machina.”

This new season was frustrating. Westworld still promises much, not the least of it spectacular and experimental storytelling, and I’ll keep watching it. Let’s see what Season 3 brings us.

Required reading:

Lisa Joy on Westworld Season 3

Wired’s discussion on the Season finale

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