Are you the white or black hat?
There aren't many shows that try to enact what consumerism looks like when it's filtered through a salable narrative. According to Westworld, a sci-fi offering on HBO created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, people are always willing to sell their freedom if they're sold the right dream. And Westworld knows a few things about dreams: they compel you even though they aren't real.
More than any other sci-fi, Westworld is fixated on what's real and what's fake, what it looks like when a product or dream goes bad. Westworld is a show of dichotomies: moments of sheer beauty paired with equally fascinating ugliness; moments of good and moments of unthinkable evil. Throughout, the entire series is a reminder of how grand life is and just how bleak and visceral death is—the latter presenting a permanent exit from something utterly mystifying in its wake. Life, for many us, is defined by various conditions, standards, and years—living, after all, is synonymous with surviving. Westworld is about survival just as much as it is about what it means to be human (good or bad). Presented as a highbrow sci-fi (or body horror with high production values),
Westworld returns for season 2, maintaining its philosophical puzzles: Can man-made objects develop consciousness? Is consciousness or the ability to remember the only thing that makes us human? Should we, as humans, define what type of consciousness counts as a living entity? These conceits in Westworld are sometimes bogged down by clunky writing, veering into incoherent plotlines that cheapen the park's immersive qualities. When you really sink in, however, Westworld is the most evocative show on TV.
But all its attractions, land, robots, and team of research engineers, visual merchandisers, product designers, and code writers look really expensive. Sometimes the logistics of the park don't add up. Are viewers really led to believe that Westworld is bigger than three Puerto Ricos? (Also, you're telling me the park can afford to pay all these employees…they have to be hosts, right? I mean, I don't support robot genocide or anything, but you'd have to pay me a pretty penny to not question it at all.) Season two is certainly writing in particular plot holes, opening new ones, taking its time with Dolores and her descent into total robot insanity, but its first episode establishes that the park no longer belongs to the humans. An amusement park, designed to cater to and exploit humanity's most basic instincts and desires, is now a nightmare museum where human guests run for their lives.
The robots are out for blood, and most of the guests thought they were signing up for a glorified escort resort. Evan Rachel Wood as the virginal damsel, Dolores, turned schizophrenic revolutionary/mass murderer has a way of switching her face from the loving rancher's daughter to the callous Wyatt. The women in Westworld mirror current social dialogues positioned by the #MeToo Movement, #TimesUp and, naturally, any feminist ever. Like Game of Thrones, Westworld is a little indulgent when they do show just how disposable the robots' bodies, particularly of the women, are in a world that devalues them. When Dolores does abandon the damsel dress—she's ruthless. She's unforgiving and her punishments, even in their most extreme moments, are fair. Thandie Newton as Maeve is still emotionally charged, but her romance with Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) is a Titanic-level love story that feels out of place in a world that's mostly coding.
Season 2 is about our genocide and what it means when we're outsmarted as gods. It didn't take long for Westworld to skip the formalities of that exchange and it appears the terms of its service agreement are - spoiler alert - not in the guests' favor. Intellectual property is the park's true mission, extracting and collecting DNA from all guests who enter the park. Yep, it's the Facebook of amusement parks—who's already rooting for the Man in Black (Ed Harris)? All genetic property the park amasses is theirs to keep and theirs to use, however they please. Another show about the game of life, the game of power, and the game of intelligence, Westworld is just as complex and cerebral, but it's starting to get to the nitty-gritty of what it all means in the end, one fallen body at a time.
POP⚡DUST Score: ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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