I heard so much about HBO's new series Westworld in the months leading up to its release and for me at least, it's lived up to all of the buzz.
I was huge fan of the original film when it came out in the 70's. I've never read the book, but it's now on my list. The 70's film was something that scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. The thought of a machine that wouldn't give up on trying to kill you seemed terrifying. I'd often wondered if the Yul Brynner character provided any inspiration for James Cameron's original Terminator film.
Other aspects of the show that are really compelling to me is just the technology... I think they've take a really interesting direction in exploring the nature of reality and consciousness with machines, but I think that the notion that the "hosts" and other robots that inhabit the world are these incredibly complex robots which are essentially 3D printed.
I kept coming back to asking myself last night the question of, if this was real, and if it was something I could afford to do, would I really want to?
With the nature of simulations going in the direction of more photo realistic and completely immersive experiences, would I even want to go to such a place to experience what ends up being an incredibly complex 3D gaming experience?
The answer I kept coming back to was yes... It seems that having the chance to interact with machines that were for the most part indistinguishable from humans would be incredible.
Something tells me that at the very least, within the next ten years I may be able to do something very close to this within a simulation. Seeing the strides that are being made with robotics and AI though, the whole thing may not be nearly as far off as one might think...
Dr. Ford says in episode 2 that the guests return for the details and the subtleties; for the things that they'll see that they didn't notice before. The series itself is like that. I've been obsessively re-watching during the week and picking up new things each time. I read one review that talked about the show being layered and nuanced. They're not kidding. Very impressed so far.
I remember hearing about and reading about research in the field of artificial muscles as far back as the early 90's. Pretty interesting to see the advances that are being made these days in the area of "soft robotics". For the longest time I kept telling myself that true android like robots were probably not going to be possible in my lifetime, but now I'm not so sure that's the case. Will I see Westworld level technology in my lifetime? Probably not, but one never can tell.
When you're a kid, you don't always evaluate things the same as you do later in life. I watched the original 1973 film last night and was struck by the cheesiness of some of it, the poor dialog, plot holes and bad explanations for various elements of the story.
What really hit me as I was watching though was that James Cameron must have drawn considerable inspiration for his original Terminator film from the gunfighter character played by Yul Brynner.
What the HBO team has done is taken the seed of a brilliant concept and updated it in ways that not only make it more plausible, but make you think much more deeply about the directions that soft robotics and AI could go and the possible ways in which that technology could get away from us.
I don't buy the suggestion that Bernard is a robot as many fan theories suggest. It was pretty clear in one episode that part of his background was that he did experience the loss of a child. My feeling was that one way of his dealing with that grief and loss was throwing himself into understanding what shapes the thoughts and development of a host like Dolores. It's not entirely clear to me what, if anything Bernard has to do with her thinking differently. For now it feels like he's dealing with the effects of a change that Ford made to their programming which allows access to previous memories and the connection of those memories to a new set of gestures - a feature referred to as "the reverie" in the pilot episode.
Bernard seems as though he's on to the fact that this change is resulting in the out of loop behavior that they're now witnessing in hosts, but he seems to be struggling with how to deal with it properly without pissing off his mentor. He's also genuinely interested in this behavior as a scientist, and seems to really want to understand where it's come from and how it might evolve.
The black hat character played by Ed Harris is another mystery in itself. It seems almost as if he's on to what Ford has been talking about with regard to the details and introducing subtleties that lead to clues that bring guests to deeper meaning and potentially deeper levels in the game that Westworld clearly is. The amazingly compelling thing about the series is that it's becoming something of its own game - trying to assign meaning to the myriad of clues that are dropped each week and fit them into the bigger puzzle.
What is becoming clear to me though is that Ford knows that allowing the reverie into the equation has introduced a level of chaos into the system that he almost seems quietly aware would happen. It might be tied to what he's been trying to attain all along; playing god and trying to create truly sentient beings that are indistinguishable from people. What's not clear to me though is the deeper end game for him, because there is something considerably deeper and probably more sinister to him. It wouldn't surprise me at all if all of his years of work have simply driven him mad. His sinister overtones to Theresa in episode 4 of "don't get in my way" could also could be a ruse. He could end up being the only sane one on property and it will later be revealed to us that he knew exactly what he was doing all along. Not sure which it is, but it's one of the many elements that have me glued to the TV each week...
If finding the center of the maze will set Dolores free, is the game really for the hosts? The guests? Or both? There's at least one guest looking for it too... maybe there's something there for both...
Starting to think there is a connection between Arnold and Wyatt...
The fact that Ford says he thinks the board would have wanted his latest narrative to be delayed indefinitely probably has to do with some sort of apocalyptic end to the world? Not sure but he does say he's not a sentimental person. So perhaps the narrative he's planning is meant to be a cautionary tale...?
The Man in Black knows something that Bernard knows or at least he suspects the maze can set hosts "free".
The Man in Black appears to be a very rich philanthropist in the outside world, evidenced by another guests comment about his "foundation".
Wondering if there is some connection between Ford, The Man in Black and Arnold. Strarting to think there may be.
Should be clear that by connection I mean that he doesn't just know of Arnold and what happened to him, he knew one or both of them.. Personally or through a business relationship.
Man in Black theory that William and MIB are the same person 30 years apart seems interesting and some clues are compelling, but the off loop behavior is happening in the present.
Today I began wondering where the photo that messed up Abernathy came from... A guest? A park employee? It was tough to make out who exactly might have been in it..
The interplay of the technicians working behind the scenes at West World seems a little overplayed or off somehow, like they're trying to lay down too many inside jokes and references too early. Something about those scenes has a touch of cheesiness to me that's mildly off putting.
When Dolores talks about hearing voices, the voices that we've heard in previous episodes that supposedly talk to her sound as though they're coming from Bernard. It feels as though there are references that try to make you feel as though they're coming from someone else... Possibly Arnold? They keep saying that he's dead, but he may not be. Perhaps he modeled a host in his image or something crazy like that. No idea. Lots of tantalizing possibilities in Episode 5, but nothing conclusive yet.
I haven't figured out the significance of the kid just yet. He appeared in an earlier episode with Ford in the desert and last night at Lawrence's blood letting with the man in the black hat.
I'm guessing Bernard probably has something to do with the tracking device in the stray that was found. I'll need to watch ep 5 again more closely though. It explains some of his mysterious conversations with Dolores about erasing interactions with him etc. He's clearly keeping something from Ford.
So it turns out that I've had little success deciphering things with this series. I think what threw me off the trail of Bernard being a robot was the convincing back story of his son and wife. There were ample clues to support his being a host in hindsight, I just hadn't considered that possibility. The one time that I did think that that this might be true was the way Theresa seemed to treat him like a host or say things to suggest that he was after they'd been in bed together. Not that she knew, it's just that something about it felt like it may have been a clue.
After this week's episode, we now know where the photo Abernathy found came from and I think the theory that William is the younger version of the Man in Black is probably true. We now know that the Man in Black is on the board of Delos, and we know that Logan has ties to the company and that William is set to marry Logan's sister. Perhaps that's how the MIB came to be on the board. I think that's probably the connection. The more remote possibility is that this is exactly what the writers want you to think and that there's something else afoot entirely. The reason I say this is that Dolores' "awakening" seems to be happening in the present; at a time when the reverie was introduced and host sentience is becoming a problem in the park. So the two appear to be happening at the same time, which makes the writing all the more clever. But Dolores' past could be the key to what's happening in the present and showing her past timeline with William at the same time will be key to understanding how everything intersects.
I'm now convinced that the event that happened 30 years ago may be what we're witnessing develop with William and Dolores. I think that Arnold had something to do with making Dolores go off narrative 30 years ago when he was fighting with Ford over making the hosts seem more conscious, and the situation apparently devolved into something ugly resulting in Arnold's death and involving Dolores.
One wilder possibility is this... That Logan and William are hosts that are part of Fords new narrative intended to recreate the events of 30 years ago to try and understand something more completely, or so that he could learn something about himself. Perhaps Ford is struggling with what happened to Arnold, and the narrative is for his benefit only. So I think that the possibility here is that Willam is a younger version of the man in black, but is a host, passing through the same time line as the Man in Black. It will be freaky as hell if those two paths do cross and that turns out to be true. One indication that it's not true f0r me at least, is that when Logan cut into Dolores' abdomen, it was more mechanical looking, suggesting the older technology. The comment that she'd been rebuilt so many times she's practically brand new supports the notion that Logan knifing her happened in the past, not the present. The other thing that burns this theory down is the photo; Abernathy clearly found it AFTER Logan revealed that he had it in the last episode, but that could be a false lead as well, meant to throw us off of the trail. He clearly is trying to understand the past. He mentioned something to Dolores in a previous episode as being "the only one who was there" when referring to Arnold's death.
There is however, another clue to support the theory that William is a host modeled after the MIB's younger persona. There was an episode that appeared to be happening in the present where the the security director was alerted to Dolores having strayed too far from Sweetwater. He then ordered someone from behavior to go out and track her down. When they found her, William vouched for her and said "she's with me". This alone may be the clue that for me says that William is not a guest but a host, modeled after the MIB's younger self, built and prepped by Ford as part of the new narrative he keeps talking about.
One of the things about hosts that I would assume to be possible is that they probably have the ability to record a lot of information about guests and their interactions with them. So it would be nothing for Ford to draw on all the data that had been collected on the MIB over the years and replicate a clone of his younger persona.
Another clue that may support that we're seeing in William, a younger version of the Man in Black in a past timeline is that the very sexy host in white that greeted William when he first arrived at the park appeared with the Man in Black in last episode. I'll have to go back and re-watch to see exactly what she said, but it's her and she's been repurposed in a new, very dark role. But that's not to say that her being repurposed into a narrative couldn't have happened in the present.
The finale I'm sure will be pretty intense. Really looking forward to it. The sticky notes and index cards on the wall of the WW writers room must be pretty interesting to try and follow :-)
Now I'm almost wondering if Logan is related to Ford in some way...?
I had a few things right it seems, but I'll hold off a few days musing on the finale in case there are actually people reading this stream other than me :-)
Slack conversation snippet from 11/30 where I had a theory that William would murder Logan:
tbennett [9:40 PM] Ok so MIB said that his wife thought he was terrible [9:42] Theory; younger William (MIB) murders Logan which is MIBs wife's brother [9:43] But the murder may or may not have been deliberate [9:43] The reason that MIB kept coming back was to understand what could make him do it
So I can put that one in the "got it right" column even though I don't think that he kept coming back to understand what could make him do it. He was coming back to learn something about himself, yes, but more importantly the park. Specifically what the maze meant and whether or not it would take him, not the hosts to the next level.
Ford did not have himself killed by Dolores. In an earlier episode - and I'll have to re-watch to be sure - but I'm sure he was working on a head or something that I think resembled him. It's all part of his grand illusion. Backstory is everything with him. His explanation of what happened to Arnold was probably meant to confuse the issue with Dolores to make her think that she killed him. It will probably come out in the end that it was him that killed Arnold, not Dolores.
The red wedding style ending was a little confusing. People did appear to get shot and probably did. His way of purging a board that was trying to control him perhaps? The question becomes how many people in the crowd were real and how many were hosts?
The locking down of the control center when things started to fall apart was a subtle homage to the 1973 film, which I thought was a nice touch.
The Ed Harris character gets shot but not killed. Maeve clearly had her code altered by Ford. I really don't think he'd ever let her leave. I don't think that Ford wants to relinquish control over much. I think he likes playing god and being in control. I don't know what the end game is, but I felt like the end was great - raised more questions, answered some, and set up all sorts of opportunities for season 2.
The more I consider it the more I become convinced that Dolores didn't kill Arnold. I really believe that Fords account was simply backstory. His attempt to rewrite history and cover up his evil deeds. Just as he did with Theresa and Elsie.
I'm absolutely convinced at this point that Ford is not dead. Delores killed a host that was meant to look like Ford. I think what I see developing is that Ford is a firm believer in Asimov's three laws;
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The only exception here of course to the first law is when said human is interfering with Ford's plans.
It really feels like the central conflict here is that Ford believes in control, whereas Arnold is about sentience and the evolution of machines into independent beings.
Another possible clue that the Ford that was killed was a host is that during the scene where Theresa is killed in his secret lab, he refers to an older machine that is there rendering a host. My guess is that it's his double that was shot at the board meeting.
Charlotte is a mystery. I can't say that I'm crazy about the actress playing her. It feels as though she's over playing the part to be honest. I also wasn't at all a fan of the actress playing Theresa. I think those two roles were terribly cast.
I had wondered for a while if Michelle MacLaren, one of the more prolific directors of Breaking Bad, would have been tapped to direct an episode of Westworld. So far it looks like she directed just s1e9 "The Well-Tempered Clavier", which was pretty great.
I think she did just an outstanding job with BB. Some of my favorite episodes were directed by her.
Thinking on it more, Dolores may well have killed Arnold but not in the mercy killing/put me out of my misery manner suggested in the finale. I still think what we saw Ford describing may well have been backstory to cover up what really happened. But he was behind whatever happened to Arnold I'm sure.
Evan Rachel Wood, to me, is proving to be the most impressive actress I've seen in years. The range that she displays in her role as Dolores is nothing short of astounding. I can't wait to see what she does with the role in season 2.
Anthony Hopkins' performance has been one for the ages. I've been a fan for years, and there's not much that he's in that I won't watch. However, this role seems to have been written with him specifically in mind. To watch him perform the role of Ford is to watch a grand master of the art of acting. I can't imagine what working with him on this show must be like, but I'm sure that everyone who does work with him is beyond thrilled to have the opportunity.
I can't say all of the casting decisions were brilliant for the series, but I will say that the vast majority are.
So many of the other performances are so notable that you can tell everyone is bringing their A game to this party, and it's just been amazing.