Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Many believe the old Celtic festival of Samhain became the inspiration for Halloween. With that in mind, you have to love this quote about Samhain from the opening of Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God ...

Today I have been thinking about the dead.
This is the last day of the old year. The bracken on the hill has turned brown, the elms at the valley’s end have lost their leaves and the winter slaughter of our cattle has begun. Tonight is Samain Eve.
Tonight the curtain that separates the dead from the living will quiver, fray, and finally vanish. Tonight the dead will cross the bridge of swords. Tonight the dead will come from the Otherworld to this world, but we shall not see them. They will be shadows in the darkness, mere whispers of wind in a windless night, but they will be here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

“Westworld” May Be Pursuing Two Different Timelines

If nothing else, HBO’s Westworld keeps you thinking. It’s like a fascinating puzzle, and trying to solve its myriad of mysteries has become the most fun I’ve had since LOST was in its prime.

This show’s questions have had me rewatching each episode, and I must admit now that the scenes with William and Logan appear to be taking place much earlier in time than other scenes in the show. Before I get there, however, let’s start with what most certainly is the present.

I believe all the scenes involving Bernard and Elsie, Ford and Cullen, Maeve and her newfound memories, and the Man in Black and his quest to find the maze take place in the present. This means the problems with Abernathy’s cognitive dissonance and the code phrase that triggers Delores’ and Maeve’s memories – these violent delights have violent ends – are also happening in the here and now. 

From the first episode, which I believe took place entirely in the present, we know that Teddy rides the train into town, where the sheriff and his men are recruiting newcomers to go hunt down Hector the bandit. In this world, Maeve is the saloon’s madam, and all the scenes with her and Teddy, and even Hector at the end of the last episode, are going on now. When it comes to Delores, however, things are less certain.

Delores is the oldest host in Westworld, so her scenes could theoretically take place at any time in the park’s history. But the telltale signs of a separate timeline are all contained in the scenes with Logan and William.

First, there is the Westworld logo William sees when riding the escalator into the visitor center. It’s an older looking black logo that appears different from the shiny silver logo visible in scenes involving the control room (and in the show’s logo too). Then there’s the fact that when William and Logan ride the train into Sweetwater, Teddy isn’t on it. Even more, when the two enter town, the narrative appears to involve Union soldiers passing out fliers and recruiting men to fight, rather than the sheriff gathering a posse to hunt down Hector. In fact, in episode 3, when William is looking at a wall full of wanted posters, Hector’s isn’t among them. 

Furthermore, when they go to the saloon, Maeve is nowhere to be found. Her absence is important because we know from her flashbacks that she used to be a character in a narrative that took place in the country, where her and her young daughter were attacked by Indians and the Man in Black. Perhaps she is still in that narrative when William and Logan are in the saloon. Also, if I’m not mistaken, even the sheriff seems to be played by a different character in William’s timeline. 

Of course, last week I thought the show had put to rest the theory of another timeline when Delores fell into William’s arms after the attack on her family’s home. That said, after rewatching episode 3, there were a number of clues that this was not the first time she had escaped that attack.

For one, when she sees her dead father, it’s the new host. Yet then her perception flashes to her old father, Abernathy, lying on the ground. After that, her would-be-rapist tells her “no daddy, no cowboy, no one to interrupt us this time.” This is more proof that this scene has played out before, so it’s entirely possible that the scene where she shoots her would-be-rapist is in the present, while the scene where she falls into William’s arms is in the past. It’s just another ending to a narrative she has relived hundreds of times. The only hitch is the gun she is carrying when she wakes up next to William, which links her to the present storyline, unless she’s had that gun in other iterations of the narrative. Someone did bury the gun outside her house, after all, and maybe that someone was her in a past life.

Dual timelines also may explain the scenes between Delores and Bernard spliced between those of her and William. Maybe her scenes with Bernard are in the present, while her scenes with William are in the past. Otherwise, Bernard and the techs have been scooping Delores up while William and Logan were sleeping by the campfire, which seems a little risky in case the guests woke up in the middle of the night. 

All this said, we cannot ignore the scenes in episode 4 where Delores is with William in the Spanish village interacting with Lawrence’s daughter and she sees flashbacks to her past (in that black steepled church no less, which Ford showed Bernard in the wasteland). She also seems to be questioning her life’s purpose. All of this is consistent with her recollections in the present, casting a shadow of doubt on the theory that her scenes with William are in the past. I’m not sure what to make of these, but I’m sure the explanation will arrive before the seasons’s end. 

So, what might this evidence mean? For one, the fan theory about William being the Man in Black from 30 years ago seems more plausible now. It’s even supported by the Man in Black’s words to Delores in episode 1, where he says “I’ve been coming here for 30 years, and you still don’t remember me, do you? After all we’ve been through.” He could be taking about the very adventure between her and William that we’re watching unfold on the show. Although there’s a tiny sliver of me that wonders whether Logan might actually be the Man in Black. Logan already has an evil disposition, so all he would need to do is lose the beard and age another 30 years.

Yet even if the theory about the Man in Black is false, we could still be watching events from 30 years ago, when we know the park had a critical failure of some type, based on Bernard’s dialogue with Cullen in episode 1. Maybe that failure is what we’re about to relive in these older scenes, and it might explain Delores’ flashbacks in episode 4. After all, as the oldest host in the park, she was undoubtedly there when that failure occurred, and may have even been part of it. I also suspect the mysterious Arnold had something to do with that failure, and I would not be surprised to find him in William’s timeline before it’s over.

I know I may be coming late to this theory, but the evidence is making it more difficult to disprove. But those are just my thoughts. Do you think Westworld is taking place in two different time periods?

P.S. – What a powerful scene last episode with Ford and Cullen, where he literally shows her that he is the god of Westworld. Anthony Hopkins is a master, and that scene was played to chilling perfection!

* Images courtesy of HBO.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Three Theories about “Westworld”

Time is scarce this week, but with episode three of Westworld in the rear view mirror, I thought I’d touch on three theories about the show that are whirling around the web. Note, while these are just theories, they could become *SPOILERS* if any prove to be true.

Who Is The Man in Black?

One of the first and most intriguing fan theories I’ve read speculates that the Man in Black is actually William, the guest we’re introduced to in episode 2. The premise behind this theory is that the scenes with William and his friend Logan are flashbacks from 30 years ago, a time when the Man in Black told his captive, Lawrence: “You don’t understand Lawrence. Been coming here for thirty years. In a sense, I was born here.”

Last week’s episode, however, seems to have put this theory to rest. At the end of the episode, after Delores’ consciousness begins to emerge and she kills one of the hosts in the barn, she wanders into Williams arms. This suggests William is living in the present, though I suppose this could be a writer’s trick, and that the episode’s very last scene was a flashback again. But I doubt it. 

Another theory is that the Man in Black is really Arnold, Dr. Ford’s friend and fellow programmer who wanted the android hosts to become self-aware. Ford tells Bernard that Arnold died in the park, but what if he was just pulling an Obi-wan to Bernard’s young Skywalker? Might Arnold and the Man in Black be like Anakin and Darth Vader? Again, doubtful.

First, it’s clear the techs have the Man in Black on surveillance, and I suspect they might question why a supposedly dead employee is wandering around Westworld. Second, the Man in Black seems fixated on the Maze, whatever that is. You would think that Arnold, being one of Westworld’s creators, would already know the answer to that question. Lastly, I really don’t think the Man in Black wants the androids to be become self-aware. If so, they might remember the horrible things he’s done to them. In Elsie’s words, he’d be f-cked.

A final theory is that the Man in Black is actually one of the androids. That would sure explain his comment about being “being born here.” But is doesn't explain why the techs are letting him run amok (unless he's part of some violent storyline), nor does it explain why the android’s bullets don’t hurt him. Also, if the androids like Delores are the real heroes of the story, it’s only fitting that the chief villain be one of the humans who has been making their lives a living hell.

Is Someone Sabotaging the Androids?

Last week, Bernard offered this theory as the simplest explanation for why the androids have been misbehaving. Then this week, we learn about the mysterious programmer Arnold, who was trying to make the androids self-aware. We know this began to happen when Delores’ father told her, “These violent delights have violent ends.” One of the best theories I’ve read is that this line may have been part of Arnold’s code:
So Ford’s partner died in the park after becoming too close to the hosts. The only thing that remains from Arnold’s programming are the verbal command codes. So here’s a theory for the rest of this paragraph (potential spoiler): I’m thinking the “violent delights” phrase is one of Arnold’s original command codes opening up host consciousness. Perhaps Arnold died in the park after using that phrase himself to unlock the hosts, and one killed him. But even if this is true, the bigger mystery still remains: Who started the hosts down this path now, 30 years later? Dr. Ford seems like an unlikely suspect given his strong feelings about host humanity. Bernard is allowing Dolores to awaken but also seems genuinely confused as to the full story. Perhaps Lee Sizemore or Teresa Cullen, who have anti-Ford agendas, started this? Or perhaps the Reveries that Ford introduced simply revived that bit of code?
The theory comes from EW’s excellent recap of episode 3 written by James Hibberd. You can read the whole piece here. His theory doesn’t answer the question of who may be the saboteur, but it provides plenty of food for thought.

Where is This Place?

This question is another hotbed of fan theories, ranging from “Westworld is on an island” to “Westworld is on another planet.” I’ve even read one theory that Westworld could be under a giant dome at the bottom of the sea. Here’s some more from EW:
Back to the show: Bernard goes into this pod to Skype home to talk with his wife. It’s impossible to not be distracted by the clues we’re getting here to the location of the park. Bernard references “how difficult it is to get an open line out here.” Even as a senior member of the staff he has to use this shared pod to communicate home. This once again suggests they’re on another planet — or, possibly, that Westworld is on Earth… but everybody else has moved to another planet (does Westworld take place in Jonathan Nolan’s Interstellar universe where Earth became largely uninhabitable?). Then again, Bernard at another point during this hour notes that evolution was responsible for all life “on this planet,” suggesting they are indeed on Earth. 
Fortunately, EW, which has some of the best Westworld coverage out there, did a Q & A with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Here is what Nolan told EW:
I remember when [executive producer J.J. Abrams] called after watching the original film. In my memory I conflated that hovercraft sequence when they arrive in the park with the space-hotel with 2001. And I said to J.J., “Is that park even on this planet?” The important thing for us was, when you come to the series you have no idea where you are. Disneyland is in a parking lot in Anaheim, but it’s spectacular and you forget where you are when you’re inside. By the end of the first season, if you’re paying close attention, you will know where it is.
You can read the rest of the EW Q & A here.

That’s it for now, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Which of these Westworld theories do you think might be true?

* Images courtesy of HBO

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Dialogue of “Westworld”

Westworld is turning out to be everything I’d hoped for and more – a multilayered story that is vintage Michael Crichton with a little J.J. Abrams mixed in for good measure. The show’s creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, are killing it, and the show’s dialogue is one reason why. Here are just a few examples.

“You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil.”

These are words of Dr. Robert Ford, the genius scientist who created the lifelike androids that populate Westworld. His quote is in response to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), who tells Ford, “You taught me how to make them, but not how to turn them off.”

Ford knows he made a mistake or two with his androids, some of which seem to be malfunctioning in potentially dangerous ways, but he doesn’t seem to care. Bernard, however, fears someone may be sabotaging their creations. “It’s the simplest solution,” Bernard says. 

Ford’s reply is classic: “Ah, Mr. Occam’s Razor. The problem Bernard, is that what you and I do you is it so complicated. We practice witchcraft. We speak the right words, and we create life itself out of chaos. William of Occam was a thirteenth century monk. He can’t help us now Bernard; he would have us burned at the stake.”

Both men are up to something, but the show has yet to reveal precisely what that is. It’s just one of many mysteries so far on Westworld. Yet with Bernard, episode two has given us some more clues.

Bernard has been having secret conversations with Delores, the park’s first android, but warns her not to mention the things they’ve been talking about. 

“Have I done something wrong?” she asks. 

“No,” he says, “but there’s something different about you, about the way you think. I find it fascinating, but others may not see it that way.”

Then Dolores asks, “Have you done something wrong?”

Bernard’s expression turns cold. “Turn off your event log please. Erase this interaction.”

She confirms the interaction has been erased, and he walks away. 

“Everything in this world is magic except the magician.”

Ford speaks these words after manipulating an android rattle snake with the wave of his hand. He is walking through a wasteland accompanied by a boy android who has become lost – just another sign that all is not right in Westworld. Ford has a new storyline planned for this wasteland, as he tells Bernard later in the show, but he has yet to explain what it is. It’s becoming clearer, however, that Ford sees himself as the author of a grand story, like the creator of a novel – or a video game transformed into real life. The problem is that the characters in his story are beginning to think for themselves and remember what’s been happening to them.

“You got anything to tell me Lawrence?”

That’s the question Ed Harris’ man in black asks a cowboy he is dragging around Westworld by a hangman’s noose. “The real world is just chaos,” Harris says. “It’s an accident. But in here, every detail adds up to something. Even you, Lawrence.” 

“What do you want from me?” Lawrence asks.

“The maze. How do I find the entrance?”

Last week I speculated that the man in black might be a devil-like character who will expose the androids to free will. He’s evil for sure. In fact, right before he guns down Lawrence’s wife and cousins, he says “this is exactly why I come.” But I no longer think he’s a serpent in the garden. In fact, Westworld in the antithesis of Eden. For the androids, it’s a living hell. 

It took me an episode to fully appreciate that Westworld is a videogame made real. The players can rape, pillage, and do whatever they want without any consequences because their victims are not human, even though they’re become more humanlike by the day. The man in black relishes this. “When you’re suffering,” he tells Lawrence, “that’s when you’re most real.”

After the carnage, Lawrence’s young daughter tells the man in black: “The maze isn’t meant for you.”

The man in black smiles. “What did I tell you Lawrence, there’s always another level. I’ll take my chances, sweetheart.” He’s looking for a hidden level to the game, and once he finds it, he’s never going back to the real world.

“These violent delights have violent ends.”

Though originally from Shakespeare, those are the words Delores’ father, Abernathy, speaks to her when he begins questioning their reality. The words seem to have triggered something in Delores, for she’s beginning to remember the terrible things that happen in Westworld. And when she tells these words to the brothel worker, Maeve, she too begins recalling her violent past – at the hands of the man in black, no less. 

Earlier in the episode, Elsie, one of the Westworld techs, warns Bernard, “If this is not a dissonant episode, then whatever Abernathy had could be contagious, so to speak.” It seems as if Abernathy’s Shakespeare is beginning to spread like a disease, and later in the episode Elsie foreshadows the enormous problem with this.

A fellow tech asks her: “Do we make them dream?”

“What the f-ck would be the point of that?” Elsie says. “Dreams are mainly memories. Can you imagine how f-cked we’d be if these poor assholes ever remember what the guests do to them?”

For anyone who recalls Crichton’s original Westworld, Elsie’s words are prophetic. These violent delights have violent ends. And the pistol Delores digs up at the episode’s close – one that I suspect might work on the human guests – may just be the beginning of those ends.

* photos courtesy of HBO

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

HBO’s “Westworld” Gets Downright Biblical

HBO’s Westworld premiered last Sunday, ending our languishment in the TV wasteland that has existed since the season’s end of Outlander and Game of Thrones. What HBO has delivered is vintage Michael Crichton, and more. There’s even a biblical element to it, if I’m not mistaken.

Westworld is based on a 1973 movie written by Michael Crichton, the creator of Jurassic Park and one of the finest science fiction novelists of our time. If you’ve read Jurassic Park, you know that Crichton was concerned with the dangers of pushing the limits of science. Westworld proceeded Jurassic Park by 17 years, but it has a similar premise: an amusement park for adults populated by human-looking androids (instead of dinosaurs) that turns deadly when the androids begin to think for themselves. 

The theme of robots and artificial intelligence posing a danger to mankind is not new. We’ve seen it in The Terminator, The Matrix, and even the fears of real-world scientists who worry about the potential dangers of A.I. But Crichton was among the first modern authors to really do this theme justice, and HBO looks like they’re about to make something special out of Crichton’s source material. 

To start, we have Anthony Hopkin’s character, Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld – literally the god of this reality. The lifelike androids of Westworld are his creations, but in making them he admits that he’s made mistakes. One of these appears to be a programming update that seems to be giving his creations a form of free will, or at least the ability to remember their past lives, as the androids are repurposed from storyline to storyline. A bit like the biblical Creator, Ford has made a world where its inhabitants are perfect so long as their programming holds. But with the introduction of free will, it looks like paradise is coming to an end. As one character puts it, “kids all rebel eventually.”

To stir this rebellion, Westworld has given us a devil in the form of Ed Harris’ character, the man in black. I thought he was based on Yul Brynner’s character from the original Westworld, the android that runs amok and begins killing all the guests. But in a twist, Harris’ character is human. He’s a guest who’s been visiting the park since it opened, and is wicked to the core. And, like the serpent in the garden, I suspect he’s also about to inject some chaos into Ford’s Eden, and we all know how that tale ends.

Which brings us to Delores, the show’s heroine and, perhaps, the Eve of our tale. She is the android who is beginning to think and remember. And I bet Harris’ man in black will begin to push her toward a greater understanding of the nature of good and evil. This is not to say that HBO is giving us a Sunday school morality tale. There are many other themes built into this complex story, including those of slavery, freedom, and human nature. But ultimately, I would not be surprised if it’s about a man who tried to play God, and the consequences of creating and trying to control beings who exhibit free will. Add to this a little Chaos Theory in the form of the man in black, and I think we’ll have a rich tale that is vintage Crichton, with even a little more to ponder as it unfolds.

Based on the first episode, we have a winner here. And for that, I could not be more pleased since we have three months before Black Sails returns and all will be well in the world again.

* photos courtesy of HBO