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

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