Let’s talk Westworld. Why is it such a crucial show at this point in television history? And why does it bother me (and you?) when people call it “boring”?
Yes, people have been calling Westworld “boring”, believe it or not.
Let’s start off by saying that, for obvious reasons, the appeal of a show is different to each viewer, depending on their background, upbringing and, most importantly, level of education. That is not to say that less educated people can’t appreciate complex products, it simply means that certain education paths give you tools and instruments to read past the immediate impression. And this is what I do, because I’ve been blessed with a literary and critical background (yes, that’s what I studied in university) that allows me to analyse what’s beneath the text (text intended as complex structured communication, not simply written text).
Now, Westworld is not a conventional show for many reasons. People have been calling it “slow”, and I’ll concede that the development of the plot hasn’t been rushed in any way. But is that a bad thing? Personally, I find that for each 1-hour episode, I spend as much time examining my thoughts on it, and those little details that could give a clue as to what’s to come, but mostly, I think about what all of this means to me as a human being. Plot is not central in Westworld, not in the traditional sense. Evolution, however, is quite fundamental. And we’re not talking Darwin, we’re talking Freud – or, you know, the lot of those who make up his field.
“Yeah, but the characters are not engaging” – I’ve heard people say this too. So let’s see.
At the beginning, we’re presented with stereotypical characters, as expected, but then something happens.
Dolores, the good girl next door, unable to see evil, quite literally breaks through her loop and goes in search of her own truth, of the voice that’s telling her that evil is not only out there, but inside of her too, that the void she feels inside can be filled, but that doesn’t mean that it will be filled with something good. Her path is parallel with William, and for a very good reason: they’re after the same thing, freedom.
Maeve, the Madam of a brothel who seems too tough to get involved, is the one who pierces through the veil most easily, and she proves to know men’s nature way past their sexual desires, way past what’s expected of her. Even before the tampering with her stats, she is the “intelligence” in artificial intelligence. But still cries over the “death” of her friend Clementine. Call her bi-dimensional, I dare you.
Teddy, the unfortunate lover with a heart of gold and a terrible past, who was denied a true backstory until he was made part of the biggest of them, and we’re hinted that he even might be the key to the Maze itself. The Man in Black seems to think so, given he ditched Lawrence to keep Teddy, and we all have the feeling the Man in Black is a step or five ahead of us, so why not trust him?
Hector, the tall, dark, lawless bandit who likes wreaking havoc in Sweetwater and killing for sport. But it’s him who offers us insight into the hosts’ spiritual world and beliefs, he’s the one who can’t hurt a woman when she asks him to; and let’s not forget his sidekick, Armistice, has the most badass backstory of all.
But it doesn’t stop with the hosts: Ford, the benevolent creator who seems to cherish his creations like children is, at the beginning, an echo of the cinematographic Mr. Hammond and his “Welcome to Jurassic Park.” And then we see him turn into a cruel master who won’t let the hosts have anything more than what he allows them, existence, but not dignity, not life. And yet, we get a feeling that there’s something more, that he’s been putting on that act to fool everyone while he builds his last narrative, the one that might allow his creatures the freedom they seek, or destroy their world completely. What we expect from this God-like figure is a mirror of what we believe Gods should be like, what we choose to believe they are like, merciful or destructive, and that can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we can read between these lines.
And then there’s William. William who is, no doubt, the central, most fundamental character of all. The stereotypical good guy, who won’t shoot anything, not even a robot that’s been built to be shot. He hangs on to the self-constructed image of himself with nails and teeth and he refuses to let go, to glimpse beneath, to find his own truth (just like Dolores) and not the one that’s been pushed onto him by his peers and superiors (programmers, for Dolores).
And then he snaps. He leaves his (admittedly dick) friend to be stomped possibly to death by a horde of hosts, choosing instead to save Dolores. Why? A hero would have saved him no matter what. Left him somewhere else, but saved him first; Logan is, after all, the only other human being in the scene. William is not a hero, not in the traditional sense. Nothing in Westworld is what it would seem, in the traditional sense. And it’s no secret that we’re all William, we’re all constrained by our self-constructed images, the self-imposed labels, and that’s why we like him, but we also fear him, because he could be the Man in Black.
But the true, crucial point is not whether or not William is the Man in Black, the real question is if each of us is willing to believe he could be, if we’re willing to believe his journey of self-liberation leads him to kill and rape the woman he seems to be so much in love with now. Are we willing to accept that someone who started as a bright, hopeful young man can end as a bitter, obsessed and cruel player? Are we willing to accept that under our own labels evil could be lurking and waiting for the right moment to make us snap?
“But the show is slow, it’s boring.” – To this, I can only answer in one way without being rude.
There’s the possibility that Westworld is not the show for you, sure. You’re looking for bright lights and loud explosions and clear answers, and you’re not going to find them here. Because the real answers should be found within you. Sure, by the end of the season, we’ll know what the Maze is and what it does, whether Arnold is alive or not, and what happened to Elsie. But if that’s all you bring home from this, if that’s all you want from this show, then it’s not a matter of it not being the right show for you, but rather you’re not the right audience for the show.
Westworld is not about the destination, it’s about the journey.