Arts, Column, Television

Limit Emotional Affect: Analysis of ‘Westworld’

As Westworld passes the midseason mark, one thing is certain: Nothing is certain. As hosts like Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) begin to stretch into the untapped recesses of their minds, the fates of hosts and humans alike seem to exist in the shadows. This makes for due speculation about the show and the possible paths it could take in the weeks to come. A more optimistic route sees the show exploring ideas about transcending humanity and, like Prometheus giving fire to the primeval man, releasing the created hosts to govern themselves. Pessimistically, the show could fall to the convoluted fate of a show like Lost, becoming entangled in its own grandiosity and mystery.

Starting with the potential negatives, the show has a lot going on right now, which leaves the door open for confusion. Though we have been given some insights into issues like creation and the programming and maintenance of the park, there are many aspects that have yet to be explained sufficiently, namely transportation about the massive park. For the hosts, it would seem that there are two copies of their bodies. Their consciousness could be uploaded to either to allow for the administrators to communicate with them. Time will tell, I suppose.

Seemingly supernatural elements, like Arnold and the voices, surely have causes rooted in the real world, or at least that is the hope, lest we delve into some overly complicated metaphysical journey. It would be a bad move to inject such an element into a show that should be about discerning whether the hosts are “human” or “people.” Simplicity can manifest itself in such a complicated story in concise delivery.

On the positive side, this show has the potential to drive home a universally human message. In episode three, the Man in Black (Ed Harris) explains in sadistic fashion his views on the hosts to Lawrence as he threatens his family.

“I am a fan of the baser emotions. Do you know what that means?” he says. “I means that when you are suffering, you are your most real.”

Shortly after saying this, he kills Lawrence’s wife.

Exploring ideas like this—that maybe the things that make us human are found in the dreadful parts of life—is just what the show needs to enthrall its viewers. Following ideas like this brings the show from a fun, but substantively light Western shoot ’em up, to a more compelling sci-fi fantasy. The way the story is told now is much more sci-fi-oriented, with excursions into the fabricated frontier world.

As such, it is hard to tell who we should be rooting for in the world—the seemingly immortal hosts or the misguided administrators and guests. Logan (Ben Barnes) tells Williams (Jimmi Simpson) wholeheartedly in episode five that there are no heros and villians in Westworld. Whose stakes are higher? Are there stakes at all?

With so much ambiguity for and about its characters, viewers can relish in the level of speculation that a show like Westworld allows. The possible host origins of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Theresa (Sidse Knudsen), and others have viewers looking at the characters in much the same way the guests on the show look at the hosts, wondering who is human and who is not. From a narrative standpoint, the show has succeeded as viewers ask more questions. As these questions become more difficult to answer, the show reaches its moral crux. If you can’t tell if the hosts are real or not, the show asks, does it matter?

Westworld has the potential to break expectations or break hearts. As they straddle the lines of believability, producers must tread lightly to find a nuanced way to tell this story.

I hope this show is not simply a stepping stone for a large, inconsequential series. Who knows whether the show will follow suit with Medieval World, Ancient Romanworld, and others as in the original films. Westworld in its current state seems to have more of a story to tell.

The Man in Black is searching for purpose, a deeper meaning in the park. Purpose is something the real world lacks. When we look at this show, much like a park, we must look for purpose and a deeper meaning.

Featured Image By HBO

November 10, 2016