Westworld Review: Contrepasso

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You said people come here to change the story of their lives. I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel. – Dolores

One rule of thumb when it comes to Westworld is that your attention can’t be split between the show and something else. So much is happening in each episode that even two minutes where your eyes are moving back and forth away from the screen could be the difference between feeling secure with the story or flirting with getting lost. And, whereas Game of Thrones always tends to move between its various characters in a rhythmic fashion, everything is pushed together here.

It leaves you exhausted at the end of the hour, because you’ve been put through the wringer as a television viewer. But, you usually have legitimate questions, and you’re generally ready to discuss them with your friends, and more broadly with social media contacts. That’s a positive. Put far more succinctly, you give a shit when it’s over.

As confusing as the details can be, never forget that when broken down to its basics, this show is about the purpose of mankind (living or artificial), and its desire for freedom from the constraints of power or tyranny. Every lie that someone tells, every action they take, every choice, whether terrible, moderate, or wonderful, all comes from some inherent pull towards universal truth. Actually, that’s the ideal version of both Westworld and humanity. The reality is that what’s right can be corrupted, what’s wrong can find redemption, and that both starting points are subject to interpretation, but not if one believes in natural law.

(Or, if it’s just a sci-fi show, this is what I’ve taken from it, and luckily, interpretation can often be the spice of life. At the very least, hopefully my feelings give you something to think about.)

Robert Ford is not a good man, which was apparent from the outset, but the writers are going out of their way to remind us of it in every scene he’s in. His interrogation of Dolores might be the most chilling scene we’ve seen, and its darkness almost necessitated this woman to hide what she knew, in order to continue along the course, if not merely stay alive. Even when he talks to the retired barkeep, he finds a way to tell a creepy story about the futility of a Sisyphean greyhound. Anthony Hopkins is doing outstanding work, which generally happens when he can play this style of role…or any role in a half-decent project.

Back to the chat with Dolores, he asks about her dreams, the last contact she had with Arnold, and if she’s pining for an off-track life. She does a good job of acting, as far as we can tell, because in probably the series’ most staggering five seconds to date, she talks to Arnold after Ford turns off the lights and exits, simply saying “He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.” And how big a bastard is Ford for that response to her question about the two of them being old friends?

With each passing week, we learn more about the Man in Black, but the sit-down with Ford and Teddy gave us our largest glimpse into this man thus far. I’m not totally buying the idea that he’s a villain simply because Westworld lacked a true enemy for its guests, as well as the hosts, but I also believe that he’s not filled with evil. I’d be stunned, for example, if he has the empty soul we’re seeing from Logan in his dealings with William. There’s a method behind this madness, or he’s Walter White, not ready to admit who he really is, cowering behind an alter ego to engage in his nasty deeds.

But, he understands the basics of blood transfusions, which we know thanks to Lawrence’s death and Teddy’s survival. He runs a charity foundation in the real world, which we found out last week, and now he’s telling Ford that his villainy is indeed an act. He definitely has his issues, and he seems to be on a search for the existential. The end of the maze, for him, is the tree of life, the fountain of youth, and a likely impossible answer that he wouldn’t understand, even if he reached in and pulled it out of a sparkling river. He wants to know what Ford knows, and what Arnold knew. It’s become an obsession, but the question is why it’s so important to him.

The story of the “new” Lawrence, the nitroglycerin theft, and everything surrounding it was basically filler material to define the characters of William, Logan, and especially Dolores. It was entertaining enough, but it felt like a side quest in a video game. The reason it matters is what it revealed about what a bad human being Logan is, both in Westworld and outside of it. It was integral to explain William’s motivations, and solidify that of everyone in this entire show, he’s the one we’d like to think is closest to us.

That’s who I hope I am, the one that can kiss the girl, but also acts in a respectable, thoughtful manner. But, sometimes I’m deathly afraid I’m Logan. Maybe we’re supposed to see facets of ourselves in both, in the same way the characters live within the park, and outside of it. It’s the duality of EVERYTHING in this show that draws me into it. William watched Logan beaten half to death and as he said, “No more pretending,” right there we all felt we helped him walk away. It was no longer a game, and after the way Logan treated him, what he said about him as a man, it was time to pull that plug.

And that brings us to the orgy scene, which was mainly there to move our three key characters along, or four if you want to include Lawrence. But, what I want to focus on is Trent Reznor. The music playing during the early portion of that sequence is an orchestral, chamber arrangement of Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have.” It’s actually one of my favorite Reznor songs, and it’s from the Pretty Hate Machine days. Rather than discuss it, I just want you to read the lyrics, first the verses, and then the repeating chorus. Applying them to Westworld might leave goosebumps, especially if you think of Dolores’ awakening and inner conflict.

Something I Can Never Have – Nine Inch Nails

I still recall the taste of your tears
Echoing your voice just like the ringing in my ears
My favorite dreams of you still wash ashore
Scraping through my head ’till I don’t want to sleep anymore

You always were the one to show me how
Back then I couldn’t do the things that I can do now
This thing is slowly taking me apart
Grey would be the color if I had a heart

In this place it seems like such a shame
Though it all looks different now,
I know it’s still the same
Everywhere I look you’re all I see
Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be

You make this all go away
You make this all go away
I’m down to just one thing, and I’m starting to scare myself
You make this all go away
You make this all go away
I just want something
I just want something I can never have

You can take some of the violence, any and all of the nudity, and most of the language from Westworld, and you lose virtually nothing. That’s the mark of a series with staying power. The song usage, amidst a ridiculous orgy scene that meant little to anybody, colors in a golden body-painted portrait of a world of excess surrounded by emptiness. It’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but without the Quaaludes. It’s not glorifying any of this behavior, and rather than condemn or preach, it’s showing the unadulterated side of every piece of life around the park. It’s a hauntingly beautiful work of art, with its imperfections accentuated, along with its unflinching, subtle moral code.

One other thing to touch on is the storyline with Felix the “butcher” (technician, whatever the appropriate title is), and his attempt to animate a bird host, in the hopes of rising to become a coder. It wasn’t clear where we’re going here, even with Maeve ending up sitting up and holding it at the end of the episode. But, if you look at it through the same lens you view everything else, Felix is representative of another person dissatisfied with his current standing in life, which manifests itself through this secret project to finally BE somebody, rather than watch cautiously as Elsie walks the halls, wondering if he’s about to be punished.

Speaking of Elsie, she discovered the laser-based satellite uplink in the arm of the woodcutter that tried to kill her two weeks ago. Someone is trying to smuggle it out, through the host, into the real world. It will mean more later, but Sunday it just felt like a puzzle piece to something we haven’t been introduced to as of yet. Also, she apparently likes big penises, which gave the episode one of its only pieces of comedy…or sadness, if you like Shannon Woodward and don’t possess a home wrecking unit. Sorry… that’s off topic, back to Felix.

Maeve, on the other hand, now has her Doctor Frankenstein, but she’s not the monster. She’s in control of the doctor, and if Felix is actually good at this, she could be inching closer towards the freedom she now knows she’s never had. One popularly discussed meaning for ‘Something I Can Never Have” is of a never ending struggle for inner peace and free will, in whatever form it takes. That’s what she wants. That’s what Dolores wants. That’s what the Man in Black wants.

The only person perceived to have it is Ford, and his fight to keep it is what makes him just as miserable as everybody else inside Westworld, as well as those under his employ. This is a theme that occurs within virtually every strain of entertainment we’ve ever encountered. Whatever makes you feel free, whatever makes you happy, whatever leaves you in a place of serenity; that’s what drives the greatest of all characters. The enemies come equipped with chains, both literal and figurative. And, it’s the mistakes and the superficiality of us all that lead us down the wrong paths, on a road to what’s incorrect about the world.

Think of Frank Underwood. He wants and wields power, but he’s never found peace. He gets further from it with every episode. The same goes for Don Draper, Stringer Bell, BoJack Horseman, Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, and just about anyone else.

The reason entertainment exists is because everyone on earth is searching for something. We can relate to it within fiction, or we can watch the worst of the worst and feel better about who we are. The Man in Black said it best on Sunday night. Everything in the real world is there for the taking, except one’s purpose. That quest doesn’t cease, even when one “has it all.” What’s most saddening about Dolores, Teddy, Maeve, and all the hosts, is that we know of the world outside, the one they’ve never laid eyes upon. And, we know it’s not the answer. They aren’t certain yet of what could await them, but they’re going to start wanting it more and more, and it’s not there. Tangibly, it never was.

It’s something…none of us…can ever have.

Follow me on the tweets @JMartOutkick. I always felt this place was missing a true villain, hence my humble contribution.

Written by Jason Martin