Westworld – Episode Ten: The Bicameral Mind

 Did you catch the season finale of HBO’s ‘Westworld’? Here’s our review.

NO SPOILERS REVIEW

Remember the first time you were watching TNG and someone panicked because “the safety protocols are down” on the holodeck and you found yourself wondering why the hell the holodeck would even have “lethal” settings in the first place?  It’s the same sort of thing you get in films (particularly Bond films) when equipment which has a perfectly innocuous intention has a “fatal” setting for no good reason other than to provide peril at a key moment.  Yeah, that.  Squared.  To infinity.

LOTS OF SPOILERS REVIEW

The series is getting a lot of praise on the internet, so allow me to provide a conflicting opinion.  It’s not that ‘Westworld’ is bad, per se, just that so much of it has been a missed opportunity.  The finale isn’t a finale, not for a moment; it’s a pause at the end of the season, with a great deal left ready for the next season (which is ridiculous, because even if there is a second season it’s not going to pick up ten seconds after this ends, making the ending even more grating than it already was).  Look at it: Thandie Newton’s about to return to the park; the robots are rampaging, but only in Westworld, not any of the other worlds which suddenly exist, even though there’s not been a single reference to them before now (it’s not a plot twist – it’s an addition which makes no narrative sense. Why has SamuraiWorld not been mentioned before?  Did Hopkins create it as an afterthought?  Just how big is this park, and why is so much attention paid to one small part of it?); with the exception of Hopkins, none of the main cast are even seen to die at the end, meaning any of them can come back next year (even Hopkins could with just a simple “bullet missed his brain” bit of writing).  This isn’t any kind of finale.

There’s one plot twist.  One.  True, it’s a big one, and it does make sense of a great deal of what we’ve been seeing, whilst at the same time rendering much of it nonsense.  The narrative has been taking place at two times, one thirty (or so) years ago, the other now.  And the only thing that jumps out is just how badly William ages.  Seriously.  One minute he looks fine, the next he’s Ed Harris.  I know sunscreen is important, but Jesus, people should be warned more about the UV exposure you seem to get in Westworld.

So, yes, it’s a good twist.  And it does explain things (but it also throws up a whole host of other questions), but really, that’s the big reveal?  That’s it?  It’s hardly earthshattering.  All it does is mean that in the event you find yourself re-watching the show you’ll just be impressed at how carefully written it was.  It certainly won’t have you nodding your head at the character development, because there never really was any.  We knew in episode one that the robots were on the verge of gaining consciousness.  Nothing has changed.  If anything (given that Thandie Newton’s behaviour has been revealed to have been programmed, not a tremendous development of free will) we know less by the end than we did at the start.  Just who was the mysterious manipulator who was doing this for Newton?  We presume it was Anthony Hopkins, but it could just as easily have been anyone else, because no explanation was forthcoming.

Similarly, we know that the Delos board have been stealing robot tech from the park for some time, but we have no idea why.  Why not steal it from Samuraiworld, rather than the one bit of the park that everyone seems to be interested in?  Why steal it in the first place?  And why did Hopkins have Bernard kill that woman several episodes ago, when she was investigating the theft of this tech which was nothing to do with Hopkins at all.  He didn’t have any knowledge of what was happening.  Why do the board want to get rid of Hopkins anyway?  I get that he has his own agenda and suddenly wants the robots to develop as independent beings, but the board had no idea of that. True, Hopkins had left some fucking enormous clues behind (paying someone to etch a copy of maze into the scalp of every robot  must surely have been questioned by someone in accounts at some point, plus there’s the fact that he built a robot who looked like his dead partner and had him come to work every day.  Seriously, of all the things that have happened throughout these ten episodes that’s the one that made me shout WTF? at my screen the most.  Did no one ever think to mention this?  How the hell did Bernard’s first day at work go down?

The twist throws up yet another plot hole – weapons.  We get that hosts can’t kill guests (although they can, and have done for thirty years, but we’ll get to that in a second), but it turns out that guests can kill other guests.  It’s something I wondered about weeks ago, but it’s confirmed here when we see William send his brother-in-law-to-be ride off to his death.  So people can be killed in Westworld, which flatly contradicts what we’ve heard for weeks.  I find it impossible to believe that it’s been thirty years since a death in the park.  There are people running around with axes and knives – there must have been an accident at some point.

So let’s talk about the bloodbath.  Well, it wasn’t really a bloodbath, but that’s probably a good thing, because we only knew two of the characters about to become robot fodder in the finale.  Had the show bothered to show us any of the humans in the park we might have had more empathy for what was about to happen, but we didn’t.  Most of the humans we saw were nasty bastards who had it coming, which makes it quite hard to get worked up about the robot rampage, particularly when we’re mostly on the side of the robots (and, let’s be frank, we only really know who three or four of them are anyway.  For a park this size ‘Westworld’s been pretty lacking in characters).  The fact that the robots were able to do this doesn’t make any sense either.  Yes, Dolores seems to have developed free will (oh how I longed for her to scream “you made us, man of evil, but now we are free” as she shot Hopkins) but the rest of the robots haven’t.  Which means that the ability to kill is a genuine part of their programming, even though that makes no sense at all.  I get that occasionally one of the hosts is going to break down and go mad (which is frankly what I was watching for in the first place, because, you know, Westworld) but at that point you take the robot out of service.  You don’t leave it wandering around the park able to kill more people.  Unless it’s Dolores, of course.  Why she’s there is never explained.  She killed Arnold.  She’s in a theme park with guests.  How there is even a question about this is beyond me.  It’s not like they’re short of robots – they seem to be able to build them quickly enough.  It makes no sense.

The show looks good.  It looks expensive.  And if you like panoramic shots of the wild West then it’s going to make you happy throughout.

The show is exceptionally well acted.  (Seriously.  If it hadn’t been for the cast I would never have lasted through ten episodes of this.  Newton, Hopkins Wood and Wright deserve Emmy nominations for their work here.)

But that’s it.  The endless philosophising is never as deep as it thinks it is, the plot twists are disappointing in the extreme, the plot holes are as big as the park and the narrative as a whole fails to cohere.  This has taken the one aspect of the original film which was exciting and interesting and ignored it completely in favour of endlessly dreary scenes in which robots are psychoanalyzed.

If there’s a second season, it has its work cut out to impress me.


 ‘Westworld’ airs on Sunday nights in the US on HBO, and on Tuesdays in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

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