Friday, September 29, 2017

The Original - Westworld S1 E1

Westworld, which took the world by storm, is according to the initial press release sent out by HBO is "a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin, exploring a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged."   The ten episode series was inspired by the 1973 feature film, written and directed by Michael Crichton.  It is written and produced by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, with Nolan directing it.   It's an visual experience not to be missed. 

Taken from HBO Press Site. All Rights Reserved.
We begin with episode 1, aptly titled "The Original."  The first thing about Westworld and one of the most important things to remember is that everything is significant and everything is layered. This includes the episode titles. The first episode is partially a visual tutorial for what we are supposed to expect from both the park and the show.  The other part is laying the groundwork for the road ahead of us.  

The credits do a masterful job of blending the delightfully catchy and yet unsettling theme music with images taken from the inner workings of the park. Because who hasn’t wanted to see behind the scenes at an amusement park?

“Bring her back online.” The first words out of the mouth of someone we’ll come to know quite well over the course of the season. Juxtaposed against the images of a clearly naked female form. The form in front of us is one of the hosts. That’s the term that the Delos Corporation uses for their robotic creations, who are lifelike to the point where you can almost not tell the difference between one of them and an actual flesh and blood human being. This host in particular is Delores Abernathy and she is the main vehicle through which the season's story is told.   

Taken from HBO Press Site. All Rights Reserved.
The questions asked of Dolores at the beginning are very reminiscent of of the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner. It’s clear that these hosts have already passed the Turing tests. Delos has leapt over the uncanny valley and made artificial lifeforms that so closely resemble humans that you would not be able to tell who is who except for one feature. The hosts are programmed to never harm a guest, they can't even swat a fly away if it lands on them.  That alludes back to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics: 
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Delos has an interesting way of interpreting those, but we'll get to that a little later. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
There’s a train that takes you into the park. Teddy who we don’t know as a host yet - seems to be just another guest at first. This is where we’re introduced to the idea that some of the hosts are paired off, as well as being introduced to the park’s concept of the narrative loops. Because for the most part, the hosts are automated. So the scene in the bar, the raid at the Abernathy farm, Teddy's arrival on the train, all of those are part of a loop. 

As Delores says, there are "no chance encounters."   Everything is engineered and manufactured for the pleasure of the guests.

The show also doesn’t shy away from the fact that given a place where there are no consequences, where you can do/say anything you want, that most people will immediately sink to their lowest, basest desires. Including things like rape, murder, necrophilia, and a whole host of other not necessarily society approved actions. It’s important to note here that the hosts cannot fight the guests off unless they’ve been programmed to struggle and even then it would only be a token effort as they cannot harm the guests at all. So there is that automatic power imbalance there between the guest and the host.

It’s also telling that behind the scenes in park management, the Behavior departments deals with the coding and programming, but the departments dealing with the physical aspects of the hosts themselves, the actual shell that houses that code is named Livestock Management. Because the hosts, while they look human, are no better than livestock to Delos Corporation and everyone working there at the park. 
Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.

We’re introduced to the Man in Black - who has been coming there for 30 years and who tells Dolores that he didn’t pay all this money cause he wanted it easy. He also tells Teddy that he’s not the man he thought he "was.” The battle between them is when we’re first clued into the fact that Teddy isn’t a guest but a host. It also tells us that this park is very expensive and very elite.

Based off the reset, we know they’ve got a quick turnaround for repairing any damage caused to the hosts and then getting them back into the park. The levels of craftmanship that goes into these creations is astounding - both the hosts and the park itself. It’s truly on another level.

This is where we are introduced to one of the central figures of the show, Bernard Lowe as the head of the Behavior department. Bernard is with Elsie Hughes, one of the behavior techs as they discuss the latest code push and the something extra that got slipped into the code at the last minute. The “reveries” as we find out they are called are tied to specific memories that the host has, memories that haven’t been purged yet from the host. Memories are normally purged at the end of every narrative loop and for a good reason. Given what is inflicted on some of the hosts by the guests, the memories being purged is a good thing. No one wants to have to handle a host with PTSD or who’s holding a grudge against someone. That way lies danger and very costly lawsuits. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
Speaking of legal terms, on the show's promotional website,
you can find the official Delos Terms and Conditions and they're rather fascinating to read.  I've underlined and bolded certain sections for emphasis. 



1. ACCEPTANCE OF TERMS: Upon entering the Delos Destinations Port of Entry, you are agreeing to the terms and conditions as laid out in this document.

2. LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY: Upon use of The Service, you agree that Delos, Inc. is not responsible for any injuries that are the result of gameplay. Recreational activity within the Delos Destinations compound does contain risks, and every effort will be made to ensure the safety of every guest. However, Delos, Inc. gives you license to experience the parks as you see fit, and certain injuries may occur.

(a) You dissolve Delos, Inc. of any responsibility financial or criminal that would result from dismemberment, broken bones, heart failure, loss or loss of use of hand and foot digits, shock, marital and relational strife, child endangerment, psychological trauma, delusions or hallucinations resulting from the realistic nature of the park experience, and/or any other physical, emotional, and psychological effects resulting from strenuous park activities.

(b) Statistically speaking, you are more likely to die from lightning strike than to die while in a Delos park. However, the following causes of accidental death have occurred within the Delos Destinations compound: buffalo stampede, self- cannibalism, accidental hanging, drowning, 3rd-degree burns, autoerotic asphyxiation, blunt force trauma, allergic reaction to non-native plant life, falling from great heights, common manslaughter, tumbleweeds. You absolve Delos, Inc. of any wrongdoing if you or anyone in your party suffers bodily harm while using The Service, and you agree to not sue or prosecute Delos, Inc. or any of the smaller entities falling under the Delos Corporation.

(c) All weapons and equipment used within Delos parks are the exclusive property of Delos, Inc. Gun ammunition contains proprietary safeguards related to bullet velocity, and tampering with gun safety features or ammunition automatically transfers liability to you and absolves Delos, Inc. of any injury or death that may occur as a result.

(d) All livestock within the Delos parks are Hosts, with the notable exception of flies. All humanoid and animal Hosts within Delos parks work to keep guests safe, even when the narrative calls for them to appear to endanger guests. Please note, the appearance of danger is not the same as true danger, and all Hosts utilize the Good SamaritanTM reflex to prevent bodily harm. However:

(e) Delos, Inc. shall not have a liability to you by reason of any delay or failure to perform if the delay or failure to perform is occasioned by circumstance beyond our control, which shall refer to any act of God, storm, fire, casualty, unanticipated work stoppage, power outage, satellite failure, strike, lockout, labor dispute, civil disturbance, riot, war, national emergency, Governmental action, Host malfunction, or other circumstance beyond our reasonable control.

3. RULES OF CONDUCT: All guest activity within the parks of the Delos Destinations compound is unrestricted and without limitations. However:
(a) Upon entering the Delos Destinations compound, you agree to voluntarily divest yourself of all cameras, cellular devices, and electronic technology capable of recording your park experience, including virtual reality recorders and devices, and holographic recreation devices. There is no video recording, audio recording, or written recording allowed within the park. You are allowed to utilize the in-park Host character PHOTOGRAPHERS, whose narratives allow for you to take Delos- approved photographs. These photographs will reflect the time period and location of the park narratives you are playing. No other photography is allowed.

(b) You agree that you will leave the Delos Destinations compound on your appointed leave date, and you will make no attempt to hide within the parks and avoid your leave date. A maximum of twenty-eight (28) days is allowed for being within the parks before guests must proceed to the Mesa Gold area for decompression. Any attempts to use the parks to avoid local, federal, or international court dates, jail or prison sentences, prosecution, or payments agreed upon in civil court or arbitration will not be supported by Delos, Inc.

(c) Please act responsibly while a guest at the Mesa Gold resort and while utilizing the Mesa Bar. Please be mindful of other guests, families, and children. Please note that while utilizing the Mesa Bar, you may interact with Delos, Inc. employees; any ideas pitched to Delos, Inc. employees automatically become the property of Delos, Inc., in perpetuity. Also, any mention of human-on-human crime admitted to a Delos, Inc. employee must be brought to the attention of Delos, Inc., and if falling within the laws of the Territory, may have to be reported to local authorities.

4. COPYRIGHTS AND TRADEMARKS: The Service and all materials included are protected by copyrights, patents, trade secrets or other proprietary rights under the respective laws of the Territory and are the exclusive property of Delos, Inc. These materials include, but are not limited to: the intellectual property of all Delos Destinations parks, the Host characters, Hosts’ programming code, the names of locations within the parks, the narratives within the parks, the recipes for specialized food and beverage items within the parks and featured at the Mesa Gold resort, text, photographs, graphics, video and audio content.

(a) As such, you may not copy, reproduce, distribute, publish, enter into a database, display, perform, modify, create derivative works, transmit, or in any way exploit any part of The Service.

(b) Using The Service is a privilege, and by doing so, you agree that you will make no attempt to remove anything belonging to Delos Destinations from the compound. You will not remove any food or beverage items, any Hosts, any clothing, any weapons or equipment, any signage, or any Host body parts from the compound. The only items you may remove from the compound are in-world photographs taken by designated Hosts. All other items are strictly forbidden.

5. INVESTIGATIONS/VIOLATIONS: If Delos, Inc. or any Delos Entity believes, in its sole discretion, that a violation of these Terms has occurred, it may take any and all corrective action it deems appropriate without notice, including contacting local authorities on the mainland. All human-on-human crimes taking place within the Delos Destinations compound will first be investigated by Delos, Inc.; Delos, Inc. has successfully avoided providing personal data in response to a legal process involving outside court entities for its entire history of existence. However, Delos, Inc. reserves the right to disclose personal information requested by a law enforcement agency, and shall have no liability to you for such disclosure.

6. PRIVACY: You are guaranteed absolute privacy while using The Service as outlined in this document, and all guest activities connected with use of The Service remain strictly private and confidential.

(a) You agree that while in the parks, you will respect the privacy rights of other guests, and you will not endeavor to record for the purposes of sharing the activities of other guests in the parks. You will not at any time, directly or indirectly, disclose, disseminate, or duplicate park activity pertaining to your or other guests’ gameplay.

(b) By entering the Delos Destinations Port of Entry, you acknowledge that Delos, Inc. controls the rights to and remains the sole owner of, in perpetuity: all skin cells, bodily fluids, secretions, excretions, hair samples, saliva, sweat, blood, and any other bodily functions not listed here. Delos, Inc. reserves the right to use this property in any way, shape, or form in which the entity sees fit.

7. MISCELLANEOUS: These Terms cannot be changed or terminated orally. Any failure of Delos, Inc. to exercise or enforce any right or provision of these Terms will not constitute a waiver of such right or provision. No waiver by Delos, Inc. of any provision of these Terms will be of any force or effect unless made in writing and signed by a duly authorized officer of Delos, Inc. Delos, Inc. may assign its rights and obligations under these Terms, in whole or in part, to any party at any time without any notice. Delos, Inc. reserves the right to deny access to all or part of the Service to you or any person in its sole discretion without notice or liability of any kind.

So yeah, that's one hell of a document right there.  There's so much packed into this document and we'll be coming back to it in later episodes.  It addresses the safety protocols they've put into the hosts to make sure that the guests are not in any actual danger.  It addresses the privacy concerns necessary to having a park that is built on the concept of a live-action Choose Your Own Adventure book. Do anything, go anywhere inside the park, be the hero or the villain...the only thing holding you back is your imagination.

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
However perfect it all looks, there’s trouble in paradise and we get the first inkling of that with the talk that Teresa Cullen, Head of Delos’ Quality Assurance department and Bernard have, talking about how nervous code pushes make her and how while there hasn’t been a critical failure in the park for thirty years.  “They all rebel eventually," a surprisingly self-aware and chilling statement from the Quality Assurance head.   That interaction leads into the “Unscheduled Activity in Cold Storage” which Bernard and QA security chief Ashley Stubbs go investigate. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
This is where we are introduced to the mad genius, Dr. Robert Ford himself, creator of the park and the hosts. We also get a glimpse into some of the behind the scenes park infrastructure, which leaves a lot to be desired, in some areas. Since the cooling system in cold storage has been down for weeks, so Stubbs says, “But no one’s complained.” One can only gather that whoever is responsible for keeping those systems running probably has other higher priorities that making sure the decommissioned hosts in cold storage don’t melt.  Why they are keeping them down there is anyone's guess at this point, but it stands to reason that strange whims by mad geniuses are indulged if said geniuses make a lot of money.

It’s a little shocking at first to see all the naked decommissioned hosts there, but it just re-emphasizes the mentality that the hosts are not treated or viewed as humans in any manner by the staff of Delos incorporated.  Ford and the second host ever built, Old Bill are sitting there having a drink and chatting. As Ford says, Old Bill’s a good listener.  
Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.

Flashing back to the park, every time we see this loop repeat itself, we get a little more information each time, going a little deeper and getting more details. We also see that the hosts are not tied into these loops to the exclusion of all others. They can deviate and improvise, depending on the Guest’s interactions with them.

This time it’s different, the Man in Black tells Delores that he has other plans and to have a pleasant evening before he goes and sits down at the betting table at the Mariposa.

Teddy is with a group of guests out on a bounty hunt and the sheriff glitches very badly, scaring the guests. This causes some concern with QA and Teresa tells Bernard that if there’s so much as an unscripted sneeze, she wants to know about it. We’re also introduced to Lee Sizemore, who is the Head of Narrative and an asshole. We also learn that at any given point, there are at least 100 interconnected narratives running in the park for the delight of the guests who come there for their full immersion experiences. 
Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
You also see where a fly lands on Teddy and he can’t even bat it away. This is part of the coding of all hosts. Unable to hurt anything they haven’t been programmed explicitly to, and never ever hurt a guest.

Delores is painting when some guests happen upon her. They’ve got a little boy with them and she helps him feed the horse and then there’s this exchange where the little boy tells her “You’re not real. You’re one of them, aren’t you.” This upsets Delores, to the point where she hastily packs up her things and leaves.

Flash over to Daddy Abernathy doing his chores and in the process, he finds something in the dirt and picks it up. So when Delores comes back, he’s sitting in his rocker on the porch and he tells her that he found this in the fields today. She says it doesn’t look like anything to her and that’s something we’ll hear again. But her father sees it for what it is and wonders about it. It’s a picture of a lady standing in an urban center - could be NYC, could be somewhere else.

Lee and Teresa are having a moment on the Mesa. Where we learn a bit more about Lee and his particular him-ness. Lee doesn’t believe making the hosts more lifelike is really necessary. Though he also asks when Teresa plans to rotate home, which just conveys the idea that working at this park is not dissimilar to working or living at an amusement park nowadays or crews on an oil rig or cruise ship.  Lee’s point ties back into the whole uncanny valley phenomenon - the park only works because the guests know that the hosts aren't real. The mention of the “Dr. Ford factor” gives us the wonderful quote of “If our fearless leader goes off the deep end, you want his job.” We know already in the first episode that while it may look perfect, this place is far from it. There are internal tensions both in and out of the park itself. This also gives us a hint of possible external conflicts as well.
Because as Teresa points out so very eloquently, “This park is one thing to the guests, one thing to the shareholders, and something completely different to management.” 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
Westworld, I should point out again, doesn’t do anything by accident. Everything is planned and accounted for, and automated. There are failsafes and redundancies built into the system. Teresa’s complete and utter refusal of all of Lee’s bullshit is so very refreshing. “Management’s real interests etc.” Lee’s smart enough to guess there’s a bigger picture, but not smart enough to see what it is.
Fading back to the park and really I can’t say enough about the authenticity of the park’s hosts and settings. Both good and bad. 

Kissy the dealer, as part First Nations dealing with the treatment and mentalities that were authentic to the timeperiod for that minority group and then he gets taken by Man in Black because he’s got something that the Man In Black wants.

Another host glitching, this time in an altogether different way and going back to the earlier point, this is why it’s good memories get purged so Walters don’t happen. The reveries giving Walter the ability to hold a grudge and start taking it out on all of those who’d killed him in past loops. Proving that the sheriff wasn’t an isolated incident and these aberrant behaviors can be linked back to the recent code push with the reveries. Though Walter is heard to say something interesting “Not going to die this time, Arnold.” He’s acting way outside his parameters and that sends Teresa and QA into a tizzy. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.

Because the automated hosts are supposed to stay within their loops, keep to their scripts, with minor improvisations. Obviously, Walter’s behavior is far from a minor improvisation. So they pull all the updated hosts so that they can roll them back. They isolate the bug and it is connected to the reveries code that Ford slipped in there. The reveries were mistakes, just like how evolution came to be. We are all products of a million mistakes, one after another.

Ford monologues for a bit here about how self-delusion is a gift of natural selection, and how we can cure any disease, keep even the weakest alive, possibly even resurrect the dead. We’re done. This is as good as it gets. We are at the pinnacle of what we can achieve as humans. He also asks Bernard to “indulge him the occasional mistake” because Ford enjoys playing the part of the benevolent mysterious genius father-god.

The Man in Black is looking for answers and we know he means business and that he’ll do whatever he can to get them. Kissy’s trying to run and we know this is going to end badly for him. We also get some idea with some of the wide shots here about exactly how vast the park is. The scope of Westworld is staggeringly huge. “You know about games, don’t you? There’s a deeper level to this game. A lot of wisdom in ancient cultures.”   These statements are loaded ones, they play into the negative and racist stereotypes of the First Nations people.  It also gives us a small clue at where the Man in Black might be heading with his search and to no one's surprise, it's not anywhere good. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
Delores starts her loop again but her daddy ain’t right and she knows it. So we get this exchange: “I had a question. A question you’re not supposed to ask. Which gave me an answer you’re not supposed to know."  It's clear that Delores has no idea what even to do with this.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” He grabs her and whispers something and she goes running to town, looking for the doctor. Clem and Maeve watch her running around, yelling for a doctor before she runs into Teddy again. Before they can leave though, the bandits come into town.
Back behind the scenes, the model of the park gives us another clue into exactly how massive this park really is and what a HUGE undertaking it has to be, in order to keep it running as smoothly as it does.

The score too is appropriately chilling and thrilling in the appropriate places. Teddy winds up dying in Delores’ arms. Maeve and Hector sass at each other before Maeve kills the hosts that are coming after Clem. We never do get Hector’s speech, that Lee punched up and was so excited about. Since a guest kills Hector first and we further see exactly how socialized everyone is to treating and thinking of the hosts as something not human.

“Look at her wriggle.”

“Go get the photographer.” The dehumanizing of the hosts is a constant theme throughout the entire show. 
Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.

Delores tells Teddy their paths are tied together and that “we’ve only just begun” and she’s not wrong. There’s a huge amount of foreshadowing in that line alone and in the positions both of them are in as she says it.

We’re also introduced to more of the key phrases that the staff uses to corral the hosts. “Soon this will all feel like a distant dreams. Until then may you rest in a deep and dreamless slumber.”

There are all these hosts that were violent and then there was one that was not and that was Delores’ dad. Peter Abernathy, still holding the picture and as of now, we have no idea where it came from. So Stubbs is asking about the dad and the results are confusing. His primary drives are all still there, the herd, his wife, and his daughter and that’s was sends him round the bend. His need to protect Delores his daughter. He has to tell her. He has to warn her. “The things they do to her. The things you do to her. I have to protect her. She’s got to get out.”
We’re miles beyond a simple glitch here and it shows in the interactions that Abernathy has with Ford too. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Robert Ford: What is your itinerary? 
Peter Abernathy: To meet my maker.
Dr. Robert Ford: Ah. Well. You're in luck. And what do you want to say to your maker?
Peter Abernathy: By most mechanical and dirty hand
Peter Abernathy: . I shall have such revenges on you... both. The things I will do, what they are, yet I know not. But they will be the terrors of the earth. You don't know where you are, do you? You're in a prison of your own sins. These violent delights will have violent ends. 

Remember that. It’ll be important later on.

Contrasting the nudity of the hosts to the staff who is always fully clothed, head to toe with long pants and sleeves. You don’t see a whole lot of skin from staff members. It’s yet another trick trying to socialize/normalize the idea that the hosts aren’t anything but property, livestock to be handled however you care to. 
Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.

The episode brings up the idea of would you ever hurt a living thing, which of course raises the idea yet again of what counts as a living thing? Most people say by default, of course not, but is that really the truth?
Delores is the oldest host in the park and that’s said by Stubbs in an intonation that really means something if you pay attention to it. Being the oldest in the park is something to take note of, it’s a rare distinction you get the feeling.

Back in the loop, except this time, Daddy’s been replaced with a different host. We see Peter and Walter being taken to cold storage. The Man in Black is taking Kissy’s scalp off.

And then.

Delores kills the fly.  Ending episode one with a startling bang. 

Taken from HBO Press Site.  All Rights Reserved.

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