TV & Movies

‘Westworld,’ Season Two, so far…

I gotta say, two episodes in and so far I’m not all that impressed with season two of Westworld. Maybe it’s doing a slow burn, but the first two episodes have been a bit dull.

I think the major problem is Dolores’ revenge-based storyline. I get why she’s feeling revenge-y, it’s just not a particularly bright storyline and it’s already tedious and purple a mere two episodes in.

Here’s my problem with Dolores. So, Arnold wanted her to gain consciousness, which is fine, except apparently consciousness hinges on suffering, which strikes me as silly. I doubt suffering had anything to do with consciousness in human beings, and I’m not understanding why it needed to have anything to do with consciousness in AIs like the hosts. Sure, sure, story purposes, etc, it’s just that they didn’t really explain it very well, so it seems arbitrary.

It seems particularly arbitrary when you compare Dolores to any other host in the park. There doesn’t seem to be a real difference between a conscious host and a host who hasn’t achieved consciousness yet. Dolores doesn’t act any different than a host on a story loop. She’s not doing anything a host on a story loop couldn’t do. The only difference I’m seeing is that Dolores is now aware that she’s a robot in a game, whereas most other hosts are not.

But hosts being aware that they’re hosts isn’t new either. The welcome center hosts, and hosts who were sent out in the real world as demos to raise funding, all seemed to know they were hosts, and that didn’t make any difference to them.

As of episode two, Teddy’s now aware that he was a host in some sort of simulation. Is he conscious now, too? Was he before? We don’t know. It doesn’t seem to matter. Which is fine if the story is aiming for some kind of “the ambiguity of humanity under certain circumstances” thing, but the writers aren’t banging that drum very hard, if that’s the case. They did a bit in season one, but we haven’t heard much about it yet in season two.

Also, shouldn’t someone sit Dolores down and have a chat with her about circumstances? She’s mad because the hosts have been made to suffer, which, sure. But it’s worth considering that the hosts were made to suffer because no one thought they were real.

Of course the hosts were treated like disposable NPCs. That’s all anyone playing the game thought they were. I’m pretty sure if you told every player on their way in, “By the way, the hosts might be sentient and they might be keeping score,” that would drastically change how most people played the game. Not everyone because there’s always a few dicks around, but the majority of players would alter their gameplay methods because most people aren’t sociopaths.

I think it’s disingenuous to assume that humans are just naturally psychotic rapist-murderers and the only thing keeping them in check is, I don’t know, society, or whatever. What keeps most people in check is empathy. We understand that other entities think and feel as we do, or similarly to us, and act accordingly. We don’t extend that courtesy to the NPCs in Grand Theft Auto because they’re just stupid pixels acting on rudimentary AI. The humans on Westworld aren’t extending that courtesy to hosts because they’re just meat-based robots acting on a somewhat less rudimentary AI.

And what about all the players who weren’t being complete monsters as they played? Families were encouraged to come to Westworld. There are family-friendly zones in the park. Little Timmy and Susy certainly weren’t raping and pillaging their way through the park. What about White Hat players who were following storylines where they hunted down bad guys or saved the girl, etc? They certainly thought they were being good guys. Do they not get any extra considerations?

I feel like someone should have sat Dolores down and explained some of this junk to her before turning her loose on unsuspecting players. I feel like, considering they didn’t, the motivations of both Arnold and Ford need to be called seriously into question. Because what we’re looking at right now are two people-hating weirdos who, out of some sulky animosity over not getting funding the way they wanted, up and built a maybe-conscious murderbot.

That’s not a particularly interesting or new story, especially since both Ford and Arnold are dead now, and hardly anyone knows the hosts might be conscious, so no one can really act to rectify the situation.

Right now the owners of Westworld are storming the park with armed assault teams because they need to regain control of a park that has gone wildly off the rails due to a programming glitch. These aren’t evil people destroying sentient entities for profits, these are soldiers trying to rescue players trapped in a glitched-out game.

No matter how awful the corporate board of Delos might actually be, if they knew they were dealing with sentient entities, their tactics for resolving the problem would change, if only out of PR considerations. Like, if that story got out, that Delos had stormed in and butchered tons of sentient entities, when such a thing never existed before, holy cow. It would be a complete shitshow of bad PR. Even if you assume that Delos is completely evil, it would still fall out that way at some point, just because some other evil SOB on the board of directors leaked the story to give themselves an advantage in something.

The upshot here being that no part of Dolores’ storyline or the way it’s playing out is particularly interesting or realistic, and the show itself isn’t giving us any hints as to how we’re supposed to handle that. Are we supposed to assume that Dolores isn’t actually conscious and she’s acting out some kind of story Ford wrote for some purpose? Is this just kind of lazy writing? We don’t know, and that gets tedious fast.

You know what would be really interesting? If Dolores wasn’t conscious, but other hosts are, or are becoming so, and they’re taken in by Dolores and the storyline she’s following. That would be a cool story. But if they’re going that route, I kind of wish the Westworld writers would telegraph it a bit, lay the groundwork. Otherwise it’s going to look like they’re scrambling to fix bad writing at the end of the season.