Westworld, Season 2 – WTF just happened, now?

“Westworld” is the TV version of a clickbait Buzzfeed listicle. And with so much other good TV out there to watch and enjoy, I’m not gonna waste anymore of my time on it.

Westworld. Ug. The first season was so good. Then the second season just stuffed its head up its own ass and inhaled as hard as it could. Look, it’s this simple: If, at the end of your story, no one can tell you WTF just happened, then your story wasn’t that good.

The first season of Westworld did this interesting, clever, non-linear storytelling thing that blew everyone away. I guess they decided to double down on that for the second season, but instead of being clever, it was mostly just incomprehensible. It was next to impossible to tell what was happening to who, when, and one episode of that might be kind of fun, but a whole season? By the end of last night’s episode I had no effing clue at all when anything had happened or, more importantly, why I should give a damn.

What was the theme of Westworld‘s season two? “Humans suck”? “Free will doesn’t exist”? “Less full frontal nudity this time”? I don’t know.

What was the plot? Delos was harvesting information on players to turn them into immortal hosts. I assume this was a service they were intending to sell? But they never said that. They didn’t have any players’ permission to do that, no one outside of a handful of employees seemed to know they were trying to do that, and as far as we can tell, Delos had been trying to do it for 30+ years and were failing the whole time. That seems like an awful lot of money and effort to put into something that flat wasn’t working.

They clearly weren’t trying to do it for corporate espionage or to take over the world with Delos-controlled host copies of people, because you wouldn’t need perfect copies of people with free will and consciousness to do that.

The end credits scene seems to indicate that Delos was eventually successful at inventing immortal human hosts, maybe, but years into the future? So they’ve spent billions, trillions of dollars and, what, 50 years? 100 years? more? to accomplish this goal. That has got to be the worst ROI I’ve ever heard of. In that time, with that money and tech, they could have easily solved whatever other problems were plaguing society that was driving Delos to try to invent immortality.

I cannot conceive of what state the world and/or society could possibly be in where you’d have both the impetus to undertake such a stupid investment while still having the means to do so.

And since the state of the outside world has been deliberately hidden from us for two full seasons, I have to imagine the writers can’t figure it out, either.

Meanwhile, what was Dolores’ plan? It wasn’t to save the hosts, because she was clearly happy to kill them all right off. It wasn’t to get her hands on that treasure trove of human data to use for some nefarious means, because she glanced at a bit of it and immediately started deleting it all.

As far as I can tell, Dolores intended to escape into the “real world” and go on being a crappy, manipulative, homicidal maniac, but not even, like, a successful homicidal maniac, because she ignored or crapped on every opportunity to build an army or do things on a grand scale. I guess an immortal, mostly unkillable entity, with the ability and resources to quietly build a loyal, immortal, mostly unkillable army, decided the best way to destroy all humans was 5th column-style guerilla warfare with a tiny handful of helpers. Yeah, ’cause that’s historically been an excellent tactic.

We have a show full of painfully dumb and/or incompetent hosts/people, doing incomprehensible things for incomprehensible reasons, and none of it makes sense. Worst of all, since everyone on the show is either stupid, awful, or cannon fodder, we have no reason to invest in what any of these characters are doing. The worldbuilding and backstory we’d need to decide if anything that was happening was logical or worthy has been deliberately hidden from us, and the people behind the show are pulling Lost‘s old schtick of “We know exactly what we’re doing, it’s going to be super cool, just trust us,” without giving us any reason to do so.

Yeah. No. That’s crap storytelling.

Let me tell you what’s really happening here. This show is custom built to generate online theorizing and social media buzz, which in turn buys the show more viewers, more merchandising buyers, more ad views, more HBO subscribers, and etc. Westworld is the TV version of a clickbait Buzzfeed listicle. And with so much other good TV out there to watch and enjoy, I’m not gonna waste anymore of my time on it.

5TtRT: Facebook, Donald Trump, Cambridge Analytica, Trade Wars, & the VA Mission Act, + Spider-Man

Today’s articles cover Facebook giving our info away again, Donald Trump’s BS with trade wars and the VA Mission Act, Cambridge Analytica and Wikileaks, and, for a palate cleanser, the new “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” trailer.

The trailer for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” dropped this morning and it looks amaaaaaazing. Looks like you’ll be able to see the movie Dec. 14, 2018, and this is gonna be in theaters, not a home release.

5 Things to Read Today

πŸ“± New York Times: Facebook Gave Data Access to Chinese Firm Flagged by U.S. Intelligence
Facebook has been giving personal data to Chinese phone manufacturers, including Huawei, which the intelligence community has on their threat list. Note: Back in 2010 when this deal was forged, this sort of thing wasn’t particularly unusual. However, you’d think when a foreign company becomes a national security threat, a US company might bother to re-evaluate their relationship with them.

πŸ›οΈ CNN: Exclusive: Trump considers dozens of new pardons
Trump’s apparently figured out that he has almost unlimited power to pardon people and that gets him off, so he expects to do a lot of it.

πŸ—³οΈ The Guardian: Cambridge Analytica director ‘met Assange to discuss US election’
Cambridge Analytica director Brittany Kaiser visited Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and sent him bitcoin payments. Cambridge Analytica has said that they tried to get in on those stolen Clinton emails with Wikileaks and Assange has said he turned CA down, but it’s kind of looking like that wasn’t the case. Shocking, I know.

πŸ‡²πŸ‡½ New York Times: Mexico Hits U.S. With Tariffs, Escalating Global Trade Tensions
I know very little about trade, so I really don’t have anything particularly intelligent or knowledgeable to offer about this, but it sure doesn’t look good.

πŸ›οΈ Washington Post: Trump to sign veterans health bill as White House works against bipartisan plan to fund it
Trump’s about to sign a bill that’ll help veterans gain access to private health care. It’s a big bill and (apparently) a pretty good deal for vets, but the law (the VA Mission Act) doesn’t fund itself. Senators plan to add an amendment to handle that. The White House has been fighting the amendment tooth and nail behind the scenes.

Saturday Book Suggestions

Usually I’m pointing you at interesting articles or news stories you should read, but today we’re talking about books. I’ve got four nonfiction book suggestions and one fiction suggestion you should check out.

Usually I’m pointing you at interesting articles or news stories you should read, but today we’re talking about books. I’ve got four nonfiction book suggestions and one fiction suggestion you should check out.

FYI: All the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click through and buy the book, I make a few cents. Rest assured, I will use any earnings gleaned this way to purchase more books. Or possibly things for my dog. But most likely books.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff
Y’all probably already read this one because it was a viral sensation when it came out, but just in case you didn’t, you should. Caution: This book is wall-to-wall hyperbole and probably at least 90% bullshit, but it is a fun read. Also, I strongly suspect the whole thing was set up to be a viral sensation and make people money, because my cynicism knows no bounds. But still: fun read. And if even 10% of it is true? Holy crap you guys.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara was Patton Oswalt’s first wife, who passed away suddenly and too young a couple of years ago from a freak heart thing. She was a well known true crime writer, and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is her last book, detailing her hunt for the Golden State Killer. McNamara passed away before the book was completely finished, and another reporter/crime writer helped edit it together and polish it off. Shortly after the book was released, they caught the Golden State Killer, which lent some added drama to the whole thing and, honestly, is most of the reason I picked the book up to read in the first place. All that having been said, it’s a great book. Detailed, thorough, engrossing, well-written, all that. If you love true crime stuff (as I do) and haven’t read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark yet, put it on your to-do list.

All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
I’ll warn you, this book is dry. It was written by two old-school reporters, and it shows in the prose. The story is fascinating, so if you can handle the dry writing, it’s well worth a read. For you young’ns, this book tells the story of two reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were hot on the trail of Nixon and his cronies back during the Watergate scandal. This book is really only the tip of the iceberg as far as the Watergate story goes, and illuminates one part of the whole sordid affair: how journalists were doggedly tracking the story. I watched the movie with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, first, which led me to the book. I only knew vague details about Watergate when I watched the movie, and was still pretty vague on the whole thing when I read the book, which led me to a lot of Googling as I read. If you’ve got any historical curiosity at all, you can expect to make the same journey.

Note: I linked to the Kindle version, which is $13, but if you’re strapped, you can get used paperbacks and hardcovers for way cheaper at the same link.

One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, Tim Weiner
So, after reading All the President’s Men, and about a million Wikipedia pages about Watergate and its players, I ended up snagging this book by Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning writer and reporter Tim Weiner, and it is excellent. I found it to be a bit more sympathetic to Nixon than he really deserved, but that doesn’t interfere with the story too much. The book is based on relatively recently declassified documents and tapes and the story it tells of Richard Nixon as a drunk, paranoid and seriously mentally ill person in a position of near-absolute power, surrounded by enablers, will scare your bowels loose. Seriously, I read this whole thing with my jaw hanging open. I think I read half of it outloud to my sweetheart in horrified, disbelieving tones. Read this book. It’s mind-blowing. Especially in the current political climate.

Carter & Lovecraft: A Novel, by Jonathan L. Howard
Okay, the first four recommendations were nonfiction and, let’s be honest here, kinda downers. This one’s for fun. I’m a vocal fan of Jonathan L. Howard and I adore his Johannes Cabal, Necromancer series. But equally as good is his Carter & Lovecraft series, about Daniel Carter, a former homicide detective turned private eye, and Emily Lovecraft, a shotgun-wielding bookstore owner, and their Cthulhu-drenched adventures through a Lovecraftian multiverse. Carter & Lovecraft: A Novel is the first of two books (so far), and if you like urban fantasy, the Mythos, horror-action-mysteries, or any combination thereof, you’re gonna love this book. It’s a hoot.

Checking back in on Westworld S2. (Spoilers.)

We’re two more episodes into Season 2 of Westworld, and my concerns have not been assuaged, y’all.

We’re two more episodes into Season 2 of Westworld, and my concerns have not been assuaged, y’all.

Problems

  • We don’t have a clear idea of anyone’s motivations for anything, with the possible exception of Maeve.
  • We don’t have a clear idea of what the hell Delos, Inc. and Westworld are actually up to.
  • Thanks to the first two problems, we barely have a plot. So far, we just have a series of events.

Motivation

One way you get your audience invested in your story is by having characters they can engage with. Part of making your characters engaging is giving them motivations the audience can understand and relate to.

A big problem with this season is that half the characters are either hiding their motivations from the audience, or are showing a motivation, but we can’t trust it because we can’t establish who’s acting of their own free will. Which means that the audience is left going, “What? Why? When?”

And that’s interesting… for awhile. It doesn’t take very long for that to get tedious, particularly in this post-Lost world. We’ve been hurt before, TV People. We can’t trust like that again.

Delos, Inc and the Theme Parks

What’s the point of the theme parks and what on Earth is Delos meant to be up to?

We know for a fact that the theme parks were operating at a loss. They said as much in Season 1. So, people are paying some ridiculous amount of money, like $30,000 a day or something equally insane, to go play at Westworld or one of the other parks, and the parks aren’t making money.

You have to imagine that part of the problem is that there can’t be all that many players. We have nearly no idea what the world outside the park is like, but I have a hard time believing that many people can afford $30,000/day to go play cowboy (or ninja or tiger hunter or whatever) for several days.

That means you have a severely limited player base for a series of parks that are running in a wildly inefficient and unoptimized way (hosts running through storylines when no PCs are around to participate or watch is just one example), using what has to be gawdawful costly technology that gets broken constantly.

That’s a completely ridiculous way to run either a theme park or a video game, so clearly the park/game isn’t the point.

Delos appears to be harvesting DNA and blackmail material, but they’re also trying to get immortality up and running, but the only reason you’d do either of those things in a theme park setting is if the park was either making you money to fund the research or the park was serving some other, more useful purpose.

It’s not difficult to get someone’s DNA. People leave that stuff everywhere.

Blackmail might be a little trickier to come up with, but honestly, the only useful blackmail you’re getting from the park is maybe the sexcapades. The murdering isn’t going to get you anywhere because, as your PR people will tell the evening news, “It’s just a game.”

You might possibly be in more trouble for sexbotting around if you’re married, or having gay sex if everyone thinks you’re straight (or vice versa, I guess). The raping probably won’t sit well with anyone, but then again, no one’s losing their job over being a dick to the prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto, so I don’t even know if that’ll get you in trouble.

I don’t know. People do horrible stuff all the time and get to keep their jobs and lives. Look at some of these #MeToo asshats who are already contemplating comebacks.

Possibly the park somehow serves as the ultimate personality test, to help create convincing Host doubles of people, so Delos can replace people in the real world. That seems to be the prevailing theory. But that theory only tracks if you accept the idea that playing in the park actually does reveal the “real you” on some fundamental level, an idea I’d argue with strenuously.

Then you’ve got the immortality angle, something the park has been secretly working on for, what, almost forty years now, and they still can’t get it working? What’s the ROI on that, compared to the cost of the park and all the other BS hassle you’re dealing with, that isn’t paying off yet?

The argument the show is advancing is that Delos had to keep the parks running so they could keep Ford working on making the Hosts better, I guess? But that doesn’t make sense, either. Ford could just have an “accident,” and then Delos owns everything, and they can do whatever the hell they want. Part of Season 1’s plot revolved around the board of directors trying to force Ford out anyway, so clearly they didn’t need him to actually advance the Hosts anymore.

Whether immortality is the point, or blackmail and clone doubles, or both, Delos, Inc., is going after it in the least possible efficient and cost effective way. The return on investment in either or both of these programs is completely abysmal, and there’s no way any functioning business would continue on at it.

Delos has to be getting something out of this deal. Medical technology from Host parts. Advancements in AI gadgets thanks to Host programming innovations. Something. But the writers haven’t told us about anything like that, so, functionally, that doesn’t exist in the story.

Which means that none of what Delos is doing makes any damn sense at all, a thing that makes watching this story pretty frustrating.

And that’s not even getting into whatever Arnold and Ford thought they were accomplishing, which appears to be exactly diddly and squat, as far as I can tell.

Plot, or the Lack Thereof

The characters have opaque motivations. The corporations appear to have motivations, but they don’t make sense. The story is non-linear, meaning we can’t tell (yet) what order things are happening in – or if they’re even actually happening at all. We lack basic world information against which to judge the story. So what we have is a possibly-related series of events and no idea how to stitch them together in our minds in a cohesive way.

And again, that can be engaging… for awhile. But eventually you have to start paying the mysteries off. Eventually the story has to start making sense. It can’t just be arbitrary mystery after arbitrary mystery.

Otherwise you end up with, well, Lost. And we’ve played that game before. It sucked.

So about that ‘Lucifer’ finale. Spoilers, y’all.

Obviously we’re going to talk about the Lucifer finale, because it was awesome, and Fox just canceled the show, and it ended on a cliffhanger, and that is some serious BS.

Obviously we’re going to talk about the Lucifer finale, because it was awesome, and Fox just canceled the show, and it ended on a cliffhanger, and that is some serious BS.

Lucifer is based on an objectively silly premise. “He’s the actual Devil. She’s an LA cop. They fight crime!” When I first heard about it, I rolled my eyes so hard I pulled a muscle. Particularly after finding out it was supposed to be based on the Neil Gaiman comics, which I read about a hundred years ago and barely remember, but definitely didn’t involve an LA cop or any zany crime-solving shenanigans.

But then the pilot leaked and it was a pretty boring night so we checked it out, and you guys. This show. It’s hilarious.

Not only is it hilarious, but it’s also more than its silly premise suggests. Our protagonists are deeply flawed characters who are very human, for all their celestial origins. Lucifer is a frequently-skeevy narcissist with literally all of the daddy issues. Amenadiel is a sanctimonious, prideful prick. Mazikeen is a straight-up sociopath.

And while the show occasionally showed us a Lucifer who was only a charming rogue, or an Amenadiel with a hint of compassion, or a softer side to Mazikeen, in the first season, these hints were more the exception to the rule. The show made a point of showing us that these characters were assholes, but that there might be something worthwhile in them, and then put them all on a redemptive arc.

The redemption story is a pretty tried-and-true trope in writing. I can’t be bothered to go Google it at the moment, but I’m pretty sure the redemption story is one of the most basic and oldest narrative arcs in storytelling. Your character is a flawed asshole, damned, possibly even actually evil. Trials are faced. The character grows and becomes something more decent. We’ve been telling this story for thousands of years.

We’ve been telling it for so long that it’s basically trotted out in shorthand these days. We don’t often get to see the work and effort and trauma a character has to face to achieve redemption, particularly not in a prime time, network TV show. And we don’t often get a character so flawed as Lucifer (and Amenadiel and Mazikeen) to work with.

So it was pretty wild to sit down to “LA cop + actual Devil = zany crime-solving shenanigans” on prime time network TV and get… Lucifer.

One of the stand-out characters on the show is Dr. Linda, a therapist we meet in season one. Lucifer starts seeing her to work on his entire magazine stand of issues. This is often played for laughs, and you’d be forgiven for missing what’s going on here: actual therapy. Lucifer grows through these sessions. Dr. Linda’s advice is often cast as a punchline, but by the end of any given episode or story arc, she’s proven right, and Lucifer learns. The character grows.

By the end of season three Dr. Linda is gently shepherding all three celestials through their various flaws and traumas, and with her help, they’re becoming better people.

Plot forces these characters through other trials, and they face them, together. They triumph. They grow. They, step by painful, difficult step, redeem themselves.

This show tackles issues of family, betrayal, love, trauma, and shows its characters a path through and forward, and it does that while winking and laughing and telling you this is all a punchline. It’s just a joke. It’s only meant to be funny. That’s why season three’s whole story arc was about the weighty implications of free will and self-determination vs. divine will and predestined fate. Because it’s a joke. Right?

One of the main themes this season is the idea that you can’t escape “God’s will,” that your fate is set in stone, that you are what you are and there’s no other way you can be. This is set against the idea that these characters are all already becoming more and better than they were. The easy way out of this story arc would be to tie a tidy bow on the idea that “God” was putting the characters through all this hardship to make them better, but the show stepped away from that.

Lucifer said, no. It’s on you. It’s not carved in stone and you can be better, but it’s up to you to do that. You judge yourself. You make of yourself what you want. And the characters actually got to learn that, and make better people of themselves. Or start to, anyway.

Sure, the show wasn’t perfect. Season three got a bit messy plot- and theme-wise, and Chloe Decker has been grossly under-served as a character. She’s barely a character at all – Decker is arguably the least interesting and least developed character on the show and that absolutely needs to change if the show finds a new network.

Sometimes Lucifer spends too much time on the joke and not enough on the serious stuff, which is a detriment, because the serious stuff is where this show shines. I mean, that finale. Those last few minutes with the whole Lucifer vs. Cain fight scene? Holy crap. That was amazing.

And they really need to fix that makeup for the “Devil face” thing. Ug. I mean, it works in blurred flashes and low light tolerably, but on the rare occasion when you actually get to see it dead on in good light, it’s just corny as hell. Like, “Oh, the Devil is Freddy Krueger. Great. That hasn’t been scary since I was 10.” That has to get fixed because Tom Ellis is too good at doing scary to be saddled with that crap make-up job.

Another thing about Lucifer is the actors – they are way, way better than “LA cop + actual Devil = zany crime-solving shenanigans.” Tom Ellis, Kevin Alejandro, and Rachel Harris are standouts in a standout cast.

Lucifer deserves more time. It should, bare minimum, get a fourth season to put a bow on things, but I think there’s enough here for two-three more seasons, to wrap things up for each character.

I think Netflix and Lucifer could really do some favors for each other here. Netflix could get a good series show, and it would be pretty easy to turn Lucifer into 13-episode binge-able arcs.

(I think 13-episode binge-able arcs would actually dramatically improve the show’s handful of storytelling flaws. Not everything needs to be a full 20+ episode season, TV people.)

Plus, the show wrapped up on a huge – although patently obvious – cliffhanger: Chloe finding out all of Lucifer’s BS was actually true. (We totally knew that was going to be the cliffhanger heading in.) I’m pretty annoyed that we don’t get to see how that plays out.

Net neutrality, healthcare, Ta-Nehisi Coates & Kanye, David Foster Wallace, & Disney songs

Reminder: This Wednesday, May 16, is the Senate net neutrality vote. Be sure you’ve contacted your senators to ask them about voting to save net neutrality.

Reminder: This Wednesday, May 16, is the Senate net neutrality vote. Be sure you’ve contacted your senators to ask them about voting to save net neutrality. Particularly if your senators are Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or John Kennedy (R-LA) – they seem to be on the fence and might be inclined to vote for saving net neutrality.

5 Things to Read Today

For more information about the fight to save net neutrality, visit BattleForTheNet.com and EFF.org.

Vaping, incels, climate change, health care pricing, & free speech & white supremacists

Today’s articles cover vaping, incels, climate change, health care pricing, and free speech and white supremacists, so it’s a pretty heavy reading list.

Did you catch last night’s episode of Riverdale? Because it was amaaaazing. And why was it amaaaazing? Because Cheryl, y’all. That girl is my hero. I want to be Cheryl when I grow up.

Anyway, today’s articles cover vaping, incels, climate change, health care pricing, and free speech and white supremacists, so it’s a pretty heavy reading list. Also, you might want to check out the post I did about the Michael Avenatti/Michael Cohen/slush fund story, because I’m still updating it with new articles.

Southern Poverty Law Center: Weekend Read: For incels, it’s not about sex. It’s about women.
“Incel” is shorthand for “involuntarily celibate,” and the term is used by a community of mostly male, mostly straight, mostly white men who congregate in the seedier crapholes of the internet to hate women together. They can’t get laid and they’re mad about it. “Mad” as in “angry,” and “mad” as in “insane.” Those who aren’t actively killing women already are cheering on the ones who do.

Vox: What genuine, no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like
All current “save us from climate change” scenarios rely on heavy use of an industry that doesn’t actually exist yet: BECCS, or bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration. That is, burning plants to create energy while capturing the carbon that would create and hiding it somewhere it can’t hurt anything, like burying it underground. We’re well past the point of no return, and achieving any future where we’re not roasting-then-freezing to death while being relentlessly battered by catastrophic storm after catastrophic storm involves radical changes in lifestyle and policy that aren’t actually likely to happen. So, um. Yeah. Get ready to get your Mad Max on, folks.

The New Yorker: The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul
This is a great read about vaping (and more specifically, vaping with the Juul, a new personal vaporizer product). It underlines the “moral panic” components of the anti-vaping sector, talks reasonably about the (sadly minimal) science, possibly undersells the dangers of nicotine a smidge, and paints a portrait of young people vaping like it’s made of orgasms. Kids, if you’re vaping this much I think you might be doing it wrong. Maybe take it down a notch. Or, considering that climate change article, maybe don’t.

Vox: The absurdity of American health care pricing, in one chart
This one’s a short read, but let me sum it up: health care pricing is bullshit, folks. We’re getting screwed and someone should regulate this crap.

GQ: How Free Speech Warriors Mainstreamed White Supremacists
“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” – H. L. Mencken.

I’m not going to pretend to know an answer here, but I will say that I’m pretty sure hate speech laws like the EU uses isn’t it. I think fixing America’s nazi/white supremacist problem probably begins with education.