Monday, March 20, 2017

Go "Westworld," young man.

Westworld Review: Part I

A robot census taker once tried to test me.
I ate his core processor with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Westworld is a show created by nerds for nerds. For that I am deeply grateful. And deeply conflicted.

It's fan service for viewers with high IQs and long memories. While the rest of you squandered your days on that "real life" thing, we watched a crapload of movies, TV shows and cartoons and can quote you chapter and verse from every last one.

Let us now begin our catechism...

Why are newly made robots woven from white thread and dipped into something that looks like milk?
Because of Ghost in the Shell, that's why.

Why is there a bad guy named Escaton?
Aside from the obvious nod to eschatology (the theological study of last things), it's a subtle wink to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest—specifically a wacky war game called "Eschaton" that simulates global nuclear combat with tennis balls. For 21 pages.
Mongo only pawn in game of robot cowboys.
Why does a robot go to "meet its maker."
As it was in Blade Runner, so it shall be, now and forever, amen.

Why is Yul Brynner's killer robot character from the original "Westworld" movie standing in the back of a crappy office with his thumbs hitched into his belt?
If Battlestar Galactica could stick an old Cylon in a glass case, Westworld can stick Yul Brynner in the back of an office.

Why isn't his face burned off?
Agggh, enough with the stupid questions!

Aside from the sheer tonnage of Easter eggs referring to other robot stories, Westworld groans with references to storytelling itself. 

The imagineers/puppeteers of Westworld discuss storylines, plots, characters, dishonest tricks and transformative tales. Yes, my friends, you've just walked into a magical place called the writers room! You know it; the screenwriters know it. Dig in.

It's a story about a story about a story! Folding in on itself like the closed loop of a mobius strip!

This self-referential cleverness wags a finger at the audience's voyeuristic, sadistic, prurient impulses. And (cleverly) gives you permission to indulge in said impulses. "Morose delectation," as Thomas Aquinas would say. Or maybe I'm thinking of Saint Aquin.

But it's not TV. It's HBO! And prurient indulgence comes with the package. 

The show makes you feel clever and indulges your dark fantasies. It's all designed to make you watch. A hook, a come-on, a tease. So what? That's what TV shows do.

Once your eyeballs are glued, the show hits you with some serious questions. Yes, indeed, it does. For starters ...

After Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus; Metropolis; RUR; I, Robot; Robot Rumpus; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Blade Runner; Ghost in the Shell; Terminator 1, 2, 3, ∞; and the myriad of all the other robot stories, is it humanly (or cybernetically) possible to say one more original thought about machine consciousness? For that matter, will the refried Julian Jaynes cause gastric distress and possible anal leakage?

Ahhh ... I dunno. Let's save the big ideas for another day.

The show's real gutsiness lies somewhere else.

The storytellers do what all great storytellers do: They paint themselves into a corner. They take the story to a dead end. They don't merely end the first season on a cliffhanger. They push the story off the cliff. There's no place left to go but down.

Attentive readers will note that my mixed metaphors now include a paint job, a maze and a cliff. But it all amounts to the same thing.

Either Season Two will recycle the same old gags and pull a clever cheat. 

Or they'll actually come up with something new.

No comments: