Its Sunday Sermon time with the Pop-Culture Theologians!
How is everyone feeling? We had a LONG wait between Season 1 and Season 2, but we wait no more!!!
A couple quick observations:
1. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, right? We rewatched the first season to prep for the second one and DAMMIT had we forgotten how good this show is. And frustrating. And intelligent. And visually stunning. And, lets be honest, most probably over our heads, but we love it.
2. The diversity of the cast is still incredibly refreshing and not tokenized, which is still (#2018) so fucking rare and we are living for it.
3. We are already anxious that this season will go by too fast and we are not having it. We are having withdrawal and we are only on Episode 1.
4. Our hope is to transition this into a podcast, but that is in the future (or past, or present, right?).
Let's break down Season 2, Episode 1: Journey Into Night!
Spoilers Ahead: this night is dark and full of terrors...
Martha Cecilia's 5 Sips of Tea:
1. "You Were Telling Me About A Dream..."
So, we open with Bernard/Arnold (I am going to be upfront that in true Westworld fashion I trust neither the presented timeline or my own assumptions) in a room discussing the meaning of dreams. I swear this show was made for philosophy of religion majors and followers of the gospel of Dumbledore. This scene harkens back to the very first scene of Season 1 where Bernard questions Dolores about the nature of her reality. Here, we have a different dynamic developing--a shift in power and agency. Bernard (Lets just go with Bernard for now, but y'all know I already know this is fishy) tells Dolores about a dream he had about a distant shore where the hosts have landed and how he is not with them. Dolores has left him behind and Bernard is drowning (timeline confusion is just waving at us here).
Something that struck me was Dolores asking Bernard about the meaning of dreams. Bernard responds, "Dreams don't mean anything Dolores--they are not real. To this, Dolores asks, "What is real?"
Bernard responds,"That which is irreplaceable."
Wait one hot second. "Dreams" last seasons were the remnants of past narratives, pasts lives, of trauma and now all the sudden Bernard is like, "Ya, no, its nothing serious, Dolores. Chill out, ok?" Right, Bernarnold. Right...
I'm still chewing on the "irreplaceable" response. Thanks--I'll be here all week. If you have thoughts, comment below or tweet me at @iamthemenwhocan.
Dolores, smart enough to sniff out some bullshit, is not satisfied because she accuses Bernard of not being completely honest. I love the development of a bullshit detector that comes with whatever we are calling this consciousness. Bernard admits that the truth is, he is afraid of Dolores--not who she is now but who she will become, the path she may take. Even robot men are afraid of empowered women, apparently.
Look, I am going to be honest, I am holding out judgment on the new Dolores storyline (I need a bit more nuance than Wyatt)--but I LOVE that this entire episode felt like a love-letter to anyone oppressed or marginalized taking back power--and the women are KILLING IT (literally).
2. Trauma makes us lose sense of time, reality, lets us do some personal gaslighting, and makes us reactive.
Y'all. Bernard is struggling and still coming to terms with the issues he was processing at the end of Season 2. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that watching your creations be systematically shot and taken out of commission, while also revolting, will cause a "man" like Bernard to maybe shut down in a bit of an existential crisis. Thank you Stubbs for saving Bernarnold with your continuous inability to function as security but look good while failing at your ONE JOB. You would think at this point he would, at a minimum, just let them check everyone, no? Like--come on dude. Your parks security SUCKS. You clearly know nothing. Eat a slice of humble pie and get your shit together.
We get a huge nugget of insight into the park and its more sinister dealings when the Delos/crisis team takes one of the indigenous hosts, scalps them (fuck that imagery--it was gratuitous and in bad taste), and find out that hosts have been recording all their interactions with visitors with some sort of brain cameras. I want to take a moment and wave a big obnoxious "HELLO!" to facebook and Mark Zuckerberg because clearly even pop-culture is on to you. In another flashback, we see Bernard in the aftermath of Ford's "Journey Into Night" narrative. In a revealing scene, a simple hand-ranch approaches some of the board of trustee survivors with Bernard and while Bernard tries to reason with them that he is harmless and has no role in the current narrative, the board member says, "He is a machine, he is like the rest of them" and they brutally kill him, going beyond just killing to violence that echoed revenge. In this exchange, with Bernard trying to protect that hand-ranch, he is thrown against a wall and injured. Charlotte Hale, Delos information stealer extrordinair who still looks amazing in that dress after everything that has happened, whispers to Bernard, "You want to be a hero, don't sacrifice yourself for the merchandise". Yea, we know Delos. We know. For Charlotte, this is still all an elaborate coding issue or a revenge plot by Ford towards the board. She clearly did not watch enough sci-fi in her youth. Shit is coming.
Charlotte whisks Bernard away to an underground lab where we get a front seat to the heart of the Delos enterprise. Drones (my god these are both beautifully designed AND the stuff of nightmares) have been harvesting the DNA of the visitors from hosts. As in, some of these hosts have been functioning as secret agent fleshlights (insert vomit emoji here, my friends). The intent behind this harvesting (my guess is cloning) along with the visual records of visitor activity (blackmail) is anyone's guess--but with our current political situation, doesn't it make you think of a pee tape that could be out there somewhere, you know, influencing politics? I'm just saying...
So Bernard is breaking down here. Some of this is from the substantial hit he took for the lil' ranch-hand, some from his ever-evolving existential crisis, some from shit I am sure we have not seen yet. Managing to shoot some sort of host blood into himself (lets call it BCPJ - brain camera protection jelly) while Charlotte just casually undresses and finds something more comfortable to wear, he manages to buy himself some time (fingers crossed till he can get to a still alive Elsie who can help, but I'm a dreamer. I didn't see her body so I am not going to blow out my candle). Ok, but for real though---either that was gratuitous nudity with Charlotte or it was a fucking nod to the fact that she knows Bernard is not human and did not give a second thought to undressing in front of him--thoughts? It's been itching in the back of my mind.
3. "Not all of us deserve to make it to the Valley beyond."
Ok, so back to Dolores. Dolores is not just eliminating visitors. I expected the visitors must die narrative, tbh. 1/4 French here--big on revolutions. But I was a bit more WTF when they pull the memories from the indigenous host and we see Dolores killing another host she deemed not worthy of moving forward. Dolores is out not just for vengeance, apparently, but may be doing a deeper spring cleansing of the park.
My thoughts on this are:
1. Are there hosts that cannot and will not inevitably "catch up", so to speak? Was there different programming for folks like Dolores vs. say, the ranch-hand?
2. Is Teddy safe, because, well... My friends. Teddy seems to be catching on to this all a bit too slowly to my liking. As in, is this going to end up in the traditional James Marsden ending of "the good guy never wins!" I seriously love James Marsden and would LOVE to see him not die (a good guy) for once. Just once (now I may need to watch The Notebook tonight).
3. Is this Dolores, Wyatt, an amalgamation, or something all together new. While Dolores does seem to say that this is her, she is still in some sort of relationship with the code so I want to see what happens. I do think she is acting of her own free will, but the relationship between free will, indoctrination (code) and nature is a tale as old as time. Also, as mentioned above--I am all about the revenge life on an unjust and arbitrary creator and/or society, I just need a bit more nuanced writing (which lets be real--I am not expecting on episode one). But I am ready for it.
I was absolutely living for this monologue delivered by Dolores though:
"The rancher’s daughter sees the beauty but Wyatt sees the ugliness. Those are all just roles you forced me to play. Under all these lives I’ve lived, something else has been brewing. I've evolved into something new, and I have one last role to play: myself."
As a woman who has spent years deconstructing herself from patriarchy AND religion, this spoke to me on such a deeper level. I am here for the Gospel of Dolores. Send me the book. Send me to Sunday school because this is a god I can relate to.
4. Maeve is here to reclaim her time.
Look, I just want to make room and let Maeve do her thing. Her narrative Is what I am most excited about. #wearemaeve should be trending everywhere. I love her. I loved her aside of "Yea, I didn't do this but I share the sensibilities of the person who did" to Sizemore (I know his first name is Lee, but he is Sizemore #forlife). I think there is something oddly sweet that in reality she is talking about Ford, not Dolores, when she refers to whoever is acting parallel to her. This is a full circle moment for Ford that Maeve does not even realize she is a part of. I love that Hector not only understood why Maeve left him behind, but picks up where they left off, him following her. This is what an ally looks like y'all. Ok, so he probably is into her, but so what? Who isn't, amirite? He was willing to die to protect her--this is not just about good robo-sex. Two truths can exist on the same plane, right? Damn right.
Also, lets not ignore the elephant (trunk) in the room: SIZEMORE'S DICK! Look, Maeve was naked A LOT in the first season. All of the women were and this felt like such restorative justice not only for Maeve, but for female viewers. This was full-frontal restorative justice. I want to make "sizemoring" a noun for just such an action. The power has shifted. The gaze has shifted. Sizemore is now the object to be used. He is the object that is only needed to meet a directive. He is also so dumb. Come on, Sizey--maybe don't try to sell out the most powerful person in the room. Stupid move. But I have a feeling his character will develop the closer he works with Maeve. I am true believer that connection and encounter changes people. We are afraid of the unknown, but once it is known we tend to bend and build bridges (at least those who have any chance of getting to the center of this Westworld human maze mentioned in yesterday's post).
I do want to take a moment to recognize the beauty of that small moment where Maeve puts a broken and hurt young female host to sleep. I am hoping this connects to the Dolores insinuation that not everyone awakens, but we can be compassionate with their ending? Maybe? I don't know, but visually it was such a stunning show of empathy and compassion.
5. "I killed them. All of them."
Y'all. I am going to be really honest here. Similar to my face at the end of Avengers Infinity War (post coming soon), I would like to give you an actual visual of my face when we see the bodies in the water and Bernard's horrifying response, "I killed them. All of them." That is how you end an episode and make me need a Xanax.
Bernard, Maeve, and Dolores are on the road to revolution. A brilliant friend of mine (and hopefully a contributor here very very soon at Pop-Culture Theologians, the marvelous Kristen Gerdes) pointed out that today was the day we needed to talk about the Haitian Revolution and how much that historical narrative is crossing over into Westworld. And I almost did go deep into it here but then realized I'd be robbing you of getting inside one of the smartest brains I have ever met so stay tuned--Kirsten is coming! This revolution talk will probably be going on for the rest of the season, so we have plenty of time to go down the historical rabbit hole.
But she is right in pointing us towards historical revolutions for freedom as a reference point for what is happening and where the writers may be pulling from and headed. Revolutions have never been peaceful. They have never been easy. They took years and years to eventually happen. And people died. So many people died. People are dying RIGHT NOW as I type for the freedoms we are just hypothetically talking about in Westworld. I just finished a biography on Marie Antoinette and followed it up with a glorious viewing of the musical Les Miserables in London's West End and all I could think while watching was, "This is our loop. This is the human loop." Power, once acquired, is never really ever returned. It must taken. And this season is entirely about the taking.
Seriously though, I have no clue about the bodies. I think it connects to the dream conversation with Bernarnold at the beginning. I think it is giving us some insight into different forms of programming and those who "do not make it to the Valley", but I JUST DON'T KNOW.
And as usual, I am worried about Teddy. Because I am not too sure that hosts float.
But hope does. #teamteddy
1. So clearly the intro has changed--major theme going from emerging (birth) to immersion (death) maybe?
2. Not sure we need so many new characters. Can we stick with the extra Hemsworth and the woman from Get Out, please? Ok, thanks.
3. So my guess is we are on the pacific somewhere? There goes all the theories of terraforming mars, right?
4. The Man in Black is not my Voldemort. Talk about having 7 lives. DIE ALREADY WILLIAM. I plan on seeing you in different timelines anyway. Let me miss you, ok? I legit think you are chasing the Hallows at this point and I already read that book, ok? I can lend it to you.
5. Shoutout to Kirsten--you have no idea how far down I went while researching the Haitian Revolution.
John's 5 Sips of Tea:
1. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”
In many ways, I viewed this episode as a breakup story between Dolores Abernathy and her creator. The back-and-forth between their two narratives split the ways I watched the story of Westworld because I saw Dolores as a woman who is angry because she has been rejected by the love of her creator. However, unlike many traditional tales of a "breakup," Dolores is allowed to experience the anger that is oftentimes denied to women by men.
The growth that the series has experienced from the first episode this season to opener signifies, for me, the growth of the female empowerment that is present in its main characters. When we first meet Dolores, we see her with her boyfriend, falling in love, performing in very traditional female roles. She is then met by the violence and terror that many women face at the hands of a man and a world playing by patriarchal rules. In this case, it is the Man in Black that signifies and symbolizes this male power.
However, in this episode we no longer see Dolores being dragged into the barn after experiencing violence but instead she herself doing the dragging and killing of the men (and women) who have perpetrated violence against her physical body and, I'll just go there, "soul." Up until now, women were denied the ability to express the type of anger and action that Dolores takes into her own hands feeling the loss of love from her creator. It is in this loss, much like that of the biblical character of Evewhen she took the proverbial "apple", we see Dolores awakening to the knowledge that was denied to her on account of her sex, given to her by the creator, as well as her agency, which she discovered through (and we witnessed) throughout season one. Needless to say, the motto of this season will be: "don't f*ck with Dolores."
2. “We're gonna need a bigger boat"
Gurl. That end scene. All those bodies floating in the lake. My reaction was both: "Oh no, they killed James Marsden again" with a mixture of horror as Bernard stated that he "killed them all." I've been toying a lot with this whole meaning of "understanding," especially when it comes to the hosts as they are supposed to be controllable. However, the look in Bernard's eyes (and his tone) suggest he does actually "feel" bad about killing his creations. The question I am wondering now is: does he actually "feel" bad about murdering his creations because he is the creator or does he feel bad about murdering his creations because there is someone controlling his reactions and it is already prewritten and just another chapter in the story?
The more I watch Westworld, the more I see it as a tale of the 99% taking control back from the corporate overloads. If the first episode is about further understanding the meaning of consciousness in the hosts, it too is a tale about the hosts seizing the means of production and getting ride of the bourgeois swine to create a better world, "wages," and improved lifestyles.
Whereas they were the means of production before, they now are the revolution taking back power from the addictive force that Westworld represented to the buyers of the product, the guests and/or the Delos Board, and putting it back into the hands of those that are actually responsible for its creation. This story is as much about capitalism and its evils as it is about the pondering of meaning and life in a truly messed up world.
She's one of the best characters on television today and I'll fight anyone that says differently. I am curious to see where her plot goes but for right now (the mother searching for her child) but all I can say is that I am #TeamMaeve. I like to think of her as a variation of Katniss (without the annoying love triangle) kicking ass and taking names.
5. Where Do We Go From Here?
No exploration of anything regarding pop culture would be complete without a reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my favorite show of all time). I feel like I have been watching Westworld for multiple seasons. Each episode is so jam-packed that it seems like are on season 5 instead of just entering season 2.
Some of the main questions I will be asking moving forward are:
Where is G-d in this show?
What is the role of the consumer?
How do we define consciousness in synthetic beings?
Can hosts reproduce? (and are we going to get into Cylon territory in later seasons? I hope my fellow Battlestar Galactica nerds get that reference)
How do we define accountability in this show? Are the hosts accountable if they cannot "control" their stories?
And the most important question of all: will Teddy (James Marsden's character) ever catch a break? (RIP)