Its Sunday Sermon time with the Pop-Culture Theologians!
1. Solo came out. Reviews have been mixed and the new film has us asking ourselves--do we need a prequel for every single character from the original Star Wars? While we were not that excited about Solo, we are all about the #LandoLife.
2. We have a surprise for readers of The Sunday Sermon coming soon! Get ready for our next evolution here at Engaged Gaze!
3. We want to know--as Westworld starts inching in on its season finale, what other shows would you like broken down? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! We would love to know what you are watching!
4. Lies are lies. No need to call them "demonstrable falsehoods". Get your shit together, journalists. You have ONE JOB.
5. We are thrilled to have Kirsten Gerdes with us again for our Sunday Sermon! The Mother of Doggos has arrived!
OH! And Happy Birthday to Engaged Gaze! One year ago today you joined us on this journey. Thank you!
Let's break down Season 2, Episode 5: ‘Akane No Mai’
Spoilers Ahead: You have been warned...
Marci's 5 (Short) Sips of Tea:
1. You really are not that special...
And we are finally in Shogun World! I am going to just dive right into it because this episode has so much to go through. Let's do this.
Ok. So I had to stifle a laugh when Sizemore reveals that what Maeve and others thought were unique storylines (theirs! ) are actually a dime a dozen. I find this in line with what I see as a deconstruction of the "human experience" in Westworld. Nothing more humbling to the "human" experience than realizing you are one in a million. We all know what it is like to think we are alone in this world, singular in our experiences, only to find out that most of what we go through, 90% of the world does too (I think of teens in particular who live and die at the alter of their once-in-a-lifetime love and loss). And while I understand that this can be narrative shattering for both humans and hosts, I am interested in where they will take this revelation. Are our experiences any less ours if they are shared experiences? I like this. I want them to chew on this with me.
This goes both ways too, right? Not only are the hosts grappling with their singularity, so is Sizemore. He, as a human, has considered himself as top of the pyramid, top of the food chain, top in the evolutionary story.
And now? Not so much. And I am sure that the rest of this season we will be watching how humans come to terms with potentially not being top of the pyramid. And how empathy plays into whether they are capable of being in relationship WITH vs. just being at the top.
Also, I picked up on serious sexual vibes between all of the Westworld hosts (am I alone in this) and their Shogun mirrors and I think there is quite a bit to unpack there. More to come as this develops. But this is a sexy development.
But honestly, who doesn't love themselves, right?
2. Creators are not implicitly omnipresent. Sometimes they just lose control.
Sizemore seems really sure that he knows the narratives of his hosts...and he does! But he only knows the original narratives he wrote. Not accounting for what we are, for now, interpreting as free will, he grows less and less sure of his knowledge as he watches his hosts be formed by their own choices, their history, and their attachment to others. If we really think about it, this is asking us to consider that life is not the journey we take, but the decisions we make (corny, I know). While the journey is linear, life is not. We are flirting with updated definitions of free will and natural law. YASSSS.
And I love this. I love the denunciation of an omnipresent creator. Yes, the hosts may have been created, but their lives, once lived, are their own. They do not and never did truly belong to Delos. They belong to no one but themselves. #freedom
3. And once again, a woman's salvation lies in the womb.
YAWN x1000. Rage points x10.
Look. I am rooting for Maeve. I really am. I have loved her story from Day 1 and still think there is a way to rectify what I am going to interpret as "maternal savior syndrome", but I am struggling. Maeve (and her mirror host Akane) seem to be entirely defined by their motherhood. While Maeve rejected Dolores's "white girl savior" syndrome (thank god), the writers seem to be leaning heavily on the idea that Maeve feels empathy (or even feels more) because of her connection with motherhood. She is "superior" because of it. She is free because of it.
And I just can't get behind it. If Maeve was programmed to leave the park and chose to stay for her daughter, it reinforces, in contrast with Dolores, that the right type of revolutionary is one that works from a place of self-sacrifice and natural order. Maeve becomes "the right way to dissent". Coming from a religious tradition that invented the mother vs. whore complex, I find this lazy writing. I also find it philosophically exhausting and indefensible. Dolores does not need to be an unfeeling whore. Maeve does not need to be a self-sacrificing mother. There are more nuanced places for both women to be written from. Also, this also implies that Maeve's sexuality is redeemed by her motherhood whereas...
4. Speaking of Dolores...
Dolores is screwed. Literally. Without a child to bring about her empathy and ability to still be "civil", Dolores is turning into a monster. Wonderful (insert sarcastic laugh here). Also, I just *love* how her sexual awakening is part of her downfall.
No but seriously. NUANCE people. I find the Dolores dehumanization tiring. Unless Dolores has been completely taken over by Wyatt, there is no version of Dolores that would have essentially erased Teddy. None. The woman we met in Season 1 would never have killed host after host after host. And while I do think revolutions require sacrifice and loss, something about this just feels sloppy. They are losing the character in an idea (or are they? what do I know). *shrugs*. Hoping tonights episode finally unravels what is happening with Dolores (and Teddy, and Bernard). Because I think either I am missing puzzle pieces, or I am starting to hate the way Westworld writes women (and men...).
5. The Jedi has arrived!
Wait, Maeve can tap into the network and Jedi-mind trick the shit out of everyone? UGH. Maybe I am not the right audience anymore. I don't know. I just don't know. I find these shifts into Shogun b-reel and sci-fi Jedi tricks to be distracting from what I thought was the story the show runners were telling in Season 1. If Maeve can tap into the host network as implied by this episode, what are the stakes? How would anyone ever even stop her? Why not just shut it all down? It just seems like the power is really too broad to work well. It also asks creates more problems than it solves. Now I can't help but think if there isn't a network OFF button. We saw Ford shut everyone down. Now I am having trouble suspending my belief that there isn't some sort of huge red button that would just turn the whole thing off.
I am not walking away from my beloved Westworld, but I am not happy. The prior episode was my all time favorite episode. Then this one took me right out, laughing in the face of my devotion.
I am here for heroines. I am here for deconstruction Don't let me down Westworld.
Anyone else struggling?
Also, I am ready for John to call me a reddit she-man woman hater. Bring it. :)
John's 5 Sips of Tea:
Westworld is apparently too tame for some guests. Because we know there are other parks, I have to wonder if they offer something even more wild than the two parks that we are already seeing? While Shogun world is a duplicate of Westworld (cue the discussion into the shoddy storytelling delved out by corporations to consumers who will devour it at any cost; see my fifth takeaway), Shogun world offers a unique opportunity for the characters we have come to know see their duplicates and, in Maeve’s case, help free them from their storylines. I’m excited to see where Maeve takes this world and its inhabitants but I hope we get there sooner, rather than later.
2. Geishas w/ Attitude
One thing I cannot get enough of is the role of women throughout Westworld. While we clearly see the duplications of the Westworld cast in Shogun world, the role of women seems to get more complex outside of narratives that we have come to see in repetition in Season 1 and in this episode’s Shogun world retelling of the bank heist and robbery scene.
Much like Maeve’s character and her search for her daughter, Akane’s search for her own daughter, and ultimately her rebellion against the Shogun, show that mothers and geishas have much more to offer than traditionally associated to with them through hegemonic systems of power and oppression.
3. Men Still Suck
While we may be in a different world, I think we can all safely still say that: men still suck. From the Shogun, the men in the bank robbery, to corporate shills and like Lee and William, I think we can all agree that men (and I’m sure as Reddit would point out, Dolores) suck!
4. Whose Your Daddy
While we see a quest being performed by mothers (Dolores and Akane) there is also a question of fatherhood I am interested in seeing explored. We have Dolores’s quest to find her father and then Emily’s for William. However, are we searching for the same end of the same coin? Is Dolores’s search mimicked by Emily’s quest for her father? Is Dolores actually free? What was my original point (LOL), but seriously though, the theme seems to be about a quest for mothers as well as a pursuit for daughters and their fathers.
5. Didn’t I Just Buy This?
Did you ever go to the store and see the exact same product and think to yourself: “Didn’t I buy this in blue a month ago?” For me, Westworld and Shogun World are about capitalism and more specifically, corporate America’s constant need to sell products to consumers in order to survive. It is primarily the reason why William suggests recording the guests during times when they are most vulnerable because I think he too knows that the premise of Westworld cannot be sustained without being able to offer or sell something different to repeat guests. I’m also guessing it is the reason for the other parks as well; from being too tame, offering the same story, or needing to find a more wild ride for guests that want to have the Westworld experience, Delos is like any other corporation we and buy things from today.
So, the next time you go to Target for one thing and come back with thirty, ask yourself: whose watching your purchasing habits?
The weeks ahead…
Where are we going? Where have we been? And, most importantly: what the f*ck is even happening? From what I can tell, Teddy is a goner and Dolores is becoming the very definition of what happens when absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think we are going to see that Dolores, who thinks she is on her own path, is actually on one that Ford sent her on. I think (and I really hope) that Maeve is truly free. In addition, I think we are going to see the further demise of Bernard and ultimately come to understand who and what the Man in Black truly is. Is he the other host clone? Or will his daughter’s search for him bring back a version of the William we had come to know and see in the first season? Either way, I’m all in on Maeve and from what I can see on reddit, they are all in on their hatred for Dolores.
Five sips of tea:
1. Revolutions are always a bloody mess. But the question remains: who's pulling the strings of the revolution?
Remember that in his final speech in Season 1, Ford tells the VIP guests and Delos board members that his new storyline "begins with the birth of a new people and the choices they will have to make." Something is clearly happening to the hosts - but it's definitely not the same something. We have hosts who are 'awake,' meaning conscious of themselves as hosts; hosts who are not 'awake;' hosts of whom we're not sure, like the Ghost Nation; and hosts who seem to exist in a liminal state between being awake and lacking consciousness (like Old Clementine, a 'zombie' host, as I've seen her called in various recaps of the show). Arnold wrote The Maze for Dolores and other hosts to gain consciousness, but Ford knew of it, too, and even handed the maze to Bernard at the end of S1. Once Dolores gains consciousness - once she's reached the center of the maze - she embarks on a bloody revolution, killing humans and hosts alike who present themselves as obstacles. We've gotten the admission from Bernard in the season 2 premiere that he's responsible for killing all the hosts in the lake, and we've seen his work via flashback in Sector 12, the lab where the host James Delos languished for who knows how long. This may be the "story" Delos suit Costa referred to in the opening for this episode - as though Bernard is being controlled by code, too, and Delos knows it. This is a popular theory I've seen out there. If we learn anything from the Haitian Revolution, known as the most successful slave revolt in history, which resulted in the establishment of a free nation, we learn that the oppressors do not take kindly to having their power taken from them. After all, there is a direct line that can be traced between the economic struggles of an impoverished modern-day Haiti and the vindictive trade policies imposed on the nascent country by the U.S., France, and Great Britain (among others) following their independence. I'm not an expert in this history, and this is reductionistic for the sake of space and time, but the lesson still applies: when there is a gross imbalance of power, and in a world that is increasingly affected more by economics than by mere land possession, the powerful can afford to lose battles, as they don't topple their power structures. Delos can afford to lose the island (wherever it is and however big it is) to the revolutionary hosts, but they cannot afford to lose their intellectual property (in the form of host James Delos's mind). Ford knew this, and I'm guessing Ford's still alive (at least his consciousness is now in a host somewhere) and he's pulling the strings of the revolution.
2. Relationships make us who we are, and there is no freedom that is free from relation.
To put it in geekier terms, it's relationality all the way down. Dolores hasn't accepted this yet; that's why she's changing Teddy's code. She clearly loves him, otherwise she'd kill him like she does the other hosts in her way. But she still believes she's making choices that are free. Consciousness =/= freedom, and I suspect Dolores's code is still being manipulated by someone, probably Ford. She's intent on saving her father (Abernathy), who just happens to be carrying James Delos' code in his head. The person who would most like to prevent that IP from getting out of the park is Ford. Dolores is, of course, affected by her relationships - this seems more the test of being a person, no? - and is exactly what makes her vulnerable to (I suspect) Ford's manipulation. My lingering question here is why Charlotte chose Abernathy as the mule for James Delos' consciousness (and the 34 years of data) - there is something unique about him, too, I suspect, as when he was decommissioned, his "breach" was unique to the others decommissioned at the same time. For Maeve, whom I'm holding out hope is actually both conscious and free from manipulation in her code by a human, we see relationality through love is what fuels her (not revenge, like Dolores - keep in mind revenge is a kind of relationality, too) and what draws more hosts toward Enlightenment (and not Clementine-like zombie-ness). I like the juxtaposition of Dolores's and Maeve's storylines, and I'm not bothered by the violence of Dolores's revolution... yet. Maybe the biggest tell in Dolores's achieving personhood is not her consciousness or her relationality but her violence. 🤔
3. Akane's dance to Wu-Tang Clan's C.R.E.A.M. isn't a coincidence.
"Cash Rules Everything Around Me" is the ultimate law of all the colonialist fantasy worlds created by Delos. Did you see the Delos symbol on the flags in the Shogun camp? Here's the Wu-Tang version and Akane's dance. And here are the lyrics.
4. Westworld is giving us a different explanation of free will.
Most people (who haven't studied the philosophical problem of free will) think it means an uncaused action: there are at
least two options from which one can choose, and then one simply engages the will to make a particular choice, free from prior cause. Based on this definition, then, people either accept or reject the idea that humans are free. But it's much more complicated than that, and Westworld uses the character of Lee to problematize this definition. He continually refers back to the hosts as hard-wired (and probably thinks of humans that way, too) to perform certain tasks and recite certain dialogue. So when Akane is presented with the demand from the daimyo about giving Sakura over to the Shogun, Lee says she has "no choice" but to comply - that it's "just fucking code." Then Akane kills the daimyo, Lee says, "That's not supposed to happen," and Maeve says something like, "Looks like she had a choice after all." This is what an open future looks like, and it is playing with the traditional notions of free will. Instead of there being something like uncaused actions, there are multiple complex causes that lead to the potential for something new to emerge. (I won't get into emergentism and process thought here, but it's relevant.) What happens with Akane is that instead of her programming to comply with the strict societal hierarchy that demands she turn over Sakura to the Shogun, she is influenced by the cause of her love for Sakura, her mothering instinct, and something unexpected happens. It's not the absence of causes, but an unpredictability about how those competing causes will interact to produce actions.
5. This one will be short: please let there be more for for Hiroyuki Sanada (Musashi) to do.
I look forward to seeing him interact more with his doppelgänger (Hector), and I look forward with hope to the deconstruction of orientalist tropes and the racist othering of non-European cultures/histories, as well as the racist tendency to project mirrored sameness (anyone who's studied world religions understands the tendency to compare and reduce everything to a grand narrative). Basically, more Sanada, please.