Kirsten’s 5 Sips of Tea from the S2 Finale:
1. Relationships are not secondary, but primary. Dolores and Maeve have been differentiated all season by, among other things, their approach to relationships. Maeve veered off her programmed code when she decided to stay in the park to rescue her daughter, and her decision altered her code in significant ways. While Ford clearly wrote her code in such a way to gift her with skills other hosts didn’t have, it’s not clear that she would’ve recognized and honed those skills without her decision to stay. After all, there wouldn’t be (as far as we know) a mesh network outside the park to communicate with other hosts. On the other hand, Dolores doesn’t really accept that relationships are important ends themselves, though I think it does dawn on her by the end that relationships are not an insignificant part of what makes us who we are. That’s why she brings Bernard back - because she needs the relationship she has with him in some way, though she obviously thinks about this still in purely utilitarian terms. While I think the show has attempted to subvert traditional norms of gender with the
Dolores/Wyatt/Charlotte character(s), all I think they’ve really been successful at is reinforcing the feminine-nurturing-mothering trope in Maeve (h/t Marci about halfway through S2) and the angry-vengeful woman trope that is the other side of that coin in Dolores/Wyatt/Charlotte. What’s important, though, in Maeve’s and Dolores’s narratives still is the depiction of Orlando Patterson’s theory of what constitutes slavery (hint: it’s not forced labor). Patterson argues in Slavery and Social Death that slavery is marked by social death rather than by forced labor. Social death happens as a result of a relation of total domination: one in which the enslaved is denied all access to kinship except that which is set up and allowed by the slavemaster - thus the frequent renaming of the enslaved and separation of families - and in which the enslaved experience extreme violence and degraded or humiliated status in society. All three of these characteristics are what the hosts suffer, at least until their uprising. Relationships are erased from hosts’ memories and kinship ties rewritten with their stories. They have clearly experienced extreme violence and death repeatedly, and they are treated as objects by the humans who created them and pay to interact with them. Thus, hosts experience social death.
2. Season 2 centered the narrative around Bernard (though it tried to pass itself off as
being centered on Maeve and Dolores). This leads to the biggest discovery of the season for someone within the Westworld universe: Bernard’s awakening is the central and unifying thread of the plot this season. Dolores tells Bernard he doesn’t understand her before he shoots her - and she’s right. In this moment he tells her that she’s gonna kill everyone - meaning, all the humans, but we also know she doesn’t think twice about killing any hosts who don’t “have what it takes” to survive. While that might be true in a sense, what she believes she’s been doing all season is to remake everyone into who she thinks they need to be in order to survive. We see this in the final pre-credits scene, where Charlores has brought Bernard back — she believes she needs him and vice versa. It’s telling that this scene is the final one (at least the final pre-credit scene) - yes, it shows Dolores is learning that relationships are imperative, but it’s really been about Bernard’s journey, since that’s the one that the audience has been most invested in sussing out all season. I’m not sure I’m okay with that.
3. As System Logan explains the workings of the system to Bernard and Dolores, he (and Dolores, ultimately) misses the importance of neuroplasticity in human consciousness. Clearly, these hosts who come down on the Dolores/anti-human side see humans as simple vehicles for the drives that comprise them: they have no free will. Bernard’s subconscious-as-Ford tells Bernard as much: they have only the illusion of free will. But this isn’t the whole story, and as all sci-fi narratives about
computers/machines/aliens/advanced life forms who underestimate humans demonstrate, they will probably come to realize this (provided further seasons are made). Although it’s true that the common-sense understanding of free will most people have is not at all how it *actually* is, humans aren’t entirely predestined, either. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change over the course of one’s lifetime. It’s how we form and change habits, change beliefs, suffer PTSD, etc. Rewiring one’s brain isn’t easy, of course, but it’s possible. Perhaps the best example of this is in the character of Lee Sizemore, whose experiences this season point to his changing beliefs about hosts through his experiences with them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can change everything about ourselves consciously. I’m really curious to see how this plays out in future seasons. Actually, I’m probably more interested in who the consultants for these concepts are on the show. HBO, call me!
4. Apparently, the writers intended this season to be confusing. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good puzzle, but this season felt a bit much. I’m confident it lost viewers, though I haven’t checked the Nielsen ratings. Perhaps this is to be expected of the genre in the era
of binge-watching. I expect that those who wait to binge the whole season will have an easier time digesting this season. However, the mark of the best narratives are those that can land their plot twists and bombshells with the same resonance and surprise regardless of how one watches it - as it airs or binging. This season did not succeed at this, although it feels a bit like the writers asked it their audience what’s expected of people who play role-playing games regularly: that they do some homework and keep up a notebook for character development, damage, etc. This isn’t just *not* for the casual viewer; it’s actively hostile toward those who don’t geek out and dive deep. I think I’m still here for it, but barely. I don’t have this much time!
5. The player piano perforated sheet music-cum-human genetic code metaphor is pretty cool, and the trick of this season is that while the viewer has been conditioned to think that the player piano music is a metaphor for the hosts being coded, but it’s actually the
humans who have their codes written into the books Dolores reads. However, it doesn’t track with the fact of neuroplasticity I mention above. Again, I’m still curious to see how this idea of free will is going to play out, and whether it will continue to do so to the detriment of a truly feminist storyline.