West World Chronicles: 1.5

This week’s episode of West World is almost what I wish every episode of Game of Thrones would be. The continuing plot begins to take shape in the form of Dolores’ and Williams’ personal journey in and out of Pariah. But more importantly, we begin to see the development of several key characters, who step into bigger roles, if you will.

Ford (whom we finally learn his first name, Robert) begins the episode with an anecdote, of an old grey hound who finally catches a cat, and kills it. The saddest thing, Ford says, is watching the canine have no clue what to do after killing the feline. Perhaps it’s painfully obvious, but Ford’s childhood story points to this episode’s over arching theme: purpose. What is one’s purpose? And how do we find it? More importantly, what do we do once we realize our purpose? As Dolores has repeatedly said, “There’s a path for everyone.”

Dolores’ path, and her purpose are entirely altered in this episode. Her journey to Pariah with William and Logan bring her closer to the voices in her head, who tell her she must follow the maze. She is pushed to desperation, to survival mode, when she and William become trapped by Confederados. However, in another unsurprising twist, Dolores kills their enemies, telling William she imagines a role where she is not the damsel. Dolores makes a clear deviation from her “little loop,” choosing to step into a bigger, perhaps more dangerous role. Her actions imply that we all are the makers of our own fate, and, if we so desire, can alter our own destiny.

Although we view Dolores as a protagonist in the game, her conversation with Ford suggests otherwise. Ford interrogates her regarding Arnold, and whether or not he has been speaking with her. She clearly denies, later speaking out loud — and presumably to Arnold — that she didn’t tell him anything. We do learn how long it’s been since Arnold’s death, and that Dolores was there when he died. That said, Ford does not consider Dolores a friend at all, and regards her with a subtle animosity. This distinction causes us to ponder what hand, if any, Dolores played in Arnold’s death. In fact, Ford states she is the only host still “alive” who was there when Arnold died — 34 years, 42 days, and 7 hours. The plot thickens when Ford asserts that Arnold told Dolores that she would help him destroy West World, begging the question of whether she is good or bad. Would be painfully obvious to note that once Dolores is given a new set of attire (hence, her transformation), she has a brown hat. Unlike William’s who is distinctively white. Or Logan’s black one.

Dolores’ connection with William is a connection to the real world, one her clouded subconscious knows exists, yet continues to lurk deep within her. It is through William that she is able to unravel that mystery, and as she steps into a new role, she is one step closer to the real world. Her dreams, which are really conversations with real people (Ford and Bernard) do mean everything — they are stories we tell ourselves of what we could be and what we could become. Dolores “dreams” of real people — implying that she, too, could be real. I think it’s a no-brainer that once Dolores realizes what she is, she will inevitably desire to become “real.”

William, whose reserved and hesitant demeanor seem to shed light on the horrifying reality of West World, slowly shifts into an active, aggressive role. He finally stands up to Logan, leaving him imprisoned in Pariah (anyone else see Logan’s slight smirk when William decides to abandon him?). He kills a man to save Dolores. And most importantly, he believes Dolores when she says she’s searching for something more. She ties herself to him, as her anchor of what is and isn’t real, when she confides in him of the voices she hears in her head, urging her to seek.

Like Dolores, Felix, one of Maeve’s shades, has aspirations to become something greater; a coder for Westworld. This prompts us to consider how, and to what extent, we may be similar to the hosts. Although he is belittled by his colleague, he perseveres to fix a dead bird. And he does. This small victory is beautiful, because we, too, are hoping he is able to resurrect a dead creature within such a cold, lifeless building. We are offered a rare, short-lived glimpse of purity, that exists both within and outside of the game. But it quickly comes to an end when Felix finds an awake Maeve perched on a stretcher.

William’s connection with Dolores strengthens, and he grapples with allowing himself to believe that Dolores is not just another host, and that there is more to her than meets the eye. This innate hope resides in all of us, and serves as a tribute to the human condition of always hoping, searching for a better, more real world. Or, for lack of a better word, truth. Which is the ultimate irony of West World. In the search for something real, players are looking for truth and purpose in a completely false and artificial world. West World may act as an escape from reality, but it is also a mirror reflection of it. We bear witness to the extremes of human behavior — violence and sex. The violence we see in this episode explores the human understanding of death in violence. While we see it on TV and read about it, the park allows humans to experience it first-hand. Something that, in the real world, we don’t ever get to take back. In order for us to understand and experience death, we are only able to do so in a synthetic, unreal environment. Perhaps this is what happened to Arnold, who became so enraptured with the park and it’s world, his understanding of what is and isn’t real could only be distinguished through one unchangeable, certain action: death.

 

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West World Chronicles: 1.4

In this week’s episode of HBO’s “West World,” we witness the further unraveling of the mystery of the maze, and the growing dissonance hosts begin to experience. The events in the fourth episode leave us both unsettled and begging for more. Here’s why.

The opening scene depicts Dolores, in another session with Bernard. Her memory has yet to be erased, and she is in shock and distraught that her family is killed — and that she herself killed a man. It reminds us that sometimes, we are much more capable than we think we are.  So this is the first time we watch Dolores process her feelings before they are deleted from her memory. She bears witness to her own suffering — one that the employees of West World have already witnessed thousands of times. She, like Teddy, has died a thousand deaths, only to continue living.

Bernard’s side project of experimenting with Dolores’ conscience seems to get out of hand, but he continues it regardless. In fact, he mentions the maze, which is only spoken of by the Man in Black — a mysterious veteran player who sets out to find the maze from the get go. This tells us that Dolores will inevitably cross paths with this man in one form or another. A bit for foreshadowing, shall we say. But hey, it’s the Wild West, so anything could happen.

We are then pulled from Dolores’ narrative to Maeve’s. I will note, though, that so far, the only two consistent host narratives that we see this far are of women. Teddy’s beef with Wyatt is momentarily on hold, and only serves as a secondary narrative to that of Dolores’ and Maeve’s. Both of whom begin to recall memories from another life. Maeve’s interaction with West World technicians, or “shades,” as some of the host Native Americans call them, continues to haunt her conscience. She even tells us that she has something on the tip of her tongue, but cannot for the life of her (ha) recall what it is. This marks a moment where we can all relate to her — which also serves to unsettle us — begging the question of whether or not we have past lives, or lost mysteries our subconscious continues to hold on to. We watch her struggle to remember a former life that she doesn’t have, one that does not exist — or so she thinks. In the midst of her paranoia, she draws the shade, only to discover previous drawings she’s hidden in the same place. This is where dissonance theory comes into play, nagging at Maeve’s understanding of the world and her fight to make sense of it. What is more haunting, though, is that the answers to the nonsensical happenings in Maeve’s life are right in from of her, hiding in plain sight — which is why she seeks out Hector Escaton’s knowledge on shades. The sense of dejavu is not just a feeling, it is a reality. Maeve’s conviction to piece together her fragmented memories with her life’s inconsistencies push her to the brink of insanity, only to find that her hunch and gut feeling was completely true. The hidden bullet within her stomach is the personification of her past life, as well as the proof.

Even though her memory will be wiped clean (something we now know to be untrue) as soon as she dies, Maeve’s ability to remember fragments will remain. Her premonition of Hector Escaton’s attack allows her to alter the chain of events, and in turn, her own destiny. The ability to change one’s own fate strikes an emotional chord with the audience, because by chance, Maeve’s inkling allows her to dig deeper into her understanding of the world and her path in it. Like Maeve, any of us are the makers of our own destiny, should we seek to alter it. The only way to do that, though, is by awakening our conscience. For Maeve, it is literally opening herself, and searching inside to do so.

Although this episode was full of flying bullets and grotesque images of the human condition, it also demanded from the audience a sense of curiosity. It asks us to consider the fantasy worlds we each live in, be it living in denial of losing a loved one, or the struggle to hold onto our own morality. While we may not truly be content with our own versions of reality, West World challenges our acceptance of them. Is there a way out? Perhaps this is the question Ford wants us to answer; but Arnold’s death serves as a warning and cautionary tale of one thing: do not lose your perspective.

 

An open letter to anyone who needs it

A foreword: It has regrettably been over a month since I last published a post. Re: my last post, let me punish myself by eating over-steamed broccoli in my mother’s house.
My online absence has not been due to my inability to believe I am a capable writer who can offer you words that will hopefully strike an emotional chord or two in you. I don’t believe in excuses, but my reasoning here is actually something I’d like to share with you. I know — haven’t I shared enough with you already?

I’ve spent the last month delving into the chasm that is my mental health. My mind, like any other, is an enigmatic labyrinth that both illuminates and clouds every thought, feeling, and action I have. I will spare you (and myself) the specs, but also because unless you’re a masochistic lost soul, I highly doubt you actually give a shit. We’re all selfish. Essentially, I ghosted my own blog because I was occupied finding my way through that very labyrinth in the form of art, road trips, music, and a little bit (what I mean is a lot) of tequila and 805. I made a conscious effort not to write. It was challenging.

After being  deeply and half-seriously preoccupied with my own mental health, I feel compelled to write a letter to anyone who is in need of having a letter written to them. I will save us all the same god damn spiel of how depression and anxiety afflict an unsettling number of people, or how millennials are riddled with mental health problems. We know that. I know that. I do not want to read another article from a 40-year-old telling me it is going to be okay because they, too, have been sinking in the quick sand that I and so many of my peers are currently stuck in. I’m tired of hearing stories about individuals other than those struggling around me.

For any other 23-year-olds out there reading this, this is for you. I will concede that this is also for anyone and everyone this speaks to. I am no longer in the fashion of writing letters, but old habits die hard.

I am not here to heal you. I am not here to tell you there is a magical way out of your own personal maze, or that I possess the mental ability to show you how. I can’t even give that to myself.

But I am here to tell you that despite what your anxiety, paranoia, depression or whatever the fuck is making you struggle (let’s be real, Donald seriously needs to fuck right off), your struggle is shared. Yes, this is a rendition of the “you are not alone” bullshit. But this isn’t coming from your mother, your therapist or Siri. And if you want to stop reading now and go back to your Facebook feed and dismissively scroll through “7 real ways to boost your mood in 5 minutes,” then that’s your prerogative.

And yet, if you’re struggling, and hoping against hope this in’t another empty blog post that doesn’t tell you anything at all, then I know you’re going to read through this.

I promise I’ll make it short. (A total lie.)

This isn’t an advice column where I bestow you my sagest of wisdoms. You’d have to pay me for that (in grilled cheese and your best puns, of course). What I truly want to emphasize is that yes, you are alone. At the end of the day, when you’re laying in your unmade bed staring blankly at the ceiling fan, wondering where the fuck things went wrong, you are alone. We all are. We each have our own versions of quick sand, and as much as I want to pull you out of yours, I can’t. I’m in my own deep shit, and any attempt to save you may fuck me over and shatter your faith in others. Here’s the thing: our forms of suffering vary, and while my anxiety may not be anything like yours (trust me, you do not want to eat an entire bag of onion-flavored Sun Chips at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday), the mere fact that you and I are struggling at the same time is what ties you to me. While this may seem like a stupidly obvious statement, it isn’t. How many friends of yours are battling mental health problems? How many of them do you actually talk to about it? Sure, the people in my life who are seemingly “normal” are great outlets and support systems. I would never, ever discredit that. For the record, mom hugs are, and always will be, the best. But I would argue that there is a tacit understanding between two people who have shared their fears, doubts, and constant battles to get up in the morning. These people inadvertently and perhaps unintentionally are maybe the only ones able to hold that mirror into yourself. It is a feeling of relief, of being seen as you are, by another who is also in search of that gratification.

You can call me out for grossly overlooking whatever it is you think I’m ignoring. If I spark the least bit of rage in you, then I consider my job done. I want you to be enraged. I want you to be infuriated that you feel this way, yet are unable to find the will to change it. You do not need to be fixed (right now). If you are struggling, then struggle. If you are tired, be tired. You are allowed to feel like shit. You are allowed to want to quit. But you are not allowed to quit. 

Why? I can offer you a million reasons, but I know you really just need one. But I can’t give it to you. You have to give it to yourself. All I can do is stand in my own quicksand and believe the mirror of my eyes allow you what you need to see.

And if my letter didn’t spell it out for you, here it is:

“I’m with you. No matter what else you have in your head I’m with you and I love you.” — Ernest Hemingway