Tonight’s the premiere of the second season of the HBO sci-fi hit Westworld, whose production has proven not only to be a fantastic piece of storytelling, but also honestly thought-provoking.
To briefly recap the first season of the show, Westworld is a theme park where guests can choose stories and adventures to be part of with the hosts (robots programmed according to the story they are given), or they can freely wander as they please and do whatever they want.
Viewers get glimpses of the stories in the park and how the hosts are programmed. The show portrays different hosts, but Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) are the epicenters of the story. As the story progresses, it’s revealed that the story was told throughout two timelines, one in the past when the park had just opened its doors, and the other one set in the present where the hosts grow closer to being sentient. After the unveiling of the two timelines we realize that the man who years before treated hosts as equals, William, is now a frequent guest who feels pleasure torturing them, looking to find the “next level” of the stories.
The story gives a pessimistic view of humankind and morality. The show depicts to the viewers with what could be described as a sadistic wonderland, in which the guests are unhinged, empathy is long forgotten and morality is nothing but a word. There are no repercussions as there are no rules. Everything is permitted. The guests show the monsters that they are as they rejoice torturing, raping and killing the hosts.
Of course one may counter that logic with the argument that they are killing robots. True, but what’s frightening is how even though the hosts transmit “emotions” (yes, they are programmed to do so), they still feel like real emotions, and the guests aren’t moved (by them). There’s not a second of doubt in their eyes as they relish abusing and violating the hosts. It seems like they have been hiding this horrendous side deep inside them and in Westworld, they can set it free. There are times when it’s truly sickening to watch. Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and painful scenes to watch is Maeve reliving her previous experiences, all the suffering she has been through, especially seeing The Man in Black hunting her and her daughter. This moment isn’t only a critical one in the series, but also the catalyst of Maeve’s revolution.
What’s interesting about this portrayal of the guests is how their actions contrast the hosts’. At times they seem more humane than guests in light of these situations. “These violent delights have violent ends,” expressed Dolores. At the end of season 1, viewers catch a glimpse of the beginning of a revolution: the abused standing up to their abusers. The machines are finally fighting against the injustice they have suffered. What’s more humane than standing up for what is right?
On the other hand, it could be argued that perhaps this clash was what Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) had been looking for all along: the reaction of a man who has lost hope and has seen the monsters that had been hiding in plain sight. A man who has lived in a society that’s moral when it’s convenient. On the other hand, it could be all the work of a crazy man.
The representation of humanity in the show is what we may deny, that sadistic desire and the lack of empathy actually exist. It proves that at times, our morality is corrupted. Westworld is a dramatic, but faithful representation of what people are capable of doing when empathy is lost. This portrayal is exemplified by the visitors as they don’t perceive the pain and suffering they are bringing to others.
This representation is a relatively pessimistic view of humankind, but in a way it’s also a cautionary tale to not lose sight of kindness, even when no one is watching.
Written by: Cecilia López Closs