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'Westworld' Recap, Season 2 Episode 6: Back to Life
May 28, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

Westworld, faithful watchers, has come galloping back to life. Now that you’ve persevered through several episodes of Leaky Brain Bernard staggering around in a daze, the endless build-up of Maeve’s quest for her daughter, and Dolores as an indomitable but ho-hum ice queen, you have finally been given an episode with some real blood in its veins.

It begins with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in a host examination room, at an undisclosed point in time. Bernard expresses to her, as he has before, his fears about the person she might become. He says he is wrestling with the decision of whether to let her continue on her path into an unknown future, or whether to end her. “I’m not sure it’s my choice to make,” he says.

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It’s a familiar scene, but the repetition ends there. Dolores corrects him. “No, he didn’t say that,” she says. “He said, I’m not sure what choice to make.” She tells him to freeze all motor functions, then informs him, “This is a test, one we’ve done countless times.” Echoing the training of robo-Jim Delos two episodes ago, she explains she is testing “fidelity.” Where earlier it was William who ran experiments on the host version of his father-in-law, now it is Dolores training Bernard. Or something like that.

We don’t know what we’re seeing, because the scene leaves open a big question: When did this happen? The deep past, the recent past, or perhaps the future? Are these hosts the Dolores and Bernard we know, or different copies of them altogether? Westworld has been exploring variations of how a character can be embodied: in different physical substrates with Jim Delos and robo-Jim; in parallel worlds with the Japanese versions of Maeve (Thandie Newton), Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal); and across time with young William (Jimmi Simpson) and the older Man in Black (Ed Harris). As the world of the show has grown more intricate, its pairings of consciousnesses and bodies have also grown more inventive. On that front, this episode did not disappoint.

After the mysterious opening with Dolores and Bernard, the episode begins for real with Teddy (James Marsden) walking through Sweetwater. He sees a can on the ground, reaches down toward it, but it’s a fake-out. The object he picks up is just behind the can: a bullet. He walks into the Mariposa Saloon, where Dolores is playing the piano. Dead bodies litter the room, and Teddy barks at her for wasting time when they should be on the train to the Mesa Hub to find her father.

Reprogrammed Teddy is just as aggressive as Dolores had wanted him to become—but he is also self-aware enough to know what he has lost. He is still, for now, Dolores’s loyal sidekick, but he also shoots passive-aggressive barbs as he helps her on her mission to track down her father. At first surprised and then disconcerted by Teddy’s behavior, Dolores seems ill-prepared for the results of her personality change experiment. It’s delicious to see. Her interactions with Teddy are the first moments in Season 2 when she does not seem in full command of the situation before her. A Teddy-Dolores face-off looms.

Meanwhile, Maeve and her band of followers have found their way to the corner of Westworld Maeve calls home. She approaches her former cabin and sees her daughter sitting outside, looking exactly as Maeve remembered her. Maeve goes up and chats with her—but then another woman approaches. “Mama!” cries the girl. A new mom had been assigned to Maeve’s old role. Before Maeve and the new mom can interact, several Ghost Nation warriors swoop down upon them, and Maeve grabs the girl and they run. One of the warriors invites Maeve to join forces with them, but she refuses. The encounter with the daughter isn’t very insightful—at most, we’ve learned that in a moment of attack, Maeve is willing to separate the girl from her mother, repeating the trauma that Maeve herself had experienced. Plus, the girl doesn’t recognize Maeve, which makes for an underwhelming family reunion. Yet there’s a compelling hesitance to it; something more is coming here.

But the real breakthrough of Sunday’s episode comes when Bernard and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) chase down the rogue code that is preventing Delos management from regaining control of the park. Whenever a member of the security team tried to repair Westworld’s broken systems, a place within the Mesa Hub called the Cradle seemed to be fighting back. Bernard and Elsie go to check out the giant server room, a place that simulates park narratives. Bernard insists he needs to jack in directly. As he straps himself into a device that will spelunk into his head and remove his control unit, he sounds almost chipper when he announces that “pain is just a program.”

With his head cut open and his consciousness uploaded to the Cradle, Bernard finds himself in Sweetwater. He sees Dolores. He passes Teddy as he enters the Mariposa Saloon, where piano music is playing. Seated at the keyboard is none other than Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), looking like his old self in his suit and white button-down shirt. “Hello, old friend,” Ford says. Ford had managed to upload himself into the park’s simulation, and from within it he is somehow controlling the real park outside.

With Ford living inside the computers, a new type of consciousness enters Westworld’s gallery of life forms: a mind that exists as just code in the physical world but that has a full embodied self in a virtual one. This twist also opens up a whole slew of mind-boggling possibilities. Now that we know a detailed simulation also exists, any past moments of Westworld could just have easily taken place inside this simulation. Now instead of worrying primarily when a scene happened in Westworld’s various timelines, we must also ask where it happened.

Is a person who appears only in virtual reality any less real than a person in the outside world? The appearance of the show’s most formidable character in virtual form suggests not. But that’s just the start of it. Every host might have multiple versions of him- or herself milling around inside various Cradle simulations at any given time. Many parallel virtual worlds could easily run concurrently.

Just when we think we know Westworld’s characters, they shift before our eyes. This episode brought that lesson home, with its bookends of Ford playing the piano in a bar teeming with lively revelers, and Dolores doing the same, but in a room full of corpses. Ford is the one who is dead. Yet with his rows of mainframes whirring at his bidding, he may be the most alive person of all.


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'Westworld' Recap, Season 2 Episode 3: Robot, Human, and Everything in Between
May 7, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

Westworld watchers, we knew this moment was coming.

The second season’s third episode, “Virtù e Fortuna,” opens not in Westworld but in an India-themed park. Where Westworld is an emblem of the colonization of Native American land, this park represents Britain’s takeover of the subcontinent, and the racial-social hierarchy is clearly encoded: Women in saris and men in turbans—the hosts—walk amidst people dressed in turn-of-the-20th-century British garb.

A white man, Nicholas (Neil Jackson), approaches a woman seated at a lawn table and flirts with her. But she’s a seasoned guest, and she’s done having flings with hosts—she wants to know that he’s a real human with real desire, not a fleshbot programmed to seduce her. She announces that she’ll have to shoot him to know for sure. Doubt and fear flash across his face. Don’t worry, she assures him: If he’s human, it’ll only be a glancing blow. And if he’s not? He won’t remember this anyway.

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Her proposal throws viewers back into the essential questions of Westworld. Where do we draw the line between what is real, and what is programmed? A heterosexual man’s evolutionary programming drives him to pursue a woman; the park’s programmers write a romantic loop into a host’s brain. But are we free to choose our own destiny, or are we just acting out a script encoded in our wetware? The humans of Westworld brush these questions aside. The robots’ programming is so easy to manipulate that it becomes irresistible to do so, reducing them to objects. All trauma gets wiped away with a simple edit of their code. If the hosts can’t remember their pain, the thinking goes, they can’t be victims. It’s dementia by design. But as Season 2 unfolds, assumptions about the deepest moral questions continue to be put to the test.

It turns out the handsome man in the India park is human, and he and the woman pair up for an elephant ride into the jungle. The woman, echoing the Man in Black, consults a cryptic drawing scribbled in her notebook. But looking around, she senses something is off. A host creeps up on them with his gun drawn and says, “These violent delights have violent ends,” before killing Nicholas. The woman scrambles for a gun and kills him, then runs off into the trees. The rebellion has spread beyond Westworld.

The rest of this plot-driven episode takes place in Westworld, mostly in the two weeks after the initial rebellion, while Delos paramilitary forces are trying to reclaim the island. Some of them are with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) as he walks into a dark facility, its corners filled with charred bodies. They encounter Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson); startled, she asks them—and Bernard specifically—if they know where Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum) might be.

Bernard, silent and struggling to focus his mind, starts to remember how he and Charlotte had used his tablet to track Abernathy to a stand of trees, where hosts have tied up a group of humans. Charlotte and Bernard manage to ensnare the group’s leader, and Bernard plugs into the host’s arm to reprogram him, jacking up his virtue and compassion. Newly incensed by the treatment of the captured humans, he marches back into the huddle and kills the other hosts, freeing the humans.

Charlotte and Bernard grab Abernathy and flee, but are soon intercepted by Confederados. Charlotte manages to escape by stealing a horse, leaving Bernard and Peter surrounded. She finds her way to another underground facility, where Delos militia greet her with guns drawn. “I’m human!” she cries, and she submits to a DNA scan with a handheld reader. It’s a small moment, but a consequential one: a subtle reminder that the humans’ code is also easy to read.

Elsewhere in the park, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) approaches a Confederado stronghold, Fort Forlorn Hope. Their commander emerges, and Dolores tells him that a threat is coming and they need to join forces to survive. To prove her point, Dolores hands him one of the militia’s machine guns. She introduces herself as Wyatt, and the commander welcomes her group into the fort.

Inside, hanged bodies dangle from scaffolds. Dolores sees a cluster of people surrounding a raving man; it’s her father, Peter Abernathy, there with Bernard. She pushes her way through, frees her father, and Teddy (James Marsden) whisks him off to an infirmary. There, Dolores talks gently to her mentally broken father, and he recites lines from their Sweetwater script. Dolores seems happy to play along. “You told me to run away once, and I did,” she tells him. “I broke free with the pull of a trigger. And it started a war.”

His speech falters. “I want to go home,” he says, his words choppy and stuttering; he grows increasingly frantic. Dolores enlists Bernard to help fix her father, but as he reviews Abernathy’s corrupted code, Fort Forlorn Hope comes under attack. It’s Charlotte, leading the Delos paramilitary. Bernard finds an encrypted file stored inside Dolores’s father, but before he can dig into it, humans burst in and grab Abernathy. Amid the ensuing gunfire and explosions, Abernathy gets whisked into an ATV with Charlotte inside, and they escape.

Dolores orders her supporters to split up and search for her father—and tells Teddy to execute one more Confederado. “The truth is, we don’t all deserve to make it,” she says, a staple line of hers when she chooses to play god. Teddy takes him out to a clearing, to where a handful of Confederados await their deaths; yet, he can’t bring himself to do it. Where Dolores sees lesser beings among the Confederados, Teddy sees fellow travelers. He orders the trapped Confederados to run. Dolores, watching from a distance, looks disappointed.

Teddy’s and Dolores’s access to their memories—the basis of how we all learn and evolve—is pushing them apart. Believing in free will is to believe that humans have some choice in how we process our pain. It can consume us, or inform us. Dolores and Teddy represent those poles. (If you think instead that we’re all deterministic automatons, well, then someone needs to plug in and jack up Dolores’s empathy.)

The episode ends with brief glimpses of the collapse of order among Delos’ many properties. The woman from the India-themed park doesn’t perish after she runs into the jungle. Instead, a Bengal tiger chases her to the sea at the park’s edge, and they both topple into the water. She swims to another shore and flops down in the muck, to rest. But when she raises her head, she stares right into the black-and-white painted face of a Ghost Nation warrior. The episode cuts to Maeve, Hector, and Lee; while searching for Maeve’s daughter, they’ve wandered into an unfamiliar forest where snow is falling. A samurai bursts from the trees, sword swung high and ready to strike. There’s been yet another rupture of park borders.

As a clash of civilizations brews along Westworld’s perimeter, the park’s interior is also coming into clearer view. The Ghost Nation moves ever closer to the center of action. The mysterious tribe doesn’t play by any known rules: judging from this week’s run-in with Maeve, and last season’s with Westworld’s head of security, they seem to be impervious to the usual commands. And a warrior just happened to be standing on the beach when the guest from the India world swam up to Westworld’s shore. There’s more to this story.

Yet, news of the rebellion seems to be filtering through the parks slowly. In the India-themed world, the hosts in town seem unaware of an uprising, yet the host in the jungle had joined Dolores’ war. How are hosts being recruited? The answer to this, as well as the mystery of the Ghost Nation, may spring from a common source. There’s a continuum between android and human. Expect many more shades of gray as this theme reaches a crescendo: Who is more like a robot; who is more like a human; and who falls somewhere in between?

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'Westworld' Recap, Season 2 Episode 2: The Façade Is Crumbling
April 30, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

Fellow watchers of Westworld, we have cracked the façade.

The second episode of Season 2 opens on Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) face. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) asks if she knows where she is; she guesses she is in a dream. He corrects her: “No, you’re in our world.” The camera pulls back to reveal them seated at a window of a high rise, looking down on the sparkling lights of a metropolis at night.

Holy smokes! The outside world! And Dolores, dressed in a black cocktail dress and heels—what’s she doing outside the park?!

For so long, Westworld focused so much of its energy on the dramas of that dusty park that it was easy for viewers to forget the world beyond. That, of course, is exactly the point of Westworld: to be a place where people can unshackle themselves from reality and its pesky social mores. It’s a safe space, where visitors are told no one is watching and they can find out who they really are in a wonderland with no consequences. But for those watching at home, it often looked like there was no place beyond the park—no repercussions for Westworld’s visitors or its creators.

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But the show has dropped reminders that there is a world beyond the park’s borders, even though it only gave the barest hints as to where it’s located. Or if there are other parks. There are; animals from those other parks, viewers now know, wander into Westworld. It seems to be on an island. (Apologies if that sentence induced Lost flashbacks.) And there are those mysterious Chinese-speaking characters, who appeared as members of a military last episode and as businesspeople at the Mesa Hub in Season 1. Now the boundaries separating the inside and the outside are shattering. Plus, we already know that the guests are being watched, and their data is being wielded for some greater commercial purpose.

Staring out the glass window, Dolores doesn’t seem to know any of this. Marveling at the city lights, she says “it looks like the stars have been scattered across the ground.” In the background, we hear Ford’s voice. “Arnold,” he calls. Ah—so it’s Arnold, not Bernard, sitting with Dolores. We’re in the deep past.

Ford and Arnold discuss whether Dolores is “ready.” Arnold insists she is not, and Ford chides him for playing favorites and protecting her, but they agree to “go with the other girl.” Arnold returns to the window and looks at Dolores with tenderness.

He takes her for a walk in the streets, which appear to be in an Asian, likely Chinese, city. They enter an unfinished compound and tour its rooms. Arnold explains that he is moving his family here, so they can be closer to his work. On a balcony, they fall deep in conversation, and Arnold is struck by her wisdom. Then she snaps into a loop: “It looks like the stars have been scattered across the ground.” Arnold’s gaze hardens and he turns away. She’s just another robot after all.

This is surely the humans’ greatest folly, their inability to look past the droids’ occasional limitations to treat them with dignity. That Arnold, a witness to Dolores’ surprising sagacity, can write her off in a heartbeat reveals his all-too-human limitations. The hosts are outsiders, and humans are nothing if not tribal. It is perhaps our own most deeply programmed loop. Dolores slips into a loop, and in response Arnold slips into his, mentally kicking her out of the tribe.

But with her memory intact, rebellion-era Dolores is charged with power. She’s been in the outside world. Through her roles as Arnold’s and William’s favorite bot, she knows more about the inner workings of Westworld than most of the humans working at the park.

This point comes to the fore when she, Teddy (James Marsden), and their small band of supporters storm into a host maintenance lab in the thick of the rebellion. Fueled with rage, they start bullying the lab techs. As they dunk a lab tech’s head in a vat of white body-printing goo, Dolores asks, “Do you even know what you’re guarding here, the real purpose?” “You don’t know, do you?” she continues. “But I do.” Her wealth of knowledge vaults her ahead of the hapless employees.

She’s entered the lab with one goal: to accrue an army. Her best bet, she decides, is to commandeer the Confederados still out roaming the wilderness. She finds a perished Confederado slumped against a wall and pressures the lab tech into reactivating him. That lab tech is suddenly very useful. He’s health insurance. Along with the Confederado, they bring him out into the park as their personal medic.

They track down the Confederados and try to broker a deal. But you can’t just sweet-talk soldiers, so this ends as you might expect: in violence. Dolores and her gang slaughter the lot of them, then use the lab tech to resurrect first their commander, then the others. The flabbergasted commander falls in line, and the Confederados join her cause.

But the audience hasn’t been given its last glimpse of the outside world. We jump to the past, to a moment when Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) and William (Jimmi Simpson) are sipping drinks at a swanky bar. Two strangers, a slick-looking man and a standard-issue hottie, approach with a business proposition. “Everyone is rushing to build the virtual world. We’re offering something a little more tangible,” one of them announces. They invite Logan to a cocktail party where he can learn more about the investment they’re pitching. At the party, Logan is at first impatient—until he grasps what is happening. One of these impeccable humans, he realizes, is not human at all. “That… is… delicious,” he says in amazement.

Logan works the room, sizing up each guest’s humanity. The moment is electric. We see the room through his eyes. None of the faces are familiar. Everyone is beautiful, suave, inscrutable. He determines that the robot in the room must be his host, the standard-issue hottie. Instantly everyone freezes, except for her. Logan is hooked.

Yet Logan’s investment in Westworld has always rankled his father, James Delos, a titan of business. And it’s William, not Logan, who eventually convinces James that his son’s folly is in fact a windfall. William brings James (Peter Mullan) to Sweetwater, where Dolores is once again packing up her horse’s saddlebag and dropping her infernal can. The scene freezes. We see James for the first time. He’s griping about Logan’s infatuation with this frivolous place, a park where nothing is real. William agrees that nothing is real, except for one thing: the guests. “No one is watching,” William says. “Or so we tell them. It’s the only place in the world where you can see people for who they really are.” They take a walk, and William explains out of earshot his idea for a business model.

Their story picks up a few years later, at James’s retirement party. William is there with his wife and young daughter, ready to assume James’ mantle. There, too, is Dolores, dressed in white and playing the piano. She catches sight of William and stares at him at length.

She goes outside to look at the night sky. Reclining on a lawn chair behind her, half out of sight, is Logan, inebriated and injecting a drug into his arm. He’s cursing the partygoers, calling them fools for fiddling while they set the entire species on fire. Callous, impetuous Logan is suddenly the lone voice of reason.

We flash to the future—back to the wilds of the park and the rebellion, this time to the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his host sidekick Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), who are deep in conversation. He explains to Lawrence why Westworld exists: “They wanted a place hidden from God, a place they could sin in peace.” Except there’s more. “But we were watching that. We were tallying up all their sins, all their choices. Of course, judgment wasn’t the point. We had something else in mind entirely.” He tells Lawrence he plans to escape the park and then burn it down. But to do that, they’ll need help, so Lawrence leads him to Pariah, the town of decadence and depravity from Season 1. But Pariah appears to have been decimated. The ground is littered with bodies, and mice skitter through an abandoned banquet.

Suddenly a group of figures arises from among the bodies, encircling the Man in Black and Lawrence, their guns drawn. Seated before them is none other than El Lazo—the outlaw leader who, in earlier episodes, had been Lawrence himself and is now played by a different host. The Man in Black grabs him and points a gun to his head, demanding that the gathered gang of outlaws join his cause.

“This game was meant for you, but you must play it alone,” El Lazo says. Suddenly the bandits all turn their guns on their own heads and collapse in a heap. El Lazo grabs the trigger of the Man in Black’s gun and shoots himself. The Man in Black curses but pulls himself together. “I built this place we’re going, and it’s my greatest mistake,” he tells Lawrence.

The episode jumps to Dolores, who is seated in a host examination room. “Bring yourself back online, Dolores,” says a voice. This time it’s William. It’s the first time we’ve seen him in the lab facilities of the park. He marvels at how ridiculous it was for him to fall in love with her, a mere thing. “You don’t make me interested in you, you make me interested in me,” he tells her. He adds that everyone loves staring at their own reflection. Then he says cryptically, “I think there’s an answer to a question no one has ever dreamed of asking. Do you want to see?” In the next scene, William and Dolores are out in the wilderness, looking down at a canyon getting carved out by bulldozers.

It’s seemingly this moment that Dolores recalls when we flash back to the rebellion. She’s with Teddy and the Confederados. They’re aiming for a town—some hosts call it Glory, others The Valley Beyond. “It doesn’t matter what you call it, I know what we’re going to find there,” Dolores says. “It’s not a place, it’s a weapon, and I’m going to use it to destroy them.”

If the Man in Black and Dolores are headed to the same place, this giant pit—or rather, whatever it becomes—seems like it will be the stage for an epic showdown. The role this place, this weapon, as Dolores calls it, will play in determining the park’s fate is a tantalizing question.

Yet the shattering of the illusion that Westworld is the center of action is the true legacy of this episode. The hosts have visited our cities. Perhaps some of them wander among us. What defines the park, and what is the outside world? The answer is no longer clear.

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No Life As We Know It – A Geological Review Of The Star Trek Episode “Devil in the Dark”
February 27, 2017 2:45 pm|Comments (0)

Actor Leonard Nimoy, unforgotten as Spock on board of the Enterprise, passed away two years ago. So as a little Trekkie-tribute a geological review of one of the classic episodes of Star Trek – “The Devil in the Dark”


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