Bernard and Beyond: Deeper Westworld Analysis

If you’re like me and obsessing over every detail and clue in just the first episode of season two of Westworld, you’re in the right place. I keep coming back to the idea that the young Ford host, what I call Ford 2.0 (who may be Ford now), said: everything here is code.

With that in mind, it is definitely worth noting some changes in the opening credits. One item is a charging buffalo host breaking through glass. While Maeve and Lee do later see one buffalo behind glass, we see a bloody trail indicating another one got loose and took many people down with it. This may be symbolic of the hosts breaking free and running wild. Also noteworthy is an image of cells multiplying in a petri dish. This may be part of the actual, scientific process of building and rebuilding hosts, that they are much like Arnold’s Terminator: actual living tissue over a more robotic frame. It may also symbolize rampant, unchecked growth of the host population.

Speaking of growth of the population, perhaps the most striking and meaningful image is of a mother host cradling a baby host. On one hand, this may simply be evocative of Maeve’s quest for and obsession over her daughter. In the bigger picture, I think this is hinting that whether through traditional procreation or a lab assisted method, the hosts will begin to replicate, to genuinely grow and create new individuals free from narratives or digital restraints. As Ford himself stated, his new masterpiece narrative deals with “the birth of a new people”.

Westworld1Finally, we do also see a host in a ring under water. This position and structure was used when building hosts in the lab previously. Again, it may hint at the construction, reconstruction, or breeding of hosts.

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The underwater element leads us to another cryptic and mysterious element: Bernard. I believe that the description of a dream hints at something much bigger. Again, as I stated before, I am inclined to believe that the opening scene is not Arnold and Dolores, but rather Bernard and Dolores. He describes his dream of being on an ocean. Dolores and the others (hosts) are on a distant shore. The waters were rising around him, and they’d left him behind. This can be taken in the literal, physical sense which we see paralleled later; Bernard washes up on a shore, while the hosts are left elsewhere. It can also be a metaphor for host evolution. Bernard may be incapable of growing while the other hosts are becoming something entirely new.

Part of Bernard’s handicap may come from his injury at the end of season one. I didn’t really put two and two together until revisiting the scene in the barn where he tries to save a stable hand host and gets pushed aside. At that point, he begins leaking some fluid from his ear. Basically, he previously shot himself in the head and was patched up to function, but some injury or degradation in his machinery remains. This may be combined with the psychological trauma of realizing that not only is he actually a host, but he is a copy of the man who created the hosts. Dolores later tells Bernard, “You don’t know who you are.” To me, this speaks to a kind of robotic schizophrenia by which Bernard is malfunctioning because he cannot hold the two disparate ideas of human and host, Arnold and Bernard, in his head at the same time. It’s like two voices trying to talk over one another, driving him mad.

Another curious point to consider is whether or not anyone knows Bernard is a host or not. One line makes me think that there is at least an inkling of that truth. Karl Strand, head of operations at Delos, states, “It seems our hosts are capable of many things we never thought possible,” as he glances at Bernard. Again, everything here is code. Isn’t it strange that they don’t more directly question Bernard soon after finding him? Even someone who has witnessed horrific events might still be able to put a few sentences together, but they keep waiting for things to jog Bernard’s memories. If Strand doesn’t know, he at least suspects Bernard’s true identity. On a side note, until I looked up the details online I had no idea that Gustaf Skarsgard was portraying Strand. He strikes an impressive figure sauntering through the park in a suit, a far cry from the unstable and lovable Floki character he played on “Vikings”.

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A final line worth noting is uttered by the stable hand that the human board members kill. He asks them if they want to ride “for the green pastures of the valley beyond”. This idea of a valley beyond is the same one Dolores referenced when killing a Native host. These lines parallel the fact that the hosts seemed to congregate in what was supposed to be a valley, which was then flooded to create a sea. So, is the idea of an idyllic valley something Ford programmed as a narrative plot detail to bring the hosts together as a community? Is it host mythology about freedom or the afterlife? Or did many hosts die but were then reborn in an actual valley beyond, or even in an underwater base of some sort?

As usual, we have more questions than answers, and I am on pins and needles for episode two let alone the rest of the season!

Barry Episode 5: A Barry Divided Cannot Stand

This past Sunday’s new episode of “Barry” saw our quirky anti-hero face escalating drama. After his former marine buddy stopped by a party and brought along another friend, Taylor, Barry finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Despite being a blockhead former marine, Taylor can do math. Tons of cash plus new laptop equals Barry does something illegal I want in on too. On that premise, Barry is pressured into bringing Taylor with him to take out a Bolivian stash house/base of operations for the Chechens.

At this point Barry faces a moral dilemma almost as vexing as whether or not to kill his new acting buddy in the first episode. Fuches says that Taylor knows too much and is a liability, so when they finishing killing the Bolivians, Barry should just take him out too. Barry protests that he may be a hothead but he’s a marine, and “we only kill bad guys” (even though he is after all a paid killer and not a member of the Avengers). This parallels an onstage discussion in his acting class about the ethics of murder, both in and out of war.

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What works for me is that this is kind of a dark comedy. People are being shot left and right, but you have jovial, enigmatic, even goofy characters in the mobsters and others. Barry experiences actual torment. In some ways, it’s like seeing Star Trek’s Data, or any robot for that matter, try to acquire emotions. Here we have a monotone, vanilla personality character who has always kept his head down and obeyed orders start to question the nature of his profession and existence. I also find both amusing and curious Barry’s daydreams of a life where he has become a successful actor married to his classmate and one night stand Sally. It was funny seeing him at a barbecue with Jon Hamm, but it’s funnier seeing him call his son Denzel.

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Stay tuned as things will likely get even more chaotic as Detective Moss, who was somehow inexplicably actually attracted to acting coach Gene Cousineau, continues to obsess over finding Ryan’s murderer and may eventually close in on Barry.

Westworld Season 2: Implications, Inferences, Questions and Predictions

Ok, so maybe you had time to watch the episode again, or you’ve digested my key bullet points. Now, let’s take a look at what we can find by sifting through the nuances and innuendos sprinkled throughout the season 2 premiere of Westworld!

  1. The season opens with Arnold and Dolores having one of their philosophical, diagnostic discussions or checkups like we often saw in flashbacks last season. However, it begins with Arnold seeming to wake up or come to his senses. Maybe he dozed off or got distracted, but I believe there are more significant implications. The roles have been reversed, and it is in fact Bernard who is being analyzed and probed by A few signs point to this being the case. First, we know that the writers of the show love a good switcheroo (like the misdirection with the William/Man in Black). Second, after that opening scene we immediately cut to Bernard’s jumbled memories. He says, “Is this now?” similar to how Dolores felt her timeline was askew. Dolores may be pumping him for information or trying to help, but I have doubts this was just good old Arnold.
  2. Charlotte was specifically told when she sent out an SOS that until the “package” of top secret data and technology was delivered, no rescue team or help would be forthcoming. In one of Bernard’s flashbacks we see previously unseen footage of the host Abernathy jerking about and looking distraught. Did the Delos forces come because he was eventually delivered, or at least put somewhere where he could be delivered and dissected? What information does he contain? Lee Sizemore hints at the fact that the intellectual property, the schematics of host brains, are incredibly valuable, but to what ultimate end? Westworld6
  3. At the secret lab, Bernard asks Charlotte, “Are we logging guest’s experiences and their DNA?” The experiences part is just creepy, but the DNA may be key. The ability to download a personality, a lifetime of experiences and mannerisms, plus DNA points at replicating one’s self to achieve immortality. This is similar if not identical to the Cylons in “Battlestar Galactica”. How much would you pay to literally live forever in a body that would not age?Westworld7
  4. Ford as we knew him is dead, but does part of him live on? The child Ford host confronts William, but his voice is muddled, as if a new program, Ford 1.0, has been grafted onto his core program. At the least, he is experiencing some minor malfunctions. He seems aware of not just his nature as a host, but of the real Ford’s past interactions with William. “Now you’re in my game. Congratulations William, this game is meant for you. Everything is code here,” he states. So, is a digital Ford still alive, well, and plotting and directing the end game, or did the boy Ford host just have some extra information? Westworld8
  5. At some point Bernard shoot someone, full auto. We see him doing this in one of his momentary time slips or flashbacks. Given that we see him distraught over the humans killing hosts on a few occasions, my guess is that his moral compass aligns him with the hosts and he is consciously or unconsciously on their side.
  6. What happened to Stubbs? He was tackled and presumably kidnapped by Native American hosts at the end of the last season. Did he escape, was he set free, or was he replaced with a host version of himself that’s a sleeper agent?
  7. Is Bernard a vampire? Because of the breakdown in his program/mind/robot body, he draws some fluid out of a host and injects himself with it. The substance has the apparent effect of stabilizing him. A computer pad informs Bernard that due to his critical corruption, he is suffering many negative effects such as aphasia and even time slippage, so his confusion between past and present is a bit different than what Dolores experienced, but just as real. Bernard later states that he killed all the hundreds of hosts found in a newly discovered sea. Does that mean he introduced a virus into their programming, or did he suck them dry to preserve himself?
  8. Dolores has likely been to the “real” world already. We see what I am inferring to be Arnold with her dressed in a modern fashion and hairstyle in what looks like an apartment. Was she smuggled out in a last ditch attempt to save her from the horrors of servitude prior to Westworld opening, or did William bring her out as a plaything and Arnold rescued her?
  9. We will learn more about William and the growth of Delos as the owner and operator of the parks. The preview clips show him and the CEO, who I presume to be his father-in-law, surveying hosts frozen in mid-plot. In the present, we know he is ridiculously wealthy and powerful in the real world. He is also overjoyed that the stakes of the game are now real. He can lose, but so can the hosts, which is what he always wanted. What will his goals be?Westworld9
  10. Maeve will stop at nothing to get her daughter, even though she knows the girl was part of a preconceived story. Will the reunion be a happy one, or will Maeve join Dolores in wanton destruction of the human world?

Overall, the season is shaping up to be even more of a roller coaster than round one, and I cannot wait to see all the twists and turns. There is clearly a much larger plan for or about the hosts, and there are pieces on the board we haven’t even conceived of yet. All I can say is be prepared for anything. There are no more canned and organized narratives: the loop is broken.

I will leave you with a quote I found interesting and evocative from Arnold/Bernard and Dolores in their opening conversation.

Dolores: What is real?

Arnold/Bernard: That which is irreplaceable.

Westworld Season 2: Revelations

Last night HBO’s “Westworld” debuted with a bang, and even after seeing the episode twice I am still reeling from the action, bombshells, and possibilities. If you haven’t seen season one, much of what I say will make little sense, so go back and watch it. Before I had HBO Go I shelled out for the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, and I can tell you Westworld is worth a few bucks if you are so inclined.

I’m splitting up my review and analysis into two parts, the first being what we know (Revelations) and the second being predictions and inferences. I have a feeling, though, that one day the moral and cinematic depths of this show may even be debated in philosophy classes at greater length!

Without further ado, here are the top revelations from Season 2 Episode 1: Journey Into Night.

  1. The parks (plural) do not just have a coast, they are on a massive island somewhere in Asia. A military officer is arguing adamantly with the Delos representative (Head of Operations) in another language. He believes that his country’s military should have jurisdiction, but Delos has essentially bought the sovereignty of this whole hunk of rock and he is dismissed.
  2. Communications have been down for two weeks. That’s two weeks since communications went down, but not since they had any indication of what was going on in the parks. Quite a lot could have happened in the intervening weeks.
  3. Dolores has killed other hosts. When one is dissected we see footage of her shooting several Native American hosts. Were they kind of like the older model, good robots in “iRobot” and protecting humans, so they got in her way? Or is there some other rift between factions of hosts, whether programmed or arising organically? She states, “Not all of us deserve to make it to the valley beyond.”Westworld2
  4. The mainland technicians and staff may be woefully ignorant of clues and facts that are essential to understanding and resolving the conflict. When one cuts open a host’s head to remove and read data from his “brain” he has no clue what the image of the maze on the host’s interior skull signifies.
  5. Dolores has a sense of irony in her methodic cruelty. She interrogates the human guests using the exact questions and statements she was asked during her diagnostic sessions. “You’re in my dream” and “What are your drives?” take on a sinister meaning in this context. One cannot help but feel a sense of justice when she proclaims, “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” as she rides away and leaves some humans precariously perched, about to hang and choke to death at any moment.
  6. Dolores has evolved. At first it seems that she’s just gone crazy, embracing the violent Wyatt persona programmed by Ford, but then she herself states she has evolved into something new, an altogether unique, savage, seemingly omniscient individual.
  7. Dolores remembers everything from her past builds, and maybe even knows everything as she seems aware of why and how the park was created. She seems miles ahead of Teddy in her grasp of the situation as it is and will be.
  8. Lee Sizemore is a weasel. He is complying with Maeve’s orders but jumps at the first chance to betray her. In one more righteous moment of role reversal, she orders him to strip completely naked, mirroring the way hosts had no dignity or privacy in the past. He is now in the subservient position.
  9. If Dolores is all knowing, Maeve is all powerful. She doesn’t even always seem to need verbal commands to control other hosts; her very thoughts can compel them to action. She helps ease the suffering of a dying female host in the ruins of the Delos headquarters, and redirects another host to hunt humans.
  10. Girls rule, men drool. Hector says, “Where you go, I follow.” In this new relationship with Maeve, we see parallels with Dolores and Teddy. Both possess a dog like sense of loyalty, almost to the point of blindness. Teddy’s may be from residual (or ongoing) programming, while Hector’s may be more of infatuation, but both have the same result.Westworld3
  11. Delos and the parks have many more secrets than anyone knows. Charlotte takes Bernard to a covert lab that he, a high level park executive, had no idea existed. There we see drone hosts who are seemingly intelligent enough to complete tasks but faceless and not really sentient.
  12. The season will be running parallel timelines, one that is in line with the end of last season that goes from the moment of the host rebellion forwards, and another one several weeks later in the aftermath. Essentially, it seems we will keep seeing revelations and connections that will explain and guide the “present” timeline.
  13. There are SIX parks (at least). I expected as many as four from descriptions about the original Westworld movie, but not this many. Stubbs says they have Bengals in park six when the team discovers a rotting tiger corpse alongside a lake. So, not only is Westworld massive, the island and park system of Delos properties are downright vast.
  14. Something very bad happened to many of the hosts. Not only is there a giant lake, maybe even a sea, where a valley should be, it seems hundreds and hundreds of hosts have drowned. Bernard later whispers, “I…I killed them. All of them.”
  15. Organic Ford (let’s call him old Ford, or Ford 1.0) is dead. We do eventually see his body onstage exactly where Dolores shot him, and like many other bodies strewn about, maggots are slowly but surely devouring him.

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Phew, that’s a lot! Take a break, snap into a Slim Jim, maybe rewatch the episode, and continue on to Part Two of my review!

The Disaster Artist: It Is Not a Disaster, It Is NOT!

The internet is useful for many things, and among those is making people famous for being outrageous. Often times these are one hit wonders like Star Wars kid, Numa Numa guy, or the auto tuned “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” (which is ridiculously catchy albeit demeaning). Other times we find reprehensible excuses for human beings that linger and grow in popularity, like a train wreck named Bhad Bhabie I stumbled across and want to exile to Pluto.

Before all of them, though, came the king of kings in Tommy Wiseau and his 2003 movie, “The Room”. To make a long story short, it is possibly the worst movie of all time with an incoherent plot, bad decisions behind the scenes, and him starring as a zany, nonsensical main character. I tried to watch it and couldn’t make it past ten minutes, it makes that little sense and is that hard to watch. “The Disaster Artist” tells the story of the making of that cult classic, with James Franco taking on the role of the iconic Tommy and his brother, Dave Franco, starring opposite him as Tommy’s best friend and costar, Greg Sestero.

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While the Francos have surely embellished some details, it seems they worked hard to adapt Sestero’s book about his experiences with the film. Given their background as comedic actors and the off screen dynamic as brothers, I found myself waiting for them to crack up laughing in every other scene. They kept their composure, though, and the result is a buddy flick that is funny, awkward, and in some ways deep. The humor is found in Jame’s Franco’s pinpoint accurate portrayal of Wiseau. Before I ever knew what “The Room” was and I saw the first trailer for “The Disaster Artist”, I thought that Franco’s odd appearance and broken English meant the film was about a man with a mental handicap trying to be an actor. Far from it, Tommy Wiseau is a man shrouded in mystery. For years he claimed he was decades younger than he was, that he was from Louisiana (he lived there but is from somewhere in Eastern Europe), and had an untold fortune of millions that funded production of his film but whose origin is unknown. Real life Tommy is as strange as Franco’s depiction, and that cringe-worthiness kept me engaged as he kept topping his most recent madness with every scene.

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The deepness comes in some of the ending scenes. When the film finally debuts and Tommy leaves the theater in tears as people laugh and recoil at what was a serious film in his mind, you do find yourself feeling sorry for him and the roller coaster the cast went through in making it. Here was a man trying to pour his heart onto the big screen for the world to see, and he was met with scorn and obscurity. Ultimately, though, I like his sense of wild abandon and the notion whatever your dream is, that if you want to go to Los Angeles and become an actor, just do it (see Shia LaBeouf motivational video).

For me, “The Disaster Artist” was worth renting, and I find myself obsessed with it and moreover the original because someone became famous for being bad at something. The iconic lines are endlessly chuckle inducing, and I am definitely buying a t-shirt and/or ugly sweater with a few of them at some point. If nothing else, hopefully the renewed interest in Tommy Wiseau lands him a major role. I am reminded of Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster in “Thor: Ragnarok” and would love to see Wiseau as some kind of bumbling, eccentric villain. As the following video shows, he certainly seems to have come a long way in the acting department. However, as my brother-in-law pointed out, he’s not acting, that’s just him.

Barry: Bill Hader’s Dark Delight

If you’re looking for a few laughs and don’t mind a little gore here and there, check out HBO’s new dark comedy, “Barry”, starring SNL alum Bill Hader. With only a few episodes aired as of this writing, it’s not too late to catch up and jump on the bandwagon of what is shaping up to be a goofy hit.

The show features Hader as Barry Berkman, a former marine who, like Liam Neeson, has developed a unique set of skills over the years. Barry is so good at killing that he’s made a profession of it back on U.S. soil, and his handler Fuches (pronounces FEW-ks) works diligently to keep him employed as an A-list hit man. Stephen Root shines in his supporting role as Fuches, a charismatic and manipulative management/mentor type this time around (viewers will also appreciate and recognize him in the recent hit “Get Out” and for his past hilarious voice work as the animated and erratic Bill Dauterive, “King of the Hill”).

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The rising action of the series occurs when Barry accepts a hit from the Chechen mob to take out the man who has been sleeping with the boss’s wife. What’s interesting is that for Barry, murder doesn’t seem to phase him. It’s akin to playing a video game or driving a taxi. He’s good at it, he does it, and life (his at least) goes on.

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Unbeknownst to Barry, this one job will upend his bloody career trajectory.  When he flies to Los Angeles, accepts the job, and follows his target, he quite accidentally stumbles into the man’s acting class and ends up reading lines opposite him despite not being an actor at all. The undeserved and sudden applause of the acting class flips a switch, and suddenly Barry wants to become an actor. As he is now friends with his target and delays the hit, the Chechens take matters into their own hands. Chaos ensues as Barry tries to balance new foes and his cloak and dagger lifestyle with coming out of his shell onstage and pursuing a young woman from his acting class. I have always found Bill Hader to be someone who just begs to be laughed at from his SNL days. As Barry, you find yourself enjoying him because how awkward he is fumbling onstage contrasts drastically with how lethal he can be offstage.

Special credit is also due to Henry Winkler who serves as the inscrutable and over the top acting teacher. He swings between being a capable drama coach who actually seems to know a thing or two about drawing emotions out of fledgling thespians and a horny old man. If anything, he is in part a truer version of Jean-Ralphio’s dad (see “Parks and Recreation”) than Dr. Saperstein ever was.

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I know that the plot of “Barry” is a bit formulaic, which may turn off some more critical viewers. Like many other characters before him leading double lives, he will get into a series of hilarious high jinks as he tries to cover his tracks and balance his illegal occupation with his futile acting aspirations, with everything coming to a head in a spectacular fashion at some point. For me, watching it all unfold is a journey I’m willing to take. Where else can I see dim witted Chechen mobsters go toe to toe with a potential star who is being taught by The Fonz?

Lost In Space Part 2: Spoilers and Insights

If you’ve seen season one of Netflix’s “Lost in Space”, keep reading. If you haven’t, I welcome you to keep reading too, but be aware there are spoilers and I will discuss all the twists and turns of the plot!

Let’s start off with likes. I really like Molly Parker as the mom, Maureen Robinson. She was a standout supporting character for me in “House of Cards” and it’s great to see her in this role as an empowered woman of science who will stop at nothing to save her family. I also like the overall feel of the set and prop design in the show. As I said before, producers did a good job of showing us a near future setting, not a full fledged Star Trek vessel complete with holodeck and torpedos. Space still seems big and unpredictable as we take our first steps out into the great unknown.

I also enjoyed the robot. His relationship with Will is heartwarming, almost like he is a big dog doting on his master. When Will orders him to jump off a cliff because he is (or is perceived to be) a danger to the colonists, it’s definitely a depressing moment.

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I am glad that the last few episodes address a little more of the how and why of the journey. The news clips from flashbacks to earth indicate that a celestial object, some kind of giant meteor, hit the earth. Actual science nerds who have majored in physics can tell you why this is bad in greater detail. If like me you just watched a lot of PBS growing up, you understand that with tons of debris in the atmosphere weather patterns would be thrown into chaos, the sun is blocked, vegetation and crops cannot grow, and life as we know it ceases to exist. This part seems like it was said like a footnote in passing, that if they stayed on earth they’d “never see another blue sky”. I was surprised when Maureen said that governments had stabilized. If the situation really did necessitate humanity colonizing a new world because earth was ruined, wouldn’t there still be some sort of mass panic and collapse of stability? And might it not take many years to build the ships and infrastructure to evacuate any significant number of people?

Later we learn part of why they were able to make the journey to another planet without decades of hibernation. The object which crashed into earth was not just a meteor, it was the robot’s ship. A flashback from Dr. Smith shows scientists saying that, “We always knew they might come back for it.” The implication is that we captured the robot, reverse engineered some of its technology, built advanced space ships quickly, and the robot escaped and wreaked havoc aboard the space station while at least one of his kind came to find him.

What is interesting to note in the final moments of season one is that the robot’s people are apparently suffering a fate similar to earth. The stolen robot engine takes over the Robinson’s ship and hijacks it into some sort of super fast space travel, arriving at its native solar system. There, we see two stars colliding, indicating that the robot’s own home has also become inhabitable and he was perhaps a scout sent to find a new world.

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With this cliffhanger ending, the series begins to feel more like the 1998 movie version of the story, and in a good way. The Robinsons truly are lost, possibly in another galaxy, commandeered by a somewhat hostile alien presence, left to fend for themselves. As always, the great benefit of Netflix is that you can devour an entire season in a day or two, but then you’re left hanging and almost forgetting about the series until a year later. Let’s hope this one is worth the wait!