TV Series Review: Season II: Westworld (HBO)

by Steve Lancaster4/14/19
In season one, Westworld established the existence of a theme park populated by androids whose single purpose was to be fodder for the rapacious instincts of the human guests. The androids are murdered, abused, raped, and tortured, rebuilt and returned to service the next day.  Season one sets up the rise of sentience in the androids and memories of death, rebirth and death over and over.

Westworld is the creation of Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his partner Arnold/Bernard (Jeffery Wright). Arnold, before the park opens detects a hint of sentience in the androids and tries to stop the opening and free the emerging new species from slavery. To accomplish this task Arnold has his oldest android, Dolores (Evan Rachael Wood) kill him. Ford opens the park after Arnold’s (suicide/murder). Two of the early guests are William (Jimmi Simpson) and his soon to be brother in law Logan (Ben Barnes). Logan and his family are super rich.

Season one and two revolve around what happens to both of these men in the park. Logan is the heir apparent to his father’s fortune. William is on a journey of self-discovery and will mature as the infamous Man In Black (Ed Harris), the gunfighter/killer of android dreams. If you look closely in one of the episodes you will see a decommissioned android that looks like Yul Brenner.

At the end of season one the androids rise up against their human oppressors, Dr. Ford loses his life in the same manner and from the same android that killed, (murdered?) his partner Arnold, Dolores. The question is left hanging, was Dolores action one of free will or programed? And is Ford really dead or has escaped into the digital world of the androids.

Like season one, season two asks the same questions that science fiction writers have struggled since the pulp magazines of the 30s. What is the nature of machine life and can it be defined? The Westworld answer seems to be yes it can be defined, and the androids are the example of what could happen.  Is the capacity to love, self-sacrifice and planning for the future exclusively human? Westworld asks these questions and the answer for those who watched Terminator is a disturbing yes, androids from Westworld have all too human hopes, dreams and faults.

The season ends with the bulk of Westworld androids either dead or escaped into a digital paradise. Dolores and Bernard getaway to the human world. Dolores exabits all of the human emotions including hate. Her opponent is Bernard, season three sets up as a war between the androids in human society. Season three is due in the spring of 2020 from HBO.

[The previous installment of Steve’s Westworld review can be found here.] • (46 views)

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12 Responses to TV Series Review: Season II: Westworld (HBO)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I haven’t seen the show (I’ve never had HBO, for one thing), though I did see and enjoy the original movie. The notion that the androids develop sentience and are getting sick and tired of being used by the human guests for the latter’s pleasure is compatible with the likeliest interpretation of the original movie.

    The sequel, Futureworld, was a more typical movie about corporate malfeasance. That’s something Hollyweirders are very familiar with from their own experience, which may contribute to their anti-business mindset.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It should be stated that Westworld (2016) can be found on HBO. It’s available as a stand-alone streaming service for $14.99 per month. You can get a free 7-day trial.

    But it’s never that simple. They have a HBO Now and an HBO Go which you can compare. The HBO Now subscription is likely what most would want. It’s the stand-alone streaming service not tied to any cable package like HBO Go.

    Via Roku (which I have), they’ve been promoting HBO fairly heavily of late, particularly in regards to the coming last season of “Game of Thrones.” You can add HBO through your Amazon Prime Video account as well if you have one.

    I’m not sure whether I’ll go for the free trial just to binge-watch. But it is an option. I have seen the first three episodes or so. I was a bit underwhelmed. This looks to be the type of content that will appeal to a younger crowd. But it’s also true that sometimes you just have to put for or five episode under you belt until it builds into something.

    What is the nature of machine life and can it be defined?

    I would say, Steve, the idea of Human Exceptionalism is what is on trial with these kinds of things.

    The original Westworld (TV series…I couldn’t tell you about the book) was a nice sci-fi thriller will very little meaning. No more meaning than the Chucky doll coming to life in that horror movie series. And such embedded spirits are often malevolent because if they weren’t you wouldn’t have much of movie or TV movie.

    Whether, as Sagan said, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be” is not at all self-evident. Nor is the idea behind this second quote of his:

    If we are merely matter intricately assembled, is this really demeaning? If there’s nothing here but atoms, does that make us less or does that make matter more?

    If human beings (or any life, or that matter) are just chance arrangements of matter — and life and sentience are a function of nothing but matter — then, of course, robots will one day be able to think, feel, and be aware. Whether there is more to life than just matter (and it is self-evidently true that there is), this could still be the case if only because our constituent components are matter. If we can be designed in such a way to have life, so might we design a robot to be alive as well.

    But we should first be honest and know that the philosophy behind this stuff today it to make peace with the fact that we humans are mere machines. In fact, it is a widespread belief amongst yutes that we can make robots better than us. (Somehow they will just be infused with “the right stuff” kind of morals even those these same yutes believe in killing babies because they are not alive. Garbage in, garbage out is the thought that comes to mind when making any supposedly “better” living robot.)

    This is why I have such a low threshold for a series such as this. If this is all there is at the base of the sci-fi premise, I roll my eyes and move on. And I didn’t see anything in the first few episodes to suggest otherwise.

    And, frankly, I’m not sure why portraying robots struggling with basically the same moral quandaries that we humans do somehow will lead to their resolution. I’m not suggesting that this Westworld series suggests that this will be the case. But it is usually the assumption. And I have nothing against looking at our human lives through the lens of sci-fi and other beings. But I do reject the inherent and unstated magical properties of robots to somehow do better than we humans just because they are not us. Good luck with that. See: Skynet.

    Maybe I’m selling Westworld short. I guess Steve is going to have to convince me there’s more to this series than I think there is. 🙂

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    Brad,
    The best writing challenges the reader to think about their own perceptions. For science fiction this is especially difficult as science fiction always deals with an existence different from our own. Westworld does not always live up to the best but it does challenge our preconceptions about what is life. Science fiction writers like Asimov, Clark, Dick, and many others struggle with this theme, so it’s not a new idea.

    The famed scientist, Alan Turing, who almost single handily broke the Enigma code, developed a simple test for sentient life referred to as the Turing test. Where a human asks questions not knowing if the respondent is machine or human and receives answers and based on the answers, and language use if the evaluator cannot tell the difference between human and machine then the machine has passed the test. Of course, there are weakness to the test, but it establishes a baseline of machine intelligence.

    The androids in Westworld are long past the Turing test. Is Robert Ford G-d to the machines? He created them, endowed them with intelligence, and memories. He arranges for Dolores to kill his physical body; he lives on as part of the machine world. Has Dolores murdered her G-d?

    Even if you do not accept android sentience, but decide the androids are merely simulacrums of human your still tasked with the question of where the dividing line between human and machine, and that is what makes Westworld interesting.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Crichton never mentioned the Turing Test specifically (but then, this was a movie script, not a novel), but the androids in the original series could be told apart only from their hands. So they would clearly pass the Turing Test. Of course, this can already be done in certainly limited cases, such as the Eliza psychiatric program. (I’ve seen samples of Eliza counseling, including one by a friend who found out that he didn’t know how to exit the program.)

      Conservative Chronicle, which I got back in the mid 70s, had occasional humor shorts. One involved George Meany actually being a robot produced by FutureWorld, Inc. One day he went haywire and started talking about the necessity of a national right-to-work law, so they had to rush someone in and reprogram him.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful and even-handed reply, Steve. You could have just told me to stop being such a baby and get the free 7-day trial and do a bit of binging. I may. But the NHL playoffs are on now and I don’t think I’ll have much binging time until they are concluded.

        • Steve Lancaster says:

          NHL? More interesting than golf, tennis, gymnastics, swimming or soccer not as interesting as basketball and compared to Arkansas football, well there is no case but none the less, enjoy. 🙂

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Yeah, but does Arkansas football hand out penalties based on whether blood was drawn or not? But I gladly would agree that college football is vastly superior to the NFL. Basketball I’m not so hot on in any form.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I go with Major League Baseball. Fortunately, so far they haven’t been significantly afflicted by leftism.

            • Steve Lancaster says:

              I gave up baseball when Harry Carey died, somehow “take me out to the ball game” has never been the same

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The Cubs have continued the custom, using various guests to lead it. This was one nice feature of watching their games on WGN, but they no longer carry them. ESPN and Fox Sports, when showing Cubs home games, don’t bother.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s an interesting article by Wesley Smith: Radical Environmentalism and Transhumanism: Symptoms of the Same Disease. It intersects on the subject at hand.

    I’ve read some stuff from transhumanists before and it’s pretty cuckoo. I don’t expect, like many clique groups, that this is a coherent and well-articulated ideology as much as it is just a clique group with some fuzzy ideas (in this case) about loving robots.

    But the transhumanist he quotes in the article has some great points, including some cogent whacks at environmentalism. Other comments, harsh though they may be, take note of nature, red in tooth and claw:

    I don’t believe in evil, per se, but if there was such a thing, it would be nature — a monster of arbitrary living entities consuming and devouring each other simply to survive. No omnipotent person would ever have the hate in them to create a system where everything wants and needs to sting, eat, and outdo everything else just to live. And yet, that’s essentially what the environment is to all living entities. Environmentalists want you to believe nature is sacred and a perfect balance of living things thriving off one another. Nonsense — it’s a world war of all life fighting agony and loss — of fight or flight, of death today or death tomorrow for you and your offspring.

    First off, I do believe in evil, without the per-se. But I find it difficult to argue against what this transhumanist is describing. We can say he goes overboard. We can say he leaves out the good parts. What is difficult to deny is that this is indeed our condition, the condition of all life: eat or be eaten.

    I don’t know if this discussion really belongs here. But I would suppose that transhumanism has wafted down as a general topic for yutes (particularly male yutes) and into Hollywood scripts as well. And although the “pure” dreams and visions of this transhumanist may seem a little far-fetched, it’s difficult to deny that our technologized society is moving in that direction, whether specifically intending to somehow transcend and replace the human form or not. We are right now swapping out body parts for technological ones. It’s commonplace.

    Whether the brain and the sentient factor is also amenable to silicon is the big question. That’s where these sci-fi and transhumanist dreams stretch credibility. But, again, who knows? Forever is a long time. The changes we’ve seen in just the last 100 years are astonishing.

    We have amazing technology now that can extend life. It’s not inconceivable that life can artificially be extend for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years where only tragic accidents can bring us down. And some sci-fi series, such as Altered Carbon, have dealt with this aspect: Our “essence” is basically backed up in “the cloud” and restored in another android body if the need should arise. And if you’re as rich as the character that James Purfoy plays in this, you get all kinds of fancy indestructible automated backup via wireless satellite.

    What is Jesus but the hope of a type of transhumanism? We will get new, everlasting bodies. I’m not trying to denigrate or trivialize any religion. But we could say that Christianity is a hope while the promise of technology to improve our lives is immediate, direct, and obviously getting better all the time. Transhumanist may be a bit cuckoo but their basic dream is not one that they alone share.

    I have a sister on her deathbed even as we speak so the subject has some relevancy. But we’re all headed there at some point, into the great void or onto the next leg of our journey. We know not which.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      If we want to discuss the evil in Mother Nature, it might be the various forms of predation and parasitism that involve eating living creatures as opposed to killing them first. This would especially be true of those wasps and similar creatures which lay eggs inside their prey. The larva grow by eating the prey from the inside until it eventually dies.

      Somehow all those nice ads about Mother Nature never mention such things. Many years ago I went to see the Disney The Sword in the Stone, and we noticed that they would show attempted predation as an indication of how everything was getting chaotic in the absence of the proper king. But they never showed a predator actually catch, much less kill and eat, its prey. Similarly, the magical duel between Merlin and Madame Mim ends with her sick, whereas in the original novel she’s killed (by measles).

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