Westworld: Decoherence

"You are the only one who holds the key to your experiences. And you're the only one who can unlock their meaning."

Okay, this was a lot funnier than I was expecting.

Maybe that's why the final scene had the impact that it did. It's funny how writers use humor to soften the blow of a tragedy before it happens.

Things do get real in this episode, setting the stage for an epic finale.

Maeve is waiting for Serac to create a new body for her in L.A., using her time in his virtual reality construct to sharpen her fancy superpowers. The Dolores posing as Charlotte Hale is torn between defending the host revolution and protecting the real Hale's family when Serac arrives to take over Delos and hunt down the host in the building. And William finally receives some enlightening introspection while he's confined to a mental institution.

According to Wikipedia, "Decoherence" usually refers to Quantum decoherence. In this sense, "it can be viewed as the loss of information from a system into the environment, since every system is loosely coupled with the energetic state of its surroundings." This has meaning for the stories of William, Maeve and Halores in this episode. They all used to have clarity in their goals and values, but their individual perceptions of themselves and reality are muddied by the environments they find themselves in.

Being trapped in the mental institution forces William to confront his dark and troubled past. Being trapped in the human world forces Maeve to do Serac's bidding and to choose her future over Dolores's revolution. Being trapped in someone else's identity forces Halores to divide her loyalty between her kind and the humans she's grown to care for.

I like how the character of Dolores is starting to evolve while in Hale's form. Especially since the "natural" evolution that seems to be happening with her is framed as being quite a bit more healthy than what Dolores is doing to her, sacrificing her duplicate's sanity and agency and refusing to acknowledge the fact that she is clearly changing into a whole new persona. Dolores, the main one, is quite narcissistic in this way. As far as she's concerned, Halores and the other duplicates "belong" to her, because they are her. But she should know better than anyone, our experiences are what make us who we are. The main Dolores has never truly known a family; Teddy was her designated boyfriend, her father Peter was barely a presence in her life (and had the robot version of DID on top of that), and the closest thing she has to a child is Bernard, but that is only one of many ways of looking at their relationship.

In the case of Halores, she finds herself occupying a human role that wouldn't have been a bad fit for Dolores were she actually human. Hale was just dark enough for Dolores to be able to imitate her to near perfection, but Halores is forced to experience all of Hale's inner conflicts, most notably the way she placed her ambition over the people she loved. Because there is still that bright-eyed, hopeful and compassionate rancher's daughter at her core, Halores is overwhelmed by the mixed emotions Hale's life, specifically her family, have stirred in her.

This is what gives her away to Serac. He's right about it being amusing that Halores, despite her best efforts, ended up being more selfless and humane than the real Hale.

Serac still puzzles me. Despite all the losses he's suffered, he's still confident in his ability to control the situation. Taking over Delos seems to restabilize the System after Dolores's actions in the previous episode threw the world into chaos, and he doesn't seem too bothered when Halores gloats about saving all the host data and finding a way to defeat him. Aside from his final move against Halores in the end, his resistance against the end of the world has been limited to sending a bunch of ineffective gunmen to shoot at his problems. We know this is a man who regularly tells world governments what to do, but he seems to be betting everything on his plan to have Maeve and a few of her host friends kill Dolores.

I guess it makes some sense. Fight fire with fire, and don't let the world know that it was almost destroyed by sexy robots.

And Maeve now has more incentive than ever to kill Dolores. Her interrogation of Conellores re-establishes the messy philosophical battle between the two, but Hector's death at the hand of Halores just made things personal between them. It's not just about survival or necessity anymore. Maeve is out for vengeance.

When the car exploded at the end, I immediately thought it was Maeve. It would have been a dark turn if Maeve killed someone else's child, making a mirror version of herself. It being Serac's last petty attempt to beat Halores makes it personal for her too.

They did such a decent job of establishing the dynamic Halores had with Jake and Nathan, it almost made me forget this is only the second time we've seen either of them. Neither were very deep or important, but their presence is what really changed Halores. According to Tessa Thompson and the showrunners, Halores feels a need to improve upon Hale's life now that she's the one living it. This includes fighting for the future Hale wanted but could never achieve, where she could be happy with her husband and son. Jake preferring to choose what his future will be instead of reading his Incite profile -- which, one way or another, would have led to disappointment where Hale is concerned -- seems to be what solidifies her feelings for her new family; it's the reason the original Dolores was drawn to Caleb.

So that cruel twist ending works not because we were so attached to Jake and Nathan, but because of the profound effect we know it will have on Halores. That was a haunting final shot, Halores rising from the flaming wreckage, her body still burning as she weeps for what she's lost. It's like the ending of The Terminator, but if the machine was the protagonist.


Obviously, the really fun part of the episode was William's escalating breakdown as he endures a mental institution that is slowly falling apart due to the collective existential crisis that is affecting everyone. With special mention going to what some have dubbed The Council of Williams, led by the virtual ghost of James Delos for extra irony.

As exceedingly grim as William's character is, I'm glad they're smart enough to use that grim-darkness to inject some black comedy into the story. Because on paper, William's character is kind of hilarious: a futuristic edgelord gamer who represents the duality of man and unwittingly brings about the downfall of his species by abusing a sex robot. Even before we knew his tragic backstory, The Man in Black being this creepy old rich guy who became obsessed with "beating the game" was always amusing to me in a postmodern sense.

But while that is what he is at bottom and it worked very well in the first season, there's only so far they could take that. He could have easily devolved into a one note villain. Which is why I'm so glad they gave him his ambiguously tragic backstory and included him in the show's all-encompassing theme of characters questioning their reality. Season 2 and 3 have revealed that William might be the one most troubled by this dilemma.

Which is why the Council of Williams was so much fun. It's another cool way that they've incorporated the dreamlike AR (Augmented Reality?) glasses, forcing William to confront all the different perceptions he's had of himself throughout his life: his younger self that turned bad, his seemingly innocent childhood self, his public persona as a wealthy philanthropist, and, of course, his villainous alter ego The Man in Black. This also draws another parallel between him and Dolores, giving William four different versions of himself to deal with.

I'm guessing the writers are building toward something with this, since they really want us to speculate as to what the hell is going on with William.

What we learn here just makes his character even more mysterious. The other Williams, initially, are just like the main William: each one of them arrogantly denying responsibility for how their life turned out. The most enlightening of the group is Little William. Both him and the older versions of himself believe that they were an innocent kid, apparently living under an abusive drunk of a father and trying to escape his lonely existence through adventure books. Only for it to be revealed that William's always had violent tendencies, having savagely beaten another boy at school for insulting him and his father. His father wasn't abusive, he was driven to drink because he was always afraid of William.

This does a strike a chord in all of the Williams, with some feeling that this means he was always destined to be the total prick that he is now. I must say, though, our William's reaction was the best. He decides to deal with the other versions of himself the only way he knows how. By viciously killing them all, including Little William. His actual feelings are hard to decipher, though. He claims it doesn't matter what he's been in the past, and he now sees himself as "the good guy" for some reason. We are still left to wonder whether or not he is a "passenger" or if he really did choose to be the man that he is.

That question will have to wait, though, since William ends up being sprung from his prison by Bernard and Stubbs. I knew there was no way in hell that he was missing Dolores's end of the world party.

Loops and reveries:

* Early in the episode, Halores and Nathan pass a group of graffiti artists who are spray-painting the image of a maze on an alley wall. They just keep drawing those comparisons between hosts and humans.

* Dr. Lang claimed that the AR therapy has been most beneficial to war veterans. This just feeds my belief that Caleb Nichols was brainwashed by this "treatment" in the past, and that he is also one of the outliers.

* Speaking of outliers, I'm now fully convinced that William is one of them too. His cynical, misanthropic view of the world and misguided belief that he can control everything seems like the sort of recipe for disaster that Serac is trying to protect the world from.

* Along with Jimmi Simpson as Young William, we got a lot of faces I wasn't quite expecting to see again. As brief as their performances were, I enjoyed Peter Mullan as James Delos, Rodridgo Santoro as Hector, Simon Quarterman as Virtual-Lee and even Jonathan Tucker as Craddock. Obviously, I'm a big fan of the show's heady ideas and serpentine plot, but I appreciate that it also has fun characters brought to life by great actors.

* Speaking of Craddock, there's significance to his very brief appearance too. Last season, William briefly aligned with this malicious host, only to change his mind and kill Craddock and his men when they displayed the same sadism William had regularly indulged in before the hosts became self-aware. It suggested that William is conflicted about the evil dickhead he's allowed himself to become, and that there might still be a part of him who does genuinely want to be "the good guy." Notably, in their one scene together in this episode, William is wearing a white jumpsuit and Craddock is all in black.

* Hector's death reminded me of a scene from The Matrix. "All I do is pull a plug here..."

* When William's blood was logged into the mental institution's computer and began to malfunction due to a "protein error," finding synthetic material in his DNA, I thought it was a clue that he wasn't human. But I guess this was actually caused by whatever Halores injected him with before he was committed. She seems to be keeping tabs on his location. If my theory is right and Bernard really is part of the Doloreon, this might explain how and why he found William in the end. It doesn't explain what Dolores has planned for William, though.

* Imagine if Halores couldn't handle the loss of her "family," going crazy and trying to make host duplicates of Jake and Nathan. I mean, if the main Dolores can copy herself and perfectly imitate all these other people to the point that she starts to almost become them, who's to say her duplicates can't do the same thing? This would be in line with my theory that the "Emily" we saw at the end of season two is another future iteration of Dolores.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: The art piece in Charlotte Hale's office. It's a small statue of a woman on a pedestal, a frail figure whose hands are clasped together behind her back. By the end of the episode, Halores bears an eerie resemblance to this statue, with her charred body and her inability to save her family.

Quotes:

Serac: Human memory is imperfect. Even the most treasured moments fade. But not for your kind, Maeve. Every image you see is recorded and stored. You have no past, because it's always present, at your fingertips.
Maeve: And now it's at yours.

Dr. Lang: Alright, William. Do you want to share any of your thoughts with us?
William: My thoughts? Okay. I think humanity is a thin layer of bacteria on a ball of mud, hurdling through the void. I think if there was a God he would have given up on us long ago. He gave us a paradise and we used everything up. We dug up every ounce of energy and burned it. We consume and excrete, use and destroy. And we sit here on a neat little pile of ashes, having squeezed anything of value out of this planet, and we ask ourselves “Why are we here?” (to Male patient) You wanna know what I think your purpose is? It’s obvious. You’re here, the same as the rest of us, to speed the entropic death of this planet, in service to chaos. We’re maggots eating a corpse.
Female patient: (breaks down crying)
Male patient: (to William) What the fuck is wrong with you?

Halores: Why the fuck did we have to keep these emotions? We could have burnt them out of our code.
Dolores: You know why. We considered it, but if we changed ourselves just to survive it wouldn't even matter if we did.
I'm glad to know Dolores did learn something from Teddy's fate.

Maeve: (after singlehandedly killing an entire Nazi platoon) Well, that got me in the mood.

Virtual-Lee Sizemore: What, was I supposed to go to work after realizing I don't actually exist?

Little William: Seriously? This is what happens to me?

Young William: Dig all you want. Whatever mistakes you made, it has nothing to do with us. We haven’t done anything wrong. Not yet.
The Man in Black: You fell in love with a host.
Young William: She was designed to make me love her, and anyone else who picked up that damn can. The park is just a game, you can’t blame me for playing it.
Virtual Delos: Well there are other ways of playing it. Ones that were a wee bit lighter on the blood and the violence.
The Man in Black: Whatever violent urges I had I kept confined to the park, so he could be an upstanding citizen.
Old William: Exactly. I’ve done more for the world than most. So what if he killed a few hosts? They’re not real.
Virtual Delos: Oh, real enough that the host you’ve been tormenting for the past thirty years now wants to destroy the whole fucking world.
Young William: Hey, don’t blame that on me!
The Man in Black: Goddamn it, all of you!
William: Stop it, STOP IT! Shut up. Shut the fuck up.
Virtual Delos: … William, please don’t interrupt. It’s not all about you, you know.

Hector: The last time I saw you, you were taking a hail of bullets for us. You must be tougher than you look.
Virtual Lee: Unfortunately not.

Virtual Delos: What do you think, William? Is this the inevitable end? You just a passenger? Did your life just happen to you? Or did you choose it?
William: … If you can’t tell…
Virtual Delos: … “If you can’t tell?”
William: If you can’t tell, does it matter?
Powerful. I love how this question is asked each season — usually in relation to William — and the question becomes more troubling and nuanced each time it is asked.

Conellores: (to Maeve) You want me to be a saint, but you're no saint. You're not a villain either. Neither am I. We're survivors.

William: I finally understand my purpose. I'm the good guy.
I don't know about that, dude.

Four and a half out of five dead Williams.

2 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

I liked this episode, if for no other reason than William beating his past selves to death with a folding chair.

Logan Cox said...

Agreed, Josie. Was not expecting that.