I Am in a Dream
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
As defined by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a dream is “a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occurs involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.” Dreams became a significant cultural artifact from Ancient China to the banks of Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamia, there was a pervasive cultural belief that the soul departs the sleeping body, perhaps carried by the god of dreams. Dreams could be sent by the gods or by demons, manifesting to become in some instances omens and prophecies. The Ancient Egyptians were known to write their dreams on papyrus, oracles that brought messages from the gods and the more vivid the dreams, the more blessed the receivers of those dreams were considered to be. Dreams were thus a pathway to the gifts of divinity and for those who wanted to receive such rare bounties, they would find an option to induce these very dreams. It was a ritual of significance, so the searchers could perhaps find that pathway and at the end of it, some mechanism for some sort of healing. In terms of neurobiology, an individual can spend approximately two hours each night in that realm of dreams, adding up to average of about six years for an average lifespan. Each dream, however, tends to last only five to twenty minutes, but depending on the vivaciousness of the dream in question, it may stick within our consciousness for far longer. At times the aspects of our existence we’re ruminating about before our drifting into sleep factor heavily into the dreams that are born out of that very sleep, adding a complex layer that sometimes makes one double check their own reality to see where they are. In HBO’s thrilling Westworld, the key construct hinges upon that construction of dreaming but the key word from the aforementioned definition from The American Heritage Dictionary is “involuntarily.”
The beautiful opening credits, strumming along to another indelible composition from Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, show the construction of Westworld from the perspective of someone observing the most intricate process of 3-D printing. The dreams are not obviously printed in a similar fashion, but dreams themselves aren’t particularly allowed in the creations overseen by the Delos Corporation. We open upon a young android sitting in a chair within a cold room. Dolores (coming to life through a terrific series of performances from Evan Rachel Wood) is quiet and calm, answering each question that she is asked with no hint of dishonesty. “I’m not feeling quite myself,” she notes quietly, her voice a disquieting whisper. “I am in a dream,” she adds as a quite note to Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe and therein lies the unspooling tragedy to Dolores’s existence. The frigid chrome walls of the corporation are a dream to her that is assumedly always largely the same, with a few minor tweaks whose ripples are largely insignificant. Her reality, the bright Wild West that comprises what appears to be one of Westworld’s narrative builds is ironically more macabre. Every morning Dolores wakes up to say good morning to her father before she rides into town. There she meets charming Teddy (a terrific James Marsden), whose devotion to her is quickly established through his refusal of prostitutes. It’s cruel, as Ed Harris’s vile Gunslinger notes, that the androids are paired together, given some hope of eternal romance when the writer of that romance (a perfectly obnoxious Simon Quarterman) knows very well that it’s doomed to repeat itself until he decides to change the narrative. As the night comes to a close, Dolores and Teddy arrive near her home only to hear a gunshot. She races towards her home, discovering her dead “father” lying on the ground. Understandably distraught, Dolores has barely a moment to recover her senses before the Gunslinger shoots Teddy and proceeds to rape her.
The premise of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name is replicated here in good part, except for the focus on the protagonists. The film’s primary focus was on the humans, evoking sympathy for their plight even with the understanding of the crimes they were committing. In the television series, the crimes becomes the focus, the androids the protagonists. For approximately $40,000 a day, the newcomers can visit Westworld and do whatever they want to any of the androids without any consequences. On one level, the premise seems ridiculous. Who would pay such money to visit the Wild West locked in the nineteenth century? But the pull of doing whatever you want to anyone without any consequences, of fulfilling every dark desire and temptation without being held accountable for acting upon them is too strong for many who can afford to do it in the first place. There was a man, for example, who came for a week with his family and did a lot of quiet fishing (that’s quite an expensive fishing trip, one would note). But then he returned for two weeks and became pure evil. Those were, as he noted wryly, two of the best weeks of his entire life. The Gunslinger raping Dolores and shooting Teddy fits right into that bill of depravity, that fulfillment of a license to do everything that is wrong and taboo in the real world (whatever the real world outside Westworld is, for that matter). Dolores’s rape in specificity raised the largest number of eyebrows on the show’s TCA tour and it isn’t difficult to see why. There’s often far too much violence directed against women and rape specifically is used as a plot device to further a female character’s journey when a plethora of other options existed. The excuse of wanting to depict a dark world for women (as is so often the reality) is almost never earned. But here at least there’s a tragedy towards Dolores’s arc that feels germane (she cannot hurt a guest in any capacity and that is important to remember), even if it toes the line extremely finely. It’s the banality of Westworld, how Dolores is used as an object to be violated again and again and again by rich men, only to wake up each cycle and see a bright day before her, not knowing how she might be violated once more, not even given the mental space and the respect that comes with it to process what was so cruelly taken from her. We just don’t need the series to indulge in that specific tragedy at the risk of becoming gratuitous.
The cleverness of “The Original” are in part help it to become a great pilot, a specific category of television episodes that more often than not doesn’t work. There’s a snappy wit that needs multiple viewings to entirely grasp, from the fly to the random picture that sends Dolores’s “father” into a collapse. Theres’s updates occurring to the androids and with any update, there are bugs except these ones specifically seem to be giving birth to substantially tricker glitches than your usual software update that seems to make operating your phone more annoying than it ever needs to be. A glitch leads to corporate operations leader Theresa Cullen (the sublime Sidse Babett Knudsen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) ordering inspections on all of the updated androids, which naturally sends the writer Lee Sizemore into quite the huff. But the creative director of the park is much more calm about the entire affair. Dr. Robert Ford, played to greatly chilling effect by the effervescent Anthony Hopkins, is not what he seems at the onset. Perhaps on the surface he appears to be the antagonistic old man who exists to see his creations brought forth in ways he sees to be true, an evil man who likes to control what he creates to any degree possible. Dr. Ford believes, in what may be the most interesting tenant that sets Westworld apart from other artificial intelligence narratives, that evolution is vital to the success of humanity and that success arrived by using mistakes as a tool. One presumes that he wants the androids to become as lifelike as possible, but he wants to ensure that they don’t become perfect for then what remains for the androids and the humans? That is a fascinating perspective to explore, taking a natural process that is a reality of our biological world and applying it to androids. As the Reveries (those small human improvements) may be helping their past lives come back into the androids’s current beings, Dr. Ford’s line of thinking may prove to be more prescient than even he may think. Dolores can never hurt a living thing but the episode ends with her smacking that motif of a fly against the flesh of her neck. Violent delights, as everyone is no doubt about to learn, have violent ends.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re not real.”
+“So where do you think the interests of the managements are?”
+Milk squirting out of an android’s body
+“I suppose self-delusion is a gift of natural selection as well.”
+“All the devils are here.”
+Maeve’s shooting sequence
+The guests’s glee over their murdered victims was disturbing to say the least
+“Deep and dreamless slumber…”
+“I shall have such revenges on you. … They will be the terrors of the earth. … You’re in a prison of your own sins.”
+The androids are accessing their past memories
+The bartender becoming Dolores’s father
+Okay, so the whole “cooling chamber full of defect androids” is clearly a bad idea waiting to collapse
*Make sure to stay tuned in after the credits and read this interview from the show runners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.
*Visit Discover Westworld for some neat tidbits on this world
Episode Title: The Original
Story by: Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy and Michael Crichton
Teleplay by: Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
Directed by: Jonathan Nolan
Sources: How Dream Works, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Logical and Philosophical Problems of the Dream, Mantic Dreams in the Ancient Near East, Languages of Dreaming
Image Courtesy: Screen Rant