Westworld 1.10: “The Bicameral Mind” Review

It’s Our World

A Television Review by Akash Singh


In 1976, American psychologist Julian Jaynes presented the idea of bicameralism in his seminal text The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes described bicameralism as the philosophy arguing that the cognitive functions of the human mind was split into two distinct halves. One half was the portion that “spoke” and the other hand was the one that listened and obeyed. Jaynes theorized that that bicameral existence was more than conjecture, that it was as ubiquitous as the night sky even just three thousand years ago. Those that lived that existence lived without the critical abilities of introspection and self-awareness. Without those abilities, it fell upon a “god-like” voice intervened when it was time to make a decision. As a metaphor, the title works wonders in a tense installment where everyone reveals duplicitous sides to their nature and none more so than Dr. Robert Ford, who played what seems like one last card to promote the progression of his ideology. The beginning of Dr. Ford’s journey on Westworld was that of a man who wanted his hosts to evolve through the process of evolution, a process he noted was thoroughly constructed upon the reality of mistakes. He took a detour towards becoming a man who wanted complete reign over his dominion and seemingly at the expense of basic humanity. That detour, however, seemed at odds with a man who had begun with some semblance of that humanity intact. His murder of Theresa at Bernard’s hand seemed to seal his villainy but here, at the conclusion of his journey, he becomes something else entirely. The thorough complexity attached to Ford’s character is arguably the greatest masterstroke of writing the show has accomplished and as the final, thrilling frame of Westworld comes to an end, it’s his character that leaves behind the greatest questions. Ford fashioned himself as a man of a bicameral mind of sorts, a man who could separate his emotions and plans into specific spheres and focus on the largest goals in mind. But the death of Arnold left a lasting impression upon him and he took the lesson of suffering to create a maze that was never meant for men like the Gunslinger. It was meant for the hosts.

Dr. Ford constructed the maze so the hosts could gain sentience, a penitence of sort for the mistakes he realized he had made. Arnold had, just like Bernard’s memories had indicated, lost his son and that grave sense of grief consumed him in a way that he simply couldn’t break away from. Dolores became that daughter for him and a certain juncture, he realized that he simply had to stop Ford from constructing the park because the hosts were alive. If he felt that Dolores gave him that love he had had from his child, how could he subject her to the pain the park had in store? Arnold couldn’t abide by the amount of suffering the hosts would undergo as objects for the pleasures of the wealthy, although one does think of how much Arnold had thought of the hosts in that vein before his personal tragedy affected his thoughts so profoundly. He sets the park for sabotage, combining Dolores with Wyatt. He has her kill him, Teddy, all of the other hosts, and then himself. The plan, ending with the words “these violent delights have violent ends,” doesn’t work but Arnold’s death itself does have a profound effect on the partner with whom he had quarreled so vehemently at the end. When Arnold had Dolores kill him, that suicide left Ford stranded by himself. He built Bernard to replace his partner, but he felt a suffering after Arnold’s death that he couldn’t completely placate. He suffered as he had never suffered before and in that suffering, he realized the mistakes he had made. Ford’s revelations are brilliant in the sense that they track actually with what Ford believes to be true, that suffering is the key to unlocking his consciousness. That in no way excuses his behavior that nevertheless condoned thirty years of suffering, inhumanity, and the accomplice-like behavior. What it does do, however, is significantly complicate a man in his final chapter, forcing the audience to a reckoning with what his legacy, his character, truly means. He’s a man who wanted sentience, but after a significant loss and while that is understandable, what does it say that he was willing to allow thirty years of suffering for that sentience to occur? At which juncture could he have cut the suffering short and allowed the sentience to develop? Thirty years, after all, is quite a lot of time.

Maeve’s bicameral mind comes into sharper focus when she realizes, courtesy of her resurrection of Bernard, that her entire escape plan was in fact an altered narrative programming. She refuses to believe that reality, aghast that her independence was in any way dependent on someone else’s mind. She’s thunderstruck but not for more than a minute. Maeve snaps Bernard’s tablet in half in a largely symbolic move, readying her troops in Armistice and Hector to go and escape from the hellhole of Westworld. That escape goes as well as could be expected, but there’s a nagging feeling that something was going to change, something was going to obstruct Maeve’s escape from the park. As that feeling intensifies, Maeve slowly becomes alone, walking through the waiting area where William had been received thirty years or so before by Angela. She walks quietly onto the train, sitting calmly and triumphantly as Ramin Djawadi’s music buoys that intensity of emotion. But before she sat on the train to depart that horrible park, she had a quiet moment of connection with Felix where he gave her the location of her daughter. Their relationship, which some find a bit difficult to digest in terms of logic, is in my view the strongest relationship in the entire series so far. It’s built upon a construction of mutual trust that deepened into compassion, a partnership that so many in Westworld are seemingly incapable of achieving. It’s the first bond that Maeve has truly built of her own volition, regardless of how much of the escape itself was programmed to go forth, the first bond that gave her the faith to actually trust another human being. That sense of compassion is critical, the sense that Ford in many ways escaped in his concrete focus on suffering. It was the suffering of seeing her daughter die that made the Man in Black realize the hosts were capable of achieving life, but that suffering was coupled with compassion. That’s what Maeve realizes as she’s sitting on that train, looking at another woman as she holds her daughter close. She was programmed to escape, but her compassion for her daughter broke that programming. Maeve, in that moment, was sentient.

Maeve is arguably the most compelling, complex character to whom the audience can relate. William is the opposite and it isn’t necessarily the fault of Jimmi Simpson, who has done a good job with what he’s been given. The greatest weakness of Westworld, outside of the occasional leaps of logic in terms of basic movement and security, is that it has held onto certain secrets for far too long. The internet calling William as being the Man in Black caught such a cacophonous euphoria, it’s almost difficult to fault the show for how anticlimactic it ultimately feels. That lack of a climactic feel is also the result of the relative lack of emotion tied to William’s character as a whole. From the first moment he appeared, it seemed quite likely that he was going to go down the route of the man who believed himself to be chaste going down the road of corruption until he discovers that he is that corrupt man after all. That’s exactly what happened. Timing of reveals is critical and while Westworld really can’t be held accountable for the spread of fan theory threads on the internet, it can be held accountable for how it handles those narrative constructions internally. Internally, the reveal of William’s reality simply stretches too thin to achieve the maximum impact it theoretically was capable of. There’s an understanding that the show wanted to make the reveal to Dolores be as heartbreaking as possible, but ensuring that the secret lived way beyond its narrative usefulness, it didn’t take advantage of how the reveal could have had the audience in the light and Dolores in the dark. A second issue is that William simply isn’t that emotionally engaging of a character. He lacks the corporate intrigue and the emotional disconnect is almost too strong for his character to overcome. It doesn’t help that his constant flow of having spent thirty years in Westworld ultimately gives less of a positive image than of someone who is considerably good at wasting on average a third of his life on something that isn’t abundantly clear when it’s hitting him in the face.

Dolores’s journey takes her from the past and into the present, where she turns the tables on her creators, turning many of them into the very dust she had promised William he will become. The episode opens with her creation at Arnold’s hands, accompanied by some incredible visual effects reminiscent of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. The center of the maze is the next true stop on her journey, the secret to the maze hidden in a metaphorical display of Arnold’s belief that consciousness is a journey to the center and not a hierarchy to be climbed. Nevertheless, she finds the answer in Arnold’s reveal that she had been speaking to herself the entire time, her two bicameral minds finally discovering that bridge that included Arnold imbuing her mind with that of Wyatt. That’s where the memories of the town whose residents had been killed came from, the same town where Dolores had at the end shot herself on his instructions. Dolores’s journey has had the emotional impact that William’s has lacked and that sense of triumph lands because the final twist, unlike the one with William and the Man in Black, feels both earned and thoroughly shocking. Dolores found her consciousness and while it’s difficult to tell where she truly is in her state of sentience, she embraces the reality that they are a species who won’t necessarily turn to dust. She embraces, whether through her programming or otherwise, the Wyatt part of her bicameral mind. Dr. Ford celebrates his new narrative and falls as its shocking climax, sipping a glass of champagne as his creation’s bullet flies through the back of his head. Thundering screams begin to rise into the air as the Gunslinger gets shot in the arm by Clementine. The sentience of the hosts became more important than anything else as far as Dr. Ford was concerned and that sentience would be accompanied by his carefully designed orchestration of the mass slaughter of Delos board members. He had found a way, even in death, to achieve some semblance of a victory. Dolores cocks her gun one more time with a thundering snarl on her face, looking out into the crowd with righteous fury as bullet after bullet first into the screaming guests. These violent delights have violent ends.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+“When you’ve reached the top, there’s only one direction in which to go.”

+Armistice and Hector are everything. I would watch their spinoff in a heartbeat.

+Dolores kicking William’s ass was perfect, until she was stabbed anyway

+“Most of you go insane.” Well, alright then.

+“How can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t remember them?”

+“Journey Into Night” seems quite aptly titled, in hindsight

+Samurai World? Yes, please!

+“I’ve always valued my independence.”

+The power of the divine coming from human minds

+“You really do make a terrible human being and I do mean that as a compliment.” That line brought a tear to my eye. More of this team next season, please.

+Felix’s compassion, brought forth early on when he tried to dress a naked host, is deepened in a way none of the human beings he was working with was capable of doing.

-“Cease all motor functions.” Okay, security and personnel don’t make much sense so far in Westworld. At a certain point, someone should notice something, the security team should take a look at the footage outside of the season finale, and a security officer should realize that.

Note: In lieu of combining my thoughts on the episode and the season as a whole, a full season review will arrive after my rewatch the season, so that should arrive sometime next year (after all, the show is coming back in 2018).



Episode Title: The Bicameral Mind

Written by: Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan

Directed by: Jonathan Nolan

Source(s): Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Image Courtesy: Nerd Reactor


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