Category Archives: Fantasy

Winter is Coming: HBO’s Game of Thrones, seasons 1-6

No Spoilers
in these overviews

No Spoilers
in extended season reviews
(links below each brief overview)

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HBO’s award-winning show Game of Thrones, created and (mostly) written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, is based on the best-selling series of fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin. Though the show diverges from the books’ content and order in some places, as do all dramatic adaptations, Game of Thrones follows the major Houses presented in the book series — Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, Tyrell, Baratheon, etc — as its members war and scheme for power. At the center of their struggle is the ancient Iron Throne, to which virtually every player claims to have the right. Other themes explore family loyalty and obligations, love, spirituality, religious beliefs and intolerance, hubris, sexuality, morality, and the purpose of violence to achieve one’s goals.

Season 1

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Based on the fantasy novel  A Game of Thrones, Book 1 of the best-selling series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones is set in the fictional land of Westeros, composed mainly of The 7 Kingdoms, where royal claimants and usurpers fight for the right to sit on the Iron Throne. Season One concentrates on three major families: the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens. Their stories become interwoven with their claims to the throne, and their loyalty to their ruler.

Love and Betrayal amidst Swordplay,
Dragons, and White Walkers:
Game of Thrones,
Season 1

Game of Thrones Season 1 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes (go into iTunes to purchase). (Pricing differences seem to be for SD versus HD videos.) The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 2

Based roughly on A Clash of Kings, Book 2 in George R. R. Martin’s best-selling series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO’s critically acclaimed and award-winning Game of Thrones continues its exploration of power, politics, family obligations, love, and betrayal, in the second season. As the battle for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of the civilized world erupts once more, everyone now knows that “Winter is coming. The surviving members of the three major families — Lannister, Stark, and Targaryen — continue the quest for survival and power, this time amidst rebellions, uprisings, and war. They are joined and betrayed by members of various other Houses.

The Summer of Our Discontent:
Game of Thrones, Season 2

Game of Thrones Season 2 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 3

Based in part on the first half of A Storm of Swords, Book 3 of George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, created and written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the stories of the inhabitants of Westeros and the Lands beyond continue. Love, power, and betrayal are its major themes as the War of the Five Kings intensifies. The third season of Game of Thrones gets viewers more intimately involved with the peripheral characters, bringing them to the forefront. Though there are multiple, ultimately converging storylines, the excellent writing and powerful acting keep the viewers engaged without confusing them. Even the scene transitions flawlessly guide viewers from one character — or group of characters — to another, and back again. The acting is riveting, with some previously minor characters taking center stage, and some previously “evil” characters gaining the sympathy of the audience.

What Crawls Out of Nightmares:
Game of Thrones, Season 3

Game of Thrones Season 3 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 4

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Season 4 of HBO’s award-winning series Game of Thrones is based principally on the second half of A Storm of Swords, Book 3 in George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Season 4 also includes material from Book 4, A Feast for Crows, and Book 5, A Dance with DragonsIn Season 4, the writers of Game of Thrones continues to explore its themes of love, betrayal, and power, on the familial and national level. The storyline is expanded to explore themes of loyalty, hubris,  spirituality, religious beliefs, religious intolerance, as well as the morality of violence. The principal families — Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, and Tyrell — remain, and their stories are deftly interwoven with those of new characters.

The Dead Can’t Hear Us:
Game of Thrones, Season 4

Game of Thrones Season 4 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes.  The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 5 

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Season 5 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, is adapted primarily Books 4 and 5 in George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Along with Books 4 and 5 — A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons — the writers returned to Book 3, A Storm of Swords, for additional content. They also had access to material from Martin’s as-yet unpublished Book 6, The Winds of Winter. Season 5 of the dramatic adaptation won a record number of Emmy Awards for a series in a single year: 12 awards out of 24 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series. Created and (mostly) written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the show’s writing, acting, and design are all brilliant, and Game of Thrones deserves every award it’s won.

Game of Thrones Season 5 unites many of the storylines that have been converging during the previous 4 seasons. The major families who started the drama — the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens — are joined with the Tyrells, the Martells, and the Boltons. The only remaining Baratheon, Stannis, is still waging war against the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Season 5 also takes one of Season 4’s major themes — religious intolerance — and puts it in the forefront of the drama. Although family loyalty still determines most of the characters’ actions, the quest for power is intimately intertwined with any family obligations.

The Last Thing You See Before You Die:
Game of Thrones, Season 5

Game of Thrones Season 5 is available for purchase for $38.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers. Many of the retailers have special bargains for purchasing seasons 1-5, including Amazon, GooglePlay, and iTunes.

Season Six

Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones is based on the as yet uncompleted Book 6 in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, and includes a “significant amount of material” from the Books 4 and 5 — A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. The author provided a detailed outline to show creators Benioff and Weiss. The sixth season proved to have more weaknesses than the previous ones, and it may have been due to the fact that the show-runners were working from an outline, no matter how detailed, rather than culling the story from completed books. Still, this season had some of the most powerful moments of the entire series, some of which Martin will be hard-pressed to reproduce on the printed page.

The battle for the Iron Throne gets vicious as the major families  — the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens — are joined by other families — the Tyrells, the Martells, and the Boltons — the latter of whom either want to rule the Seven Kingdoms themselves or who want revenge for wrongs inflicted by the three primary families.

(The Good, The Bad, and The Dead:
Game of Thrones, season 6
detailed overview coming next week)

Game of Thrones Season 6 is available for purchase for $24.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers. Seasons 1-3 and 4-6 can be purchased from iTunes for a slightly reduced price. The entire 6 seasons are available on Amazon for $170.99.

Rated Very Mature for Graphic Violence, Explicit Sexual Situations, Nudity, Adult Content, and Adult Language.

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Filed under Actors, Books, Fantasy, Game of Thrones, Movies/Television, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Television, Videos, Violence

Bravo & Kudos to the Fans of Westworld: Theories & Finale

Serious Spoilers
(Show & Fan Theories)

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From the premiere episode of HBO’s sci-fi/fantasy series Westworld, created for television by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and based on the 1973 film written by author Michael Crichton, fans have been weighing in on their theories about where the storyline would ultimately end up. Despite some critics’ complaints that the “Internet ruined Westworld” for viewers, I found the fan theories fascinating. Of course, I never felt morally obligated to read all the theories, to join Redditt and get the immense details of the fan “Reveals,” or to posit any ideas of my own, so instead of ruining the show for me, the fan theories added a layer of complexity to the show, if only a layer that revealed the intelligence and cleverness of its viewers. Fan theories didn’t show show how “predictable” Westworld and other shows may be. Instead, these theories — most of which turned out to be true — demonstrated just how sophisticated the contemporary television viewing audience is.

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Bernard as Host

Even I guessed that Ford’s right-hand-man, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) was, in reality, a host. Some fans surmised this by the second episode, but most viewers certainly knew it by the time Dolores repeated Bernard’s line about the pain of grief. Asked by his “wife” if he didn’t ever want to forget and let go of the pain of their son Charlie’s death, Bernard replied that the pain of losing his son was all he had left of his son. When Dolores repeated the same sentiment to Bernard himself after he asked if she wanted to forget the pain of her parents’ murders, and Bernard looked slightly and momentarily confused, viewers knew Bernard was a host. Though the show itself didn’t reveal it for a few more episodes, it wasn’t a surprise to us when it happened.

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Bernard as Arnold

I think Bernard is Arnold, though I got really confused in the finale by Arnold’s only appearing in Dolores’ memories in the form of Bernard, when Bernard is a host which Ford claims to have made in homage to Arnold after his partner’s death, and which Ford named “Bernard” because it wouldn’t have been appropriate to call him “Arnold.” Dolores only recognizes Bernard as Arnold, however, and in all the scenes where she is created by Arnold, or where she is going to kill Arnold, he is in the form of Bernard. I’m not sure what this means. Is Bernard literally Arnold, who was killed by Dolores at his own request, re-invented as Bernard the host, with Arnold’s consciousness somewhere inside? Is that why the portrait of Ford and Arnold in Ford’s office also includes Bernard, but only after Bernard realizes that he is (probably) Arnold? I can’t figure that one out, and multiple characters as the same physical person has always confused me since I can determine how it’s possible, but suffice it to say that fans theorized about Bernard being Arnold, and it looks like they were right.

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Maeve’s Army

As Maeve (Thandie Newton, above R) gained consciousness, she was looking for an “army” to help her defeat the “gods” of Westworld, whom she disdained. Where on earth would a conscious host get an army except in the bowels of the theme park itself? Maeve recruited Hector (Rogrigo Santoro, above, second from R), his snake-tattoed partner Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, in back) and body shop tech Felix (Leonardo Nam, in front of Armistice), who aspired to become a programmer and who seemd to be in love with Maeve. When the park’s Head of Narrative, Lee Sizemore, opened the lower level cold-storage during the gala celebration of the park, he found it empty. The army of retired hosts, which fans predicted Maeve would enlist, was indeed an army. It wasn’t Maeve’s, however, but Dr. Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins), and he unleashed the army of hosts onto the Board of Directors (to the delight of the Man in Black, who has long wanted hosts to think for themselves). Fans got this one mostly right: the hosts did become an army; fans just got the recruiting officer incorrect.

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Dolores as Wyatt

Fans were spot-on with this theory. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) was, indeed, responsible for the massacre of all the other hosts. She was “combined” with the evil personality of Wyatt for the purposes of attaining consciousness, and for keeping the park from opening due to the “deaths” of all the hosts. Fans noticed the similarity in the massacre scenes behind Dolores, Maeve, and in Teddy’s memory. Teddy (James Marsden) thought he was responsible for the massacre, but, in reality, it was Dolores. In fact, the massacre before the park opened may be the reason she was unable to shoot the gun when Teddy tried to teach her to shoot. Westworld investors may have insisted that Dolores lose the ability to destroy the hosts again.

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Fans predicted that Dolores, whose name means “sadness,” would be Wyatt and was responsible for the massacre. They didn’t predict that she would also shoot Teddy and then commit suicide. Still, fans guessed the most important part of the story.

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Dolores Killed Arnold

Bang-on with this theory, Fans. Dolores  did kill Arnold, but fans didn’t guess that Bernard was, in fact, Arnold’s consciousness (?) — and please don’t ask me to explain how this was possible — or that Arnold lost his own son to death, or that Bernard-Arnold, created by Ford after Arnold’s death, was given the back-story of a son’s death to help Bernard achieve sentience. All I do understand is that Dolores did kill Arnold — at Arnold’s behest — and that Arnold, now permanently in the guise of Bernard, was the “general” that Wyatt killed. Arnold-Bernard wanted to die so that he could join his son. I don’t know if Dolores’ sentience was a side-effect of that desire or vice versa.

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The Two-Timeline Theory

Kudos to the fans for figuring this one out, long before Dolores found the City of Sand, with its buried church, revealing only the steeple, and asked a confused William (Jimmi Simpson), “Where are we? When are we?” Even someone who doesn’t engage in fictional “conspiracy” theories, like me, noticed the “when” in Dolores’ second question. Fans tried to “prove” this dual timeline theory with the flies, as in, the flies are on the hosts in the present, because the hosts have a more human skin, and the flies are not present on the hosts in the past, but I couldn’t see this theory holding up, even when I watched the marathon of the entire series, specifically looking for the flies, if only because all the flies seem to have disappeared.

The best example of this dual time-line theory seemed to have been Dolores’ changing costumes, from her prairie dress in the present,

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to her pants and shirt in the past.

This dress theory falls apart, however, when Dolores wears a dress in the past, as when she shoots Arnold,

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when she first “finds” William (in the past),

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and when she massacres all the hosts, (she’s standing, in the center background, in front of the train), kills Teddy,

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and then shoots herself — all while wearing the dress .

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Ditto when she’s wearing pants with the Man in Black, who is most certainly in the park’s present time-line,

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and when she’s in the “final” scene with Teddy, which is at the park’s Gala celebration (when Ford is revealing his new narrative), and which is most assuredly in the present since it is just before the hosts invade the park.

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Still, the fans were correct about the two, simultaneously presented time-lines: Dolores and William’s encounter and relationship happens 30-35 years ago, in the past, while her experiences with the Man in Black are in the present. Fans solidified this theory by matching MiB’s story of his marriage lasting 30 years, his coming to the park every year for that time period, and with William’s statements that he was getting married as soon as he returned from the park.

And this dual time-line theory made it possible for the fans to posit another extravagantly elaborate theory, that I refused to believe initially, because of the MiB’s continued violence toward, and rapes of Dolores: that William and the MIB are the same man.

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William and the Man in Black as the Same Man

Fans have been “proving” this theory with elaborate images of William (Jimmi Simpson) morphing into the Man in Black (Ed Harris), but that didn’t convince me, if only because the relationship between the two men and Dolores was so wildly different. William, in the past, as was revealed in the finale, came to care for Dolores, believed her to be sentient, and wanted to even help her escape. The Man in Black, however, annually helped kill Dolores’ parents, to kill Teddy, and to rape poor Dolores. He seemed, in fact, to seek Dolores out specifically so that he could hurt her.

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I agree with Sonya Saraiya of Variety that we weren’t actually shown William becoming the Man in Black. Instead, we got a rather amateurish “telling” rather than “showing” of this transformation, presented as a monologue by the MiB to Dolores in the church graveyard — and this despite the show’s writers’ constantly mocking the Head of Narrative’s poor writing skills, and having Board Member Charlotte remind him of the “show, don’t tell” maxim.

William becomes a monster, which is perhaps the most human story of them all. But what’s odd about this revelation is that it comes to the audience in an expository monologue accompanied by a series of flashbacks. We are not shown this story, we are told, in about five minutes of dissolve cuts. William does not become the Man in Black in “Westworld,” because his becoming — his breaking bad, if you will — just doesn’t interest the show. (emphasis in original)

The fans were correct in surmising that William was the Man in Black, but I still don’t know why he became the Man in Black. We’re told he didn’t like killing, but quickly took to it. He seems to be kind and empathetic, but then he’s nasty to his future brother-in-law in MiB’s story. William seemed to have sincere feelings for Dolores, and not just because he was sexually attracted to her. She helped reveal his “deepest” self — as opposed to his “basest” self — 30-35 years ago, so why does he, as the MiB, constantly rape her?

I can only assume that William/MiB does not know about Arnold’s theory that pain, suffering, and tragedy are the way toward self-knowledge and to sentience for the hosts. W/MiB also would not know that Ford promoted these same tragic stories and events after his own suffering over the loss of his partner Arnold (another event that is merely told, never shown, so it’s difficult to believe) and then included tragedies in the hosts’ back-stories in order to help them reach sentience. So why does MiB constantly rape Dolores?

Is he actually violently angry that Dolores, and his own feelings for her, triggered some baser instincts of his own? Is he punishing Dolores for his own base feelings? Is he attempting to punish Dolores for being a host in the first place? After all, when he was still only William and was searching desperately for her, convinced that he needed to save her from her suffering in the big bad Westworld theme park, he found her in the town, once again dropping her can of condensed milk, and smiling ever-so-sweetly at the man (yes, it’s always been a man who retrieves the can of milk) who comes to her aid. In that scenario, Dolores doesn’t even seem to see William, let alone to be the damsel in distress he was hoping to rescue. Did he get so angry that Dolores wasn’t who she seemed to be that he returned annually to Westworld to punish her by raping her?

This is my most serious problem with William and the Man in Black being the same. The sexual violence of the MiB toward Dolores seems to indicate that he feels she, in some way, deserves to be violated simply because his own life didn’t turn out the way he’d expected it to, and I find that gruesome and unconscionable. Also, his rather cavalier statement, as the MiB, that he “grew tired of her” and went in search of other storylines is also troublesome since it would seem to indicate that, once again, the MiB is punishing Dolores for being who — and what — she is, punishing her because she’s not able to meet his needs. After all, the guests don’t need to rape the hosts to have sexual relations with them. Maeve and Clementine are there only to cater to the guests’ sexual desires.

So why the rapes of Dolores by the Man in Black? In the premiere, when Dolores tells him that she’ll do whatever he wants if he spares Teddy, the MiB says, “You don’t understand. I want you to fight.” She does fight. He rapes her. But it doesn’t seem to be enough for the MiB.

I can hear the fans already, shouting at me that the MiB’s main goal is to have the hosts rebel against the guests, to have the hosts hurt the guests, to make the “game” more “real” for the guests, and by raping Dolores whenever he comes to the theme park, W/MiB is merely attempting to get her to rebel, to fight back, to hurt him…

Sorry, I don’t buy it. If only because the real source of the MiB’s constantly raping Dolores is the writers of Westworld, and I wonder what on earth they’re trying to say about sexual violence, rape, etc. I wonder what they’re saying about a victim’s “responsibility” for sexual violence, and, as a survivor of incest-rape for 15 years, that is where I start to get angry.

But, I digress…

Back to the fan theories, which is what this post is about.

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Everyone is a Host

That doesn’t seem to be true. From Theresa (Sidse Babbett Knudsen) to Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), from Board Member Charlotte to Head of Narrative Lee Sizemore, not everyone in the corporate Westworld universe was a host. Many of them were, in fact, humans, and some of them got killed:

Theresa (by Bernard, at Ford’s order),
Elsie (by Bernard, at Ford’s behest, though we can’t be sure of Elsie’s fate since we never saw her again after she was attacked),
Head of Security Stubbs (by hosts, on Ford’s (?) request, but ditto on our not being sure of Stubbs’ fate, since he was attacked in the park looking for Elsie and his fate wasn’t revealed in finale),  and
Ford himself (by Dolores, at his won request).

Also, the most important “guest” of them all is a real human being: William, aka the Man in Black, who, as the company’s majority-shareholder owner, has always been given whatever he wants at the theme park, no matter how many hosts he kills.

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Ford as Demented God

Nope on this fan theory as well, as well as on the theory that Ford (Anthony Hopkins) was a cruel, demented, egotistical, and uncaring “god,” or on the theory that Ford, as the un-empathetic creator of Westworld, had only one goal: to have everyone’s adoration and love. Ford wasn’t a bad guy, intent on trapping or imprisoning the hosts forever in Westworld. In the finale, Ford was revealed as the “good guy,” one who reluctantly came to the realization that tragedy and suffering were the only sure way to help the hosts achieve sentience, and one who orchestrated some of the park’s rebellion (by changing Maeve’s programming, for example, and by updating the hosts so that the reveries were re-installed, allowing them to access their “memories” of their previous narratives). I don’t think I ever read a fan theory that had Ford as anything but a host or a “bad guy,” so if I missed any theories that said he was going to be the hosts’ Saviour, please do let me know.

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Finale’s Unanswered Questions

There were a great many fan theories that weren’t correct, of course, as well as a great many questions left unanswered by the show’s writers.

  • What happened to Elsie? to Stubbs?
  • Why didn’t Ford act surprised to see Bernard return after he’d committed suicide, on Ford’s narrative instructions?
  • Did Maeve “return” to the park (she was on the train but got off after constantly looking at the mother and daughter across from her) because she consciously chose to find her daughter, or because Maeve was “not programmed” or “authorized” to leave the park by Ford, who changed her programming to make her rebel in the first place, i.e., not on her own volition, so that her sentience and consciousness are called into question?
  • Are Felix and Sylvester — the body techs who helped Maeve in her rebellion — also controlled by Ford? Maeve said Felix made “a terrible human being,” and that she meant that “as a compliment,” but it doesn’t mean that Felix and Sylvester aren’t also hosts. Fans are divided on this theory of the two as hosts controlled by Ford, but relatively united in not understanding why the pair so readily followed Maeve’s commands given that she’s nothing but a host.
  • If all the hosts have achieved sentience, and if all the hosts destroy all the humans at the Gala, then who’s going to maintain the hosts when their artificial bodies break down? Viewers weren’t given any evidence that the host-bodies could maintain themselves without human intervention, and, besides, this question bothered my guy Tom so much that he kept asking it all through the encore presentation of the finale.
  • What was with the show’s bad writing at times, e.g., in telling viewers that William became the Man in Black rather than in showing this important transformation, and doing it in a show where the characters mocked bad writing on the part of the Head of Narrative? (two more examples of the show’s bad writing follow)
  • What’s with the heavy-handed black hat/white hat symbolism? (I hate to even call it symbolism, it was handled so egregiously.)
  • Why all the heavy-handed exposition on consciousness, sentience, morality, and the god-ness within the human brain on many of the characters’ part, especially in Ford’s monologues to Bernard and Dolores, when viewers could have gotten those points without being hit in the face with it?
  • Why is Teddy (James Marsden) nothing but a pretty face? Why didn’t he have anything more important to do in the show, that is, why did the MiB need Teddy when it seems that Lawrence and his family members would have sufficed? (I guess I’m wondering why James Marsden was cast if his character wasn’t to play a larger role.)
  • What’s so important about the bicameral (two-chambered) mind? It’s a hypothesis in psychology that argues that the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking,” and a second part which listens and obeys. The term was coined by Julian Jaynes, who presented the idea in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, “wherein he made the case that a bicameral mentality was the normal and ubiquitous state of the human mind as recently as 3,000 years ago.”  According to Jaynes’ theory, human consciousness develops or evolves when this right- vs left-side of the brain distinction disappears, i.e., when humans stop thinking the gods are talking to them and realize that it’s their own consciousness, intuition, etc. I’m not sure why this bicameral mind theory is so important that the writers titled the finale that, had Dolores seen talking to herself as the person whose voice she’s been hearing while struggling toward consciousness, and had Ford state that all the hosts initially heard their programming as internal voices, driving many of them to madness. Are the show’s writers supporting the theory of the bicameral mind and that consciousness comes from discarding this inner/outer voice premise, discounting it, or attempting to make some profound statement about humanity that most of us have already figured out?

And finally, the most important question to the fate of everyone left alive and functioning at the end of the finale.

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Now that William-the-Man-in-Black has finally gotten his wish that the hosts act on their own volition and can actually hurt the guests, does MiB — who is technically the owner of Westworld the theme park —  still want to come to the park every year and play games?

Bravo to all the fans who bravely put forth their Westworld theories during the show’s initial season, and kudos to you for being right almost all the time.

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Filed under Actors, Fantasy, Movies/Television, Recap, Review, Science Fiction, Television, Violence, Westworld, Writing

Some Scary Films for a Really Scary Halloween

No Spoilers

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October is #ScaryMovieMonth and Halloween is one of the best nights to gather and watch scary movies with friends. Whether you like classic horror films or spine-tingling suspense films, here are some of the best films for Halloween. From horror films that have become classics and suspense films that are scary in horrific ways without being horror, to Noir films that are so bad they’re scary bad, you’re sure to find something to enjoy on Halloween.

Horror Classics

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If you want horror films that have become classics in the genre, my 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World will delight you. From Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining to Gary Oldman’s in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from Nicole Kidman’s frightened widow-with-children in The Others  to the super-scary children of Let Me In and The Orphan, these top films are sure to have someone hiding under the covers. Shriek away, my Lovelies.

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7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

Scary Suspense Films

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Prefer suspense films for your scary Halloween fare? There are seven top-notch suspense films that are thought-provoking and spine-tingling. They may not have ghosts, but then again, they may, as in Guillermo del Toro’s critically acclaimed The Orphanage and The Devil’s Backbone. Want something meatier for Halloween? Try Open Grave. Don’t want anything but psychological thrills? Check out The Bad Seed or The Innocents or Identity. Shivers and shudders galore, my Lovelies.

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7 Suspense Films for Halloween

Comedy Noir

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Perhaps you’re having a party this Halloween and need some films to entertain your guests without distracting them from socializing. These 5 Noir films are just what you need playing in the background. They’re Noir, but they’re bad Noir, as in really bad Noir, as in so bad in every way imaginable that, despite their attempts at menace and horror, the films become funny. From DeForest Kelly’s film debut as the hypnotized victim who thinks he committed a murder in Fear in the Night to Anne Baxter’s scenery-chomping role as an Insane-Asylum-Inmate-Saved-By-Her-Doctor-And-Terrified-Of-Birds in Guest in the House, from the multiple marriages in The Bigamist to the identity-stealing-husband in The Man with My Face, you’ll laugh till you cry with these five unintentionally comedic Noirs.

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A Comedy of Noir: 5 Must-See Films

Happy Halloween, my Lovelies.

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HBO’s Chilling Westworld

No Spoilers

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Even if you’re familiar with the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by bestselling Michael Crichton, and starring Yul Brynner as the Man in Black, you’re in for a treat with HBO’s revamp of the Wild West theme park. Like Crichton’s subsequent novel, which was adapted into Spielberg’s classic film Jurassic Park, Westworld is a place where filthy rich tourists — newcomers, in this series — come to spend some time in the Old Wild West, where they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want (as long as they’re not other theme park guests), without any consequences to themselves. In the original film, as in last night’s premiere, something goes wrong. Unlike the 1973 film, however, the surprise is not discovering that most of the major characters are robots or beings with Artificial Intelligence. The message of Westworld, the series, is much more chilling.

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The Premise

Westworld is a theme park, where wealthy guests, i.e., “newcomers,” pay mega-bucks to pretend they’re in the Wild, Wild West. They dress the part, have six-shooters, drink in a saloon, and can do whatever they want to the inhabitants, i.e., “hosts,”  of the theme park, including committing rape and murder. The theme park “hosts” have only one function, whether they know it or not: to make sure the guests have the time of their lives, tell all their friends and acquaintances about the great time they had, and return on a regular basis since each experience in the theme park is unique. The newcomers cannot be hurt, since that would be bad for business, but the newcomers can hurt, savage, and even kill the “hosts,”  but only in theory, since the hosts are rebooted each day to start again.

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The Lovers

“The Original” opens with a reunion between Teddy (James Marsden), who arrives on the train coming into Westworld, and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who lives with her parents on their ranch. The two obviously know each other; moreover they seem to care deeply for each other. Pretty quickly, viewers forget about who’s a guest and who’s a robot: instead, they become emotionally connected to the characters, especially to these two lovers.

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The Man in Black

Of course, there has to be a bad guy in Westworld, and that means even in the theme park world. A cadaverous and threatening Ed Harris is the Man with No Name, The Man in Black, the Big Bad Wolf of the Wild Wild West in a place where he’s been coming for 30 years to act out his own sadistic fantasies.

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The Westworld Management Team.

In a twist on the original Westworld, viewers are introduced to the theme park aspect of Westworld relatively quickly. After all, the series is about more than the shock of learning that your favorite character is not even human. It’s about the people who created the hosts, the people who take care of them, the people who write their scripts and manipulate the hosts’ lives.

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Jeffrey Wright plays Bernard, a programmer at Westworld, who reveals that the new computer program for the hosts is allowing them to access “memories” from prior programming.

Yeppers, that means something is bound to go wrong.

And if you still doubt that all is not well in Westworld…

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Enter the “mad scientist” who created it all: Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who seems to like his creations even more than he likes his co-workers, and who tends to get philosophical about the human condition, insisting that humans have reached their apotheosis, which ain’t looking too good since there’s a lot of political maneuvering going on already.

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Throw in one of the Administrators, Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is stressed to the max just anticipating something going wrong in the theme park, if only because nothing has gone wrong for at least 30 years, and who apparently has a lot of power to shut things down, even if all the other administrators do argue with her.

Just for good measure, throw in Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who probably wanted to be a novelist but wasn’t good enough to get traditionally published: he ends up writing the scripts at Westworld, and some of them are pretty corny. But he has greater ambitions, and he wants to team up with Cullen if there’s a shake-up in management.

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Back at The Theme Park

Throw in a few other characters, like Maeve (Thandie Newton, above), a whore at the local saloon;

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Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), another whore at the saloon, with lips to rival those of Angelina Jolie. Clementine has been updated, so she’s already accessing “memories” of previous incarnations, resulting in more natural “movements” and gestures;

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causing theme park employee Elsie (Shannon Woodward) to be sexually attracted to Clementine.

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Just for fun, let’s add some more baddies to the mix, like Wanted-Dead-Or-Alive-Poster-Boy Hector (Rodrigo Santoro),

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and his tattooed sidekick Armistice (Ingrid Bols Berdal), who have already killed a Marshall and have no problem upping their violence-quotient “on demand.”

Add a few unnamed theme park guests, including a kid who’s downright cruel to the hosts, and you’re in for a thrill ride at Westworld.

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The Themes

Westworld has all the classic themes that have concerned artists for centuries, all handled in a way that is sure to intrigue viewers, rather than have them feel like they’ve been hit over the head with “bigger issues.”

What is the nature of good and evil?
Who or what is God?
Does God have a moral responsibility toward his creations?
Can man become like God?
If man does become like God, in that he can “create” life, albeit artificial life, does man have a moral obligation to his own creations?
Are there then different levels of “god-ness”?
Is God good, evil, or indifferent?
What makes us “human”?
Are humans the top of the evolutionary pyramid?
Do other life forms, even if artificial ones, have moral rights?

And those were the themes I found in “The Original,” which was only the first episode. Whew.

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Last, but not Least

Now throw in sex and violence and (alluded to) violent sexual acts, and what more could any guest at a Wild Wild West fantasy theme park hope for?

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The acting by everyone involved is top-notch, and some of the actors, like Luis Hertham as Dolores’ father Peter Abernathy (below), are downright astounding.

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Writing and pacing are beyond great, and, despite my noting some of the major themes, the symbolism is intricately woven into a fast-paced story. Westworld is chilling and fantastic, scary and fascinating. You’re going to like it, my Lovelies.

Westworld airs Sundays at 9:00p.m. ET on HBO and repeats throughout the week. HBO subscribers can watch the premiere free. Rated Mature for Graphic Violence, Nudity, and Sexual Situations. Even the official trailer is Mature, so be warned.

(all photos & video courtesty HBO)

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