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The Master of Pleasures and The Taste of Cherries: Vatel, the Film

#NoSpoilers

In April 1671, on the eve of the Franco-Dutch War, France’s King Louis XIV — the Sun King — desperately needed the military support and expertise of his country’s generals. The formerly rebellious but extremely famous Prince Louis II de Bourbon-Condé was thus informed that King Louis would “honor him” with a three-day visit to Condé’s magnificent Château de Chantilly. Since King Louis always insisted that his nobles and all their sycophants travel with him wherever he went, the honor of such a visit was dubious as well as incredibly expensive. Condé turned all the preparations over to his maître d’hôtel, François Vatel, who had approximately two weeks to prepare menus and festivities to entertain the King, the Queen, the Prince, the Princess, 600 nobles, and several thousand additional visitors. Vatel, formerly the most celebrated chef of his generation, had to orchestrate an extravagant festival which was to culminate in an elaborate banquet so impressive that the King would appoint Condé his general.

Château de Chantilly ©

Based on the true story of Vatel as it was related in several contemporaneous letters by Prince Condé and also by the notorious gossip Madame de Sévigné, as well as on multiple contemporaneous memoirs, the film Vatel was originally written by Jeanne Labrune, adapted into English by Tom Stoppard, and directed by Roland Joffé. It is unclear which of those three expanded Vatel’s “banquet story” into a moral examination of the jaded 17th century French aristocrats. Filmed on location at the Château de Chantilly, Vatel is visually stunning and sumptuous. The castle itself, the furnishings, the gardens, the costumes, the jewels, and the food are all breathtakingly lush. Beneath these gorgeous trappings, however, the Sun King and his nobility are morally corrupt and corrosive. Further, a bitter discontent seethes under the aristocracy’s brittle veneer. In this world, “as opulent as it is cruel,” the moral choices you make can either elevate or, literally, destroy you.

Julian Glover as Prince Condé and Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu as his wife, the Princess, Vatel ©

Vatel begins with a letter in which Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé (Julian Glover) is informed by the King’s minister Marquis de Lauzun that King Louis wishes to “visit and enjoy the simple pleasures of the country,” which, Lauzun continues, means that Condé should “spare no expense whatsoever to entertain the king.” Condé is distressed. He is in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy (a departure from historical fact: Condé was extravagantly wealthy). If appointed General in a war with Holland, however, Condé’s debts will be paid by King Louis, so the Prince is desperate to please Louis.

Depardieu as Vatel, and Glover as Condé, Vatel ©

Condé’s maître d’hôtel Vatel (Gérard Depardieu) is confident in his own abilities to entertain the King but more than slightly anxious about all the preparations: it is difficult to obtain supplies when one’s master has no money, even more difficult when one’s master is already significantly in debt to all the local producers and suppliers. As the guests arrive, Vatel, already encountering tactical difficulties concerning the entertainments, finds himself in the midst of multiple moral quagmires as well.

Murray Lachlan Young as Philippe of France, Duke of Orléans, Monsieur, The King’s Brother, Vatel ©

Monsieur, the King’s Brother (Murray Lachlan Young), though accompanied by his lover Marquis of Effiat, nevertheless wishes to have sexual relations with a young country boy. Vatel intervenes, igniting Monsieur’s displeasure and anger.

Julien Sands as King Louis XIV, Vatel ©

King Louis (Julian Sands), who has brought with him not one but two mistresses, as well as his wife the Queen, becomes interested in the Queen’s beautiful lady-in-waiting, Anne de Montausier (Uma Thurman).

Vatel himself becomes enamored of Anne de Montausier: not only is she lovely, but she seems quite different from the rest of the nobles and aristocracy.

Uma Thurman as Anne de Montausier and Tim Roth as Lauzun, Vatel ©

Unfortunately, the Marquis de Lauzun (Tim Roth) wants for Lady-in-waiting de Montausier for himself, so he bristles at both the King’s and Vatel’s interest in her. Lauzun sets spies on de Montausier as well as on Vatel.

Depardieu as Vatel and Thurman as Montausier, Vatel ©

Hounded by local suppliers, plagued by mounting disasters in the festivities, besieged by his master the Prince, threatened by Monsieur the King’s Brother, and manipulated by Marquis de Lauzun, the “Master of Pleasures” Vatel struggles to feed and entertain the royal guests and to resist his increasingly romantic feelings for a woman so far above his humble station.

Though the New York Times critic found Vatel “a costume drama with far more costumes than drama… as shallow as the court popinjays it seeks to expose,” the LA Times critic found it to be “a timeless tale of love and sacrifice.”

With strong writing and tremendous acting by all the principals, Vatel was nominated for awards in Best Art Direction, Set Decoration, Costume Design, and Production Design, winning a César (French Oscar) in Production Design.

Vatel is available for rent (or purchase) from Amazon ($2.99 HD), YouTube ($1.99 SD, $2.99 HD), iTunes ($2.99 SD), Vudu ($2.99 SD, $3.99 HD), and GooglePlay ($1.99 SD).

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FX’s Taboo: Is the “Cunning Savage” Noble, Too?

I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.

John Dryden
The Conquest of Granada

1672

Spoilers

Tom Hardy as James Keziah Delaney © FX

From the time of Tacitus (c 98 CE), who was describing the conquered peoples of Germania under the rule of the Roman Empire, writers and philosophers have admired indigenous peoples and used the stock character of a “noble savage” in essays and fictional stories to condemn the writers’ contemporaneous society, a society found corrupt, effete, and otherwise morally flawed. As one uncorrupted by civilization, the indigenous person, portrayed virtually always as a male, was an “outsider” who was assumed to be “innately good.” Thus the term “noble savage” came to represent an ideal merely because the indigenous person was untainted by civilization.

Clearly, at the time the term originally appeared, “savage” did not have the negative connotations that it later acquired during the Industrial Age, when advancing technology caused imperial societies to look down upon and pity the “uneducated” and otherwise “uncivilized” indigenous peoples, the “savages” whose land and resources the white societies wished to plunder. Writers using the stock character of the Noble Savage were assuming that anyone who represented civilization — themselves excepted, of course — was corrupt and wholly “evil,” while any native was “innately good,” without any negative traits whatsoever. For these writers and the readers who liked their works, it was assumed that the Noble Savage had no negative traits until he himself was corrupted by his contact with said imperialistic society.

Hardy as Delaney © FX

In FX’s new show, Taboo, produced and co-written by star Tom Hardy, the Noble Savage is James Delaney (Hardy), a British citizen returned from a long absence in Africa, to claim his inheritance after his father’s death. Despite the fact that James was born in England to a somewhat affluent father, and despite the fact that James was born a privileged white male, James has clearly been considered more “savage” than civilized from birth, if only because his mother was a Native whom Old Man Delaney brought back from North America as his wife. From the beginning of the show, James has been set up as the “outsider,” the “Other,” and the “Noble Savage.”

Taboo is about the return of the repressed, but also the suppressed, with Delaney serving as a vessel for social commentary about the species-wide violence and corruption wrought by imperialism, racism, and capitalism… Delaney’s travels and missions brought him in contact with the genocide against Native Americans and the horrors of the international slave trade; his back is inscribed with tattoos from his time in Africa, and he’s haunted by ghostly visions… (Vulture)

James Delaney is “the other” because he is part Native American, but he is also an “outsider” because he opposes the institutions and countries which represent imperialism, conquest, and subjugation. He does not abide by civilization’s morality, hence his love for his sister, Zilpha. Though cunning and dangerous to his “civilized” opponents, the “savage” in this drama seems to have a streak of morality and nobility that virtually everyone around him lacks. Those character traits make him, symbolically, a Noble Savage, though he is not a stock character by any means.

Opposing the Nobel Savage, attempting to steal his inheritance (Nootka), and representing the corrupt and powerful British imperialist civilization are frustrated and foul-mouthed Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), Director of the The East India Co,

Jonathan Pryce as Sir Stuart Strange © FX

and the corpulent and grotesque English Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss).

Mark Gatiss as the Prince Regent © FX

The British and Americans are both viciously competing for the island and for Nootka Sound, and this trade war is historically accurate. Why Britain and the newly independent American colonies want Nootka has not yet been made clear in Taboo, but after the East India attempted to kill James, he made out a will leaving Nootka to the Americans in the event of his death, causing Sir Stuart to observe that “the savage boy” —  not man — “is cunning, too.”

Sir Stuart’s map of Nootka, with his markings “The James Delaney Kink” © FX

In episode 3, James claimed to be willing to part with Nootka for trade monopolies. James told each side that he wanted a different trade monopoly, however. He apparently intends for his corrupt and imperialistic opponents to battle each other instead of him. What could be more “noble” than enticing two imperialistic powers into baiting and warring each other, rather than stealing from the “outsider”?

Jefferson Hall as Thorne Geary © FX

James Delaney is clearly not the villain of this tale, though almost everyone in the show believes James to be morally contemptible. His brother-in-law Geary (Jefferson Hall) said that James had been on a slave ship which sank, implying that James was a slave trader, but it seems more likely that James himself was sold into slavery.

James, un-shuttering his dead mother’s locked room © FX

After he broke into his dead mother’s locked room, James painted his hands with her makeup,

James, with his mother’s makeup © FX

then meditated on her, causing her to appear, once again, in visions.

James’ mother, in visions © FX

These visions haunt James frequently, and most often involve his mother. The  visions further reinforce James as the “outsider” because he can see things that others do not. After the vision in his mother’s room, he tore off the boards from her fireplace and found this symbol,

The symbol in the fireplace © FX

which he showed devoted family servant Brace, saying that the same symbol in the fireplace was the same as the one carved on James’ upper back “after I was taken prisoner in Africa.”

The symbol on James’ upper back © FX

Brace (David Hayman) did not seem to see the symbol in the fireplace, leading us to question the nature of James’ visions, but the servant certainly saw the mark on James’ back, asking him, “What does it mean?”

If James was taken prisoner, then he may have been sold into slavery, and that would make him one of the captured and imprisoned slaves, not a slave trader. James is covered in tattoos, symbolizing his “savage” nature, but he doesn’t know what this symbol on his back represents. That means he didn’t have it put there himself, and that it may have been put there against his will. There is a very good chance that James was a slave.

Old Man Delaney could have sold his own son into slavery. That would explain James’ mother’s “madness,” which would then be grief over the loss of her son. Called “mad,” the mother was not allowed to speak to anyone outside the house, and eventually she was not only locked in her room, but was physically restrained. What was everyone so afraid James’ mother might reveal? The incest with his sister? That his own father sold him into slavery?

If the father sold his son into slavery, Old Man Delaney may have believed he had good reason to do so. James might have been sold into slavery to hide the fact that he and his sister Zilpha had an incestuous sexual relationship. It might have been to hide the fact that the two had a child together. If the child from episode 1 is, in fact, the offspring of James and his sister, then their father could have sent James away to protect the daughter from losing her marriage prospects, to protect the family from shame and ostracism, and to punish James since he, as the male, would have been considered the seducer.

Whether James was sent to Africa by his father and then imprisoned (i.e., sold into slavery), or merely sent away to serve in The East India (and later imprisoned in Africa), James would have been separated from his sister Zilpha, something a “civilized” man like Old Man Delaney would have wished. Separated, though, James could not have taken care of his own child.

If the child is James’.

Isn’t there a possibility that the child is the offspring of Old Man Delaney? Zilpha is constantly referred to as Jame’s half-sister, which means that Delaney had relations with at least two women, yet two wives are not mentioned. Since it appears that Zilpha returns James’ love and passion, she was obviously a consensual partner in their sexual relations. But she may have been the victim of incest on her father’s part, and this could have happened before or after he discovered his children’s love and passion for each other. Since James loves his sister, he would have been outraged that their own father impregnated her, and his outrage (and fear of violent retribution) could have caused Father Delaney to get rid of his sons, by selling the older one into slavery, and by farming the younger one out to a caretaker.

If the child is, in fact, the offspring of Old Man Delaney’s, then James is more moral than his father, something that fits the image of the Noble Savage. In episode 1, the man taking care of the child told James that he had never been paid for the child’s upkeep. James was sent away, so he could not have supported a son. Because Old Man Delaney remained in England, where he ran a shipping company affluent enough to have its own ships, docks, offices, etc, Old Delaney could have supported his son/grandson. He didn’t. Instead, it was James who gave the caretaker enough money to make up for the decade of care, as well as for the rest of the boy’s life.

Family servant Brace told James in the premiere that Old Man Delaney used to stand on the banks of the river, shouting things to his absent son.  James answered that he knew because he heard his father. This is another indication that James is more in touch with the supernatural world than other “civilized” men are. Was Old Man Delaney apologizing for separating the young sibling-lovers? Was the old man apologizing for selling James into slavery? Was the old man grief-stricken for sending James away to serve in The East India — under Sir Stuart — after James’ passion and love for his sister Zilpha was discovered?

Or was Old Man Delaney warning James in absentia, that Sir Stuart had forced the Old Man to be complicit in James’ slavery and imprisonment?

Jonathan Pryce as Sir Stuart Strange © FX

There’s a very good possibility that Sir Stuart himself could have sold James into slavery, despite his pretense, in episode 1, that he couldn’t “remember” James Delaney. In episode 1, James warned Sir Stuart, “I do know the evil that you do, because I was once part of it.” On the surface, that could mean that James participated in the violence against indigenous peoples. It could also mean that James was the victim of East India’s violence, and the “you” in the evil that you do could have meant East India collectively as well as Sir Stuart personally.

Atticus (Stephen Graham) and James (Tom Hardy © FX

Though we don’t yet know why Sir Stuart would have harmed James in the past, we’ve already learned that Sir Stuart will murder James, albeit through a proxy, in order to get Nootka Sound. Atticus (Stephen Graham) told James that Zilpha’s husband Thorne Geary tried to put a contract on Old Man Delaney. Geary could have done this on his own, to sell Nootka Sound after his wife inherited it, or he could have been doing it on the behest of The East India, who was negotiating with Geary for the land even before Old Man Delaney died. Both Thorne and Sir Stuart want James dead, though the end result of his death would be the same no matter who causes his death: The East India would get Nootka Sound.

Jason Watkins as Sir Solomon Coop © FX

There are other, stronger indications that Sir Stuart himself did something very bad to James, however. When the King’s Man, Sir Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins) was debating Nootka with Strange, Sir Stuart began to discuss James, telling Coop that James’ refusal to sell Nootka was not about money.

Sir Stuart: You do realize this whole business is about revenge, don’t you?
Coop: And why would James Delaney hate The East India so?
Sir Stuart: (no reply)
Coop: What the hell did you do to him, Stuart?

The Director of The East India, Sir Stuart, is going to be even more of a villain than expected. He not only represents the omnipotent East India Trading Company, as well as the acquisitive and militaristic England, but, on a personal level, he seems to have done something horrific to James Delaney. Did Sir Stuart sell James into slavery? If so, why?

Of course, it’s not yet clear that James was, in fact, sold into slavery, but he is obviously not the villain of Taboo, despite his incestuous relations with his sister. James is not the “savage” that others consider him: so far, we have seen him threaten people, but only do violence when he is defending his own life or protecting someone else. He is protective of children, including the boy farmed out to strangers, and Winter, the supposed mulatto child of the Madame Helga, the child which some reviewers regard as a possible ghost. James told Winter that it wasn’t safe for her to stay in the basement of his father’s house. She ostensibly comes to warn him of danger, but he is the one protecting her (and not accepting the “spoils” of the silver tooth of the assassin).

Mulatto (and ghost?) Winter offers James the silver tooth of the assassin © FX

James is also protective of women, even if their interests are directly in conflict with his. James allowed his father’s widow, Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley) to remain in the house with him. He also followed her to the theatre — she refused to cancel her performance — and saved her after she was kidnapped. James offered her a diamond to go to Paris because she’s a “weakness” in his plans.

Jessie Buckley as Lorna Bow © FX

Of course, it’s James’ protective feelings toward women that is the “weakness” in his plans, but James may not realize this himself.

Secretary Godfrey (Edward Hogg) confronted by James (Tom Hardy) at male brothel © FX

In fact, James protects anyone whom he perceives to be weaker than he himself is, even if he happens to be blackmailing the person for information on The East India. When James learns that Secretary Godfrey (Edward Hogg) of East India spends his nights as a “female” whore, James slaps him, then blackmails him into becoming a spy.

James: You’re not going to get caught because I will protect you.
Godfrey: You know at the seminary I was in love with you. Of course, you do.

The two have a history together, making Godfrey yet another child whom James protects, both in the past and in the present, despite that child-now-a-man’s being in the employ of James’ enemy, The East India. It’s this protection of women, children, and vulnerable men that strengthens James’ role as the Noble Savage.

Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) answering brother James’ letters © FX

James loves his sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and writes her many letters, urging her to come away with him, most likely to a place where their love for each other will not be condemned, since James has “sailed to places where there is no damnation.” Though Zilpha tells him that it is dangerous for him to keep writing to her, she answers his letters, increasing her own peril. She even writes him to tell him she will no longer write him, and James threatens “to come to [her] at her home.” Zilpha goes to a church, where James is waiting in the otherwise deserted sanctuary. Based on James’ comments and Zilpha’s behavior, she is the powerful one in this couple.

James: You summoned me. I am here. What do you want?
Zilpha: I used to think we were the same person.
James: We are.
Zilpha: We’re not.

Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) straddles and kisses her brother James (Tom Hardy) in a church © FX

Zilpha leaves her pew, goes to James, hikes up her skirts, straddles his lap, and kisses him most passionately. Afterward — as James related she did when they were younger — she straightened her skirts and walked away without looking back. For not wanting to see James or to hear from him, Zilpha is doing some extremely perilous things, especially since her husband Geary now knows about the sexual relationship between the siblings.

Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall) berates wife Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) for not getting pregnant © FX

Geary revealed this knowledge in several taunts to James, and, later, in an angry confrontation with Zilpha at dinner. If James protects Lorna Bow, his father’s widow, whom he does not care for, there can be little doubt that James will protect the only woman he has ever loved, his sister Zilpha, even if it is from her legal husband.

Tom Hardy as James © FX

James Delaney is “the other” in Taboo because he is part Native American, but he is also “the other” because he opposes the institutions and countries which represent imperialism, conquest, and subjugation. He is intimately familiar with slavery not, I suspect, as a Slaver but, rather, as a slave himself. James is the “savage boy” — not “man” — who does not live by society’s civilized rules and morality, hence his love for, and sexual relations with, his sister, Zilpha. Though cunning and dangerous to his “civilized” opponents, James, the Noble Savage in this drama, protects women and children, no matter if they are competing with him for his inheritance (Lorna), his father’s property (Madame Helga), or if they are “ghosts” (Winter ?).  His ability to commune with the dead (his mother, Winter) makes James an outsider to the logical, scientific world of the Industrial Age.

James Delaney is clearly intended as the Noble Savage in Taboo, though he is no stock character. Instead, this anti-hero is clearly going to become the hero of this drama.

Whether or not the drama becomes a tragedy or a metaphorical return to the Garden of Eden remains to be seen.

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Menace and Mayhem in FX’s Taboo

Spoilers
No Spoiler Taboo review at
Tom Hardy and FX’s Taboo: Creepy Good

Tom Hardy as James Delaney (from FX’s Taboo)

Reviewers are calling FX’s new show Taboo everything from a “jazzed-up” revenge tale to a “grimy revenge tale” that is “utterly ridiculous but totally absorbing,” from “a reanimated corpse of … drama tropes” to the “Tom Hardy Show,” which was a compliment to the actor. When I think of a revenge tale, I think of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whose protagonist is confronted by the ghost of his father in Act 1, a ghost who relates the tale of his murder by his own brother. In Hamlet, the eponymous protagonist dithers and dallies and overthinks every single move he wants to make to get revenge on his murderous uncle. Hamlet may be considered one of the most psychologically interesting characters, but most readers aren’t really attached to him until almost the end of the play, when he finally does something besides ruminating aloud about revenging himself against the uncle who murdered Hamlet’s father, married Hamlet’s mother, and usurped Prince Hamlet’s throne. If Hamlet is a classic revenge tale, Taboo is more menacing than any revenge tale I’ve ever read.

Tom Hardy as James Delaney (from FX’s Taboo)

Taboo‘s protagonist James Delaney (Tom Hardy) is much more interesting than Hamlet, too, if only because we don’t get long monologues betraying his thinking, let alone monologues revealing ceaseless brooding. Instead, viewers follow James around a seedy, dark London as he attempts to claim his inheritance (the island of Nootka off the northwest coast of the United Stated), protect his island from the powerful men of the East India Company who covet it, re-establish his father’s shipping company, and discover his father’s murderer. Viewers don’t even know if James is dead or alive, “half-dead or possessed by spirits” since he regularly has visions or memories triggered by his surroundings. Returned from Africa after ten years and plagued by these visions, Hardy’s Delaney is effectively fierce and foreboding in a show where everything is darkness, menace, and mayhem.

Tom Hardy as James Delaney (from FX’s Taboo)

When James arrived in England in episode 1, “Shovels and Keys,” the first thing he did was bury something, bury it as deep as his arm-to-his-shoulder in the mud. In the second episode (“Episode 2”), he unearths that bag, revealing a cache of unpolished diamonds. When he sends one of them to his sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin, formerly Robb Stark’s outspoken foreign wife in Game of Thrones) without a note of any kind, she seems to know he’s sent it to her, and she hurriedly hides it from her husband. At the funeral of their father, James told Zilpha that Africa was unable to kill his love for her, and later he surreptitiously observed a young boy about 10 years old, whom viewers quickly suspected was the siblings’ incestuous love child, sent away to be raised by strangers.

Oona Chaplin as Zilpha Delaney Geary, from FX’s Taboo

In episode 1, Zilpha asked James to keep their past a secret from her husband, Thorne Geary, who already hates James just for existing, apparently, since he didn’t recognize James when he arrived at the church for the funeral. Confronting Zilpha at a society musicale in “Episode 2,” James asked her to come away from her friends, with him, ostensibly so he could answer her “Did you really eat flesh?” inquiry. When he revealed his memory of her “straightening her skirts after…” (we know where this is going, given the show’s title) and not looking back at him, Zilpha acted startled and said, “I walked away?” letting us know that the two of them have some really intense history in common, but they don’t recall it the same way.

Tom Hardy as James Delaney and Oona Chaplin as his half-sister Zilpha (from FX’s Taboo)

Does Zilpha care as much about James as he does for her, or does she just really like diamonds? Is it love between them or merely forbidden sexual attraction? Zilpha seems intensely drawn to James, in what actor Oona Chaplin calls “an incest plot as the ultimate will-they, won’t-they, should-they love triangle of Taboo.” Both actors do a wonderful job making the relationship as forbidden, menacing, and exciting as possible.

Of course, Zilpha’s husband Geary hates his brother-in-law James, and that hatred increased at the Reading of the Will, where it was revealed that Zilpha inherited nothing. Geary was the one who had arranged the sale of Nootka Island to East India — a sale that was thwarted when the Island was left solely to James.

Stephen Graham as Atticus (L) and Tom Hardy as James Delaney (R ) from FX’s Taboo

Underworld figure Atticus (Stephen Graham, perhaps best known to US audiences as Boardwalk Empire‘s Al Capone, above L) told James in episode 2 that it was Geary who tried to hire Atticus a year earlier to kill Old Man Delaney. For some reason unknown to viewers, Atticus refused the job, perhaps because it appears that he and James had some prior relationship (of which Geary would have been unaware).

Jefferson Hall as brother-in-law Geary (from FX’s Taboo)

If Geary (Jefferson Hall, above) wanted Old Man Delaney dead so that he could sell Nootka, then he certainly won’t hesitate to attempt to kill his resurrected brother-in-law James, especially after officially learning that his wife Zilpha inherited nothing. Geary’s shouts at James after the Will Reading were even louder than the shouts of Old Man Delaney’s creditors, though James paid all the creditors — to the shilling — after Zilpha and her angry husband left. Geary is almost as threatening as Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce, below) of East India Co, though Geary might be more ineffectual (unless he was the one who poisoned his father-in-law after failing to find an assassin in Atticus).

Jonathan Pryce as head of the East India Company, Sir Stuart Strange (from FX’s Taboo)

Sir Stuart, on the other hand, is openly menacing and looks like he has the power to carry out his threats. After angrily insisting that James accept East India’s offer to purchase Nootka Island, then getting livid when James refused to even open the envelope and see what the offer was, Sir Stuart decided that James must be killed. That seems a bit drastic and melodramatic, and perhaps historically inaccurate as well: though East India was, no doubt, an immensely powerful company, it’s being set up as nothing but The Big Bad Villain in Taboo, one of the show’s few weaknesses. Still, Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones’ High Sparrow) is a delight to watch, if only because he gets to be openly threatening and frustrated. When not ordering his underlings to either murder James or lose their jobs, Sir Stuart is raging about James’ buying a ship, and ranting about his being in league with Americans (with whom Britain is at war) when wondering aloud where James got the money to buy said ship.

Tom Hardy as James Delaney (from FX’s Taboo)

It was that ship that sent James tumbling into visions (or memories) in “Episode 2,” visions that have to do with slavery. James discovered manacles and chains on the ship he’d purchased. After finding the manacles, James stripped off his clothes, revealing a multiply tattooed (and hunkily buff) body, scraped a bird of sorts into the ship’s flooring, and mumbled or chanted in a foreign language. One reviewer noted that there was a “subtle, creepy [almost hidden] ghost behind Hardy in the scene,” but I missed it completely.

The manacles caused James to react so violently that I’m beginning to suspect that James himself was sold into slavery, perhaps by his own father after James begat the child on his sister. If James was sold into slavery, rather than being a slave trader himself, that could be the reason everyone in England was so sure that James died in Africa: because it was arranged that he disappear permanently. Such an arrangement could also explain Old Man Delaney’s guilt toward the end of his life, guilt that had something to do with his son James.

In any event, it’s James’ creepy visions that make some reviewers wonder if he’s dead, and make me wonder if he wasn’t sold into slavery by his own father, albeit for having an incestuous sexual relationship with his sister Zilpha, because, as menacing as James seems, I just don’t get the feeling that he’s the villain in this drama.

Tom Hardy as James Delaney and Franka Potente as Madame Helga (from FX’s Taboo)

It’s not just James’ visions that make me wonder about his character: he seems to know things that no one else does, or, at the very least, to be able to unearth other characters’ secrets without too much effort. A young mulatto girl named Winter warned James about Madame Helga (Franka Potente), whom James had ordered to vacate his father’s business offices, which she was using as a brothel. Winter claimed that Helga was discussing James’ death-by-murder with a “man with a silver tooth.” After finding no one on the ship that Winter claimed belonged to the man with the silver tooth, James set it on fire. Afterward, James confronted Helga.

When he asked her about the mulatto Winter, Helga denied knowing anyone like that, insisting that she’d be delighted to have a mulatto, since customers would pay more for her. Helga wanted James to have sex with her as the price for information about Winter, but James refused, offering, instead, his own theories about the mulatto girl: he said that Helga’s eyes were like Winter’s, coming to the conclusion that Helga was Winter’s mother.

Helga didn’t deny it, but that doesn’t mean that Winter actually exists: she may be a ghost, coming into James’ life because of his horrific past, and Helga may not have answered James’ accusations that she’s Winter’s mother because she doesn’t know anyone named Winter and because, furthermore, Helga’s frightened of James. After all, when he ordered her to vacate his father’s dockside offices, threatening her with bodily harm after she had attempted to threaten him, Helga suddenly said, “I remember you,” adding that she remembered what he did to some girls, and that didn’t sound good. Everyone’s so evil and menacing in Taboo that it’s difficult to discover who we’re supposed to root for.

We also don’t know if Winter’s warning James about Helga’s attempt to murder him or about one of Helga’s clients’ discussing the murder plot in her whorehouse. And if it weren’t enough that Sir Stuart, Helga, brother-in-law Geary, and the person who hired the man with the silver tooth all want James Delaney dead and out of their lives, “Episode 2” threw in another person who might want him killed.

Jessie Buckley as Lorna Bow, widow of Old Man Delaney (from FX’s Taboo)

An Irish actress showed up and, after practicing her lines sotto voce, declared to everyone present at the reading of the will, that she’d married Old Man Delaney and, as his widow, is thus a claimant of James’ inheritance. Attorney Thoyt (Nicholas Woodsen) verified that Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley) was actually married to the elder Delaney, but it’s not necessarily true that she has some claim to the inheritance. It seems that she would have to actually file a suit to get some of it. In any event, it increases the number of people who seem to want James dead, or who might have hired the man with the silver tooth to kill him.

At the conclusion of E2, the man in the silver tooth ambushed James and stabbed him, leaving him in an alley to die, though not before James tore open the murderer’s throat with his teeth, reminding us of Zilpha’s question, “Did you really eat flesh?” Of course, I doubt that James is going to die, despite the big knife sticking out of his gut, if only because his character is the major protagonist of the show. Instead, we’re given a hint that James’ is not as omnipotent as he seems, nor as omniscient, since, despite being warned of the hired murderer, he wasn’t prepared for the deadly encounter.

Menace and mayhem abound in FX’s Taboo, and Tom Hardy is absolutely riveting as James Delaney. Despite the fact that sometimes it’s difficult, if not outright impossible to understand what some of the actors are saying (Stephen Graham as Atticus was especially tough to understand, though David Hayman as the Delaney family servant Brace was also hard), and despite all the characters that are continually being introduced and which seem peripheral to the main storyline (King George’s annoyance about the colors in a map and his rant about East India Co come to mind), Taboo is staggeringly well done and intensely fascinating.

A limited mini-series of 8 episodes, Taboo airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10pm ET. Watch the premiere free with FX’s Premiere Pass, or every episode free with FX and DirecTV.

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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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The Ugliness of Westworld

Spoilers

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You might think, from the title of this post, that I don’t like HBO’s stunning new hit series Westworld, based on the 1973 film of the same name, which was written by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton, but you’d be wrong. I love Westworld, the series, and I think it’s far better written and acted than the original (and I’m such a Yul Brynner fan that I’ll watch anything he’s in). That doesn’t mean there’s not some ugliness in Westworld, the theme park, where hosts are provided to supply the über-wealthy guests with all their fantasies-come-true, even if those fantasies involve rape, murder, and general pillage. There’s ugliness in the theme park, in the corporate headquarters with the people who run Westworld, and there’s a bit of ugliness in the actual execution of the show. If you watch enough of Westworld, I’ve learned, it might even reveal some ugliness in yourself.

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We’ve known from the premiere that there was going to be violence in the show. After all, the guests can do whatever they want to the hosts, who are robots, with impunity. Every time a host gets killed, s/he’s simply rebooted into the same story loop, ostensibly with no memory of what happened the day(s) before, or with any previous story loops. From the first show, however, we also knew that something was wrong with the hosts. It seems Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the mad-scientist-Frankenstein of the show, introduced something called “reveries” into the hosts’ programs, which allowed them to have more natural gestures, but also allowed them to access “memories” from previous “lives.”

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As with most humans who have been traumatized or violated, the hosts don’t recall the happy memories in their “dreams.” They remember the traumatic events: the rapes, murders, massacres. The more they recall, the more ugliness is revealed in this theme park called Westworld. The uglier the events that have happened to the hosts, who sometimes interact only with each other in some of the most brutal scenes, the more uncomfortable viewers get, wondering what kind of people would create a theme park where guests performed such violence against hosts who, though supposedly unfeeling robots, look so much like human beings that guests often cannot tell who is a host and who is a guest.

Until they kill somebody.

Since the hosts can’t kill guests, or so their programmers insist, then we have to assume that the guests are at Westworld, looking for adventure, in a Wild West World where they can be unfaithful sexually, where they can shoot and kill anyone who’s not also a guest, and where they can commit other acts of violence without consequence and without any harm coming to the guests themselves.

You have to wonder what kind of twisted mind would create such an ugly place for “entertainment.”

“Robert Ford” would be your answer.

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Despite his white-haired, grandfatherly appearance, Ford (Anthony Hopkins, in his scariest role since Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs) is not a nice guy. If he’s the God figure in this world, then he’s even scarier. Not only has he created these host-robots to be violated by the guests, he gets violently upset when he sees a worker who’s draped a covering over a nude host in headquarters. It seems it’s a rigid rule that the hosts must be nude while they are being repaired, questioned, evaluated, etc. by anyone who works for the corporation. Of course, Ford shouted that they hosts can’t feel anything except what they’re programmed to feel, so they can’t feel shame, embarrassment, etc, but the workers are still treating human-looking things as if they have no rights whatsoever.

Doesn’t that kind of attitude leak out into their work environment? I

would say Yes, especially given the way Ford bullies and threatens the employees, and given top manager Theresa’s cold treatment of Bernard, with whom she’s been having an affair.

Ford revealed that he knew about Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Theresa’s (Sidse Babett Knudsen) affair when she was attempting to persuade him to delay his new narrative, which is disrupting the work of his colleagues and the lives of the hosts, until after the Board had arrived. Theresa basically thinks Ford is insane and dangerous, and, as we learned in the latest episode, he may not be insane, but he is most definitely dangerous. In a frightening Reveal that validated viewer theories about Bernard, he was revealed to be a host. No, he’s not in the park itself. He’s in management. He’s a programmer. And he didn’t know that he was a host. After Bernard was fired by someone from the Board, who blamed him for the hosts’ going off-script to the point of violence, Bernard took Theresa to the isolated house in a forbidden sector of the park, where Ford’s younger self lives with his brother (more on this later) and his parents.

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Viewers guessed immediately that the little boy walking about the park with Ford in earlier episodes was a host, but they didn’t realize that he was a younger version of Ford himself. Bernard discovered the family accidentally, and we learned that Ford maintains them himself, and that he also adjusts their programming, to make them more realistic, i.e., to make his father a more violent alcoholic. The hosts have been at Westworld since the very beginning: it seems that Arnold, Ford’s original partner, who supposedly died in an accident in the park before it opened, built the little family for Ford, as a gift.

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So Bernard was not only unceremoniously dumped by Theresa after Ford bullied her, telling her that he’s never going to let anyone take Westworld away from him, but Bernard learned that the person responsible for the corporate espionage is Theresa, who’s been sending data out of the park via satellite relay, and then Bernard got the shock of his “life” when Theresa found the original drawings and schematics for “Bernard” in the basement lab of the isolated Ford-family house.

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After Ford coldly dismissed Bernard’s protests that he couldn’t be a host because he has memories of his son, and grief over losing his son, Ford instructed Bernard to kill Theresa. He did. Because, you know, Ford is God, and what God tells you to do…

Anyway, Bernard dispatched Theresa most violently, but we still don’t know whether or not Theresa is a host. After all, hosts are not supposed to be able to hurt humans. Bernard just killed Theresa. If she’s human, he went against his prime directive… Oh, wait… I mean, he’s gone off his original programming. Per Ford’s instructions. Does that mean that the hosts do have the ability to hurt humans but only if Ford says so? Or is Theresa another host? Even if she is a host, she certainly suffered after her discovery that Bernard is a host, that Ford had Bernard take her to that isolated location where she was “offline,” which is why some viewers believe she’s a host, for the express purpose of killing her.

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Bernard isn’t the only host who’s been suffering. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has been suffering ever since the early episodes, but viewers were led to believe that she was suffering because Bernard was surreptitiously meeting with her and having discussions intended to expand her moral and philosophical consciousness. From thinking that the world was “mostly good,” Dolores began to think there was “something wrong with this world, or with [her],” and to be so unhappy that she ran away from her family ranch, where the Man in Black (Ed Harris, in the most diabolical role of his career), affectionately known by viewers as MiB, raped her after helping kill her family members. Dolores is looking for meaning to her disturbing dreams, but she’s also looking for escape.

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Dolores doesn’t like this world anymore, and she wants out. She thinks William (Jimmi Simpson, below R) is the answer to her prayers, but William is not doubt going to be as cruel to her as he’s been to his business partner and future brother-in-law Logan (Ben Barnes, below L), having abandoned Logan to the hands of revolutionaries and war criminals.  William felt good about that, telling Dolores that he’s finally understood that Westworld is not supposed to get its guests in touch with the worst of themselves, but with what’s most true about themselves.

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So… William abandoned his colleague/friend/brother-in-law, has been sexually and emotionally unfaithful to his fiancée with Dolores, knows for a fact that he can’t live with Dolores because she’s not human… but he’s just gotten in touch with what’s “true” about himself, rather than with what’s “worst” about his nature? Lemme think about that for a while, okay, William, ’cause I think the “most true” thing about yourself that you just “discovered” in Westworld is that you are not a nice guy.

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If Dolores was disappointed in Teddy (James Marsden) when he wouldn’t take her away today or tomorrow or next week, but promised to do it “some day,” she has no idea how bad she’s going to hurt when William’s joyride at the theme park ends and he leaves to go back to the real world and his life “out there,” which he keeps repeatedly mentioning even though he’s noticed that Dolores is catching those remarks and wondering aloud what they mean. Talk about cruel. He’s even more thoughtless than the little boy who, after staring at Dolores in the premiere, said, “You’re not real,” disturbing her, but only momentarily. These guests are more than just physically violent and ugly to hosts: they’re emotionally ugly.

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Dolores’ old beau Teddy (James Marsden) is doing a lot of physical suffering in his new loop, but not as much as some of the hosts who are becoming victims of the notorious Man in Black — MiB — who has recruited Teddy to join him in his search for the Maze, a weird “map” he found inside one of the hosts’ scalp after MiB tortured and killed said host. MiB has been “coming to Westworld for 30 years,” which, not coincidentally, I’m guessing, is also the time they had their last serious malfunction with hosts, leading many viewers to questions MiB’s identity. Is he a host that has gained sentience? Is he a guest who’s become trapped in the park? Is he something more nefarious?

There are lots of theories — all neatly summarized by Elle McFarlane in her latest review — but I’m guessing that MiB is Arnold, who was Ford’s partner, who wanted to reach some real artificial sentience — which seems like a super-contradiction in terms, but I understand what it means in the context of the show — and who, not surprisingly, wanted to close the park and destroy all the hosts before Westworld even opened. Arnold died in an accident, but the fact that Ford has told no one but Bernard — whom we’ve just learned is a host — about Arnold makes me wonder if Arnold isn’t Robert Ford’s brother at the secret home in the forest.

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Because Ford addressed the little boy who takes walks with him as “Robert,” because Ford constantly intrudes in the lives and scenarios of the hosts in the park without seeming to bother any of the hosts, and because the Man in Black addressed Ford as “Robert” when they met in the park, and because Teddy prevented the MiB from killing/harming Ford, I’m beginning to suspect that MiB is Arnold, who theoretically could kill/harm Ford since he is an original host or is Arnold-in-a-host-body, who is searching for the great meaning in Westworld, not realizing, now that he is in the body of a host (I don’t even try to pretend that I would know how that happened) that his supreme sentient moment would be realizing that he is one of the creators of the world wherein he is trapped, and that, furthermore, his own brother Robert killed him in the “accident” after Arnold wanted to prevent Westworld from opening to the public.

Whew. 

Now that might make the MiB suffer.

Not that I should feel empathy for this guy, host or guest, since he’s intentionally caused so much pain and suffering to all the other hosts… but, what is it with all the ugliness on this show? In the park, in corporate headquarters, in its execution?

(So, I’m going off-script myself for a moment to complain that the fine and talented Thandie Newton has to do almost all of her scenes completely in the nude, while the males in said scenes are dressed. Shame on you, Westworld creators. I realize that the male hosts are also sometimes nude when they are in corporate headquarters, but most of the male actors playing hosts in the nude are only seen in passing, very briefly, and none of the other male stars of the show have had nude scenes, let alone extended nude ones, full-frontal, with dressed colleagues. I’m just saying. It’s ugly in the extreme. End of rant.)

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Maeve (Thandie Newton), who has become my favorite character in the show, is seriously suffering. After Hector helped her find the bullet lodged in her abdomen, where there was no scar, she began to intentionally die, even taking on guests for sex and baiting them till they killed her (I guess, technically, she’s committing suicide every day), so that she could end up back in the Body Department, where she once awoke during a procedure and “escaped,” seeing, to her horror, that there were hosts (some of whom she knew) bloodied and “dead” in a pile.

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Maeve has already been suffering with the knowledge, revealed by Felix (above center, with Maeve), who wants to be promoted to a programmer, that she has been “built,” and that all her dreams and her past lives are nothing more than stories created by the Narrative Department. Though Maeve questioned Felix about how he knew that he was “real” and she wasn’t, saying that they both felt the same, Maeve has taken her suffering and done something constructive with it. She’s blackmailed Felix and his partner into showing her as much of Westworld corporate as they thought they could get away with, and insisted that they change her programming so that she’s more intelligent than the hosts are designed to be.

For some reason, these guys are actually letting a host push them around and threaten their jobs. I know Felix wants to be someone more important at WestWorld Co, but, for the life of me, I cannot imagine why his buddy has let Maeve push him around. Sure, she threatened to gut him, but, as he kept insisting, she can’t hurt him.

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Maeve’s gotten quite ugly emotionally, but given the ugly scenarios the programmers have put her through, I don’t feel unhappy with Maeve. Instead, I feel proud of her, and applaud every new risk she takes, every new level of awareness, every act of threatened violence.

Wow. Why is that? Is is something ugly in me? I’m starting to wonder.

Especially after Theresa and the Board grabbed Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) from her in-park-storyline, brought her into corporate, and had some guy beat the crap out of her. It was horrifying. I got quite upset. I didn’t even know if I could continue to watch the scene.

Just then, mercifully, it ended. Corporate “rebooted” Clementine, and started the scenario again. Only this time, Clementine, who seemed to be “harboring a grudge” against the man who assaulted her, attacked and killed the man. When Security rushed into the room, ordering her to stop, she didn’t, so they shot her in the head.

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Here’s the problem I’m having with that scene, and it has to do with my own responses, which are, quite frankly, ugly.

When the guy was beating the hell out of Clementine, I got triggered, and thought I couldn’t watch any more graphic violence done to a woman.

A few minutes later, when Clementine was rebooted and began violently assaulting the man who had assaulted her, I didn’t feel anything.

Not a thing.

I actually thought the guy deserved it.

Then they revealed that he was a host that they’d programmed to hurt her for the purposes of demonstrating that the hosts are going off-script and “remembering” violent things that have been done to them and seeking revenge.

I was more concerned with the fact that I was upset with the violence done to the woman, but completely unemotional about the violence done to the man by the woman he’d hurt.

I know I can’t watch scenes of sexual violence, given my personal history with incest-rape, no matter if the sexual violence happens to women or men, but I never before was in a situation where I was triggered by violence being done to a woman, but then calmly watched — even applauded — her doing the same sort of violence to the man.

Yowza! What’s that saying about me, right?

Has Westworld, the show, just revealed something ugly about my own nature, like I’m an inadvertent guest?

Is that what the show was trying to do, or was it completely unintentional?

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

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