Category Archives: Science Fiction

Horror and Suspense Films

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listed in alphabetical order by name of film

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

Setting the World on Fire:
The Girl with All The Gifts, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

When Children Scare You To Death:
Orphan, the Film

Not For Children:
The Horror Film The Orphanage

The World of the Living and The World of The Dead:
The Others, the Film

Slasher-Horror as Art Film:
Psycho, The Classic

Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe:
The Raven, the 2012 Film

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

You Are Now Entering the Cruel World:
Texas Killing Fields, the Film

Hansel and Gretel with a Video Camera:
The Visit, the 2015 Film

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Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum: A Spoiler-Free Review of The Handmaid’s Tale by Guest Lydia Schoch @TorontoLydia

#NoSpoilers
Review of  The Handmaid’s Tale season 1
by Guest Lydia Schoch @TorontoLydia

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a speculative novel about a woman who was kidnapped and forced into reproductive slavery after the U.S. government was overthrown by a group of religious extremists called the Sons of Jacob. Last year, I was thrilled when I found out that it was going to be turned into a TV series.

Today I’m going to tell you what season one of The Handmaid’s Tale was like and what I thought of it without giving away any spoilers for it. Let’s begin with the introductions of the main characters and a brief summary of the plot.

O.T. Fagbnele as Luke, Jordana Blake as Hannah, and Elisabeth Moss as Offred (Photo: George Kraychyk © HULU)

June was the protagonist. Before the United States government was overthrown, she was married to a man named Luke. They were one of the dwindling number of families who had been able to successfully have a healthy child. They named their little girl Hannah.

Unfortunately, this family’s happiness was short-lived. Fertility rates dropped so much in the place formerly known as the United States that it became rare for any pregnancy to lead to a healthy, viable baby. The Sons of Jacob, an extremist movement whose political platform was based on harsh, literal interpretations of certain passages from the Bible, believed that this widespread infertility was a curse from God.

When they gained power and formed Gilead, they passed punitive laws aimed to strictly control marriage, fertility, gender roles, and how people were allowed to live in an attempt to win God’s favour again.

Elizabeth Moss as Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale © Hulu

As you might have already imagined, fertile women were highly sought after in this new society. June and her family was no exception to this rule. June was prized because she’d proven herself fertile, and Hannah was prized because there were far more families hoping to adopt than there were children of any age or race who could be placed for adoption.

After being captured by the authorities, June was torn away from her family and assigned to be a Handmaid for the wealthy and powerful. That is, her only duty in life now was to bear children for couples who couldn’t have their own.

Rather than keeping her own name, June was renamed at every posting. Offred — or “of Fred” — became her new identity after she was sent to live with Fred Waterford, a top-ranking Commander of the new government.

Joseph Fiennes as Commander Waterford (Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu ©

His wife, Serena Joy, was a wildly unpredictable mistress whose sole desire in life was to be a mother. Her jealousy of June’s fertility is only matched by her hatred of this arrangement.

Offred had a limited amount of time to conceive a baby with Fred. If she failed to become pregnant, she would be sent to a work camp to die a slow, agonizing death. While she waited to see if the monthly sexual assaults from Fred will result in a baby, she also quietly worked to find out what happened to her husband and daughter.

Are they still alive? Will she ever be able to see them again? Even saying their names was forbidden, but this didn’t stop Offred from fantasizing about what it would be like to be her family again.

Roughly translated, nolite te bastardes carborundorum is supposed to mean “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” It was a phrase she found scratched into the wood of one of the pieces of furniture in her room at the Waterford’s home. While Offred waited to see what would happen to her next, she had to figure out how to avoid being ground down to dust in the process.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (1st edition)

Analysis

As someone who has been a huge fan of the book for nearly 20 years, I was quite happy with how this story was translated to the small screen.

Gilead was a violent and dangerous place to live for anyone who stepped out of line, and the screenwriters weren’t at all afraid to show exactly what happened to people who broke the strict rules there. While I can’t go into any details about that part of the plot without giving away spoilers for everything after the first episode, I will say that this portion of the storytelling was exquisite.

There is a massive difference between maintaining the appearance of a virtuous society and actually constructing it in a way that benefits the very people it was originally meant to help.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the stark difference between the outward appearance of someone’s life and the quiet reality of it behind closed doors. While most of the villains were at least outwardly pious, what happened when they thought no one was watching them was much more complex than following or breaking specific rules.

One of the other things I loved about this season is how it handled the character development. No one in this world was completely evil or good, including people who really did seem like they could be boxed in by these labels when I first saw them.

There were times when the good characters made decisions that I detested. In other scenes, characters who had been violent or cruel showed moments of mercy.

This is not to say that a single act of kindness can wipe away even the worst crime or that good people should be forever judged by their worst mistakes in life. All of these characters are a mixture of faults and virtues just like real people are, and that has permanently endeared them to me.

The science fiction in this universe has a very light touch. If this is not a genre you typically watch, know that The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t like most other scifi shows. Other than the mysterious origins of the infertility plague, everything that happened in this show could really happen in our world. Indeed, much of it already has happened at various times and in many different places.

By the end of the season finale a question lingered in the air. Would we let something like this happen to us if we began to see the signs of a real-life Gilead beginning to form?

Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale is tentatively scheduled to be released in April of 2018. Until then, I hope you will mull over this question and come up with your own answers to it as you enjoy season one.

The Handmaid’s Tale won several Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Elisabeth Moss, as Offred), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Ann Dowd, as Aunt Lydia), Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Alexis Bledel, as Emily), Best Directing for a Drama Series (Reed Dowd), and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Bruce Miller).

Elisabeth Moss at 69th Emmy Awards, Photo by Kevin Winter, Getty Images ©

The Handmaid’s Tale is available on Hulu (free one-month trial subscription, $11.99 with no commercials, $5.99 with limited commercials), Amazon ($1.99 SD, $2.99 HD per episode, or $14.99-19.99 for season), and, for similar purchase prices, on YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, and GooglePlay.

Lydia Schoch is a science fiction author and longtime fan of Margaret Atwood’s stories. Lydia blogs at Lydia Schoch, tweets at @TorontoLydia, and lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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on The Handmaid’s Tale
by Lydia Schoch
#Spoilers

The Handmaid’s Tale:
Introducing Offred’s World

The Handmaid’s Tale:
Gender Treachery

The Handmaid’s Tale:
Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum

The Handmaid’s Tale:
Faithful

The Handmaid’s Tale:
A Woman’s Place

The Handmaid’s Tale:
The Other Side

The Handmaid’s Tale:
Jezebels

The Handmaid’s Tale:
The Bridge

The Handmaid’s Tale:
Night

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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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Dreams & Nightmares in Westworld

Spoilers

When you’re suffering, that’s when you’re most real.

The Man in Black

Dolores' eyes. HBO

Westworld continued its exploration of good and evil in “Chestnut,” episode 2 of HBO’s new hit series. With Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) as the lonely and perhaps somewhat bored God of this world populated by robots, wealthy tourists, and scheming corporate climbers, Westworld goes far beyond the 1973 film of the same name. Though some of the themes were put in characters’ mouths in the second episode, thus hitting the viewers in the face with things like “you can be whoever you want to be,” most of the show was exciting and terrifying. Especially to the hosts in the Westworld theme park.

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) HBO

Memories & Nightmares

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) began to have memories: she also began waking from “dreams” or “nightmares,” which the hosts ostensibly have in case anything remains when their previous lives are “erased.” These nightmares exist to explain any “memory” that doesn’t fit into current scripts. The only problem is that these nightmare memories are coming when the hosts are “awake,” standing in the middle of town, for example, or when they’re trying to work.

Dolores is seeing a carnage of dead bodies in town, when she’s fully awake, and waking in the night to go outside and dig up a buried gun. Did Dolores put it there? If so, when? Why?

Dolores also repeats something her father said just before his “breakdown.” These violent delights will have violent ends, Dolores says to Maeve, which Maeve doesn’t understand at all.

Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) HBO

The nightmares are keeping Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) from sleeping,

Maeve (Thandie Newton) HBO

and causing Maeve’s (Thandie Newton, above) work performance to deteriorate to the point where she’s pulled in for evaluation. Feminist programmer Elsie (Shannon Woodward, below) thinks there’s nothing wrong with Maeve besides the poor performance of the “guys at the body shop.”

Elsie (Shannon Woodward) HBO

Still, something’s up with Maeve, who, along with Dolores, is “remembering” other lives, other violence, other pasts.

In a non-whore life memory, Maeve recalls a daughter,

a violent attack by Indians,

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and arming herself for protection,

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but when the door to her cabin opens, it’s The Man in Black.

The Man in Black (Ed Harris) HBO

The Quest of The Man in Black

As Dolores and Maeve are experiencing nightmares and flashbacks to previous lives from alternate storylines, The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is searching for the “pattern” to all life. It’s one of the reasons he keeps returning to Westward, he insists. Life in the real world is nothing but chaos, nothing but accidents, he tells Lawrence (Clifton Collins, Jr, below, opposite Harris), whom he’s saved from a hanging, but life in Westworld reveals patterns. The Man in Black wants to know the meaning to life, the meaning to these patterns.

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The Man in Black believes that The Maze will reveal the meaning of life. The image of the “maze” was tattooed under the scalp of Kissy, whom The Man in Black murdered and scalped.

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Observant viewers noted that the tattooed maze resembles the robot-manufacturing center where Dr. Ford was watching his creations being made,

which alludes to Leonardo’s famous Vitruvian Man, an ideal of the Roman architect Vitruvius, who believed the human body was the model of perfection, and that the proportions of temples should be based on the human body with arms and legs extended fits into the “perfect geometric forms”: the circle and the square.

Leonardo's Vitruvian Man (ideal proportions) Wikipedia

Lawrence claims not to know anything about any Maze, nor how to find the Maze, but his daughter says, “The Maze isn’t meant for you.” After The Man in Black kills her mother, claiming that this time in Westworld, he’s never going back (to his life outside the theme park), Lawrence’s daughter tells him how to find the Maze’s entrance: “follow the blood arroyo to the place where the snakes lays its eggs.”

Though the violence of The Man in Black is noted at HQ, employees are told that this guest gets whatever he wants, no matter how much work is causes for those who have to repair the hosts. Money talks, I guess, even at a theme park.

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The Newest Newcomers

Meanwhile, Newcomer William (Jimmi Simpson, above R, below L) and his colleague Logan (Ben Barnes, below R), arrive in Westworld, where guests are told there’s no itinerary, no guidebook, only their own choices and learning curve.

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Logan already knows this, since he’s been there before, and already knows what he wants to do to have a good time, but William is hesitant and seems uncomfortable in the theme park, though obviously he’s paid good money to be there. He wants to interact with injured hosts, but not with Clementine because he has a “real” love and relationship elsewhere. Clementine misinterprets this statement to mean simply that he’s in love with someone else and doesn’t want to sleep with a whore, not that she’s not real, and his love interest is a real girl.

I’m guessing William is going to be part of a larger storyline, one where he tries to help hosts in distress, like Dolores. After all, they spent an inordinate amount of time drilling it into viewers’ heads that Westworld is all about the newcomers/guests’ choice and letting him choose a hat, with only two color options: black and white. He chose white, as you can see in the photo above. (Aside from pointing out the obvious symbolism in William’s storyline to viewers, the second episode “Chestnut” was very well done.)

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Management Crisis

The hosts aren’t the only ones in distress. Head Programmer Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) chides Dr. Ford every so slightly for not informing him how difficult it is to “put away” the creations. Later, it’s revealed that Bernard wasn’t in his office, so Cullen (Sidse Babitt Knudsen) seeks him out at his residence.

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Seems the two are having an affair, even if it’s not love, which lends a lovely irony to Bernard’s remarks about Cullen’s facial expressions when she’s angry but trying not to show it, and to his request that he record her facial movements (which she denied).

And why wasn’t Bernard in his office?

Because, apparently, Bernard’s been having inappropriate discussions with Dolores. He tells her that she needs to make sure that no one else discovers that they’ve been meeting, or, more important, what they’ve been talking about. Dolores asks if she’s done something wrong, and he assures her that she has not. Then, in a moment that reveals that Dolores is beginning to be capable of independent thought and logical  reasoning, she asked if Bernard’s done something wrong.

Oops, Bernard: Busted.

Seems Bernard’s not the only one screwing things up at Westworld. When Maeve is sent in for some adjustments, which involve discovering the source of her “physical pain complaints,” the techs discover something in her abdomen: MRSA, which is, as another reviewer pointed out, a reference to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, aka a “super bug.” So not only can the hosts get a human infection, the techs can miss it, leaving the hosts to suffer.

And when Maeve wakes up during repairs, grabs a scalpel, and runs off, finding a holding pen of sorts, filled with a bunch of bodies, that looks super-ominous,

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the techs are more worried about their jobs and about getting disciplined than about any repercussions to Maeve.

After all, she’s not sentient, right?

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Now throw in the ever-dissatisfied Sizemore (Simon Quarterman, above, center) who gets his latest and greatest narrative “rejected” by Boss Ford, and you just know there are going to be more rumblings in Westworld.

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Bored God

As if it’s not enough having all the political maneuvering, tech mistakes, and brain-tripping going on at Westworld, the Head-Honcho, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), is totally bored. Yeah, I know he’s God, but he’s so bored, he wakes up original now-decommissioned robots to have a drink with them. He gets into philosophical, existential discussions with Bernard. He goes out walking in the desert, controlling robot rattlesnakes. Yeah, God is bored in Westworld.

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On his desert walk, Ford is accompanied by a little boy who seems to be a guest, but who later seems, instead, to be Ford’s little robot-grandson-tag-a-long. Yeah, Ford is bored beyond belief. It’s not enough to add “reveries” to the hosts to make the robots seem more “natural,” and it’s not enough to have some building with a cross and a bell — a church in the desert? — as part of his newest invention. It’s not even enough to have some little hero-worshipping kid following you around the desert being in awe of every move you make.

Because, as Ford wearily reveals, “Everything in this world is magic, except to the magician.”

Poor God.

His creations are having nightmares and questioning the very nature of their existence, his employees are messing around with each other as well as with the hosts’ heads, but “God” is  just plain bored.

You just know that this is not going to end well.

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HBO’s Chilling Westworld

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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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