If You Like Contemplating Life's Emptiness, Then Westworld Is For You!
Really, though, this episode is hella smart and exciting.
Y'all are gonna have to forgive me for a minute, because it's about to get extremely dramaturgical in here. See, I'm delighted by Episode 9 of Westworld because it hews so closely to the existential dilemmas of Kleist's The Prince Of Homburg, a German play from the early 19th century that helped set the template for modern dread about the world not being what it seems. This play didn't invent the idea that reality is slippery, but it approaches the notion with a very contemporary sense of terror. When Bottom doesn't know if he really flirted with Titania, it's charming and funny. When the hero in Kleist's play doesn't know if he dreamed his own death sentence, his mortality is at stake.
And that story is still relevant, you guys! With every advance in our industrial/technological lives, the more likely we are to feel removed from something actual. The less tangible our reality becomes, the easier it is to mistrust it, or to suspect that someone we can't see is controlling it.
And OH MY GOD does this episode of Westworld dive right into that terror. There's this big thing in The Prince Of Homburg where he walks by a grave that's being dug for him. But the grave is empty, right? So it both IS and ISN'T his grave. And that idea of the empty space that might hold meaning but might also hold nothingness is a potent goddamned symbol.
Which leads me to the safe. You know...the one that Maeve opens for Hector. He's entire "life" is built around this safe and whatever's inside it. He's died for it over and over. Yet just like that, Maeve shows him it was empty all along. The something was actually nothing. The grave was empty. What the hell do you do when the thing you believe in is a fake? If you're Hector, you immediately join Maeve's revolution, then start banging her in the middle of a fire. Because she's telling you that after you die, you'll wake up in a room where something is real. Where what you're seeing is actually the truth. Where the box is heavy because it's full.
You know what I mean? Once you can tell the difference between what's real and what's fake, then you can start living freely. The Prince of Homburg never gets there, but now Hector is there. And I love watching him wake up:
Meanwhile, Dolores is fully awake, too, since she has finally, finally recovered her memory of Arnold. And that she killed him. Now she is empowered by knowing her story. Who knows what she'll do in response?!?! I have to assume she'll escape the Man in Black (a.k.a. The Gunslinger, a.k.a. Ed Harris), who storms in on her at during her final scene this week.
Then there's poor Bernard, who also gets all of his memories back, including that Ford built him in Arnold's image. So Bernard is a recreation of Arnold. Which means Bernard himself is a kind of empty box. He's just a grave that holds Arnold's memory...but Arnold isn't actually there. WHICH SUCKS FOR HIM.
Even worse, Bernard learns that he wrote the "backdoor code" that allows Ford to keep controlling him, no matter what. Ford uses that code to force Bernard to shoot himself in the head, so that he cannot ever be free.
Again: Bernard wrote that backdoor code himself, so in effect, he assured his own state of perpetual servitude. And there's your existential terror! What if we can't ever know what's real, because our minds keep betraying us?! To my mind, that makes Bernard one of the most tragic figures on TV. He is the seed of his own demise.
As he falls, I hope Maeve and Dolores rise. We've got to have a few people around here who can use their self-awareness to lead better lives, right? Or maybe those ghost savages and Wyatt's gang, who cannot be controlled by the "host commands" and who clearly know things about Arnold's maze, are the answer. Or maybe I'm just putting my faith in an empty box. I guess we'll find out next week!