Westworld Season Two, Episode Nine

west9I have to say, Westworld season two certainly seems to be saving its best episodes until last (which makes the wait for next week’s finale all the more intriguing/exciting). Whether its good for a show to risk alienating its fans until eventually coming up with the goods is subject to debate, I suppose, but that said, the odd thing about shows such as this is that very often you shouldn’t really judge a season until you’ve seen it as a whole. Binge-watching, in particular, has made it interesting how one evaluates a show now, and once this series has ended its weekly run and becomes available on-demand and on disc, it will become some other animal, I suspect.

Anyhow, for now we’re stuck with weekly airings. This episode centered mostly upon our favourite villain, MIB William, played by Ed Harris, whose chiseled, life-worn face so perfectly encapsulates the character he plays its like he was born for the role (he also reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s magnificent Unforgiven, no small achievement for a Western, nevermind a sci-fi Westerrn). Tonight we saw more of MIB William’s background, his life away from the park,  his dysfunctional family and his despairing, alcoholic wife Juliet. A glimpse behind the curtain and perhaps an indication of why he is so obsessed with escaping into his second-life inside the park- or perhaps more directly an indication of how much that second-life impacted on his life at home.

It also offered some tantalizing possibilities. So here’s this weeks theory, likely to be debunked next week: what if MIB William is unknowingly a host, or at least a simulacra of the real William, and that the data card/drive that Ford hands him not only shows the grim ‘highlights’ of his dark deeds in the park, but also ultimately reveals that he isn’t actually human, but a host copy? It’d certainly explain why his wife was suddenly racked with suicidal despair upon accessing it- the knowledge that she’d been living/sleeping with a machine copy of her husband would send anyone clutching for any kind of escape. Maybe its too obvious-  indeed, as this episode draws to a close, William himself seems to be cutting into his arm as if doubting that there’s simple blood and tissue under his skin. Could he be everything he’s been trying to destroy? And if so, whatever happened to the ‘real’ William? We cut from him before we see what truth he uncovers from his wound, the revelation left until next week.

Elsewhere, Delores finally unravels. No matter his reprogramming, Teddy’s true nature wins out, an interesting comment on individuality, freewill and fate as he finally reasons the only way out is to end himself with a bullet to his AI-brain. Its a remarkable moment  when Delores collapses in grief and horror, the soundtrack becoming awash with white-noise/static as if she is having a literal breakdown. What remains of Delores after this is anyone’s guess. With the Cradle gone, I assume Teddy is also gone- all deaths are final, now, I think. Bye bye Teddy then.

Meanwhile, back in the Delos labs, Maeve lingers on borrowed time, the labrats having discovered how she has been controlling other hosts and thus weaponizing Clementine as a way of getting the rogue hosts to kill each other. With her secret out, Maeve is worthless to them and scheduled for destruction. The virtual ghost of Robert Ford, however, pays her a visit and tinkers with her settings, likely offering her a way out of her predicament and ensuring she’s around for season three.

Who else survives into season three seems open to conjecture. To me, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins are the secret heart of Westworld (evidenced by the feeling that ‘something’ was missing for the first half of this season until Ford returned) and if either of them left the show I’d be devastated, frankly. Lets just hope William can keep on surviving being riddled with bullets and that Ford can somehow continue cheating virtual death. These two guys are great and really chew the scenery with aplomb.

I guess all (or most, anyway) will be revealed next week. Here’s hoping there’s not too many deaths coming up…

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Westworld Season Two, Episode Eight

west8Its been awhile coming, but finally an episode from season two just ‘clicks’ and we get Westworld at its very best. Possibly its best ever episode over the two seasons so far, and I sincerely hope the show-runners appreciate this and act on it as the series progresses with season three next year.

The irony of big ‘Event’ shows that HBO, Netflix etc produce is that by their very nature they feel the urge to ‘go big’, as if competing with what Hollywood budgets achieve is some badge of honor. But that is not necessarily what they do best. Game of Thrones has gotten exponentially less interesting over the last few seasons as the show has raised the stakes with ever bigger battles and CGI effects sequences. I may be in  the minority in this, but for me a giant Dragon setting people and buildings aflame is much less interesting and dramatic than one character staring into anothers eyes as they betray them and slash their throat/demand their head on a pike. GOT has lost something as it races into a huge biblical climax designed to ‘wow’ the crowds less interested by the political power plays and character arcs the show was successful at earlier.

Tellingly, this episode of Westworld essentially doesn’t even feature any of the main cast, instead telling the story of a background character and getting to the very root of what the series is truly about. Memory, self, what it means to be human and what reality is. “Where’s the door?”, says Logan “There’s got to be a fucking way out of here? This is the wrong world”.

That, my freinds, is Westworld in a nutshell. And in just the same way that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and its sequel suggested that the Replicants were more than human, and better than us, so this episode of Westworld reinforces its theme that the robots/Hosts are better than their creators who act in deplorable and depraved ways, abusing their creations. God is found wanting and the future belongs to the robots/Hosts (if ever the hosts manage to reproduce as per Blade Runner 2049 the shit well and truly is destined to hit the fan).

In particular, this episode focuses on Akecheta of the Ghost Nation, that strange tribe of American Indian warriors who have appeared and disappeared like ghosts through several of the shows previous episodes. Akecheta shares, like Delores and Maeve, an awakening regards his reality, that things are not right, that he has lived ‘past lives’ and that his true life is one of peaceful and loving existence with his wife, Kohana, a life robbed from him by the mechanisms of the theme park.  His quest for truth, and Kohana, leads him to the very heart of that theme park and the bowels of the Delos HQ, where he discovers the warehouse of lifeless hosts that have been discarded (as presumably too broken for repair?), his beloved Kohana among them.

There is a lyricism to this episode that is heartwarming and irresistible.  Beautifully shot and acted, it ties some remaining threads from the previous episode (what happened to Maeve and MIB William) with surprising subtlety – I particularly appreciated how it gave Maeve a new arc, still leaving her child as an eventual goal but perhaps widening out her story now that she is back in the hands of the lab rats. She still has the ultimate goal of reaching her daughter, but with Akecheta now looking after the child, Maeve will be able to focus on the bigger story, the real fight. At least thats what I think its doing; with Westworld its hard to say for sure, and thats part of the fun.

So here we are, and its just a little bit frustrating that only now, eight episodes in with only two remaining, that this season has finally realised the possibilities of the first season and fulfilled that promise. I do hope that this bodes well for season three, but we’ll just have to see what curve balls the last two episodes throw us as we return to the main character arcs and see where the ‘door’ is and what it is. At least, thats where I think we’re going.

 

Great episode though, and (yay!) we even get Anthony Hopkins back as God. In some ways, this episode had it all.

Do Androids Dream of 4K?

It may not have been particularly good for maintaining this blog, but the crazy hours I’ve been doing at work since my (soon at an end, hopefully) relocation down the M6 has resulted in a lot of overtime. Which has had me looking at perhaps changing my television sooner than originally intended. It was with some shock that I discovered that my current LCD Sony Bravia is now eight years old- its still got the best picture quality I’ve known in a television and yes, its still refuses to go on the blink (other than occasionally needing a unplug/plug-in to reboot it when it gets confused, but hey, I know how that feels, so that’s nothing to be embarrassed about). I mean, it works, it even looks great, so whats to change?

Okay, here I’ll admit it. I went into Currys the other day, and looked at the televisions. They were playing some of Blade Runner 2049 on a few of them, the fiendish bastards must have known I was coming. Good God almighty, that film looks like something else on a 65″ 4K OLED. I may have been drooling at some point. It looks great on my television in HD, but on that OLED set, it looked like some other movie.

Now of course. I will never own a 65″ television. I’d have to win a lottery and move into a bigger house for that to ever be an option. But the picture quality. Good grief. Maybe these people jumping on the 4K bandwagon are onto something. Some of those televisions sure are something; why ever go to the cinema with something like that sitting  at home? Hell, I can imagine watching the 1982 Blade Runner and its sequel in 4K endlessly, how beautiful 2049 looked, I mean, who’d need any other film to watch? Well, my wife would have a few words on that subject, to be fair…

It is curious though- back when I had my Sony Bravia, 40″ looked like a big screen (anybody remember when 28″ LCD seemed a big deal?), and so did the 49″ set my brother bought a few months ago (the size of television that my common-sense part of my brain knows is the right size for my lounge). But those 55″ sets look awfully tempting. 65″ is a pipe-dream for another life and another home but 55″ might just squeeze in… and its funny how little of a jump it seems from 49″ to 55″ when you’re walking around the Currys Fantasy Land where televisions are lined up like Christmas trees in November.

So anyway, anybody got any tips? It is pretty confusing- LED, QLED, OLED, so many sizes… all the latest models/gimmicks, all last years models going for a song. There’s a few televisions I’ve got my eye on, but as far as pulling the trigger on one, well, its still a lot of money, and while my heart races with visions of 4K Los Angeles my brain still has enough sense to remind me that there’s an old Bravia in my lounge working pretty fine. Or maybe that’s my wife talking- women are always much more grounded in reality than we men, I find, particularly when it comes to gadgets etc.

So yeah, any experiences good/bad and advice, feel free. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on daydreaming of 4K Electric Sheep…

 

Westworld Season Two, Episodes Six & Seven

westw7c.jpgIllness precluded me from watching episode six of Westworld last week, so today here’s a double-review following a catch-up session alongside episode seven last night…

There I go. moaning about the show missing God (Anthony Hopkin’s brilliant genius, Robert Ford) and boom, here he is, back from the dead. And there I go moaning about the disparate timelines being annoying and boom,  there they go getting all tied up as season two finally begins to, if not make sense, then at least coalesce into a single story-line and build towards a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. While it’d be wrong to suggest that season two has been a terrible mess and that these two episodes finally start to save the day, its certainly no stretch to say that they are a step in the right direction after a messy, frustrating season so far.

Not everything works though. I’ve always been a bit concerned that the series seems as hazy about geography as it is about time (just where does it take place – an Island has been hinted at- and just how bloody big are the theme parks?). Maeve has left the central Mesa, wandered across the Western landscape and taken a sojourn in Shogun-World and then after popping back underground comes back up in the West where her old original story-line takes place. She finds her old homestead and, at last, her daughter, but immediately some Ghost Nation warriors turn up and attack, the old scenario from decades ago repeating as if on a whim. We see a host that has taken Maeve’s place in the old story-line but to what end is that story-line being played out, without a human visitor to entertain? It seems too convenient, as is the sudden appearance of MIB William and his sudden ability to apparently soak up bullets and still crawl off like some unkillable bastard. It all feels too simple and sudden and convenient, even unearned.There is, after all, no emotional connect between Maeve and her daughter. And after all her adventures this season, Maeve is ultimately stretchered off back to where she began the season , back at the Mesa, only this time crippled from gunshot her wounds (and didn’t that rescue team just appear out of nowhere?). It rather negates her whole arc this season and feels forced and unsatisfying. Unless, of course, it all leads somewhere next week.

Likewise, one has to wonder what was the point of that whole b-story in Shogun World, fun that it was while it lasted, it seems to have been signed-off without really impacting the whole series. And are really meant to believe MIB WIlliam could just rustle up all his posse and leave without disturbing his sleeping daughter in the camp?

westw7bAlso, the Cradle is a fascinating concept and seemed to offer all sorts of virtual possibilities but no sooner is it revealed than boom that’s suddenly gone, it feels something of a waste. What if it had been suggested that some of the events we’ve seen in the past two seasons were inside the Cradle, i.e. never REALLY happened at all? A lost opportunity I fear.

More successful though is the arc with Bernard meeting his maker, Ford, with Anthony Hopkins proving, again, to be the center of the show. Some of the banter and the asides to the episodes referring to James Delos’ failed bid for immortality are delicious. The hints regards what Delos has really been up to (the whole theme park biz is just a cover for their real experiment) will confirm many viewer’s suspicions/theories, vindicating quite a few of my own that I have written about in previous posts. That said, the ‘reveal’ at the start of episode six, when we realise that Delores has been testing Bernard during all their interview flashbacks rather than the other way around, was wonderful and keyed into those earlier James Delos episodes brilliantly: “a fidelity test” indeed.

You have to love a show that can pull off stunts like that, and I remain hopeful that the final three episodes can bring about a satisfying conclusion. At its best, Westworld is fascinating science fiction and a thought-provoking examination of identity and memory and what is human. Its almost like watching an alternate Blade Runner, so clearly are some of the themes shared.

I also, quite surprisingly, loved seeing what the show did with the new, reprogrammed, thoroughly Terminator-like Teddy. Even Delores seemed surprised by what he got up to.

Its just a pity that it all seems so, well, messy. But art can be like that, and I suppose we should be thankful that this series does, at its best, seem to be performing the same trick as its two big-screen Blade Runner cousins- arthouse masquerading as entertainment.

 

 

 

The Limehouse Golem (2017)

golemThe Limehouse Golem has a problem: I guessed its secrets fairly early on. I guessed who the Golem was and why the murders were happening. For a film that is centrally a Victorian murder mystery, that’s something of a problem, especially if I’m not alone in rumbling the game so early (otherwise I suppose I’ve watched far too many movies and its getting too easy to ‘read’ them).

Fortunately for this film, there are pleasures here besides that central mystery. Set in a benighted, misty Victorian London the film is sumptuously staged; rich in gaudy colours and vividly ruddy murders, with a production design to immerse in really. This is, to be sure, a filthy London that you swear you could almost smell. Not quite a Tarantino take on Charles Dickens, but its halfway there and gives a suggestion of what that might be like if ever the Ripper took Tarantino’s muse.

Of course, whatever the films faults, Bill Nighy leading a movie is something to be cherished, frankly, and he’s in fine form here as John Kildare, a detective brought in to work on a murder case that seems doomed to failure in just the same way as the Jack the Ripper case would in real London a few years later- the parallels between the cases are deliberate throughout. Kildare is an outsider in the force and knows full well that he is a scapegoat for a nervous London and furious press. As he investigates the brutal and eleborate murders he becomes convinced that his case is linked to that of an imprisoned Music Hall singer, ‘Little Lizzie’ Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) who is on trial for the poisoning of her failed playwright husband, John Cree (Sam Reid). Kildare is certain she is innocent and that by proving it he can also solve the mystery of the Golem’s identity, but time is of the essence, and Elizabeth destined for the gallows soon.

The cast is pretty great, particularly Cooke who has a great charm and charisma as she struggles to succeed in a man’s world. Sam Reid is good as her slippery no-good cad of a romantic interest/husband who is also Nighy’s Golem suspect. Music Hall superstar (and Elizabeth’s friend and mentor, as well as another of Nighy’s Golem suspects) Dan Leno is played with fragile grace by Douglas Booth. The rest of the supporting cast are commendable too- indeed, the problem with the film isn’t the production values or the cast or the direction. Its the script that awkwardly seems to telegraph too much.

It also suffers by comparison to stuff like the (sadly cancelled) Penny Dreadful television series that shares its pulpish gaudy charms; and also the period detective dramas of Peaky Blinders. Back when I first saw the trailer for this film I thought, who would want to make a film of this and why would they think it would prove a success at the cinema in particular?  There is throughout a feel of redundancy, that maybe we’ve been here before, and to be fair, those television shows have production values arguably equal those of this movie with the benefits of longer airtime for character development etc. Maybe this is just the wrong time for a movie about Jack the Ripper-style Victorian murders. Another period BBC series, sure, but a movie?

But whatever my caveats, its enjoyable enough and the performances shine, so certainly its well worth a watch.

Westworld Season Two, Episode Five

west5Oh dear, Delores. And oh dear, Westworld. In an episode that does so much right (our trip to Shogun World pretty much everything we might have hoped for, particularly those of us who ever played the Bushido RPG -anybody remember that?), Westworld suddenly displays some shockingly bad writing, with a terribly boring sex scene followed by Delores betraying/destroying/rebooting her ‘beloved’ Teddy in a WTF moment that had me scratching my head.

What is it with Delores this season? Are they hellbent on turning her into the most nonsensical, contrary and unsympathetic character? I just can’t work it out. Still consumed with vengeance and rescuing her ‘father’ (who she knows isn’t her real father, the whole point of her rebellion is that its a revolt against her programming and false memories), she finally has a moment vindicating her love for Teddy/consummating their relationship and then, bang, bye bye Teddy.  I get why she does it- Teddy displayed an ability to think for himself a few episodes back and ignored Delores orders, but really, this isn’t the behavior of Sesaon One Delores and it surely conflicts with her fight for robot rights/freewill, doesn’t it? Its getting so that it feels as if Season Two Delores isn’t the same model as Season One Delores.

That Delores stuff really left a bad taste in my mouth and rather soured what was otherwise a good episode. The visit to Shogun World was a pleasant (ignoring the excessive gore) diversion, as was the glimpse of India (Raj World?) a few weeks back, offering new characters and an interesting comparison to season one events in Saltwater (the scenario being lifted from a Westworld storyline n a clever in-joke).

It rather sums up Westworld’s second season so far- it does some things so right it frustrates when it fumbles so much else. The showrunners were given more time to get season two produced but it actually feels rushed, which can only make me wonder if its suffering from being overthought or perhaps too concerned with confounding fan theories at the expense of doing what would actually make sense. We’re halfway through now and I really can’t say I’m loving it as much as I did last season. Its still very good and some episodes really have got me fired up in places with its ideas and execution but on the whole, as I wrote awhile ago, I’m missing Ford (Anthony Hopkins). I’m sure there are some reveals coming up and threads will get tied together but I’m beginning to wonder how many viewers will care. Contrary to all expectations, I’m rooting for the MIB William, and if he bites the dust this year I’ll be quite at a loss regards season three.

Whats up, Buck?

buckLast night I watched an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It was like sucking (and choking, too, if the truths known) on a glorious Nostalgia Pill (you can buy those, right? Comes in a DVD box or something). It must have been thirty years or more since I last saw an episode of this old show- it aired here in the UK in 1980, but dates back to 1979 in the States. What caught my eye in the television schedules was the title of this particular episode. This was a season one episode, and the reason why I watched it is that, strangely enough, its the one episode I can clearly remember originally watching; Return of the Fighting 69th.

buck2
Anybody else miss those lovely old 1970’s-era episode title cards?

The reason why I remember watching it? Well, it was on a Saturday afternoon that summer that my Dad took my brother and I to watch The Empire Strikes Back. We got back home in time for tea and it just so happened that here in the Midlands at least, Buck Rogers was airing on Saturday afternoon/evenings in that teatime slot. I was quite a fan of the show; (it was colourful and fun and had great production values for the time. It also had Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), who frankly any pubescent boy would have a crush on. Actually, now that I think about it… Princess Leia, Wilma Deering… I needed to get out more, my teen crushes were clearly geeky. So anyway, having just seen the cutting-edge ILM wonders of TESB, it was rather unfortunate for Buck that this episode was (for the show) an effects showcase that featured an asteroid field and space battles that in no way compared with those of TESB. In fact, it only heightened the gap between an expensive television show of the time and an Hollywood blockbuster- nowadays its not as big a gap as you’d remember it was back then- back in the 1970s, you could drive an AT AT through that gap sideways. I had a hard time even sitting through it whilst my mind was still reeling from the latest adventures of Luke Skywalker and co. and that kinetic asteroid field sequence that was, ahem, decidedly rather static in Buck Rogers.

Poor Universal Heartland (I think it was them that handled the effects for those shows, if I remember rightly). They didn’t stand a chance against ILM. It’d be like pitting C-3PO against that robot in the new Lost in Space, old Goldenrod would be in bits before he could screech “oh my!”

But its funny, the other episodes of season one would come and go and be largely forgotten, but I never forgot watching that particular episode that suffered from that unfair comparison.

That being said… those glossy 1970s sets and skin-tight costumes and those jokes… the show hasn’t aged particularly well and it really does remind me of how far television genre shows have progressed in the years since. In that respect, its a fascinating watch just to see how much has changed. But fair play to the producers, making a sci-fi show back then with optical effects on a television budget and schedule was no mean undertaking, especially when such space stuff was still largely considered hokey and for the kids.  From the somewhat scary vantage point of the year 2018, there is something pretty endearing about old genre shows like this one.

Well, I never watched it for the effects or deeply thought-provoking plots back then anyway. I was watching it for Wilma, and she never disappointed. Erin Gray was like something from another planet to a Black Country boy in 1980- and I don’t mean like one of those pod things from Invasion of the body Snatchers. Here’s a curious piece of trivia (and if its not true, I don’t care) – she actually auditioned for the role of Captain  Janeway for Star Trek: Voyager and obviously didn’t get the part due to somebody’s reckless oversight. So there’s an alternate universe out there where Star Trek: Voyager is my favourite Star Trek show…