Reminiscence 4K UHD (2021)

rem1Lisa Joy’s tech-noir thriller Reminiscence is a film which, like a few this year, I unfortunately missed at the cinema, which annoyed me as it seemed right up my street – someone went and made an adult, intelligent sci-fi thriller and I didn’t get to see it, and like BR2049 it bombed spectacularly. So I was really looking forward to seeing it when it came to home video, and naturally I went the full 4K UHD route (with hindsight its a pleasant surprise it has turned up on the format at all), but it proved rather disappointing.  It turns out that, for all it does well -and it does indeed do some things very well- its badly flawed, unfortunately. It’s not bad, exactly- it just doesn’t tie together somehow, it doesn’t really work, overall, which is frustrating because some elements are very good indeed. Its a case of being clumsy where it really needed to soar, and perhaps being overly familiar.

So many films and tv shows one sees these days, if they aren’t actually remakes or reboots, they still often seem to be a combination of the ‘greatest hits’ of someone’s DVD collection. Maybe its the entertainment industry’s sincerest form of flattery, or a reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Reminiscence is hitched upon the central conceit that an invention enables people to re-live some of their past experiences which can be visualised for others to see and record, and this also enables access to forgotten memories or the ability to vividly recall things otherwise only dimly remembered. The law enforcement agencies use this machine to interrogate suspects who can be prosecuted by the evidence their memories reveal – an inversion of the ‘future crime’ of Memory Report, then, but similarly projecting crimes for others to see and record for evidence, criminals being betrayed by their own memories or those of witnesses.   

The seductive aspect of reliving good memories, especially in the distinctly dystopian world which Reminiscence proposes, reminds one of another tech-noir thriller, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, and its device which enabled the recording of events for others to experience, itself similar to Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm of some years before. Some characters in Reminiscence are doomed to endlessly  return to and re-experience good times in just the same way as Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny in Strange Days, and indeed this is something mirrored by the ultimate fate of this film’s main character, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who can’t let go of his muse, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) any more than Lenny can shake off his obsession over his own lost love. So Reminiscence seems to come to us now third-hand, almost, rather than be anything actually new, ironically leaking reminiscences of other films-  I don’t really mind that if its done in some new and interesting way, but this is where the film slips up.  While there is some political subtext and a crime to solve, Lisa Joy treats that as secondary to its romance woven through the narrative, and its that which doesn’t entirely convince. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are very good actors but they just seem a little too ‘perfect’ to convince as the flawed, haunted characters that Joy wants them to be. There is a feeling that we are always watching beautiful people merely approximating what desperate, hungry and haunted characters might be like were they a little more, well, ordinary like the rest of us. Perhaps this is always true of Hollywood product. 

There is, to be sure, a really great film in here, somewhere. Considering recent world attention on Climate Change and rising sea levels, seeing a film portraying a possible nightmare scenario spun off of that -in this case a half-submerged Miami and days so hot that everyone sleeps in the day and spend the majority of their waking hours during the night-as vividly as this film does is something timely and fascinating. And the reliance of the survivors upon the new technology to re-experience memories and experiences of better times as an avenue of escape is very interesting, and similar to how people during the pandemic have eulogised old pre-COVID traditions and pursuits like, hey, going to the cinema like we used to, or perhaps re-watching films that remind us of better times. There is perhaps a subtext there upon fantasy and escape and what catharsis films themselves provide us, and what a dead-end that may be. 

So what goes wrong exactly? I think its partly the romance that doesn’t wholly convince, and as that’s the central interest for Lisa Joy that’s a pretty fundamental failing. The crime that hangs in the background concerning a wealthy family, an illegitimate child, a bent cop and resultant murders just doesn’t interest either, really. Maybe its just too many balls to juggle in the air; I rather suspect that Lisa Joy has more success with so many narrative threads when she’s spacing them over an eight or ten-episode series on HBO rather than a two-hour movie, and films always tend to need cohesive, satisfying endings, not more mystery boxes. 

As someone who has watched quite a few film noir lately, I also think that Reminiscence could have possibly done without its narration, a noir device that doesn’t, to be honest, really work for me here. I always prefer film-makers to show me, don’t tell me, and the best noir, no matter how complex they may be, can often manage just fine without a voice explaining it all. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t appreciate that post-millennials are lazier. 

Maybe Reminiscence is just another victim of dystopian films just not appealing to audiences right now- maybe we’re swerving back to the days of post-Vietnam 1977 and audiences just want escapist fun. We’re living in a dystopian world as it is, and we know the future increasingly looks bleak; we don’t necessarily need films to remind us, or show us how bad it might get. Or maybe we just want better movies.

Raised By Wolves (Season One)

raised1Alas, the fascination with ‘mystery boxes’ continues and becomes increasingly tiresome: its a crux used by JJ Abrams all through his career and one endlessly mimicked by other creatives, best described as being a narrative which drops viewers into the middle of a mystery-in-progress that leaves them wanting to know answers in both directions (what happened before/what happens next?). Admittedly I can trace a lot of this to J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, which is one of my most revered genre shows. Not that B5 was the first, but certainly at the time when it came out, American shows were generally episodic in nature, pressing a metaphorical ‘reset’ button at the end of each episode and one episode seldom if ever referencing another.

Babylon 5 was more like a huge novel, each season being a part of a larger whole, so early seasons of B5 dropped hints and portents of mysterious ancient wars and a dark menace returning to threaten all the galaxy, and Straczynski fulfilled all the promise in later seasons, rewarded all the investment with the arcs and world building. He brought all the threads and revelations together into a grand conclusion that satisfied immensely (at least as regards the Shadow War storyline with season four, season five’s issues being largely out of his hands).

It paid off, and in spades, but that was a trick that showrunners and writers these days don’t seem to heed. 

So instead we get obtuse writing posing as complex storylines, promising grand revelations regards mysteries being scattered through plots (Westworld, Lost, Disney Star Wars etc) which ultimately fall apart, everything being built on sand. Its incredibly frustrating being taken in every time by this mystery box routine. Showrunners and writers are hooking viewers in and then largely failing to reward the viewer investment: even shows that succeed at this on some level only manage this in some compromised way that proves contentious even amongst fans (I’d cite Fringe as an example of this, and Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot too).

So now we can add Raised By Wolves to this annoying list of Mystery Box Television, and already by the end of its first season its clear that a promising concept is not going to fulfil the early promise of its first few episodes. Those first two episodes in particular, directed by Ridley Scott no less, promise so much that even within the space of its ten-episode first season the crushing disappointment is palpable.

raised2Two androids (‘Mother’ and ‘Father’) arrive at a remote planet, Kepler 22b tasked with raising a group of human children in order to rebuild and save a humanity that has been destroyed by a global war between two factions: atheists and fundamentalist sun worshippers called the Mithraic. The visual design and concept is fascinatingly reminiscent of that of Scott’s troubled Prometheus, so much so that it almost seems an unofficial sequel, or at least set in the same universe. The music, too, seems directly related to that films haunting score.

On that level, I was hooked from the start, and enthralled by glimpses of this global disaster shown in flashbacks (Ridley Scott visualising The End Of The World!), scenes of survivors boarding colony ships bound for a fresh start on a new world. Vague references to the two warring factions and a subtext referencing Eden, humanity bringing its old sins to tarnish this new world – it promised much. Additionally, ‘Mother’ (Amanda Collin, who is quite excellent) is fascinating, an androgynous android that back on Earth was a weapon of mass destruction, a Necromancer that destroys with its voice, the android of Lang’s Metropolis transformed into an Angel of Death. Now mysteriously reprogrammed to nurture and protect its cargo of twelve human embryos and the children they grow into, she is aided by her companion, a lesser, servant-model android named ‘Father’ (Abubakar Salim, who possibly steals the show). ‘Mother’ is initially protective as intended, but falls back into her old destructive ways when her wards are threatened by a Mithraic colony ship arriving at this New World, her powers terrifying both children and enemies alike.

The mysteries are endless: who reprogrammed ‘mother’, what is the history of this new world and the skeletons of giant snakes that litter the landscape, what are the unnatural circular shafts that plunge into the depths, the odd voices characters begin to hear, the mysterious artefacts of alien origin that are found… yeah its all mystery box piled upon mystery box, and unwisely the series begins to unwrap some of these boxes, each one proving a confounding disappointment, increasingly riddled with inconsistencies. Why is no-one alarmed at signs of alien life or remnants of apparent alien intelligence? Are Mother’s virtual meetings with her creator truly the resurfacing of deleted memories or are they a fabricated deception created by some entity of Kepler 22b, manifested later as the giant snake? And how do Mother and Father survive plunging down into what is presumably the molten core of the planet, through and out the other side (as patently ridiculous as it sounds, it makes the Hollow Earth of Godzilla vs Kong seem almost pedantic).

Its actually alarming to see a show that begins with such promise collapse so very quickly- its like seeing all three seasons of Westworld condensed into a single season, and I cannot imagine where it will take us with season two (just finished filming, apparently). That’s if I stick around for season two, of course. I was enjoying the first half of this season but began to rapidly lose interest during the second half, the finale proving totally unsatisfying, typically dropping hints and leaving arcs for season two to attempt to resolve (or just tangle up even more). Even as a fan of Babylon 5, I am getting so tired of the teasing of revelations and answering questions with more questions: just tell the goddam story.

The future of Disc packaging is nerfed

My copy of the third season of Westworld on 4K UHD arrived today- and its never been clearer how physical product of films and television shows on disc is becoming less and less of an interest to studios and distributors. Remember the glory days of any HBO series on disc? The ill-fated series Rome on Blu-ray actually came in ornate wooden boxes (so fancy they still take a pride of place on my shelf all these years later), the first few series of Game of Thrones came in fancy sets embellished with clear plastic slips with printed sections and embossed cases… over the years with each season those GOT sets became less fancy, but nowhere is the decline of disc packaging more obvious than with Westworld

The first season came in a fancy tin. The second season in a less-impressive, but still fairly quality, embossed slipcase with a sturdy digipack. The third season? A standard 4K Amaray case inside a very slightly laminated, suspiciously thin cardboard slipcase. Over in the States, fans are moaning about the packaging but at least their case seems to be lenticular and embossed, indicating some limited effort which is more than our cheapo edition (well, I say ‘cheapo’ but I note the price of the set hasn’t been reduced compared to earlier seasons when they came out). 

There was a time when physical product was something of a premium product, certainly compared to digital downloads, but I’m afraid some kind of parity is coming, although again I note that parity does not extend to the price. Oh well, sign of the times, I suppose, but all the same, poor show HBO/Warner.

Mind, I suppose I should just be thankful I get the series on a physical 4K set at all (we never got a 4K Watchmen series or 4K Chernobyl), so hey, I’m not going to complain too hard, for fear that season four when it eventually comes in a few years turns out to be digital-only, but I’ll just close my eyes a moment and remember the good old days of 2010 – 2015. Some may cast their memories further back than that, there have been some lovely imaginative examples of disc packaging over the years, especially during the DVD glory days, but I guess those days are long gone now. You just have to look at my three seasons of Westworld in my shelf. They actually look like they come from three entirely different tv shows. 

Be careful the endings you wish for?

fugitiveWe were over my mother-in-law’s yesterday delivering the weeks groceries (she’s shielding during the Covid 19 troubles – yes there’s another dishonourable mention for that bugger we’re all so weary of), when during a commercial break there was a spot announcing the commencement of a complete re-run of the old 1960s tv series The Fugitive, which starred David Janssen.  I asked if that series -immensely popular at the time- ever had a proper ending. Turns out, it did- a two-part finale at the end of its fourth season concluded the series with an actual ending, which was quite unusual at the time. Television shows used to come and suddenly just go, when ratings suffered enough to warrant a show’s cancellation. The crew of the Enterprise never completed their five-year mission in Star Trek,  the family Robinson never returned to Earth (or found Alpha Centauri) in Lost in Space, the two doctors trapped in time in The Time Tunnel never found their way back home either.  Fans of these shows and so many others would be just left hanging; their investment in the shows frustrated by open endings.

Its something which we thankfully are usually spared these days. Babylon 5 had an ending, the BSG reboot did, Fringe did, Lost did… Game of Thrones did. Of course, sometimes fans didn’t get the endings they wished for- Game of Thrones being the most obvious example of a show that didn’t stick the landing (and indeed in that particular case the crash proved particularly ugly). Part of the morbid pleasure of sticking with shows these days is the oddly perverse pleasure of seeing how they finally end, whether its a satisfactory conclusion or not. Partly that was why I stuck with The Walking Dead through some nine seasons, until I realised that thing is NEVER going to end, but yeah, surely one of the main reasons to stick with Westworld is to just see how they manage to wrap all that up.

Mind, the movies are catching up- just look how satisfyingly Disney concluded the Skywalker Saga with The Rise of Skywalker… Maybe those 1960s tv shows were onto something.

Seeking Westworld Fidelity

mibLast night I rewatched the last episode of Westworld season two. With season three coming in just a few weeks, I thought that as its been nearly two years now since the second season originally aired, I could do with a refresher to get me up to speed. Ideally I should watch both season one and two beforehand, and maybe I’ll still have a go at that, but with everything else going on, the odds against managing a complete rewatch are huge, so I went with the season two finale.

Silly me. Of course it was confusing. The episode tied up many of the various threads running through that season, but naturally on its own it left me floundering, clutching at what I could still remember from the series when I first watched it. As I remember, even when it first aired with the season fresh in my memory, it rather confused me. But it did manage a very good tease for the third season.

Westworld is a very good sci-fi show. Its perhaps a little too convoluted and obtuse for its own good, the play-through of several timelines concurrently often more confusing than illuminating, but I really do admire the ambition of the show. I like having to work at stuff. I find it challenging and refreshing. I have high hopes that the third season will reward my faith in it, and certainly the trailers have looked very promising. I’m reminded of Fringe, in that Westworld seems to be transforming into a different show entirely to the one it was when it began. I find that exciting.

The coda at the end of the episode was as fun and compelling as I remembered. We are in some (possibly far-distant) future, in which The Man In Black (a genuinely fantastic Ed Harris, its worth watching this show for him alone) is in some dusty ruins under the park, being interrogated by his daughter Emily, who he killed in an earlier season two episode. Death isn’t necessarily death in Westworld, as we have learned before- indeed, a secret purpose to Westworld was delivering immortality for the filthy rich who could afford it (shades of another genre curio, Altered Carbon, there). A subject’s intellect is captured and stored, and then placed into a ‘host’ simulacrum body and tested repeatedly for ‘fidelity’. The idea is that the restored individual thinks they are real and not a copy- once they begin to suspect the reality, the intellect rejects its situation and fails, breaks down, goes insane. The word ‘fidelity’ in the context used here is perfect but chilling, and the standout episode of the season (and one I really must rewatch) concerns the attempts over several decades of testing to restore James Delos, the owner of the Delos corporation whose quest for immortality was the real force behind the Westworld theme park and its research into AI. That particular episode was brilliant, and there are shades of it here. The Man In Black asks his dead daughter “How many times have you tested me?”, to which she replies “It’s been a long time, William. Longer than we thought. I have a few questions for you. The last step’s a baseline interview to allow us to verify.”

“Verify what?” he asks, no doubt suspecting, to which she answers, simply and chillingly, “Fidelity.”

Alas, this last episode of Westword is not enough for me; I haven’t sufficient fidelity to jump into season three just yet. More episodes will be necessary, no doubt, if I can find the time. Which strikes me as a little funny- time is everything in Westworld, character arcs happening in different timelines, and the mortal humans racing against time and death. Here’s me, challenged by time to re-watch this series- as many characters in the show do, I fear I have left it too late.

 

Trailer Madness: The Expanse Season Four etc

Comic-con hit San Diego last weekend and lots of trailers and teasers hit the net. I particularly enjoyed the footage Amazon dropped of season four of The Expanse: a five-minute sequence from one of the episodes and a teaser proper featuring highlights from the season. It looks like it’s going to be great, although Amazon likely disappointed many by revealing that the season isn’t going to be released until mid-December. While it will no doubt prove a great Christmas present to us fans, it leaves us with a longer wait than we might have expected. Perhaps there is still a lot of post-production work still to be done (it’s easy to forget, considering the scale of something like this show, how tricky and time-consuming it must be to pull off).

Other trailers of note included an expanded one for Westworld Season Three, which won’t arrive until next year. After the mixed season two, I have cautiously high hopes that season three will be a return to form- it certainly is ripe with all sorts of possibilities. Although the second season had its issues it was still one of the most interesting things I watched last year. I have both seasons on disc and keep trying to find the time to watch them, its infuriating really, but there is just so much to watch these days it gets so tricky to manage the time enough to rewatch stuff. Have we ever had it as good as we do now, all this genre stuff out there? Probably just as well I have little current interest in ever subscribing to Disney+ when it (eventually) reaches these shores- something just has to give.

Amazon have announced that season four of The Man in the High Castle will arrive in November and that this will be the final season, promising a proper conclusion to the series. As I have yet to watch season three, I guess that means I’ll be watching that in October to prepare for the final season, and squeezing that in before The Expanse arrives December.  I’ve enjoyed The Man in the High Castle very much, although I’ve found it a more intellectually satisfying exercise than an emotional one, leaving me some sense of distance from it (hence why I’ve not watched season three yet). Which reminds me, I still have the latest season of Outlander to watch. Crikey. Maybe it’s just as well The Expanse isn’t coming until December afterall.

 

Westworld Season Two, Episode Ten

west10Interesting thought- none of the characters, I believe, that we see at the very end of this episode- Delores, Bernard, or Charlotte, are the same people that we saw last season, or even midway through this one; they are copes, duplicates, replacements, Delores and Bernard literally newly rebuilt and hints left that Maeve herself will be soon rebuilt/resurrected back on the island  There must also be some doubt regards MIB William in the coda, too- clearly a host himself now in some unspecified future, as is his daughter Emily, who we saw him murder the week before but here interrogates him for fidelity (always think of Blade Runner‘s VK test with that). What is human? What is real? What, for that matter, of death in this brave new era of immortals?

So we come to the grand finale of a fairly troubled season two, and surprisingly, I do believe they pulled it off – I rather suspected it would be difficult for them to create a satisfying conclusion that would manage to tie most of everything up, but yes, they pretty much managed it. Indeed, it delivered one of those lovely endings that promised all new possibilities for season three but also got me eager for the eventual disc release so I can re-watch this second season and piece it all together with the perspective of hindsight. Indeed, it has me reaching for my season one set that I didn’t manage to watch prior to the second season aired. So I guess job done on all fronts really. Rather reminds me of season finales of Babylon 5 back in the good old days

Westworld has come a long way, when you think about it, and now that I look back across the last ten episodes, its quite an achievement. What impressed me most with this finale is the sheer bravura of it, killing so many characters and concluding quite a number of arcs that I feared they would be tempted to stretch out longer. Indeed, they even managed to get certain hosts out of the theme park altogether, and into the ‘real world’, suggesting all sorts of intriguing possibilities for season three and pushing things forward considerably, something I wouldn’t have expected for another season or two yet.

Setting up Delores and Bernard as opposites, their conflicting worldviews no doubt leaving them as rivals with the possible fate of humanity at stake. Each of them strangers in a strange land, simulacra in the world of real humans. Potentially Delores inhabiting two bodies at once- her newly resurrected normal body and that of the Charlotte duplicate.

I loved all that stuff in the Forge with the A.I. in the guise of poor Logan (a nod to the Architect in the Matrix, surely) explaining its high-concept reasoning about humanity and our natural limitations/algorithms that cast doubt on our own freewill. All that virtual world stuff. Its great. So too was that paradise that some of the hosts managed to escape to- a place I suspect we may yet revisit in the future (should have known that great premise of the Cradle wouldn’t be discarded for long). It rather raises all sorts of questions regards the nature of reality/identity, again, shades of the Matrix films, certainly. And of course we had further questions on what is human. So many layers within layers seem to grace this show, realities within realities with these simulated virtual worlds, so much so I began to wonder if everything we were watching was itself a simulation;  a surprisingly intellectual science-fiction series- yes, confusing, infuriating, confounding but also exhilarating and thought-provoking.

On the whole, while it wasn’t perfect I think it was a worthy follow-up to the first season, and really, season three has been set-up with so much promise, I can hardly wait. I rather suspect that if ever this show runs for five seasons, by that last season the show will be unrecognizable from how season one began.

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…

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.

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.