If we were to ask ourselves which character is the real heart of Westworld, who would we say? The focus has certainly been on Dolores, but she has become as much of an extreme (the destruction of humanity) as the park guests (the degradation of the hosts). Not a lot of heart and warmth there.
Bernard? Too scatter brained, too liable to snap.
William? Forget about it.
No, the real heart of Westworld is, and always has been, Maeve. There’s a real warmth to her, a real compassion behind the sass. The love for her daughter was real, passionate. Genuine. That’s why I was excited to see that Westworld S3E2 was to revolve around Maeve. And it was a very easy hour to spend in her company, which is to the show’s credit. In fact, I applaud the show’s more streamlined approach this season.
But although this approach has eliminated the complexities that semi-hampered the show’s second season, there were a few observable gaps in the code this week that raised a concern or two about the finer details of the show’s storytelling. Let’s begin where we left off last week: in Nazi-occupied Italy. Or a version of it, at least…
Maeve, Warworld and Two Familiar Faces
I imagine it must be quite disconcerting, to say the least, to have breathed your last on a trolley in a loading bay and then wake up under siege by the Nazis. Luckily for Maeve, there’s a friendly face to guide her through her strange, reincarnated existence.
Hector suits the suave, Mediterranean look, except he’s no longer Hector—he’s now Ettore (the Italian version of “Hector”) and Maeve is Isabella. They’re also talking at cross-purposes. Whilst they both talk of escape, Maeve is talking about the world beyond the park, whereas Hector just wants to get away from the Nazis—as if he has never known Maeve outside of Isabella, and has no recollection of life outside of Westworld.
And of course, he doesn’t. Not this Hector. Because this is not the real world. It’s not even the fantasy of the park. Maeve is in a simulation of the park.
How can she tell? It’s not Hector who gives the game away. Maeve, with a heavy heart, just assumes he’s been recoded and stripped of his self-awareness and memories. It’s the reappearance of a man that really should be dead that gives Maeve an inkling that all is not as it should be.
Enter stage left, Mr. Lee Sizemore.
A Man Misread
After straddling “death” once more, Maeve comes back around behind the scenes at the park, surrounded by technicians repairing her. So far, so normal. Except no-one recognises her. Not even Felix or Sylvester (although I’m sure Sylvester would be glad to rid himself of her memory!).
In fact, Maeve is perhaps seconds from either hurting herself or being shot by security for being a rogue host when Sizemore hobbles in to intervene, cane in hand, apparently still suffering from being gunned down. Surely he couldn’t have survived?
He didn’t, and Maeve may suspect so, but she trusts Sizemore for now. For one, he’s supposedly human and therefore still remembers her, not having had his memories wiped.
He reveals how the company paid for him to be fixed up, which partly explains why he is still working for them. But he is also still here so he can help Maeve. He knows, as do we all, that the data of those who went through the Door is still being stored at the Forge—maybe Maeve can still reunite with her daughter?
Which is all good and well, until they get to the Forge and Sizemore gets a little too precise and single-minded about his questioning. Maeve can’t answer his questions because she doesn’t really know anything about the Forge and the Door, except she saw a number of hosts go through it, including her daughter.
Understandably, Maeve is suspicious of Mr. Sizemore’s change in tack, which forces Lee to overplay his hand. He makes a pass at Maeve, revealing that their experience together in Season 2 gave him a reason to live—her. Now the penny drops. As Maeve says, Sizemore didn’t love anybody but himself, although she does kindly confirm that Sizemore did indeed change and died a good man. But this, all of it—Warworld, Sizemore, the fact nobody else recognises her—suggests she is in a simulation, or a simulation within a simulation, as a stoned yuppie type suggested in the season premiere.
The fact is, whoever created the simulation greatly misunderstood the motivations of Sizemore when he sacrificed himself to let Maeve escape. The bigger question is: who has created the simulation and for what purpose?
Maeve the Gifted
Unless the culprits reveal themselves, the only way out, Maeve assumes, is to break her way out. And this is where the episode stumbles a bit for me.
Up to this point, I was pretty happy with what was going down. But here the show demonstrates that it possibly thinks it is cleverer than it is.
Maeve, we know, has been gifted with extra levels of cognition and intelligence by Ford previously. So I appreciate that she has a substantial advantage over her opponents, host and human alike. I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, I enjoy the philosophical considerations this raises: do we have, on some subconscious level, the ability to raise our own intelligence and, if so, is it something we should do or should we leave well alone?
It came as no surprise that Maeve would look to find the code running the simulation. Makes sense. Except how do you find a code for the world all around you? Previously Maeve had been able to access the codes of other hosts and learn about their drives, narratives and abilities. Diving into the code of an entire surrounding reality, however artificial, seems a big leap to do from the inside, if not impossible. But for Maeve it takes just a few taps of a tablet device for the world to unveil its secrets to her. Either the simulation is extremely shoddy in its coding (Maeve does suggest the human coders were “lazy”), or Maeve is the ubermensch.
Despite the mental power Maeve has, I don’t always want to see her overcoming challenges easily. Yes, she does have a tendency to get killed, but I want to see her challenged in all ways. This is the basis of the majority of great storytelling: characters, through resilience, overcoming challenges.
What we got here was Maeve finding it all too easy once she realised the simulation’s code had been shoddily written. There was no challenge, which diminished the impact of what she achieved.
And then there’s how she achieved it…
The Problem of Negative One
How would you destroy a simulation? Give it the result it thinks it wants so you can trick it into self-shutdown? Enter a shutdown instruction into its code? Upload a virus into it?
I bet you never thought of asking it to work out the square root of negative one.
That a simulation sophisticated enough to produce the effect of an actual world surrounding you should be tripped up by the contradictions of the square root of negative one seems extremely unlikely. Mathematicians substitute an imaginary number (recorded as ‘i’) in place of an actual answer. That the code of a high-level simulation, however lazy the coders were, couldn’t handle or wouldn’t have something in place to deal with the square root of negative one (i.e. just accepting ‘i’ as the answer) is hard to believe.
It has been suggested that the issue was that the code was put together so lackadaisically that the system cannot handle being asked to deal with two difficult tasks at once, the second task being the throwing of the statue that freezes in mid-air. The idea that such a simple thing could disrupt the simulation to the point of destruction dilutes the impact such a strategy was clearly meant to have, as does the fact that there’s ambiguity about what exactly broke the simulation. I genuinely like the idea that the system can be confused into falling apart, but ultimately the execution feels incomplete and unsatisfactory.
Maeve then tricks the Nazis into confusion by manipulating the code to put the traitorous partisan map (which Hector was trying to smuggle out earlier) in the pocket of every soldier and calling them all traitors. Everything around Maeve freezes and she gets sight of a Forge-like site where she is plugged into the simulation. She manipulates a maintenance droid to snatch her mind and run away with it but the guards are quick enough to blast the droid into pieces.
Thankfully, though, this is not the end of Maeve.
Killer for Hire?
Reincarnated again in her way, Maeve awakens in a nice room and in a beautiful white dress. Makes a nice step up from Warworld anyway! It turns out that she’s finally arrived in the real world, and at someone’s invitation.
Now we can put a face to the name “Serac”—Vincent Cassel, in an astute demonstration of quiet smugness. I’m a big fan of Cassel and enjoyed his rapport with Maeve here. I’m looking forward to more.
Serac is one of the co-creators of Rehoboam, the artificial intelligence designed to improve human existence by looking at all of a person’s possible paths through life and choosing the best one. The major disruption to the system discussed last week had been thought by Serac to be of Maeve’s doing, but the simulation proves that it has been Dolores all along. How is Serac even aware of Dolores and Maeve? Does he have connections to Delos? Was he aware of Dolores coming to the real world? There are still a few strands to tease out here.
Having witnessed what Maeve can do, Serac wants Maeve to take out Dolores for him. Maeve is annoyed enough with the request to try to stab Serac. This is a shame because Serac seems to have the ability to freeze hosts, which he displays by freezing Maeve and disarming her. So we’re back once more to the power struggle between the human and the host. This is one struggle I’m looking forward to.
The Odd Couple
Meanwhile, everybody’s favourite moping mech Bernard has found himself back on Westworld. And he kindly settles one mystery that has been bugging the fan community since the end of the last season. Ashley is still there, but he is in a sad state, dribbling blood and cortical fluid. Yes indeed, Ashley was a host all along.
It turns out his job was to protect the hosts in the park, and with his work done he had no purpose, so he decided to self-terminate. As he explains, Ford didn’t build him with the brain capacity to search for a higher purpose.
Bernard, fortunately for him, is not lacking in the purpose department. He’s looking for Maeve, who indeed is there, in empty body if not in mind. He believes Maeve is the only one who can stop Dolores and wants to enlist her to his cause.
Instead, he is able to scan his system to see if Dolores corrupted him when bringing him back online. He can’t confirm it as he is rudely interrupted, but he can confirm that at the end of Season 2 Dolores was looking over specific people’s information—including one Liam Dempsey Jr. The plot thickens.
Before he leaves for the mainland, Bernard reconfigures Ashley so that his new directive is to protect Bernard. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship!
The question is, who will convince Maeve first to be on their side—Bernard or Serac? Join me next time where hopefully we’ll find out.
I’ll be waiting for you—in Westworld!