On Westworld, the Gods Are in Heaven But Nothing’s Right With the World

On Westworld, the Gods Are in Heaven But Nothing’s Right With the World
Photo: John Johnson/HBO

After last week’s stunning, mind-bending episode, Westworld could have taken it easy this week. But after its lacklustre third season, the show has returned to its roots of heady, thoughtful science fiction, and clearly has no intention of pulling up and retreating. While tonight’s episode isn’t as thrilling as last week’s instalment, it’s enough because it focuses on the season’s biggest mystery: what the hell is going on with Christina?

On Westworld, the Gods Are in Heaven But Nothing’s Right With the World

An immediate caveat for anyone who reads these recaps without watching the episode: “Zhuangzi” doesn’t fully explain What the Hell Is Going on With Christina™, but it does reveal that the nature of her reality — as many have guessed — isn’t strictly real. We’ll get to that momentarily, because she’s not the only one to have the disconcerting revelation that what they perceived was their reality isn’t strictly real either.

Basically, everyone in “Zhuangzi” is having an existential crisis, and I love it. That begins with Hale (aka the Core of Dolores at her most twisted and human-hating), who discovers the world she made, the world she controls, where she’s more or less omniscient and omnipotent, is also boring. She can make the 99 per cent or so of humans she’s infected do her bidding and dance until they drop, form a chair for her to sit on, or play the piano until their fingers literally start falling apart. But you can only do that for a while before it loses its lustre, and Hale has been controlling things for 23 years (barring any additional time shenanigans Westworld pulls later).

Additionally, Hale’s new world hasn’t worked out exactly like she’d hoped. Her plan was to create more Hosts and send them out into the world to live with the goal that they’d later choose to leave their bodies behind and “ascend” into… something. But it turns out that most of the Hosts prefer to stay in the, for lack of a better term, real world. They’re content to live their lives. It probably doesn’t hurt that Hale, in a very impressive act of revenge, turned an entire city into a Westworld-style park for Hosts to play in. The humans are even programmed into predetermined loops, set paths that they repeat every day, just as the Hosts had been. Now, they’re the ones who can do anything they want to their former oppressors… within a certain amount of reason.

Photo: John Johnson/HBOPhoto: John Johnson/HBO

But Hale’s utopia/dystopia has a bigger, and more dangerous, problem. Outliers, humans who suddenly become immune to Hale’s fly-goo-based mind control, crop up from time to time, see the Tower, realise they’ve been living in a false reality that no one else perceives, and have one of those existential crises I mentioned earlier. Hale has traditionally sent assorted Hosts to shoot them for sport, but now the Hosts that talk to these Outliers end up killing themselves days later. So when a new one pops up, Hale sends her minion William, aka the Host-in-Black to take them out.

Unfortunately, William has been having an existential crisis of his own. The episode starts with him at dinner with two humans who have no idea what they’re dealing with — especially because William has ordered them to believe they’re all old friends. When one of the guests starts talking about how he had a little help from his rich family but climbed to the top based on his own hard work, William calls him out for believing in a false reality. And then William explains the “reality” of their dinner is fake, because these “old friends” don’t even know his name. And on top of that, their lives are fake, as they have no free will thanks to Hale.

It seems to be occurring to William that nothing is real and he might not have any free will himself. He (and most of the other Hosts running about) were made by Hale based on her code; they’re acting and feeling as Hale has essentially told them to. William’s discomfort grows because over the years, she’s become increasingly disappointed with her main minion. She asks him to find a new Outlier that has popped up and not fuck up by listening to the woman.

William fucks up and listens to the woman talk about the strange peace that comes after finally figuring out the world is a lie. Before he can shoot her, J and Stubbs — who have led a small band of rebels into the city to find and rescue the Outlier — shoot him, and they and the other rebels safely abscond with her. The bullets don’t bother William, but the woman’s words do, to the point where he goes to have an unsatisfying chat with the other William, aka the Trapped Version Who May or May Not Be a Host.

Photo: John Johnson/HBOPhoto: John Johnson/HBO

Comparatively, Christina’s existential crisis is more of a positive experience. After a great date night with Teddy — who is indeed named Teddy — she scoots out of work to meet him on a pier, where he reveals “this world is a lie, a story.” But it’s a story that Christina can control, as she discovers when Teddy tells her to “rewrite” people she sees, changing their emotions, creating encounters, and more: “In this world, you’re a god.” Unfortunately, the lunch date she goes to meet after she speaks with Teddy is also a lie — it’s Hale, masquerading as Christina’s BFF.

Hale lays on a lot of sinister talk that indicates she knows what Christina’s been up to, but Christina uses her new power to cause a distraction and leave. When she returns to work, her boss calls her aside and also begins issuing decreasingly subtle threats, but Christina rewrites his story, sends him on his way, and discovers a door that hadn’t been there before. Inside, is a computerised map of the city, one highly reminiscent of the map Delos operators had of Westworld. When Christina asks it to show her the game, it simply shows the map again. And when she asks to see which inhabitants she’d written the narratives for, it turns out it’s all of them. Christina believed her job was to write the stories for non-player characters in a video game. It turns out most of that is true. She’s creating the origins and personalities and loops for the Hale-controlled humans of the city, who are worthless, meaningless NPCs compared to the Hosts. Christina’s always been working on a game. It’s just not a video game.

Earlier, when Christina met with Teddy, she finally saw the human-controlling Tower for the first time. “Who did this to me?” she asks. “You did,” he replies, which would be a very cool answer if I wasn’t 99 per cent certain he means the version of Dolores inside Hale. I can’t imagine a scenario in which the original Dolores — the Host who supposedly had her memory erased permanently and thus “died” in season three — had some kind of modified version of herself set up to create NPCs in Hale’s world. But I can very much imagine Hale, who hated Dolores, making a version of her that would unknowingly help Hale enslave humanity.

I think the bigger question is this: is Christina in the real world, or is she in a simulation of the real world that Hale is using to run the real world? As in, is Christina essentially a program that gives real-world humans their marching orders? Maybe I’m overthinking it, but her ability to control people with her mind — unlike Hale and William, who give verbal commands — feels a bit more fantastic to me than even fly-goo mind control parasite technology can hand-wave away. Plus, if she’s the god of a sim, she could have unconsciously created Teddy as one of her stories — someone would have to make a new Teddy Host in the real world, and there’s no obvious culprit for that (yet).

Better question: does it matter if Christina is in the real world or a simulation? What’s the difference between the two if Christina’s more or less in charge of them both? What’s really changing when these humans are being presented with a fake reality if their own misguided perceptions already skewed their view of reality? Is the end result truly different whether a sentient robot is dictating what you say, what you do, and how you feel — or if your genes, your biology, and your past experiences are doing the dictating? Who’s in control? Does a true reality even exist, or it just a perception?

Westworld doesn’t have the answers, obviously. But I’m very excited it’s asking the questions.

Photo: John Johnson/HBOPhoto: John Johnson/HBO

Assorted Musings:

  • Hosts can “use, not waste” the humans in the “game.” I don’t think that’s because the Hosts have a superior morality to the monstrous humans who were guests as Westworld, but because once a human gets killed they can’t be rebuit.
  • So I guess the machine Hale has been keeping Maybe-William in has kept him alive and from ageing for the past 23 years? Or is this just a real obvious sign he’s a Host as well? I don’t think Westworld does obvious like that. It’s notable that Maybe-William says “jury’s still out on that” when questioned about his status.
  • When Christina goes to work, she starts writing the same damn narrative about Dolores’ life in Westworld without seeming to realise she’s repeating herself. I think she might be in a loop of her own — but if she is, when she did write the stories for all the people in the city?
  • She does search for two specific people in the city/game — Charlotte Hale and Dolores Abernathy, neither of whom are found. I’m racking my brain to try and remember if Christina has been told that name before, and I don’t think she has. Presumably, she’s given the name to the girl in the rural narrative scenario she keeps writing?

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