Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: The Things we Carry

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show.
Delores remembers, and her interview takes a different turn.

If you asked someone what makes them them, or I asked you what makes you you, a fairly common response is likely to be 'memories'. From an early age, our memories shape a lot of who we are, our identities, what makes us tick.

What if those memories mean nothing?

In one (extremely nihilistic) manner, that's the case. After we're gone, so are whatever memories we have. Whatever is waiting on the other side, the stuff on this side of the great beyond ceases to be. That pill is tough enough to swallow- but what if your memories were a lie?

Westworld explores both ends of this spectrum, and a whole bunch in between. What about the emotions we attach to them? Are they real? Maeve is on a whole quest because of a memory of a daughter who has a memory of a mother who is Not Maeve. Maeve is accompanied by a outlaw who has a memory of a person he loved, but doesn't, technically, exist, so him and Maeve fall in love, which is just an emotion and makes as much sense as holding hands. Which is to say, none at all. Her Shogun-World counterpart, meanwhile, takes a page from Mary Shelly's real-life playbook, and carries her pseudo-daughter's heart around with her, delivering it to a final resting place at her home.

But those are made-up, silly things, narratives written by a simpering idiot because of his own lost love, so they're not real, right? But all our emotions are just chemical reactions, so are they really so different?

Teddy, meanwhile, has his emotional responses straight-up rewritten by Delores to better serve her purpose, and in a snap, gone is kind, compassionate Teddy, and in walks cold, calculating Teddy, who casually tosses a doomed man a pistol and single bullet, advising him to use it quickly. It seems he still has his memories, knowing full well what Delores did to him, but they mean nothing to him now - he's a changed man. Not is the way we may say it, where a traumatic event - which becomes a memory - may change us, but with the push of a button, he is literally a new person. 

But what of humanity? 'Phase Space' closes with a familiar face, one that you knew had to show up again, but what about his memories? What makes him him? Because everything that processed those memories organically was repurposed as impromptu gala decoration at the end of season one. Meanwhile, Bernard, he of the infinitely troubled memories, what with the dead son and manipulation by Ford, including the murder of his lover and imprisonment of his coworker, is recycled Arnold, along with many of those memories. But they aren't his, so whose are they?

It's a funny thing, this age we live in, where these are the questions we ask - are our memories real? What truly belongs to us? Who, in fact, are we? - perhaps they were asked before our age, but this is the first time we have to consider the implications of the answers. What's scary about Westworld, Terminator, etc, is not that they are far-fetched, but that they are close to home.

And what's closer than our memories? If what makes us isn't ours, who are we?


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.