Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Some People's Children

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 (Seriously, there are spoilers in this).

Happier times! ...ish

No family is perfect. Hopefully makes you feel better about your family, because these people take the normal, everyday idiosyncrasies that make Thanksgiving slightly awkward and dials it up to 11.

There has been a theory making the rounds since William didn't murder Lawrence and his family (this time) that this is a sign of good in him. While he is definitely a complex character, Vanishing Point put any thoughts of that to rest, along with his wife and daughter. It's that wife, the un-subtly named Juliet, and their daughter Emily, that I want to talk about.

Juliet, though never seen in the flesh in Season One, appears in a photo that drives much of the plot. We see the bookend to Vanishing Point, the beginnings of William's detachment from the real world, and from Juliet, before he even marries her. The start of the darkness within him, reflected in the change in his headwear in Season One. In Season Two, we do see glimpses of good, but that's really all they are - a small amount of light shining through the cracks.

But if Westworld is all about living out fantasy without consequence, if the Hosts are really just unfeeling robots, are his actions that bad? That's the question at the heart of the character; he visits violence and evil on things put there for that express purpose, so are they really evil?

But let's step back here, because Vanishing Point does something that a lot of fiction does, that is a sort of played-out evil. The dead wife/mother/child of our straight, white, male protagonist (SWMP), her death serving as his motivation and reason he is generally surly, with lots of demons in his tortured soul. Granted, there's a reason this gets used a lot- seeing/having your family murdered/dead of cancer/whatever would definitely mess me up, and I am already grouchy most of the time. But seriously, fiction is full of dead families in the service of backstory.

Juilet is dead, more or less from the get-go (although time is pretty subjective in the show), and the reveal of her death comes before we actually know it was her, just that he had the run-of-the-mill Dead Wife Backstory (DWB). Eventually, we find that it is the very same woman from the photo, the one William fell in love with, then subsequently out of love with in favor of Delores, yet married after his transformation in order to get deeper into the Delos Corporation. Still a DWB, but at least it has some depth to it.

I wonder if it was by design, or if they retconned it in Season Two (Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan never invite me to their parties), but it's given added depth by the exploration of what lead to her suicide, alongside the reappearance (for William) of his daughter. This is the part of the DWB where some new damsel in distress needs the SWMP to emerge from his gloom and save her, after which they live happily ever after, or something.

Only Emily is no damsel in distress, but rather, her quest is to get her father to face some manner of justice for what he truly is. There is no redemption arc here, no breaking William from his shell. Just him answering the question of if what he did in fantasy mattered in reality, as he grasp on reality is either severed or ignored.

So if you are going to off a family in the service of story, make it really matter to the story.

It would be really nice if I could end it there, and say Westworld nails it and breaks the mold of so many pieces of entertainment that slaughter women and kids for backstory, but we spent a really big part of Season One with Arnold/Bernard's family having been killed offscreen. Maeve both experiences her daughter dying, dying alongside her (at the hands of William), AND has her daughter being actually alive. Lawrence ultimately awakens and tries to kill William because William killed his family (at least once).

Maybe in the ever-increasing body count of Westworld it doesn't matter; it's not even ineffective. At least it all serves to pain the picture of the Man in Black as evil and twisted, rather than a brooding anti-hero.

So next time you're annoyed with your family, just be glad they weren't killed off in the service of your backstory.