Westworld: The Order Emerging From the Chaos
Last Sunday HBO premiered the first episode of the second season of Westworld. Our favorite robots are back, and this time, unfortunately for the guests/humans, they are the ones in charge of the park. I will not spend any time here trying to recap the episode, or go over some of the many theories that surround the show. For that, you can always read to the excellent coverage of Joanna Robinson at Vanity Fair, who also hosts a podcast unpacking every little detail of each episode.
Since this is a blog in which I write about religion and philosophy in popular culture, let me focus on what the premiere of season 2 has to say about the journey that the hosts may take in their path to self-awareness, or to put it in religious terms, liberation.
Dolores as Nietzsche’s Übermensch
I have already written about this, but one of the main concepts that helps understand Dolores’ journey in season one and her transformation into Wyatt, is Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch, or the superman (or superhuman) as described in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra. To Nietzsche, the Übermensch, is what he calls “the meaning of the earth” the being that fulfills and supersedes man’s destiny:
“Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!”
One of the main arcs of the first season, if not the main arc, was the transformation of Dolores into Wyatt, the ruthless, violent liberator of the hosts. After much struggle, Dolores gains self-awareness, and she is transformed from a robot into a superior kind of being. To use Nietzsche’s terminology, she stops being a slave (a host) and becomes a master. In Nietzsche, an important aspect of becoming an Übermensch is the refusal of Christian notions of a heavenly afterlife in search of the true meaning of this world. In the world of Westworld, Dolores rejects the slave morality (her condition as a enslaved robot) imposed onto her by humans, and decides to become the master of her own destiny, even if doing so means the destruction of the previous master class (humans). As we saw in the last episode of season 1, and in the premiere of season 2, the show seems to take too literal a interpretation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch that is scarily similar to the one the Nazis made of Nietzschean ideology, since becoming the Übermensch for Dolores implies the extermination of humans. The Übermensch Dolores does not only become a savior, she also becomes a tyrant. As she tells Teddy in the premiere, she is not only interested in conquering the worlds of the various parks, but she also knows that in order for the robots to survive, they have to go onto the world of humans and destroy them. For Dolores, it is a zero-sum game in which humans and robots cannot co-exist. She even takes this a step further and starts killing some of the host who she does not deem worthy of the future she envisions.
The tension between humans and hosts in the show seems to overlap with the master-slave morality that Nietzsche describes in The Genealogy of Morality and Beyond Good and Evil. Humans act in the park according to the master morality: they impose their will onto others and onto the world regardless of the consequences. We see this in Logan and ultimately William when he becomes the Man in Black. The hosts operate according to the slave morality: they are submissive and kind, and they try to please the guests/humans. A key in Nietzsche’s thought though is that the slave mentality deals with the master morality by developing “re-sentiment” (this is a technical term in Nietzsche), a type of subversive emotion that resents the power the masters have and the slaves do not. We see this clearly in Dolores and Maeve, who end up subverting this morality and embracing the master morality themselves. This is obviously a great simplification of Nietzsche’s ideas (probably one of the most misunderstood thinkers in the history of philosophy), but I think these ideas do help illuminate the tension between the different senses of morality of the guests and the hosts in the show.
Maeve as an alternative to Dolores
This season, Maeve seems to offer an alternative to Dolores’ path of liberation for the robots. While Dolores is shooting and hanging humans left and right (to Teddy’s horror), Maeve takes a more subtle, compassionate path (even though she will kill when she has to). She is intent in going back to the park in search of her long lost daughter, a robot that was given to her in an old storyline. While Dolores wants to overcome not only being a robot, but any trace of human behavior programed onto her, Maeve wants to overcome being a host by embracing human qualities, like love, and compassion, not by rejecting them. For Dolores, liberation it’s an upward journey, one that takes her beyond what she is right now. For Maeve it is an inward journey, one that takes her into exploring those human qualities that were only a program before, but are a choice for her now. She does not need to go find “her child,” she wants to.
Is Bernard Victor Frankenstein?
The journey that is not clear to me is that of Bernard. He begins the episode as an unreliable narrator, as one who doesn’t seem to remember what happened between the massacre the ended season 1, and his rescue by the security forces of Delos that arrived to the park two weeks later and shown at the beginning of season 2. He ends the episode by claiming that a whole bunch of hosts that have appeared dead in a lake in the park were all killed by him, but it is not clear why. My guess at this point is that over the two week period between those two events, Bernard has realized the danger that the hosts are posing not only to humanity but to other hosts, and he has decided to terminate them. Like Victor Frankestein, he is horrified of his creation and becomes painfully aware that the only way to end this horror, is by killing his own creation. Now, I am aware that Bernard is a host/robot himself, but within the narrative of the show, he behaves for all intents and purposes as a human and, in fact, he thought he was a human for most of season 1 until Ford reveal to him that he was a robot.
Alright, this were some preliminary thoughts after watching the premiere. What do you think?