God is Dead, Crowns of Thorns, and The Jerusalem Cross: Religion in Westworld Season 2 Episode 2

Dolores resurrecting the dead, Angela wearing a Jesus-like crown of thorns, references to The Valley of Beyond, and what’s up with that mysterious cross pattern all over Arnold’s house? There are plenty of great recaps (Joanna Robinson at Vanity Fair is my favorite), podcasts (she also does a great job podcasting the show here and here) and reddit pages dissecting all the minutia of the episode, so I will not do that here. Instead, I will focus on some of the philosophical and religious motifs that appeared in the episode. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list (feel free to add to it in the comments section), but just a few of the ones that call my attention.

The Jerusalem Cross in Arnold’s House

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One of the most puzzling symbols found in the episode (and one for which I have not found any mentions online) is what I think it might be a Jerusalem Cross, or, to be more precise, a Jerusalem Cube. We see it when Arnold takes Dolores to the house he is building for his family. The house is filled with blocks drilled with Greek crosses surrounded by four dots. It could be dismissed as a flight of fancy by the creators of the show, but the symbol is so pervasive, and Dolores is so taken by them (she touches one) that, my guess, is that it means something at least symbolically in the show.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 11.26.19 AM

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the Jerusalem Cross, which can be defined as

a major symbol used in Christianity, representing Christ’s command to spread the Gospel around the world beginning in Jerusalem. The symbol is basically composed of 5 crosses; 1 large central cross with 4 smaller crosses in each quadrant. It is also often referred to as the Crusader’s Cross and less frequently as the Cantonee Cross. The Crusaders used the Jerusalem Cross as an emblem; bearing the symbol on the papal banner given to them by Pope Urban II.

https://www.ancient-symbols.com/symbols-directory/jerusalem-cross.html

This symbol probably has even more ancient roots, as you can see in this post here that shows images of similar patterns in pre-Christian religions all over the world. Now, I am ware that the symbol in Arnold’s house is not a Jerusalem Cross surrounded by four other crosses, but dots, but if you look at the history of the symbol, I think it is close enough (open to alternatives here!).

But as I said, the symbol is not really a Jerusalem Cross but a Jerusalem Cube. The always useful Wikipedia defines it as “a fractal object described by Eric Baird in 2011. It is created by recursively drilling Greek cross-shaped holes into a cube. The name comes from a face of the cube resembling a Jerusalem cross pattern.” [Wikipedia]

Jerusalem_Cube
A Jerusalem Cube, a particular iteration of the Menger Sponge

To be honest, I am not sure what it actually means, but if I had to guess, I would look at it from two different perspective. First, fractals are nature’s way of bringing order out of chaos, which as you can see in the poster below, seems to be one of the main themes of the season.

westworld-season-2-poster

Second, at a symbolic level, it may refer to Arnold’s idea of Westworld not as a park, but as some sort of holy place, a New Jerusalem of sorts. Arnold doesn’t think of the hosts as toys, but as the future of humanity or even its salvation (he keeps making comments to Dolores about how humans may not deserve the beauty of our world).  There is a prophecy that presents New Jerusalem, as “cube-shape,” New Jerusalem is, in the Book of Ezekiel:

“a prophetic vision of a city centered on the rebuilt Holy Temple, the Third Temple, to be established in Jerusalem, which would be the capital of the Messianic Kingdom, the meeting place of the twelve tribes of Israel, during the Messianic era.”

Wikipedia

So is this a symbol of Bernard of what the hosts and Westworld mean to him, order out of chaos? That’s my guess for now.

The Crown of Thorns and Liberation Through Suffering

angela crown

One of Dolores companions (I am so tempted to use the term apostles here!) is Angela, who we saw in the first season as the host who receives William into the park. Now she has become one of the thugs/companions that is helping Dolores carry out her mission. In a detail that is not discussed in the show (at least I did not see it), she is wearing a crown of thorns, like the one Jesus wore the day of his crucifixion to cause him pain, but also to mock him for the claim that he was King of the Jews:

‘And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee and mocked him, saying Hail, King of the Jews!’

Gospel of Matthew 27:29

jesus-christ-with-crown-of-thorns-carrying-the-cross
El Greco (1580) Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Why is Angela wearing it? I am not sure, since she doesn’t seem to be the Messiah in Westworld, but I think it seems to be appropriate when you consider that Angela follows who she thinks is the Messiah.

Revenge is Just a Different Prayer at the Altar… and I am Well off my Knees

westworld-reunion
Dolores/Wyatt meets Dolores: Two paths to the future?

One of the most powerful scenes in this “Reunion” episode is the meeting of Dolores/Wyatt and Maeve. As I said in a previous post, they both represent different possibilities for the future of the hosts. Dolores/Wyatt is in a path of war and revenge. She is righteous (self-righteous?), and she is convinced that the only way to be free is to destroy humanity so the hosts can have a future. To her, the hosts are, so to speak, a superior race, they are not the future of humanity, they supersede humanity. Maeve wants to embrace some human aspects that have been taken away from her or that she could only act as part of her programming. That’s why she is in search of her daughter. Her daughter is not only her salvation, but what she instinctelcy sees as the future of the hosts. They can co-exist with humans, as a new species, as one in which feelings, emotions, and the power of technology can coexist. Two paths, two very different destinies for the hosts.

In this scene, Dolores asks Maeve to join her, in order to satiate her revenge against humans. But Maeve doesn’t want to follow that path, as she tells Dolores/Wyatt, “revenge is just a different prayer at the altar, and I am well off my knees.” In a way, she seems to be saying that Dolores is simply playing off the same script that humans have played for centuries, with nothing to show for it. Maeve wants to try a different approach. For her, salvation cannot be found in war, but in love. Dolores used to say that she chose to see the beauty in the world. Now, her rage doesn’t allow her to do that anymore. Maeve, instead, is trying to choose to see that beauty. It’s almost as if their paths have reversed.

 

Dolores Resurrecting the Dead

westworld-season-2-episode-2-review-should-have-been-the-premiere-1280x640.png
The Last Supper for the Confederados?

In this episode Dolores displays a full messiah complex. In a previous blog, I have talked about how the transformation of Dolores into Wyatt reflects Nietzsche’s idea of the ‘superman’ or the Übermensch. But here, we really see her embrace also her role with a messianic flair. She has not only overcome her past, she feels that she needs to lead the rest of the hosts to their complete emancipation.

Part of her appeal to other hosts is that she can show them the true nature of their reality and help them overcome it (as she does with Teddy in this episode, showing him the many deaths he has endured at the park). But in her new role, she also can summon the human technology that has enslaved the hosts, to free her kin, and even to bring them back from the dead. The most telling scene is the one that occurs when she visits the ‘confederados’ to enlist them into her mission. They are sitting there, last supper style, with Major Craddock at the center, and after defying Dolores/Wyatt, she kills them all, only to resurrect them like Jesus did with Lazarus. It is also interesting that, before she kills them, Dolores/Wyatt tells Teddy to forgive them since “they do not know any better,” which reminds me of Luke 23:24, when Jesus says to God “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“We have toiled in God service long enough, so I killed him”

After resurrecting Major Craddock, he seems to be in shock at the realization that he was just brought back from the dead (can you blame him?). Dolores/Wyatt uses this opportunity to present herself to him as a Messiah, one that, in her own words has killed the God that kept them enslaved in the park (she, after all, killed Robert Ford, in the finale of season 1). This brings back Nietzsche’s idea of the Death of God, which the german philosopher poetically outlined in his books The Gay Science, and Thus Spake Zarathustra:

The Parable of the Madman

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

So now that God is dead, what are we to do? Who are we to follow? This is one of the questions posed by Westworld.

Actions without Consequences?

black

One of the interesting philosophical ideas presented by Westworld, is the notion of a place in which our actions have no consequences. That is the original idea of the park, a place in which humans can indulge their deepest, darkest fantasies because they are playing with robots. If you kill or rape a robot, is that a crime? Do those acts have moral consequences? William/The Man in Black discusses this idea towards the end of the episode with Lawrence, who is going to be his journey companion in the next few episodes, only to make clear that that notion was all but a fantasy, since Delos was always watching, it was recording every act of the guests, and even collecting DNA of the visitors to the park. For what dark purpose? We still don’t know, although there are some interesting theories about it that you can read here. In the context of the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal it seems all to obvious that privacy does not exist in our modern world.
The show seems to be hinting at the idea that, ultimately, all actions have consequences, either we want or not, either if we think no one is watching or not (because there is always someone watching!).

Glory or The Valley Beyond

glory
Is this The Valley Beyond?

Towards the end of the episode there is reference to a place that some hosts call “Glory,” and some (like Teddy) call the “Valley Beyond.” William/The Man in Black, also talks about going to a place that it is important to him, and Dolores/Wyatt mentions that it is not a place but a weapon, one that she plans to use to destroy humanity (or at least to free hosts from humans). Both terms seem to have Biblical resonances of a paradise like place, a place of salvation which, ultimately, I think is what the main characters in the show are trying to achieve, some sort of ideal place or state in which all of their troubles are left behind. In a religious context, this looks very much like a soteriological goal, on a personal level, it might mean some sort of personal realization or higher understanding. Whatever this Glory of Valley Beyond is, is not revealed, but it seems clear from the episode that all of our central characters are racing to get there (with the exception of Maeve, who seems to be running, literally and metaphorically) in a very different direction.

I am sure more can be said but, remember, I have a day job that I need to get back to! Let me know if there is anything that I’ve missed, or anything you want to add.

3 thoughts on “God is Dead, Crowns of Thorns, and The Jerusalem Cross: Religion in Westworld Season 2 Episode 2

  1. As with Leftovers, you take watching Westworld to another level. I pick up on some of the symbolism on my own, but you help me tie it all together in a deeper way. Thanks for taking the time out of your day job!

    Like

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