We're confused too, Man in Black
In season one of Westworld
, the Man in Black, William, is on a quest to find the end of "the Maze," a feat he believes would lead him to a deeper understanding of the world he helped create, a sense of meaning that he had, as of yet, been missing.
The hosts try to warn him: “The Maze isn’t meant for you.” But the Man in Black persists anyway. By the end of the season, he’s left unsatisfied when he finds out they were right.
The Maze wasn’t meant for humans: It was meant for the hosts, the robots, to achieve consciousness.
After watching Sunday’s season two finale, I find myself returning to that plotline. I’m starting to relate to the Man in Black’s futile season-one quest more and more. This show wasn’t meant for us, the viewers. I know this because it’s unreasonable for the show to expect any single viewer to come away from the show knowing exactly what they just saw, besides a vague sense of a narrative buried under larger themes and ideas.
(Warning: spoilers) The surviving hosts have gone to a new world, a matrix of sorts, where they may or may not experience true freedom. Maeve, the robot, dies experiencing the most human of emotions — love for her daughter — after briefly becoming something like Neo. Delores, the robot, escapes to the actual human world in a replica of an actual human body, where she is recreating her creator, Arnold, who was a human,
but is now a robot named Bernard. The Man in Black is now a Robot-Human Hybrid in Black?
It’s confusing on purpose. We’re not meant to understand it fully. We’re meant to endlessly speculate on what it means. And like the Man in Black, we’re meant to turn toward technology for answers, toward internet forums, podcasts and
social media. That world is where we go to understand each episode, to answer questions until the next episode again raises more. That’s what this show, this Maze
, is for.
As the show kills and revives humans and robots alike, I find myself wondering why any of it matters at all. Do I really care that a robot, which can be revived according to its popularity, has died? Do I care that a human has died and become a robot? Usually, no.
That’s not to say the show isn’t occasionally excellent. It’s chilling to watch episode four of this season, “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” a poignant exploration of a powerful man stuck in a loop of his own making, going insane from his own immortality. And episode eight, “Kiksuya,” which follows a robot named Akecheta, is a good example of how the show could succeed while handling the same themes in a simpler narrative.
Like the Man in Black, I find myself looking for real stakes, real life-and-death scenarios in the show. I’ve become frustrated chasing down Westworld
narratives that seem inconsequential. I feel stuck in a show that won’t provide any answers, only more questions. And I can’t help but think that at the end, I won’t be satisfied, and I’ll remember that the show had been warning me all along.