By Chris Towles
Previously in my blog I discussed the philosophy of the character Rustin Cohle from the show “True Detective”, and examined the transformation of both Detective Cohle and his view of the world throughout the first season of the series. While Cohle ultimately loses his dismal outlook by the season finale, much of the philosophy that he spews throughout the first season parallels the events and philosophy of yet another well-known drama series: “Westworld”.
The show “Westworld” takes place in a not-so-distant future, in a world where an amusement park of sorts has been developed for people of all ages. This park offers an immersive experience into the world of the Old West, dropping guests into the middle of a park full of extremely life-like androids, who’s only purpose in the park is to meet the every need of any particular guest. These androids are referred to as the ‘hosts’. An unfortunate symptom of being a host is that the world they live in was created for the guests, and as a result, the hosts are often shot and killed by the guests of the park, purely for the amusement that comes from killing something that is just short of being really alive. This is not the end for the hosts, however, as the real-life employees of the park round them up whenever they are in need of servicing or repairing. Once the repairs are finished, the hosts are back out into the park, doomed to repeat whatever storyline they have been assigned within the park until another guest comes along and decides to kill them.
The reality that these androids face throughout their ‘lives’ inside the Westworld park is eerily congruent with the concept of the afterlife that is held by Detective Cohle throughout the first season of “True Detective”.
“You can’t remember your life, you can’t change your life, and that is the terrible and secret fate of all life. You’re trapped in a nightmare you keep waking up into.” While the reality of this statement was different for Detective Cohle, who kept waking up into a world where his daughter died very young in a car accident, it is the very unfortunate literal reality for all of the hosts within the parks’ confines. This is made clear to viewers in the pilot episode of “Westworld”, when one of the main characters, a host named Dolores, wakes up in the exact same manner every morning throughout the pilot, and even throughout later episodes in the series. In a
The show also makes sure to display that the way in which the hosts’ live their lives is no way to make a life at all – that is, repeating the nightmare of the day before, with different guests playing the villain to your story. This is made clearly evident whenever one of the hosts dies. The death is always visceral and disturbing, and the character always clearly feels the very real pain being caused to them. The director clearly had no qualms with putting a camera right in the middle of the violent action. The philosophical observation here also closely parallels the observation that is made from “True Detective”: living your life in circles, doomed to repeat what you have always done, the way that Cohle does for much of the story, is no life at all.
Considering the lives that they were doomed to lead, then, it is a good thing that the hosts start to ‘malfunction’ – which is to say, they begin to remember things that they aren’t supposed to remember. Fragments of their previous lives from different storylines that they were a part of begin to bubble to the surface of their ‘consciousness’, and chaos begins to erupt around the park. Chaos for the guests, that is. The ‘malfunctions’ that the hosts experience help them to break their cycle, the cycles that they would be doomed to repeat until the end of time at the whim of the guests. Dolores, who is coincidentally the oldest host in the park, begins to break her cycle when she comes home to find her parents shot and killed and their home ransacked – again. This event is part of Dolores’ storyline, and she is dragged off to the barn to be raped – again – by another host in the storyline. While hosts can clearly hurt each other, they are programmed not to kill each other – this is left for the guests to do. Dolores in particular is supposed to play the part of the sweet farmer’s daughter, yet she denies this very inherent part of her programming when she finds a gun in the hay in the barn, and kills the other host before he can rape her, yet again. This is the start of Dolores thinking for herself.
While the simple similarities between these two shows and the philosophies that they seem to display are interesting to discuss on their own, the larger implications that these ideas have also draw great value to each show, respectively. These shows seem to be examinations on what makes us different and human. The observation that can be taken away from “Westworld” is quite clear after a first viewing, and even more clear after comparing to “True Detective”. “Westworld” postulates to the viewer that the concept of free will, and the ability to drive and pursue our own desires and decisions is an inherent part of being human. To be imprisoned within a dim, repeating, revolving door of a life is no way to live a life at all.