Why ‘Westworld’ Doesn’t Earn Its Cynical View of Humanity

     June 26, 2018

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Spoilers ahead for everything in Westworld through the end of Season 2.

The second season of Westworld came to a close last night, and while there are still loads of questions to ask and theories to devise, one constant of the show – especially in its second season – is that the showrunners have a fairly bleak view of humanity. They have essentially given up on us and cast their interest on the hosts. The logic goes that because the guests treated the hosts like chattel, humanity deserves the retribution it receives. That dim view of our species was further hammered home in “The Passenger,” which sees humanity as a failed waypoint in evolutionary development, with hosts as the next stage and worthy of becoming the dominant species. However, because Westworld spends so much time mythologizing and world-building, it forgot to make the case for why hosts rule and humans drool, instead relying on a couple “good” hosts, some lazy sociology, and strawman villains. And even if Westworld had somehow earned its cynical stance on humanity, that’s not really the best view to take right now.

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Image via HBO

Defenders of the hosts will likely point to Maeve and Akecheta as the reason for the hosts to become the dominant species. They were both able to break free from their loops, and evolve (thanks in part to the graciousness of their creator/god-figure Ford) so that they were driven by love: Maeve for her daughter and Akecheta for his wife (I’ll give you a shiny nickel if you know the name of the daughter or the wife without looking it up). These relationships work in the broad strokes of a driving force for the plot. Even “Kiksuya,” arguably the best episode of the series thus far, has to take Akecheta’s love story for his wife and load it down with explainers on how the mythology functions. There’s more time devoted to why the maze symbol appears in scalps than anything specific to Akecheta’s romance. In the world Westworld, love isn’t something that has specificity as much as it provides character motivation.

This kind of generalization isn’t too surprising when you see the rudimentary view of humanity revealed in the “The Passenger,” in which The System, represented by Logan, says that humans don’t change and are fairly basic. Even if you agree with the fact that humans are relatively simple creatures, the notion that people don’t change is utterly ridiculous. There are some people who do, and some people who don’t. As people grow older, they become more fixed in their ways, and others change drastically. Broad generalizations make for easy drama, but Westworld never makes its case, simply taking the view of a snotty Sociology 101 student. But the fact that people change is a core facet of humanity, and one of the reasons we have conflicts and our relationships change. Additionally, some aspects of us change and others remain the same. To view it as binary is to miss the nuances of humanity.

And humanity seems to be something that the showrunners don’t really understand, setting it up as a villain rather than a concept worth exploring in detail. Is there any character who represents the depth of humanity on Westworld? Not really. That kind of care and detail is provided to some of the hosts, but most humans are just callous villains who want to take advantage. Even a “good” human like Elsie realizes that she has to remain on the top of the food chain. But that’s also because of the way she’s written. Despite multiple episodes of her spending time with Bernard, they never bond or form a real connection. It’s a strawman argument, which prevents us from feeling conflicted outside of “I’m a human, so I like humans.” But there’s not a single human character on the show where you care about their fate and feel conflicted about the host uprising, a fact that drained Dolores’ arc of its tension and simply made her a bloodthirsty maniac minus the cost of bloodshed.

Television