SciFi Weekend: Westworld, Mr. Robot, Humans, Doctor Who

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This week I’ll start with two shows which a lot of time could be spent on to interpret their full meaning–Westworld and Mr. Robot. Both deal with technology, but only one is really about robots. Westworld started out with a slow presentation of the story over the first five episodes and then a lot more happened in the last two, with another episode on tonight. Spoilers ahead related to the first seven episodes, along with fan theories which may or may not be true.  Last week’s episode Trompe L’Oeil confirmed what many of us suspected about Bernard being a host–and at times I wonder if even more characters we see as people are actually robots.

For the more casual viewers, here’s some clues to watch for which gave Bernard away, and are worth watching for regarding other characters.  Hosts are programmed not to see some doors that humans can see. Hosts are also literally blind to other things as well and it was a huge clue earlier in the season when Ford showed Bernard a picture which Bernard said didn’t look like anything. Episodes typically begin with scene involving a  host waking up for the day but they only seemed to break with this by showing Bernard waking up.  The big question remains as to whether Bernard is in the image of Arnold.

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The last episode also confirmed what was widely suspected–that Ford is evil, and provided more evidence of the theory that we are seeing at least two different timelines, with William later becoming the Man in Black. It is notable that the scenes from when William first arrived show what appears to be an older version of a Westworld logo. They both use the same knife, and they both wear collarless shirts. William’s white hat is getting dirtier, and darker, the longer he is in Westworld. We have been told that disease has been eradicated in the outside world in The Man in Black’s time, but William was asked about pre-existing health conditions when he first arrived. William’s said things to Delores in the last episode which were remarkably like what The Man in Black said in an earlier scene in the series.

The fan theories regarding William becoming the Man in Black and Bernard being a host (possibly based upon Arnold) are two of the most discussed ideas, but there are many more floating around, such as this about Mauve’s escape plan. The show also has a tremendous number of Easter eggs. Some are obvious, such as an image of Yul Brynner from the original movie in the background. There are others which I would have never picked up on if I wasn’t tipped off by others. For example, the meaning of the robotic player piano is fairly obvious. What is less obvious, as the lyrics are not heard, is that the lyrics to many of the songs played are directly related to what is happening on the show (giving a reason for why modern songs are often played).

In actual news, Ed Harris has confirmed that he will be returning for the second season of Westworld. I hope that this doesn’t blow up anyone’s favorite theory about the show.

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Recode Decode interviewed Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, with full transcript here. The conversation includes the hacker world, technology, Westworld, and Donald Trump. Here are some excerpts:

What was the impetus for you when you were writing it? What were you trying to do there?

There were three things. Initially, it was, I just need to write something about the hacker culture and tech culture that I didn’t think was being represented. So that was in the back of my head for years, since I was 14 and I was like, “Oh, that will be a great movie. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m going to come up with the idea.”

I always start with characters, so I started thinking about the character of Elliott. And then 2008 happened, the financial crisis. And I was like, “Oh, it’s gotta be …” And you know, Anonymous, the hacking group, had just come out. And LulzSec. So I was like, “Okay, this is kind of like the sort of group that Elliott might be involved in or might partake in.”

And then the 2008 financial crisis happened. I was like, “Okay, this is awesome, it’s going to be an anti-capitalist, anti-establishment character who’s angry and who wants to take down the system.” And then I cooled off a little bit because I was like, “Who wants to hear a guy rant about that for hours and hours?” I thought that would get a little grating. And there wasn’t a humanity to it. So I went away from that. It stayed in there, but the character wasn’t complete yet.

And then the Arab Spring happened and, you know, I’m Egyptian, so I have a lot of family out there, a lot of cousins. I went out there about nine months after the revolution happened to just talk to my cousins, who were young, who were online, who were part of that whole movement, using technology and honestly just channeling that anger that they had against their country, against the way their society was being run, in a really positive way. That was the missing piece. That was the thing that really moved me…

I was watching “Westworld” and it’s again, technology — although it’s humanity in that particular series. But go ahead.

So to me, I feel like obviously, as younger writer/directors come up and they kind of understand it and then want to represent it more authentically, hopefully that mindset will change in Hollywood. Because in terms of just the old-fashioned thing, and then we talked about Donald Trump, those rules just don’t apply anymore. There aren’t 400-pound guys who are devilishly sitting behind a keyboard wanting to change the traffic lights, you know?

I think a lot of it came from the original Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games.” You know what I mean? That really had an impact on people of how the hacking culture [worked]. To me that was the biggest success, I guess.

Well, “Sneakers.” Although I don’t know if “Sneakers” …

With Robert Redford.

But that’s a great movie.

It is a great movie.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But one of the things that is important to me is that technology is also a situation that’s ruining their business. The Rubicon has been crossed. People are streaming on phones. Amazon and Netflix are disrupting their business incredibly, so there’s a real fear of the technology, too.

It’s the fear that’s going to kill them, not the technology. Look at Netflix. They’ve pounced on that. They’ve taken that as an opportunity to say, “Well, if no one else wants to embrace the technology, if no one else wants to say ‘hey, no, this isn’t something to be scared of but an opportunity to expand and offer entertainment in a way that wasn’t offered before,’ then we’ll do it.”

And they’re doing it really well. And I think that’s the thing. Even the way films are made right now, they’re talked about as universes, franchises, right? So it’s not just about one movie anymore, it’s about how many movies can you make off that one movie, and how many toys can you make and how many video games. You know, it’s now this whole kind of universe.

See, to me, it’s still an antiquated way of thinking. Because when you watch all movies … I think I watched “Mr. Robot” on my phone, the whole time. How do you, as a creator, how do you think about that? Are there creators like you? You’re obviously illuminated about technology. But do they understand what’s happening? When Google becomes a studio, when Facebook becomes critically important to distribution of entertainment.

I don’t know if they do. And this is the worrisome part. For example, we’re doing a book, but the book is not a marketing opportunity, the book is its own standalone thing, and it’s an interactive thing. It’s not just a book you read, there’s layers to it. A little bit like that J.J. Abrams book “S.” So that’s a thing.

And then we had a mobile game that we released, which is awesome and that is a story. So it’s not just a game that you play and again, not just a marketing fodder for the show, it’s its own story and all these little pieces you can embrace. That’s sort of the universe-building, that’s the world-building of the future. That’s why when/if Google becomes a studio, or Facebook becomes a studio … Oh, we also did a VR film, which is also another story that’s kind of like in between a couple episodes…

And then my last question: I interviewed Elon Musk earlier this year at our Code Conference, and he talked about a lot of things. He talked about going to Mars, he talked about his cars, a bit of everything. But then we moved into the idea of artificial intelligence and whether we’re all in a big game. He believes this is all fake.

Simulation.

Simulation. But he was talking about the idea of artificial intelligence, and that the best case scenario, given your stories about the power of technology, is that we’re all going to end up in the most benign sense, as house cats to computers. And they will take our places.And the only way we can battle it is by attaching neural networks to our own brains.

This is the whole singularity thing: Will machines evolve faster than us? And honestly, you can’t avoid saying yes to that question, because why wouldn’t they? They would just have much more power, much more processing power. And so it’ll come down to that spiritual question, and it’s a tough one: Is there something different about us that a machine won’t have? Is there that soul that a machine might not … I mean, they might have the faster brain, but are we just neurons and electrical impulses, or is there something more to us than that? I don’t know the answer to that.

Because I think your show is about humanity, it’s not about tech at all.

Well, exactly right. I think we tried to. In a weird way, we try and fight against our humanity. I don’t see my friends anymore. I don’t even call them anymore. I text them. We’ve devolved our communication. I remember when texting came out and it was so popular and I was like, “Wait a minute, we used to call each other on the phone, we used to hear each other,” and we would get so much more information out of that, but now we’d just rather text because of our own whatever, I don’t know what it is. Is it just easier or more efficient or too neurotic to get on the phone? I don’t know.

Sam Esmail has also “leaked” a page from a Mr. Robot script in which Elliot’s psychologist asked why he is so disappointed in society. Elliot’s answer: “Oh, that’s easy. Donald Trump was just elected president of the United States.”

Westworld is not the only current television show dealing with artificial intelligence. Humans is already into its second season on Channel 4 in the U.K. I’m currently behind (and even if I wasn’t I would avoid spoiling it for those who are waiting for it to be more easily available in the United States), but it did get off to a good start. So, to keep this all straight, Westworld and Humans are about robots, but Mr. Robot is not.

A sneak peak of the Doctor Who Christmas special was released at Children in Need (video above). Radio Times listed what we have learned.

In other Doctor Who news this week, Steven Moffat might create some controversy with his argument that the Doctor’s companion should always be a female:

Science-fiction is notoriously male. You can tell that because everyone wears uniforms and marches around talking about rules. But Doctor Who has always felt to me, rather female. It’s full of kindness and compassion and eccentricity and wisdom instead of violence. And from that point of view it is important that the main character, the Doctor’s best friend, should be female. I think it would be damaging to Doctor Who if that voice and viewpoint were not represented.

There have been male companions such as Rory and Captain Jack, but there were also female companions at the time. Classic Who also included some male companions, including Ian at the beginning and later Harry Sullivan and Adric. Generally there were also female companions along with male ones. (I am only speaking of companions present for a prolonged period of time, not isolated events such as Christmas episodes).

This argument also does not answer what will happen if there is ever a female Doctor.

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Moffat was also asked recently whether the Doctor’s daughter, as played by Georgia Moffat, will return. He has no idea. He said it is doubtful that David Tennant’s duplicate Doctor would even return as, should they have the opportunity to use Tennant again, “then we would bring back David playing the real Doctor, and not a substitute Doctor.”

Karen Gillan has explained why she used such a husky voice in Guardians of the Galaxy.

The major show business story of the week was the duel between the cast of Hamilton and Trump/Pence.

After the final curtain calls that night, Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who portrays Aaron Burr, stepped forward with a microphone to directly address Mr. Pence, who was leaving the theater. “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us,” he said. He added that he hoped “this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

Mr. Trump quickly made it clear on Twitter, his social medium of choice, that Mr. Dixon and the “Hamilton” team had been “rude and insulting” and owed Mr. Pence an apology. At first, a part of me could see Mr. Trump’s point, or at least feel a shudder of embarrassed empathy for Mr. Pence. If someone were to single me out for a direct plea from the stage in a large theater, I would no doubt want to run home, dive into bed and bury myself under the covers. (Mr. Pence, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said he was not offended by Mr. Dixon’s words.)

I posted more on this yesterday.

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