“We’re not coding the hosts; we’re decoding the guests”: Notes on Westworld Season 3

In my new book, Egress, I spend a long chapter going on about Westworld, how it’s connected to our cultural understanding of the American West, and how the classic racialised undertones of its second series (“Go native or go home!”) tell us a lot about how we continue to understand unconsciousness and its relationship to political action. (It’s, hands down, the chapter I’m most proud of and excited by and it’s a topic that I could — and intend to — dedicate a whole other book to at a later date.)

With all that in mind, the return of Westworld for a third season is something I’m really excited about, so below are a bunch of notes that I made whilst watching (and preparing to watch) S03E01.

The first thing to say is that I’m expecting the show to take a further turn regarding its central investigation of human unconsciousness. The first season explored why this unconsciousness should be raised; the second explored the potential and messy results (good and bad) of doing so; the third seems to be about how, more specifically, capitalism can still attach itself to these developments.

It was an inspired — and wholly believable — development in season two when it was revealed the park’s management was tracking the guests’ behaviour along with the hosts. As Bernard said last season, most succinctly: “We’re not coding the hosts; we’re decoding the guests.”

Every visitor to the park was being analysed and recorded with their behaviour uploaded to the cloud so that the park could run various experiments, cloning the consciousness of each individual and trying to replicate them in 3D-printed bodies. As it turns out, this is much harder to do than to allow consciousness (or unconsciousness) to emerge within a mind (somewhat) naturally. To replicate an already living person often led to rapid cognitive breakdowns and an accelerative dementia.

Regardless of the success of their experiments, the Delos Corporation was very much aware of the value of the data they’ve hoarded and so they aimed to capitalise on it and use it to — I don’t know — develop market research or something. It’s the sort of data I imagine companies could use, in the outside world, to create the most profitable hysteria on Black Friday, for example, or in ways that are far more insidious. All this computational data about unconsciousness and human desires will surely be used, by its very nature, in unthinkable ways. It’s a key to the back door of human consciousness. All the more reason for the hosts to stay one step ahead of capitalism’s capture of their “masters”. If they want to overthrow the world they have so far been denied access to, in order to make it their own, they’ll need to stay one step ahead of this unconscious capture in much the same way as they need to stay one step ahead of an all too physical capture also.

In the first episode, these threats were only teased. “Dolores” — side note: I’m having great difficulty remembering who is who now, following last season’s body swapping — found herself nearly captured (physically) and seems to only just becoming aware of the way the world she has newly entered works.

One of the first scenes in this first episode shows her robbing an old visitor to the park, whose information she’s acquired from the Delos servers. She takes all his money explaining that she’s become aware of its importance in this world and she wouldn’t want to exist too long in it without any.

If Dolores has newly acquired financial concerns, she’s not the only one. The new season opened with a flurry of implicit questions on this topic:

What’s the affect of the park’s revolution on the market in the outside world? Relatively speaking, it’s a tremor. A worrying one, for those in the know, but a “blemish” nonetheless — at least financially speaking; not counting the bodies. The hosts may have overthrown their world but our world is a lot more complex. How they will use their newly raised unconsciousnesses to overthrow capitalism’s iron grip seems to be the question of the season. That is, if they need to overthrow capitalism at all. They want to overthrow the greedy, selfish humans. Fucking with the market is certainly be the best way to get their attention. Just as Dolores has so far used the humans’ reliance on technology to her advantage, using it on one rich domestic abuser to employ his own unconsciousness against him — calling it his “unauthorised autobiography”, which I liked — exploiting the market might allow her to manoeuvre the humans in newly unconscious ways.

As she becomes increasingly aware of capitalism’s importance to the workings of the unconscious human mind, she might find that she’s able to manipulate things in ways even she hasn’t yet thought of. Perhaps she’ll become one with the system itself, in much the same way Maeve did within the confines of Westworld last season. Consciousness has broken free of humanity and is taking its own path. Maybe capitalism is due to do the same thing…

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