Those of you who haven’t seen this week’s episode, you need to stop right now and go watch it – there are scenes that you really just have to see for yourself.
I honestly don’t know where to begin. I could start with my excitement to see more of Maeve’s character, or the undeniable presence of theater and performance throughout the episode. I could even talk about the willingness of the performer, question whether or not our words are truly our own. I could also go off topic and talk endlessly about Leonardo Nam’s career and how far it’s come, because he is a seriously amazing actor and I can’t believe he started as a boyfriend in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants franchise. And I shouldn’t even begin to talk about how much I love Thandie Newton – I don’t think WordPress has enough space for that post.
No, what I need to talk about is the moment that made me squirm, that made me gape at my computer screen. In the sickening sunlight, Simon Quarterman’s Lee Sizemore (a name that is a little too on point for my taste) reveals what he believes to be his calling: “…it’s my business to read desires and to satiate them.” That was no innocent comment, no simple attempt at a pick up line – in that instant, Sizemore and Maeve become one. Minutes before, Maeve said the exact same thing: “…I was built to read people…to know what they want before they do.”
While Sizemore could definitely be seen as a type of madam, he is nothing like Maeve. As the feisty brothel owner who aims to please her customers? Sure, I’ll give you the similarity. But as a sentient being, Maeve is something else entirely, and we finally got to see that. In her world of violence and lust, Maeve found safety in her wit. She was a businesswoman, a caretaker, a philosopher. The only host to remember her time with the butchers. And for the first half of this episode, we saw all of that slip away. Suddenly, Maeve’s words are no longer hers. Her mind is controlled by another. Maeve is no longer Maeve. How can she be when her only source of individuality, her thoughts, are determined by someone else? Not even her dreams are her own.
While Sizemore complains about being “creatively flaccid,” Maeve discovers that her entire being is constrained by another’s will. The idea that these two characters are being conflated horrifies me. As a writer, I’m completely intrigued. As a viewer, I want to run the other way. Because Sizemore does have autonomy – he has the ability to think and write for himself. Yes, bosses can be a pain and creative restrictions are annoying, but nothing compares to finding out that you are enslaved body and mind. I mean, I can only imagine.
And then Maeve sees the other hosts, performing their lives as directed by humans. Being treated like circus animals, like props in a brutal play. Robert Ford, the original creator, can say one tiny thing and make the little boy open up his own head. “Turn the other cheek.” A biblical phrase used to make another submit? Then to pair that with Theresa Cullen lording over the map of Westworld, it’s not hard to see the humans as manipulative religious leaders.
But Maeve regains control, using her manipulated mind to not only threaten Sylvester but also to fully comprehend her situation. I can’t tell if Maeve’s actions are dictated by the program. I don’t think even she can tell which of her actions are her own. Maybe that climactic intelligence boost at the end will make her even more susceptible. Did she really want the boost, or was she made to ask for it? This is all easy to say when we’re talking essentially about robots – what scares me is that we’re not too far away from saying the same thing about humans.