Westworld Season 3

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As we’ve come to expect from Westworld, season 3 brings us more violence for the sake of violence. It felt like every episode had at least one scene in which a robot slaughters half a dozen humans or so. Sometimes, just to mix things up, the robots kill other robots.

We get it. Robots are really good at killing. Also, in case you didn’t realize how cool murder is, they usually play high-energy music during the mass murder scenes. And of course, all the humans have about as good an aim as your average stormtrooper.

Dolores does get injured during one shootout, but then she’s suddenly better later, so it didn’t feel like she was in any real danger to begin with. There is an episode in which the robots are shut down by an EMP, so I guess it’s at least possible for humans to pose a threat to them. However, it makes you wonder why the humans haven’t been using EMPs since the first season.

Westworld continues its exploration of whether humans have free will or not by introducing a supercomputer called Rehoboam which is able to predict everything the majority of people will do. Rehoboam also controls people’s lives by deciding what jobs they can get and so forth, so this is partially a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, there are some outliers whose behavior can’t be predicted and one or more of these outliers will do something that causes the human race to become extinct in the near future. In order to prevent this, outliers are imprisoned.

The premise is a bit far-fetched, nevertheless, everything that happens in the universe on the macro level follows the laws of cause and effect. (On the quantum level things happen randomly, but this doesn’t scale up to the macro level.) So, given a sophisticated enough algorithm, I think human behavior could be predicted. After all, psychological experiments have demonstrated that it’s possible to predict what most people will do in certain situations. The entire field of marketing shows how easy it is to manipulate people into buying things they don’t want or need. I was surprised to learn recently that a large portion of people will confess to a crime they didn’t commit if interrogated long enough.

None of us gets to choose our genetic predispositions, which culture we’ll be born into, or who will raise us. We simply react to events based on the personality we were programmed with. On a philosophical level, none of us has free will, however on a practical level, we should still be held accountable for our actions. In fact, whether we’re held accountable for our actions or not is another input which partially determines our future actions.

Westworld’s exploration of free will is a bit muddled because they combine the concepts of free will and freedom together, but these are two different things. Free will is more of a philosophical concept, which is interesting to think about, but has no practical consequences. Freedom is more about whether or not another entity is controlling your actions. When William is talking about free will, he’s speaking philosophically, but when Dolores speaks about free will, she’s really talking about freedom, which is a different conversation.

Westworld’s exploration of freedom is a simplistic one: you either have it or you don’t. However, it’s not as cut and dry as that. Your freedom always has to be balanced against another’s freedom. Your right to swing your fist ends at my face. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want. There are certain restrictions such as perjury, slander, false advertising, shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, etc.

In order for all of us to live together in society, certain restrictions on freedom are necessary. Your right to smoke doesn’t give you the right to expose others to second-hand smoke. A company’s right to pollute the air needs to be weighed against a community’s right to breath clean air. A con artist’s right to trick people out of their money should be weighed against their victim’s right not to have their money taken.

Saying that freedom is always a good thing in and of itself is too simplistic and doesn’t reflect the complexity of the real world. If you drive recklessly, you put other’s lives in danger. If you don’t get vaccinated, you risk exposing others to a deadly disease. Everything we do affects others in some way and it’s selfish for us not to consider that. I get that Westworld is a TV show, so it’s necessary for them to simplify things, but I felt like they simplified things a bit too much.

There’s a point in the show when everyone in the world receives their personal profile telling them everything about themselves and this causes riots and mass chaos. I don’t think this would happen. For one thing, why would everyone believe the predictions would come true? And why would everyone’s predictions be bad? Most of us will probably die of either heart disease or cancer in our late 70s or early 80s. Does knowing this make you want to riot?

I didn’t care for the overall pessimistic tone of the show. We’re told the history of humanity is nothing but horrible things happening over and over again, when in reality, things are continually getting better. (See The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker or Factfulness by Hans Rosling.) Sure, things are still bad, but the history of humanity is one in which things are continually improving.

Serac is the villain this season. However, his goal is to keep humanity from becoming extinct, so he’s kind of a good guy. His plan to save humanity involves imprisoning, killing, and reprogramming people, so he’s no boy scout, but Dolores’s plan involves killing even more people, so it’s hard to root for her.

Dolores is supposed to be the hero, but her goal is to shut down the supercomputer preventing humanity from becoming extinct. I get that she’s doing this in order to give humanity freedom, however she’s a hypocrite because, just like last season, she manipulates people into doing what she wants. In order to give people freedom, she takes it away. Also, when you kill someone, you take their freedom away from them, so killing anybody in the name of freedom is kind of hypocritical too.

So Serac wants to take away everyone’s freedom in order to save humanity, while Dolores wants to put humanity’s existence at risk in order to give them freedom. Freedom is certainly a good thing, however, if most people are happy living out their predetermined lives, why risk extinction by shattering their illusion? I guess Westworld is being true to its wild west roots by advocating for a society in which freedom is more valuable than human lives.

This has been a fairly negative review, but I did enjoy watching the show. The acting, cinematography, music, and special effects are all great. I liked the design of the buildings and the self-driving cars. The fact criminals use an app to get work was fun. I was bored by the constant violence, but others might find it stylish. There’s a lot of things to like as long as you don’t think too much about it.

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