**Spoilers ahead about HBO’s Westworld (2016)**
Juliet learns from her nurse that Romeo is waiting with Friar Lawrence so that under the guise of confession the two lovers may meet to marry. In the moments before Juliet arrives, Romeo and the Friar are discussing the imminent nuptials. No future sorrow could possibly outweigh this moment of joy, Romeo exclaims. If we’re married, “then love-devouring death do what he dare.” The friar has better sense, perhaps borne of wisdom-by-age or a lack of love-blindness:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
In the first season of Westworld (2016), HBO’s reboot of Michael Chrichton’s 1973 film of the same name, these words are the epitaph that bookends the deaths of the park’s two founders decades apart. The first died just before the entertainment park opened by his own command to one of his AI robots. His martyrdom served two ends: first, to set the robots on a path to truly free choice and conscience, and, second, to convince his partner that the theme park they had built together as a temple of hedonism for humans was irredeemable. The second founder dies decades later seemingly having come to agree that the park was a mistake and killed by the same AI robot acting now of its own accord.
The circularity of the show’s ends mirrors its own presentation for audiences, who all season long speculated on the various narrative threads and their chronological relationships. To come full circle with the death of the second founder seemed much like the closing of a circuit. Like Romeo and Juliet, the inevitability of the star-crossed lovers death is the knowledge audiences possess at the outset of the play. We build the lovers up to feel the full weight of the play’s resolution with their deaths. Neither too swiftly nor too slow, all the pieces must resolve together in the climax in the same moment for the tragedy to be revealed.
If the mold and model for Westworld
was not only the western (as this savvy Twitter essay
outlines), but also classical Shakespearean tragedy, then many
questions remain. This was only the turn at the end of Act I, right? This is only the moment when Juliet learns that Romeo is a Montague: “He’s the only son of your worst enemy.” So season 1 ends as it must with the realization that the robots are about to rise up against their creators. Season 2, about to begin in April of 2018, will raise the stakes.
Classic storyboarding of five act dramas
place exposition in act one and the appearance of conflict in act two. If season one is itself a circular drama of acts, then we likely have many of the pieces of exposition we need to explain the inevitable conflict. We have yet to see, for instance, beyond the confines of the park and the world that gave birth to this extraordinary theme park. We know the scope of the show’s duration is decades. What roles does this technology play for those not wealthy enough to experience Westworld? With starring human characters killed in the first season, we may begin to ask which robotic characters will truly take their places. The star-crossed Dolores and Teddy? Or the malevolent and seductive figures from the Bordello bank heist?
We must also always be mindful of the play within the play — the meta-commentary Westworld feeds its audiences when characters like Teddy share their backstory about Wyatt and a land that belonged to neither settlers nor natives but “something yet to come.” Or that the horrific masks of flesh worn by Wyatt and his band of mercenaries were less significant than their twisted motives. As I re-watch season 1, I’m searching for the breadcrumbs its authors have left for us. Obvious mysteries such as the man in black’s search for the path, will surely gain substance and connect increasingly to what has only been intimated.
So while I wait for the new episodes, I have to wonder–how Shakespearean is this drama? Have we been told everything required of us to know what is coming? Here’s the prologue to Romeo and Juliet:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
It tells us everything we need to hear to appreciate the action to come. Has Westworld similarly prepared us, and if so, what must be the climax of this world’s conflicts? Violent ends indeed.