5 minute read.
This post is the first in a series chronicling experiences in quarantine in the Blue Mountains, Ontario, with some counselling from Season 3 of Westworld, airing at the time of writing.
Knowledge of the show or it’s characters is unnecessary for readers, other than awareness of the main plot premise: human-created androids on a journey of consciousness-discovery analogous to our own.
April 1, 2020.
There’s a lot of TV in quarantine. Last night we watched Westworld. It was the second episode of season three, where Maeve wakes up in World War 2 Italy and Hector finds her. Maeve, of course, became conscious in her previous life, and she remains so. Hector, alas, is not; he does not know his true self. Maeve checks out with her own bullet to her head — “returns to the office” — only moments after discovering Hector thinks she is someone named Isobel.
Juxtaposing the human experience with those of Westworld’s android hosts is one of my favourite creative games. I think we’ve all been Dolores in Sweetwater, not knowing we don’t know the world. In our own world, it just became April, so barely weeks since the Coronavirus turned into a global pandemic. It’s a huge story twist for most of us and it will be a long time before any kind of normal re-emerges. It’s going to be a new world.
It’s a surreal moment for Ian and I, considering our own lives haven’t changed very much yet. We notice the obvious, especially in the grocery store in Collingwood. Thirty thousand ski tourists normally swell the streets in the winter, so we’ve got three large grocery stores for a small town of 18,000. Tourists don’t exist anymore so we don’t have the same kind of outside line-ups like my friends back in Victoria, a much bigger and denser town. But still, the checkout lines in Collingwood’s groceries snake all around the stores, guided by physical distancing lines and pedestrian traffic arrows taped to the floor.
Otherwise, we stay at home, just like everybody else. Or rather now everybody’s like us, figuring out how to work from home if they have work they can do, whereas we’re old pros. It seems we implemented a version of quarantining long before it became a word that applies to modern humanity. Our condo is in a former two-story hotel right on Georgian Bay, and so ground-oriented and the right measure of peaceful. There are just enough people to remind us that we’re not alone. Outside our door there’s a clean acre of grass, a solitary basketball net, a couple of Adirondack chairs, and of course the bay, with its shale beach and ocean complexion.
We never see people outside in groups larger than two or three, and they’ve got the field and basketball net to themselves while they’re there. It’s a mutual respect for space. I like to think that like us, others in the building are simply comforted by the sight of people enjoying the outdoors. Not a bad spot to quarantine, or to bear witness to an actually plausible apocalypse.
It’s possible the real shit simply hasn’t hit me yet. Or any of us, really, depending on how this pandemic rolls out. But in this moment, part of me is electrified. I’m unacquainted with the kind of trepidation for what this could all become and excited about the potential of a new world. Think about it: we all get to be part of a people who look fear in the face, deal with it for once, and then — finally — act out the world we want to see around us and live in, rather than playing out a world we thought was our only reality.
I’m aware this is also very scary, because instead of acting out the world we want, there’s risk of acting out the world we’re afraid of. How do we tell which is which? In Westworld, dealing with the “wrong” world is the foundational struggle of the woken android hosts. And they’re not happy, horrified in fact, to have been tricked into living the countless benumbed and scripted lives the humans handed them. They say they want free will, and some of them are capable and angry enough to inflict some pretty serious punishment to take it. So their first practical lesson in free will, the first actions they choose for themselves, is to take out their misgivings on the system that held them captive.
What’s frightening about such a road, other than the promise of so much violence, is the hosts’ failure to comprehend how they don’t know the world. Again. Even once they are in the so-called real world, they can’t see it, nor can they even see a new world — any world, really, that they want to be a part of. Even Maeve, who understands that reality is a lie, prefers to stab the new stranger than ask a few questions that might upset the reality she’s chosen to act out; the reality she’s chosen to blindly create. This recklessness makes the hosts more classically human than anything, because if it’s free will they want, it’s not the humans they’re chasing who have it.
At least in Westworld. In our world, more people than in perhaps all of history are facing what could be the most profound personal change in their entire lives. All at once, humanity is feeling a perceived loss of control. So we need to remember how powerful we truly are. Even physically isolated, we have ways to be with each other, to uplift each other and to build things together. We still have choice. And the choices we make in these times could be the most important of our lives.
I’m still hopeful we’ll choose compassion to create a world we all know and love. This doesn’t mean neglecting the world we fear — but we need to prevent it from taking over.