Friday, December 2, 2016

Westworld: The Reveal is Never That Great!

I know lots of people are watching "Westworld". Here's my gripe (no spoilers):

The problem with shows that tease and tease some mega-awesome mythology, mystery, or puzzle is that when the answer is finally revealed, it can never possibly be that mega-awesome. Wasn't this the cautionary tale of shows like "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica"? Isn't this the lesson well-learned by "Lost" creator Damon Lindelof and insightfully applied to his wonderful follow-up series, "The Leftovers" (where he's made very clear that he'll never, ever explain the show's foundational gimmick)?

Mythologies are wonderful things to bounce characters off of, to see how interesting characters respond to interesting circumstances. But if you make the puzzle the focus, you create impossible expectations...because TRINTG ("The reveal is never that great"). Humans are interesting in the micro ("Rectify"! "Hannibal"! "Louie"!). If you're imaginative, you can make the macro interesting, for a short while (e.g. a two hour film). But the downside of the the length of serialized TV is that your macro gimmick gets tedious fast, and the viewers can feel - even if only subconsciously- that TRINTG.

You could spoil me about "Westworld". Write the answer on an index card, and I'll glance at it, shrug and toss it in the trash. I just don't care! This mythology they're constantly cudgeling us with is nothing but distraction and disruption. The show drops us in a fascinating world, and it's beautifully shot and acted, and I'd like to hang out here week by week, without being constantly clobbered with the pushy demand that I figure out uninteresting mysteries whose reveal will most likely do nothing for me.

More on some of the shows mentioned

There are deeper implications: e.g. human narrative is not as mythic as we'd like to imagine. We're clever livestock. The ways in which we creatively grind against the banal contours of our worldly dramatic narratives can be beautiful and surprising (and no television show has ever risen to the level of "Rectify" in the unflappable commitment to examine the nuances of that). That's our saving grace, our transcendence. But the contours themselves - including juicy conspiracies and mysteries - are non-awesome. That's what makes our desperately hopeful overuse of the word "awesome" so adorable.

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