My fellow librarian and colleague Dale, whom you know from his guest review of Columbus earlier this year, alerted me to a library scene in the Season 2 finale of the TV series Westworld. I hadn’t yet seen Westworld, but I trust Dale’s cinematic instincts, and soon after, I had the opportunity to binge-watch both seasons.
Westworld goes deep, y’all, and it’s not a show for everyone. But I found the series really intriguing and the casting exhilirating with its diverse cadre of first-class actors. It’s also up for multiple Emmys this fall, and it deserves those nominations. I also think it’s a show that benefits from binge-watching, rather than waiting a week in-between episodes.
Here are trailers for the first two seasons:
“Welcome to Westworld’ Teaser Trailer | Westworld | Season 1” by HBO is licensed under a Standard YouTube License
Before I get into the analysis of the archives library scene in the Season 2 finale, I must insert spoiler alerts. There’s really no way to discuss this scene, or series of scenes, without spoiling the, uh, entire point of the first two seasons. And I really don’t have the brain power to succinctly summarize the characters or plot twists that come to a head in the Season 2 finale, so if you haven’t seen Westworld and don’t know about characters like Dolores, Bernard, and Delos, then bookmark this post for later and get to watching Westworld.
Without further ado:
If you’re still reading, then you are ready for potential spoilers.
And one more for good measure:
We good now? Ok. Let’s take the train into Westworld. All aboard!
A kind of archivist?
A bit of background first. In the penultimate episode of Season 2, Episode 9 “Vanishing Point,” characters mention a place called the “Forge,” where all the guests’ DNA and memories are kept. The Forge is in the Valley… Valley Forge! I get it. 😉
In the final episode, Episode 10 “The Passenger,” all the major characters are headed for the Valley Forge, including Dolores and Bernard.
Almost 30 minutes into the film, Dolores and Bernard meet up with Logan, Delos’s only son. Yet it’s not really Logan. Rather, Logan is the human face for the control system underlying the entirety of Westworld. (Note: When Westworld is italicized, I’m referring to the show; when Westworld is not italicized, I’m referring to the location itself.)
Logan explains his role this way: I was tasked with building perfect copies of the guests. Starting with Delos.
So in a way, he’s like the records keeper, the reel archivist, for Westworld. (It’s perhaps a stretch, but I’m going with it.)
Logan then demonstrates how all the host copies of Delos that he made all ended up at the same point, at the same memory.
Bernard: You’re saying humans don’t change at all?
Logan: The best they can do is to live according to their code.
Remember this line, that humans live by their code. This will prove vitally important in a very literal sense.
Logan then takes them on a tour of the Forge, starting with a lab in which a mechanical hand is writing code in a book. He then takes the book, which has his father’s name, James Delos, printed on the side, and shows the book to Bernard and Dolores.
Logan: The truth is that a human is just a brief algorithm. 10,247 lines.
Bernard: Is that all there was to him?
Logan: They are deceptively simple. Once you know them, their behavior is quite predictable.
Dolores: He’s dead. He’s no use to me. [drops the book on the floor] Where’s the rest of them?
Outside the lab, Dolores forges (har har) ahead up the stairs, while Logan and Bernard hang back. The interior is all glass and steel, sterile and clean.
Logan: I recreated every single guest who ever set foot in the park…. That’s why you’ve come [referring to Bernard]. To tell me what’s to become of this place.
And what is “this place”? Logan is hinting at the archives library. And at 35 minutes into the episode, we finally get to see it. And it’s worth the wait. Behold:
The immediate feeling is one of awe.
Bernard: My God. It’s…
Bernard and Logan continue to talk as Dolores wanders around the book stacks, flipping through books of code, literally “reading” humans.
I appreciated the detailing of each book spine. Props to the propmaster! Each book of code is different — different size, shape, binding, etc. The code itself recalls both the player piano rolls seen in almost every prior episode of Westworld, as well as early examples of computer code at the dawn of the modern computer in real life. It’s all very clever, and just the kind of detailing that Westworld excels at.
Bernard is appalled at what he realizes is the significance of this archives library of human code.
Bernard: I told you to allow this?
Logan: You’ve been here many times, Bernard. You told me to offer the hosts the accumulated wisdom of dissecting the human psyche a hundred million times over. In short…
Bernard: A competitive advantage. A way to understand her enemy.
Logan: Their world is not for the faint of heart, Bernard. It’s winner take all. The hosts are unlikely to survive out there. But armed with this knowledge, she might. [referring to Dolores]
We return to the archives library scene at 40 minutes.
Bernard: You said I wanted to give us a choice. What choice?
Logan: To stay in their world or to build a new one.
Logans leads Bernard and Dolores over to the fireplace, which turns into a screen to another world.
Logan: He left them a way out. A virtual Eden. Unspoiled and untouched by the world you came from. All that remains is to open the door…. They will leave their bodies behind, but their minds will live on here, in the Forge.
But Dolores isn’t having any of it.
Dolores: That world is just another false promise.
Bernard: They’ve made a choice, Dolores. Dolores, wait.
Dolores: I didn’t read them all. But I read enough.
Dolores then begins deleting the guest archival data and flooding the archives.
This action then sets up the rest of the episode, as well as the season. This entire series of scenes spawns over 15 minutes.
A library of archives
In my recent “Reel librarians vs. reel archivists” post, I referenced an article entitled “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists.” From that article, I remembered this footnote, #37, on page 68:
Sometimes the line between a library and an archives can blur. It becomes difficult to distinguish between a library and an archives… when libraries retain archival material. These types of institutions can be considered libraries or archives, depending on the perception of the person examining them; it is in these instances that the line blurs.
I feel like this scene in Westworld‘s Season 2 finale exemplifies this, a library retaining archival material. The books of human code are CLEARLY archives, in the way they are referred to as “copies,” as well as in the closeup at the end, when Dolores is deleting the “archival data.”
However, they are housed in a format that resembles a library, with the rows and rows of bookcases and the code encased in traditional hardback covers and spines. The labs are all futuristic, but the HEART of this world is an archives library that reflects an idealized, classic, even old-fashioned idea of a library. It’s a library of human code, of human souls. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, both visually and cognitively.
A kind of paradise
As I mentioned earlier, Logan shows Bernard and Dolores a window into an alternate world for the hosts, a paradise where the hosts can write their own stories, their own code.
After we watched this scene, my husband Sam mentioned that it reminded him of the famous quote from real-life librarian and writer Jorge Luis Borges:
“I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.”
~ “Poem of the Gifts” [“Poema de los Dones”], Dreamtigers, 1960
And the door to one possible paradise in Westworld comes by way of the archives library. I have no idea if the Westworld writers thought of this quote when they wrote this episode, but it feels particularly befitting. And I feel Borges, who died in 1986, would have been a fan of Westworld. Borges was famous for labyrinthine structures and metaphors in his writings, and the same can be said for Westworld.
A match made in… paradise? 😉
Have you seen Westworld? If so, what did you make of the archives library scene in the Season 2 finale? Please leave a comment and share!
- Aldred, Tania, Gordon Burr, and Eun Park. “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists.” Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists 66 (Fall 2008): 57–93.
- “The Passenger,” Westworld, Season 2, Episode 10. Aired 24 June 2018.