Showrunner Lisa Joy Exposes the Toxic Masculinity of Westworld
This Mother’s Day, showrunner Lisa Joy took the director’s chair of Westworld and treated us to an in-depth look at the powerlessness of toxic masculinity. Its inability to create or nurture. Its inability to sustain itself. THIS is the polar opposite of the mother-energy we spent the day celebrating.
While the park has long represented toxic masculinity at large – what with all the violence against women, the sex with objects, and the lack of meaningful relationships – last night in “The Riddle of the Sphynx,” it became clear that the show’s thesis is that toxic masculinity can never create, only destroy. Just think of Dr. Robert Ford inventing all this technology, building this giant theme park, only to destroy it and himself. His is the toxic masculinity of Westworld.
There were two big reveals (SPOILERS): first, one of the secret projects in the park was a Frankenstein-like operation. In a hidden lab, William/The Man in Black has been creating a host-esque version of the original Delos patriarch, James. But while they could print his body and somehow transfer his mind (not super sure how that works), the results were unstable. We learn over the course of the episode that in the time it took for Jimmi Simpson to become Ed Harris, the project progressed but never succeeded. Their robotic duplicate went from lasting a week to over a month. But regardless, Delos’ robot alter ego eventually malfunctions.
And as we watch William reenact this breakdown scene, over and over again, we see what the problem is – James Delos can’t actually handle being a human. Yes, as a man, he married and fathered children. He was a wildly successful businessman, the owner of this park and so much more. His portfolio included medical research and he was just as ruthless in that arena, cutting projects that didn’t make enough profit – including researching a cure for the disease that would eventually kill him. The point couldn’t be more clear – James Delos is a man whose lack of empathy is fatal. And in robot form, he cannot process emotions. He loses it when he faces emotional obstacles like understanding his own predicament, learning of his wife’s death, or his daughter’s suicide. It literally doesn’t compute.
In the end, William concedes that perhaps men are not meant to live forever, and in particular, this man, with all of his failings, should not live eternal. And the (lack of) reincarnation for James is one of just the many masculine failings in this episode. We learn more about William wife’s suicide and it’s clear William failed her so deeply. That tragedy lives on in him, making him the ruthless man we know.
Amidst all this failing, there was a bit of hope, thanks to the screentime spent on the women (Hi Elsie!). We saw more of the Strong Woman(™) of tiger-hunting fame: She can speak the language of Ghost World! She doesn’t want to escape the park! Her hair looks great even after being kidnapped! Who IS this mystery woman? Well, she’s William’s daughter (reveal number two!). And when the two meet at the end, I had the distinct feeling that she was going to save him – not just in the dare-e-do adventure land of the park, but also in the emotional wasteland he can’t seem to find a way out of.
So while Major Craddock turns out to be no real obstacle for Dolores or William and Bernard fumbles amidst timelines (maybe the whole show is told from his point of view and that’s why there are all those confusing time hops!), the women are making moves and offering the only hope for salvation. This episode was a particularly dark one – Maeve and Dolores’ absence made it so. They represent the possibility of a new world order. The men, not so much.