‘Big Brother 20’ Is An All-True Metaphor For Life

Haleigh. Haleigh, Haleigh, Haleigh. I so want you to win because you’re the Smart Girl.

But you won’t. Because Smart Girls Always Get Screwed Over, and as your ally Rockstar so aptly stated, “guys like (Brett) always win.”

It wasn’t so obvious in the early days of Big Brother 20 that you were the Smart Girl. That became obvious during your Power (or Not) App punishment, when you had to read Hamlet to the entire house.

It was an easy read for you. You didn’t stumble over a single word. Bingo: Smart Girl.

It became more obvious when Faysal (ah, Fessy, the dumb loveable guy who will Always Win because he’s loveable and even when he’s nasty, he’s not really nasty. There’s a kind of wink to his condemnation of allies like Scottie — whom he got rid of because J.C. (J.C.!) was able to convince him he wasn’t on his side, although he always was — that he’s sorry. It’s just a game, after all. We’re still tight, right Scottie? We’ll have a beer or a protein shake or iced tea outside of the house, right? I mean, this Big Brother thing is just a summer fling.)

(I digress.) It became more obvious she was the Smart Girl when Faysal started hot and heavy with Haleigh. No, no, no. No showmance. She rebuffed him, repeatedly. Because she’s here to win, she doesn’t need protection or assistance or a quick sesh in the HOH room. She’s taking this game seriously.

But Haleigh’s getting fucked over. Not by Fessy, but by the same high school cliques that exist in adult life — or in the closed off world of the Big Brother 20 house. This doesn’t happen every year. Big Brother 20 is a good game, or started off as one until one side of the house began to railroad the other. But unlike other years, where you could have an Ian Terry or Steve Moses in the top spot, Big Brother 20 has turned out to be a season of The Cool Kids. As cool as you may be, Haleigh, you’re still the Smart Girl at heart.

You know what that means Haleigh. Your time is almost up.

So, why is Big Brother 20 a metaphor for life? Well, it’s not just the high school cliques. It’s the cluelessness of one side of the house. It’s the reality that often in life, people get railroaded, completely creamed, losing badly at a game they don’t even realize they are playing. Fessy eliminating Scottie was the ultimate example of a person thinking they are in control, when in reality they are getting trampled. They are getting picked off one by one, and everyone who knows the truth is keeping their mouths shut — because they are protecting their own interests. Through their silence, they are keeping their own positions safe, and screwing over the other players.

Let’s also put a note in here about Haleigh’s role in the showmance. This was not of her doing. He pursued her, and eventually she relented, without losing her head in the game. Up until the end, she knew Scottie had her back. The rest of the house, however, saw them as a pair. But Haleigh, Smart Girl that she is, never got caught up in the libido energy that sometimes overtakes the Big Brother house.

Haleigh, there’s some time left. You can keep yourself in the game. And even if you get kicked out come this Thursday, I have no doubt you’ll be the one coming right back in as part of the Jury Battle Back.


Why Kourtney Kardashian Leaving KUWTK Would Be A Visceral Pleasure

Many years ago, one of the younger members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan got her first period. I know this not because it’s the natural course of things for most women, but because the event was a featured part of one episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. That was way back when Bruce was still Bruce and married to Kris and the clan was billing itself as a large, happy, extended and blended family.

Now, those younger members of the Jenner-Kardashian clan are a top model and fashion mogul, due in no small part I am sure to their rearing in the glare of social media fame.

Which woman discussed her first menstrual cycle on the show? I can’t remember now, but whomever it was (Kendall, I think) later told Oprah she wished it hadn’t been broadcast.

Can you blame her? How many of us want our childhoods discussed with even our closest relatives, let alone on a “reality” show. Of course the show’s plot was heavily edited, staged and filtered, but when you’re a preteen, you don’t control that filter, even when it involves a deeply private (and potentially embarrassing) moment of your own life.

In the beginning, I liked the Kardashians. There was an authentic core to the family. As a viewer, you knew they ran in rich circles, but they didn’t seem too rich. They came off as the middle-class kids in their ultra wealthy neighborhood, somehow relatable and down to earth. They were not a brand; they were not influencers. They weren’t Instagram stars. Instagram didn’t exist. Over time, they created a whole new genre of marketing and dominated it, but in the beginning, they were just a loud, gregarious group of people who teased their Olympic legend dad.

As the show went on, the cast seemed to hemorrhage people. Rob dropped out of sight. Kendall and Kylie made the occasional appearances but focused more on their other, probably more lucrative, endeavors. Spinoffs came and went. Despite that, Keeping Up With the Kardashians somehow stubbornly held fast to its Sunday night time slot, renewed season after season after season, in a way that’s not atypical of many modern reality shows. Dancing With the StarsBig BrotherThe Bachelor/Bachelorette, SurvivorShark Tank…. the list goes on.

What makes KUWTK different from all of those, of course, is that you need The Kardashians at the core. There’s no revolving cast that changes from year to year. You can’t replace Kim Kardashian with Julianne Hough (DWTS) or Khloe Kardashian with Chris Sacca (Shark Tank). There’s no guest cast that can step in when they need to shake things up. Which would often leave those of us, who like to think about these things, wondering: how long can this go on? When will KUWTK finally end?

Despite news last year of a renewal through 2020 — the figure and dates are disputed as are the exact personnel who might be involved with the show — KUWTK finally has signs of fraying at the edges. Or, at least, signs the family is willing to have edited into the show. Watching last Sunday’s Season 15 premiere, tuning in, I’ll admit, largely because of the pre-episode press of Kourtney’s stated desire to step away from the program, I had the voice of Big Brother echo in my head: “You are not allowed to talk about Production.”

(Anyone who’s tuned in to Big Brother After Dark or watched the live feeds knows that when a houseguest starts chatting about the producers or the people running the show behind the walls, the Voice Over the Loudspeaker so tells them to stop, using that exact phrase, likely recorded years ago by a crew member or AD who’s long since moved on to other pastures.)

As told in the season premiere, Kourtney doesn’t want to devote her entire day to a photo shoot organized by Kim. She eventually reveals she is basically done with the entire KUWTK endeavor, saying if she had enough money she wouldn’t even film the show, and she’s embarrassed by her family’s constant public display. Her sisters don’t seem particularly sympathetic. Underneath Kim’s brutal insistence that Kourtney work her schedule around hers — Kim’s work commitments, she basically said, were more important than Kourtney’s desire to be with her three children — may have been an unspoken reasoning: the family, including Kourtney, is paid by E! to perform, i.e., let cameras follow them during set filming periods. If Kourtney doesn’t do it, she’s in essence not doing the job she was paid to do. If I’m being kind to Kim, I’d say her comments were rooted in a deep work ethic instead of pure nastiness.

Other commentators were not so kind. This was Mariah Smith in The Cut:

“Now, I’d rather have a 45-minute conversation with a hairbrush than with Kourtney Kardashian, but I really feel like her family is treating her like trash. I have two sisters, and if either of them ever spoke to me the way Kim did to her, and without remorse, all of our bodies would be at the bottom of the Hudson River. That’s not how sisters speak, and if you think sisters speak this way, then you need to chat it out with someone. I will say that my sisters and I have said some vile things to each other, but never once did we say anything that made us think the other human was vile and/or disgusting/someone I wouldn’t want to be captured on film with.”

Without a doubt, even if I want to give Kim and Khloe the benefit of the doubt, her family was treating her like trash. I, too, would sit and look at my phone and ignore them if I was in that situation as well. If I wasn’t forced to film a show, I would probably walk away.

And I hope Kourtney, when all of this season’s shenanigans are duly revealed, does walk away. Nothing would make me happier (well, in this context, certainly there are many other things in my real life that would make me happier) than to have Kourtney say Adios and fully be the human being that she wants to be.

It feels just somehow, and right. Kourtney is the oldest, the quiet one, the one into ayurvedic therapies who once had a same-sex dalliance that was explained away on the program but seemed a bit too comfortable for it to be entirely for show. She was the first to become a mother, the first to sustain a long term relationship, however rocky.

In short, Kourtney is interesting. Sorry Kim, but when you say Kourtney is the “least interesting to look at,” my guess is that Kourtney is actually the most interesting Kardashian to actually know. She’s deep, she’s real. She’s emotional, and, somehow, despite being the oldest, has long been bullied by her younger sisters. There is an instinctive, visceral delight in seeing Kourtney stand up to that bullying. She’s almost 40 now and has the right to live her own life, without having to sacrifice any of it as fodder for an empty reality program that is the only retaining wall left holding up the E! network. If the Kardashians bolt, E! will be left with Below Deck and Botched. Not that those are bad shows. Botched often made me consider getting that deviated septum surgery. But I digress.

So, go forth Kourtney Kardashian. If you “can’t commit to filming,” in the words of your younger sister, then leave. If you don’t want to do it anymore, then leave. If you’re fed up, then leave. Let E! sue you, or get a good lawyer that will make the case that you should always be able to control the filters on a show that’s based on your own life. If you can’t, then the contract was never valid to begin with.



Big Brother 20’s Kaitlyn Isn’t Crazy. She’s Just Learning.

Many years ago, when Oprah Winfrey’s show was still a “thing,” — that is, it was appointment viewing for all spiritual-seeking, life-affirming, “you can make it!” types — she featured a guest who had gone bankrupt. Or, something like that. The guest had become involved with a boyfriend whose financial debt she decided to take on.

During the program, the guest explained, “He was my whole life,” as if to say, “This is why I agreed to take on his debt.” When Oprah, doing her Oprah thing, asked the woman what lesson she’d learned from what happened, she answered, “Well, you need to take care of the bills right away. You can’t let them get out of hand.”

Oprah, in all of her Oprah wisdom, responded with her Oprah-esque tone, “that’s not the lesson,” to the knowing affirmative sounds from the audience. I can’t recall if Oprah ever actually spelled out the “real” lesson to the woman on the stage, but to anyone already regularly tuning in to her daily deconstruction of why we do what we do in life, it was obvious. The lesson was in the guest’s own words: “He was my whole life.” You let this person usurp you, failing to take care of yourself. The debt was just a symptom of that larger issue.

Tonight, watching Kaitlyn Herman’s exit interview with Julie Chen after being evicted from the Big Brother 20 house, I had a similar thought. “That’s not the lesson, Kaitlyn.” Referring, I was, to Kaitlyn’s totally unexpected failure to reenter the Big Brother house when given the chance to complete a deceptively simple challenge. Kaitlyn told Julie that it was, essentially, meant to be, and it was for the highest good.

In many ways, it was typical Kaitlyn. She came into the house as a self-described life coach who, early on, engaged some of the houseguests in a meditation session. Faysal, her onetime ally, expressed a belief that he could appeal to her on certain game matters, calling Kaitlyn a “spiritual girl.” But there were other things about Kaitlyn that Big Brother 20 viewers — and perhaps the show’s producers — liked to highlight, in order to make the argument that she’s a little bit batty.

Kaitlyn apparently said a bird in the yard contained the spirit of her grandfather. She talked constantly about following her intuition, but her beliefs of what was going on in the house were often wrong. In short, she was made to seem like a flake. Emotional, somewhat possessive of Faysal.

But crazy she is not. As someone who could very well imagine a loved one coming to visit me in the form of a bird, I’d like to argue that she’s just new at this. She honestly believes the life coach verbiage she uses, but I suspect she doesn’t have the depth of experience to know what it really means. But I imagine she’ll get there.

When time came tonight for the live eviction, I didn’t want anyone to leave. Big Brother 20 has turned out to be a rich season, with complicated and formidable players. It’s like the producers decided this time around that everyone cast would be a Big Brother fan and would be in it for the game. No one on the show is a veteran this season, but no one seems naive about the show. They all know how it works, and they all want to win. The lack of stunt casting, weird twists and showmances has meant the show rests on the houseguests and what they choose to bring to the game. Without gimmicks in the way, viewers have this treat of seeing a pleasing mix of personalities that don’t easily fit into stereotypical boxes. Everyone on this show is somehow relatable, while no one is exactly who they first appear to be. That’s a roundabout way of saying they are real people, who have chosen to get along instead of create unnecessary drama. I was kind of looking forward to another week with this compelling group of 13.

But it wasn’t to be. Kaitlyn, easily voted out after a house-wide debate over whether she or Rockstar was the bigger threat (Kaitlyn, at least on the surface, although I would argue Rockstar is being underestimated), got the chance to earn her way back in the game. That wasn’t a surprise. Sam had let the house know about her power at the veto meeting. The mystery was simply how it was going to play out, and once Chen revealed the details after the first non-split vote of the season — is the house still divided? Maybe not — it seemed like an easy feat. The producers clearly wanted Kaitlyn to stay, and gave her a task that should have been a snap for her to complete.

Kaitlyn was faced with a life-size representation of herself, that she had to break down into pieces. She then had to put herself back together again. Think breaking apart a jigsaw puzzle and then reassembling it, except with much bigger pieces. Her time to complete the challenge? Two and a half minutes. Piece of cake.

But then Kaitlyn dove in, and the pieces weren’t agreeing with her. Viewers like me thought, “it’s harder than it looks. It must be.” It’s a truth of many Big Brother competitions that seem like they should be a snap for armchair observers, but to the players doing the work, it’s not that easy.

With Kaitlyn, there was an added element. She was panicking. Before her eviction, she had cited a list of her “teachers” that she wanted to thank for their influence on her life. Among them, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson. Probably no one she’d ever met in person, but whose work had clearly affected her. I urge you not to hate on Kaitlyn for what might seem like a shaky attempt to come off as an enlightened person. Many of us have such lists. We may not rattle them off on a reality show, but we have them.

I don’t find her comments disingenuous. But that said, perhaps she hasn’t fully gotten the teachings, at least not yet.

Let’s stop for a second and make the point that, for individuals living with anxiety, it’s not always possible to simply take a breath and have it go away. It’s much more complicated than that.

But for Kaitlyn, her panic in the challenge may not have been anxiety. It may have been layers of emotion coming out all at once. “I can’t lift it,” she said at one point, after assembling the puzzle on the floor, since it was easier than putting it together on the required podium. I can’t do this, she appeared to be saying, throughout the entire two and a half minutes. I can’t do it.

Watching the taped broadcast, long after the challenge was already over, I found myself feeling for Kaitlyn. Just stop, Kaitlyn. Stop. Take a breath, or take three. Then focus on the puzzle. That’s what Deepak, Marianne and Tony would probably tell you — if you are in a moment of apparent crisis, just stop. Breathe.

After the shocking end to Kaitlyn’s game, she told Chen it was for the best. Maybe, she’s right, because ultimately what is has to be. It’s a logic loop. Everything happens as it should, because that’s how things happen. But those teachers she listed also talk about life work and meeting the fates halfway. Maybe she was meant to be evicted, but maybe she may also want to take some time to reassess times of panic. It’s true what Oprah said to that guest all those years ago: it wasn’t just about the debt. But the guest was right too. She learned an important lesson about taking care of her money. Her lesson about relationships and self-protection may have just taken a little longer to learn.

My point (to quote Ellen, “and I do have one”), is that Kaitlyn is not insincere, nor is she crazy. She’s just 24. She’s still learning how to navigate the world and how to put the life lessons she’s read from important teachers into practice. That takes work; there’s a misconception that following a spiritual path is as simple as learning a few platitudes. It’s not. Growth happens when those platitudes are challenged, or when they just don’t quite fit into the particular challenge you experience.

I will so miss Kaitlyn on Big Brother 20. I almost want to say I hope she returns in a future installment, but if this season is any indication, the best game is played by houseguests who have never before set foot in the Big Brother house.

Rockstar’s ‘Big Brother’ Outburst Was The Truest Words Ever Spoken

There’s been an emergence of late of Rockstar on Big Brother 20, the multi-hair-colored stay-at-home mom whom, on another reality program (say, The Bachelor) would have been alternatively dubbed by another line item in her resume (say, Former Zoo Animal Handler). In the beginning, she was quiet, holding her cards close to her chest, in smart Big Brother player fashion. The woman Julie Chen tapped her bet to win this season wasn’t making any overtures about her intention to do so.

Until last week. During the live eviction, Brett, on the block with his fellow bromance member Winston, accused Rockstar of lying to the house to hide her true voting intentions. A bald-faced lie, of course, to which Brett quickly owned up — in the diary room. His reasoning? Well, he doesn’t particularly like Rockstar. Whatever. *Shrug.*

Rockstar, for her part, wasn’t about to take it lying down. She tore into Brett not long after the ceremony, openly calling him out for lying. Later, in a tear-filled conversation with Bayleigh, she explained her emotion.

“Guys like that always win. They always win.”

By saying those words, Rockstar revealed (perhaps) that she was less upset about the damage Brett had done to her Big Brother game, than his ability to do so. She was triggered, probably from past experience. In the real world. Where her words are completely true. But let’s be clear about one thing: when she says “guys like that,” she probably doesn’t mean white males. She means people who are in a place of stability and comfort (popular, easily moving through social circles) who choose to lie, cheat and demean without conscience. Yes, in the real world, those people tend to get away with it. Perhaps without even really realizing what they’ve done or the damage they’ve caused.

That’s not to say that Brett is like that in the real world. Big Brother is a narrow view of humanity, skewed through the lens of a television show where people’s behavior is in large part determined by the fact that they are isolated from the outside, they are playing a game, and they are filmed 24/7.

It’s interesting — and probably planned by a smart editing team — that Rockstar’s outburts was intercut with the argument and later reconciliation between Bayleigh and JC. Bayleigh, who self-identifies as a member of the black community and JC, who self-identifies as a member of the gay and Hispanic communities, created some friction by the use of words. It started, interestingly, over discussion of JC’s stature. He objected to the “M” word, and things went from there. The two argued, then — to their immense credit — came back together to discuss what happened and the roots of their respective “triggering.”

So let’s all take a moment to congratulate Big Brother 20 and the maturity of its contestants. We’ve all moved a little bit, one can hope, from the disgusting spectacle that was Big Brother 15 where, as you might recall, a few stray racist and homophobic comments turned into an entire season of identity disparaging. Those contestants left the “safety” of the Big Brother 15 house to discover they had lost their jobs. Notably, without anyone inside the house to offer a check on their behavior, they were clueless as what they’d done wrong. They needed to read the media reports to realize what they’d done was unacceptable.

Kudos for the producers for not taking the radical step of kicking out houseguests for discussing controversial topics. And Kudos for the players, for realizing that we all have to live together, so we should all take a moment and try to understand one another.

That might include “those guys,” who yes, even if they don’t see it, always tend to win.

The ‘Big Brother 20’ App Twist Is Cruel In A Way That’s Atypical Of The Show

One can assume that you make a deal when you apply to be on Big Brother: you agree to total lack of privacy, isolation from the outside world, and virtually unchecked manipulation at the hands of producers and fellow houseguests. In exchange, you get a chance to play a game, perhaps win some money, and if you’re a diehard fan, to experience the world of Big Brother from the inside.

Anyone who’s watched the show over the years has probably noticed that the “real” world appears to become increasingly distant for the houseguests, who, over the course of days, weeks and months, start to be convinced by their own, sometimes skewed, perceptions of what’s happening inside the square footage of the Big Brother set and what people at home must be thinking about them.

This year, that psychological game has the unfortunate potential to be even more damaging, at least for the time the players are “successful” enough to stay in the game. It’s the BB App Twist, which each week gives a special power or punishment to whichever houseguest is most — or least — “trending.”

I know, I know — fans participate like this every season, right? At the end of each installment, after all, there’s a prize of $25,000 given to America’s Favorite Houseguest. The old “America’s Choice” weekly voting let viewers get in on the game by choosing Have-Not foods and special bonuses or game advantages to preferred individuals. The BB App Twist is just like that, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t. Because this year we not only have the one person who’s most trending each week, but the one who’s least trending. Again, you could just say this is Big Brother. Someone has to be the first evicted (Sorry, Steve, I was rooting for you). Someone has to come in last in the competitions. Getting on the show is feat enough — and in some ways, it does come down to a popularity contest.

But right now, in 2018, the idea of someone, or something, “trending,” or not, is particularly sensitive. More than ever before, young and not-so-young people connect the idea of “trending” with self-worth, success or popularity. And in the isolated, contained world of Big Brother, the effects of houseguests not getting an app — or worse yet, getting the “crap app” of least trending — is something that could affect them on a deeply emotional level.

It’s particularly cruel because, unlike the viewing audience, it’s not clear that the houseguests actually know what it means to be “trending” in this context. Even if it were the outside-world version of trending — hashtags, posts, shares, upvotes — it would be bad enough. But on Big Brother 20 it’s based on a set of very specific criteria. If the houseguests understood that, they would perhaps be able to temper their own disappointment at not landing in their preferred spot in the “trending” rankings. Especially since they are edited on a television show — in the beginning, when there are 16 houseguests to track in a 42-minute episode, not everyone is going to get equal time.

First, U.S.-based fans over the age of 18 have to use the Big Brother chatbot to answer 5 specific questions. The “trending” stats are based on the houseguests whose names are most mentioned, whether it’s in response to a positive or a negative question.

– Which Houseguest is most entertaining to watch?
– Which Houseguest is annoying you the most?
– Which Houseguest’s gameplay is most fun to watch?
– Which Houseguest is the funniest?
– Which Houseguest has you screaming at the television?

Last week, the trending app twist seemed to be rather benign. Faysal took his crap app in good humour, although at times he appeared noticably disappointed. (Kudos to Big Brother, by the way, for giving Faysal vegetarian “ham” to fulfill his punishment — I am waiting for the season where there is dairy-free slop for the vegan houseguests.)

This week, it was a bit more painful to watch. Rachel, whom I’ve barely seen on the show — I don’t get the live feeds, so I had to consult a website to figure out who she was — got the “crap app.” She seemed legitimately hurt, and understandably so. She may have perceived the audience didn’t like her, when in fact, not enough people found her “annoying,” or causing them to “scream at the television.” Most importantly, she wasn’t getting enough airtime.

The “crap app” sends a bad message; Big Brother producers may have thought it was in keeping with the “technology” theme, and it may have been appropriate, say, in 2015, when trending on social media was something that was seen to be not particularly harmful. Now, social media popularity is something that’s increasingly recognized to be potentially damaging, and based on falsehoods. People get hurt.

In the Big Brother context, no one seemed to make that point better than Swaggy C in his reaction to not getting either the Power App or the Crap App. Swaggy is apparently somewhere in the middle, but in the — admittedly edited — Sunday night episode of Big Brother he was seen asking America what he had to do to trend. He even said he’d given the audience “the first showmance” of the season. Sorry, Bayleigh. And Bayleigh, your instincts were right.

At the end of the day, it’s a television show, and the houseguests will eventually exit, some sooner than others. Hopefully the rest of their lives won’t be too much like this falsified version of reality, this makeshift high school, where the cool kids get to run the game while unseen forces constantly change the rules.


‘Westworld’ Has No Moral Compass. That’s What Makes It Hard To Watch.

The first time through, I missed the after-the-end-credits scene of the Season 2 Westworld finale. Turns out, there was a similar tag-on at the conclusion of Season 1, but I didn’t stick around for that one, either. When “The Passenger” reran, I dutifully tuned in for the final minutes to see The Man in Black — a host? A human? — being tested by his daughter Emily — a host? A human? — for “fidelity.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Joy was kind enough to save us all some trouble and just flat-out explain what was going on.

“In the far, far future, the world is dramatically different. Quite destroyed, as it were. A figure in the image of his daughter — his daughter is of course now long dead — has come back to talk to him. He realizes that he’s been living this loop again and again and again. The primal loop that we’ve seen this season, they’ve been repeating, testing every time for what they call “fidelity,” or perhaps a deviation. You get the sense that the testing will continue. It’s teasing for us another temporal realm that one day we’re working toward, and one day will see a little bit more of, and how they get to that place, and what they’re testing for.”

Reading her description, I thought, okay — so, they have taken a human, or a host, or a hybrid of the two, and put him through the psychological torment of repeating the same loop over and over again, with no memory of each cycle. Is this moral?

That question should be at the heart of Westworld. The question of morality should make the show a compelling, thoughtful watch. But because of the confused storytelling and the consistently blurred lines between reality/fantasy, robot/human, past/present, memory/experience, the show doesn’t have room to present clear questions about what is right or wrong.

There’s no starting point in Westworld — to use the show’s own verbiage, there’s no baseline of accepted modes of behavior and action that all other events are set against. When we enter the show, everything has already been twisted from the world we know, but we’re not really sure if this is a misguided utopia or a very dark vision of the future.

You could say Westworld is very good at introducing ideas that bring up moral questions, but it makes little attempt to resolve those questions. In Season 1, I thought it might have been the robot uprising after this entire species was essentially created to be abused by people. But as the show went on, it was revealed that there are so many problematic things going on, no one is in the right. If the robot uprising may have actually been pre-programmed by a human, is it justified?

Ultimately, what Westworld lacks is the identification of morally problematic choices and consequences for those choices. This is where, in my mind, the show fails — because instead of giving viewers clean character arcs, it seems the powers that be behind Westworld have decided to just throw in neat ideas wherever they could. It’s like the producers are sitting in a room, trying to come up with cool concepts without really thinking about whether or not they fit with the show.

There’s an easy comparison here: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As any Buffy fan knows, there were distinct rules in the universe, and consequences for violating those rules. That’s not to say the rules were never violated — they were — but the characters always had to deal with the fallout. Think Willow and her misuse of magic. The line that Buffy could never cross: killing humans, even if they were bad guys. The Buffy-verse has a set of moral rules that Westworld just does not.

Here’s my short list of potentially problematic aspects of Westworld. Ask yourself how many of these contradict with one another. A clever moral web, you could say, or a lack of moral consistency that prevents you from fully investing in this piece of fiction, because you just don’t know who to root for.

  • Humans create a species of humanoid robots for guests to play with in a park. The robots can’t fight back. Visitors to the park are told they will experience no consequences for whatever they do while in the park on “vacation.”
  • Robots are endowed with the ability to grow, love and form attachments. Although their memories are wiped between “builds,” they retain familiarity and bonds with others, intangible connections they don’t quite understand. They recall, with some prompting, their past abuse at the hands of the guests.
  • The park is copying the cognition of the guests while they are in the park, without their knowledge. The purpose is to turn humans into hosts, something I still don’t quite get, although I predicted it. Is the intent to sell immortality? Otherwise, why would this happen at all? How are the hosts they would create with human consciousness a superior version to the ones they already have?
  • The hosts eventually commit violence against humans, guests and park administrators alike. They do not discriminate between those who have actually caused them harm, and those who happen to be in the way.
  • The hosts can be particularly vengeful, aka Dolores. However, she was designed to be vengeful. Indeed, the entire robot uprising seems to have been orchestrated by a human being, Ford — so do any of the hosts really have a moral justification for taking the actions they do?
  • The Man in Black mows down a group of people, to the shock of his daughter, before he kills her, too. At this point, he’s gone insane, convinced the world has been created for him and none of it is real. He has immediate regret when he realizes the figures were not hosts, but people — but what is the true moral difference here? How is it less reprehensible to end the life of a host designed to act, think and look like a human, than to actually end the life of a person?
  • How should The Man in Black be held accountable for that action? There’s no clear answer because Westworld is a world without consequences — which makes it ultimately unsatisfying.

By the way, we won’t find out soon what happens with host/hybrid William and his testing with Emily. Later on in the Hollywood Reporter interview, Joy says that she doesn’t envision that as part of Season 3. They are just working towards that much-later storyline. (Which is another reason why Westworld is a show that is best binge-watched. Put in a weekend and move on, enjoy the candy without thinking too hard about what’s going on.)


Julie Chen Throws Paul Abrahamian Some Shade In ‘Big Brother 20’ Promo

Okay, maybe it’s not Julie Chen that’s throwing shade — it’s one of the producers or whomever designed the set that’s giving a little bit of a jab to the perpetual Big Brother bridesmaid.

In advance of the Big Brother 20 premiere, Chen gave her traditional house tour to The Hollywood Reporter. Fitting with this year’s theme of interactivity, technology (or whatever), there are 3D-printed game consoles in the fishtank. In the video, Chen pointed out her “favourite” one.

“My favourite game is called ‘Friendship.’ You never win this game. You always come in second place, just like Paul, whose image is on the side of the game console.”

In general, I think it’s bad karma to speak ill of anyone, especially someone you don’t actually know. But it’s safe to say Paul was a character on Big Brother, the only person ever to come in second place twice, two years in a row. Over the course of Big Brother 19 he proved to be a particularly manipulative player, who lied with abandon, while making the entire house feel he was their ride or die.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that making people believe you’re their friend is part of the game on Big Brother. But Abrahamian took it to a whole new level, evidenced by the fact that the jury voted against him — not once, but twice. His gameplay, and the other houseguests’ response, showed the dangers inherent in being locked in isolation with a small group of people with no outside influence. It’s a game, but it has very real psychological effects. It is group think come to life.

Big Brother 20 won’t feature Paul (we can hope) except symbolically in the fishtank. But maybe the new crop of houseguests will have learned from his past deceptions, and remember to think independently as much as possible. You need allies on Big Brother, but you also need to leave the house and re-enter the real world without regret.