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Do androids dream of electric viruses? | Chuck's World


Last updated 7/16/2020 at 11:33am

Forty years ago, as I walked across a theater parking lot, preparing to see "The Empire Strikes Back" and pretty excited about it, my companion was also pretty excited. Even though he'd already seen the movie.

And as we headed toward the ticket booth, my buddy shook his head in anticipatory wonder. "I still can't believe Darth Vader is Luke's father," he said.

My life was forever altered by a stray comment, then, although to be honest I still really enjoyed the movie. I just get amused by being the victim in a spectacular way, having one of the most famous reveals in film history spoiled for me.

So I'm sensitive to spoilers, having been a spoilee. I intend to tread carefully here.

The main reasons we see "spoiler warning" so much now is that there is just so much to spoil these days, and so many ways to spoil it. On the other hand, most productions have been halted, suspended, or canceled because of the pandemic.

Maybe if this lasts long enough, we'll all have a chance to catch up.

We seem to be trying. Everyone I know is clamoring for new ideas, something to watch, something to read, something, anything, to do while we stay inside, washing our masks while our hair grows.

And so, after a few years of mulling this over, I decided to take a chance on "Westworld." Begin reading carefully now.

I have fond memories of the original 1973 film. It hasn't aged all that well, but it was fun back when I was 15.

The HBO series, which premiered four years ago, was an obvious update, but the gist seemed about the same. A theme park in the not-too-distant future, designed for the one-percenters, populated by lifelike androids and scripted for maximum fantasy.

Humans being humans, and technology being technology, we understand that things will go very wrong, very quickly. This is an old story. HBO just added a bunch of money to it.

I wasn't interested. The older I get, the less enthralled I am with blood and gore, and I'd heard some things. They turned out to be true.

But these are desperate times. A friend mentioned the other day that she'd resorted to watching episodes of "Bonanza." That kind of desperate.

So I decided to give the near future a try, prepared to cover my eyes and hit the pause button should it get too bloody.

Here's the spoiler part, although it's been four years and this has been written about extensively. Just in case you haven't taken the plunge yet but are getting a little bored with "Bonanza."

There are twists at the end of the first season, and perhaps the biggest one is a reveal along the lines of Luke Skywalker's heritage. I won't tell you what it is. I just want to tell you how it's done.

These are robots, you understand. They act as the animatronic characters do at Disneyland, performing the same routines and subroutines, only changing based on the actions of the human guests.

They do the same things every day, in other words, and we see them do it, multiple times with different guests interacting with them. The faces of the guests change. The androids do not, obviously. They just break, get repaired, and get sent out to do it all over again. For many years, we're led to understand.

It's the sameness of the days that lulls us. We make assumptions based on the repetition, and so the writers hide their secret in plain sight.

A particular android character interacts with a young human man, and then with a much older one, and it never occurs to us that the only difference between them is time.

It was only when I understood this, after seven or eight episodes, that I realized it was the perfect COVID-19 show.

I'm not making gross assumptions. I'm just suggesting that we've all experienced a sort of sameness over the past few months, a relentless reboot of our days, one after another. This is why people are talking about "Groundhog Day" scenarios. This is why I'm talking about "Westworld."

This is why we all acknowledge, usually with humor, that we're losing track of the days of the week. Is it Monday? Thursday? They all look alike.

I'm over-extending my metaphor, I know. It's just a show.

But time hasn't stopped. Only we have.

Some people are well aware, and I suspect most of them are dealing with children, either as parents or as teachers, or both. Children prove the point – they get taller, for one thing, and start using big words.

For the rest of us, though, stuck in this timeless loop of day after day, binge-watching, baking, gardening, and waiting for someday, I wonder what this is doing to us. The touchstones we count on to mark time have disappeared; is a summer without baseball or blockbusters truly summer? Will it be fall without football?

And when we finally go outside, blinking hard against the glare of a world we've been avoiding for months, what will we find?

I don't know. I'm curious.

I have some ideas, though, and they mostly have to do with time. I have a feeling we're going to be aware that we were much younger when the sameness started, and when it ends I suspect a haircut isn't going to be enough to make it normal, not nearly enough.


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