Alyssa Thorne
November 14, 2016 2:23 pm
HBO

It was made clear pretty much immediately that the hosts in hosts in Westworld were largely there for wish fulfillment for the guests who visit. This more or less makes sense, at least in a vacuum — the hosts aren’t actually people, the hosts don’t remember anything that happens to them, the hosts don’t have a sense of self. So far as the plan goes, the hosts are basically the equivalent of roller coaster cars in the Westworld landscape: there to serve the purpose of bringing guests to highs and lows they might find thrilling.

This whole idea becomes way murkier when you add the context back in, and certainly as the hosts gain sentience.

Because the hosts, to us, for all intents and purposes look and behave as people. Since technically the human brain doesn’t distinguish between, for example, characters we see weekly on TV versus people we see weekly in real life, acting like the guests’ brains are seeing the hosts as anything other than human is ignorant at best.

Additionally, the hosts are starting to remember their past experiences and develop personal feelings and ideas about them, and so obviously they are developing real trauma related to the horrible things guests have put them through. As we move closer and closer to seeing (as viewers) the hosts as wholly human, this makes the ethics of sex between the hosts and the guests even… ickier than it already was? Because now the hosts are human in all the ways that matter. But they aren’t yet in possession of total free will.

People are paying to use the hosts’ bodies for their own pleasure. It was prostitution to begin with, but now it really is, and none of the hosts have any type of consent. Which is why last night’s episode showing William and Dolores sleeping together as romantic is… still kinda gross.

Dolores has no idea who she is, and is just starting to figure that out. Dolores has been sexually abused in the past, which isn’t something she’s necessarily worked through. Dolores is also still, to a dubious extent, programmed to serve the guests. So ~good guy William~ sleeping with her just seems kind of gross, even if we’re not going to bring up the fact that he just cheated on his fiancée under the guise of, basically, he feels more “himself” around Dolores.

Literally the excuse of all cheating men since the dawn of time, but okay.

Westworld is clearly looking to address the ethical issues involved with the hosts, so we can just hope that Westworld will succeed where it’s (arguably better — okay, fine, I’m arguing it’s better and will for the rest of my life) predecessor*, Dollhouse, seemed to flounder. If you’re going to do a show that is, at its core, about prostitution, you’d better make damn sure what you add to the conversation is careful and nuanced.

*In terms of recent sci-fi television shows that cover the same ground. I’m aware Westworld technically came first, but for the purposes of evaluating the effectiveness of Westworld as a TV show, I view it as its own entity.

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