In 'Westworld,' Sex Worker Robots Now Hold All The Power

The show uses sex work as a proxy for wider themes of consent, trauma, exploitation, and empowerment.

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Jun 18 2018, 6:29pm

Image: HBO

This post contains spoilers for Westworld.

“Vanishing Point,” the penultimate episode of Westworld’s second season, set the stage for the finale showdown at the Valley Beyond, whatever that turns out to be. Like much of the series, this was an episode built on doppelgänger plotlines, most prominently the mirror narratives of Dolores and the Man in Black as they separately grapple with their accountability in the self-inflicted deaths of their romantic partners.

But “Vanishing Point” also primed its audience for another study in contrasts—Maeve and Clementine. When Westworld premiered, the pair were the saucy courtesans of Mariposa Saloon, but now they have evolved into super-powerful foils, with Maeve becoming mentally liberated but physically imprisoned, and Clementine becoming mentally imprisoned but physically liberated.

As park technician Roland explains to Charlotte Hale, the lines of Maeve’s code that enable her to reprogram other hosts have been successfully copied and downloaded into Clementine’s programming. Now, she can match Maeve’s Professor-Xavier-style telepathic powers. But where Maeve has been using mind-hacking skills to establish complex connections with hosts around the park, Clementine has been coded with a simple killswitch.

In back-to-back scenes, the episode hints at the impending battle of software wits between these hosts, who began the series as allies. In a test run, Clementine spreads her deadly infection, causing hosts to brutally kill each other, which convinces Charlotte that Clementine might finally be the weapon that can bring order back to Westworld.

But Charlotte didn’t account for Ford transfering a digital version of himself into Bernard’s wiring—an understandable oversight, because it’s a pretty bonkers plot development. After witnessing the horror of the hosts tearing themselves to pieces at Clementine’s command, Bernard lingers long enough near Maeve’s cell for Ford to deliver a key that allows her to unlock the “core permissions” of the park. I could be wrong, but it seems inevitable that these two female hosts are fated to face off with the help of their new software patches.

It is no accident that the Mariposa courtesans are likely to emerge as the ultimate power brokers over the fate of the park. Westworld has repeatedly used charged attitudes about sex work to underpin the development of both characters, as well as some of the core themes of the show, like consent, trauma, and intimacy.

The expression that “prostitution is the oldest profession in the world” is well-worn, but doesn’t capture how sex work can paradoxically attract the highest respect or the cruelest disdain within the same society, depending on the context. This dichotomy is even hinted at in “Vanishing Point” when Roland refers to Maeve as “the Madam,” reducing her to her profession, while Ford calls her lovingly by her name. These context-dependent attitudes toward sex workers shape the massive continuum between exploitation or empowerment that defines these transactions, and the many shades of grey between those polar extremes.

In Westworld, Clementine has fallen into the “exploited” category more often than not. As one of the earliest hosts to roam the park, she is haunted by a generation of spectral memories of abuse, which is beautifully captured by actress Angela Sarafyan’s unforgettable thousand-yard stare. She often complains to Maeve of nightmares. "A hooker with hidden depths,” Elsie remarks in the pilot. “Every man's dream." (Elsie then kisses a near-comatose Clementine when nobody is looking, suggesting that the dream is not limited to men.)

Read More: Westworld’s Female Hosts Signal a Shift In Our Fear of Robots

Maeve certainly has no lack of trauma to sort through once she begins to recall her past lives, but she uses those memories as an anchor in reality, and as empowerment for her rebellion. She recognizes that seeing the guests at their most barbaric and intimate provides insights into their weaknesses that no other profession could have provided. In contrast, Clementine seems to be swept away by reveries until she is decommissioned, and replaced by a newer Clementine model.

Now, the two old Mariposa friends are likely to confront each other under very different circumstances and with very different abilities in the season finale. Clementine has become little more than a shell, an avatar for the human Delos staff, while Maeve is an evolving self-aware web encompassing the park.

But their shared pasts as sex workers adds a layer of complexity to their current condition, and it might even hint at the outcome. Early in the first season, Maeve gives Clementine some advice to escape from her nightmares: “Close your eyes, count backwards from three, wake yourself right up.” Given how much Westworld loves callbacks, perhaps that piece of friendly wisdom will return to help Clementine awaken from her latest bad dream.

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