“If we look at the early stories around creating artificial women, like Pandora, who was an artificial creation by the gods, of course she unleashed all the terror in the world,” Devlin, whose forthcoming book Turned On examines human-robot sexual interactions, told me over Skype.
“She did the wrong thing and messed up,” she said. “It’s the whole Christian Eve [narrative] as well. You’ve got this really long-standing trope about women—don’t let them do anything, they’ll get it wrong, they’ll do it bad.”
Empowering women with knowledge is hardwired into Western storytelling as a recipe for disaster, regardless of whether those women are human or robotic. This is the central dynamic in that opening scene between Bernard and Dolores. Bernard is not physically intimidated by Dolores; he specifies that it’s her mind and its evolution that frightens him. What will be the outcome of all her ruminations?
Bernard suspects, and the show confirms, that it will be bloody and chaotic, just like so many past stories in which women get wise and wreak havoc. Ex Machina toys with a similar undercurrent in which a female robot (Alicia Vikander) learns enough about the men keeping her captive to exploit their weaknesses.
That connection between female intellectual maturation and extremely watchable catastrophe is further reflected in Westworld’s choice to make female hosts, particularly Dolores and Maeve (Thandie Newton), much more active agents of rebellion than their male companions Teddy (James Marsden) and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro).
These artificial men are also repeatedly victimized in the show—we see implied sexual violence against them by the staff and they are treated as target practice for the guests. But Teddy follows Dolores somewhat questioningly, and Hector follows Maeve totally unquestioningly, and both seem to experience their newfound independence vicariously through the women.
What makes these unthinking male warrior robots so scary is that they don’t generally buck their directives. Even in cases where male robots are able to supercede their programming, like Sonny in the 2004 film I, Robot or HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they do so in dedication to a larger mission goal rather than for their own independence.
With this response, she further undermines Lee’s dignity, while simultaneously demonstrating that she can be self-aware about her own coding.