Note: spoilers for Westworld through season two, episode seven follow.
Given my apprehension to heap praise on the most recent episode of Westworld (“Les Écorchés”), I reached out to the Twittersphere for feedback on what others thought might be a worthwhile topic to explore as part of this week’s post.
Thankfully, Twitter user @r_miotto_e had a thought that got me thinking about the value of a conversation on redemption arcs. I’ll leave the original comment below for the sake of giving credit where credit is due.
The only positive thing I can think of is the enemies to friends/lovers? The what's-his-name, old selfish boss that is now saving Maeve?
— R. Miotto E. 🥇 #RevPit18winner (@r_miotto_e) June 5, 2018
So who is this “old selfish boss?” It’s everyone’s favorite Lee Sizemore, of course, the prattish, self-absorbed storyteller Delos employs to develop new story-lines for hosts in the park.
Lee is well-known for being generally awful. Whether bloviating incessantly about his brilliance or literally—yes, literally—pissing his way to a near-firing, Lee is one of those characters viewers can’t help but love to loathe.
I could write for a post and a half about all of the things he’s done or does that make him so detestable, but for the purposes of this week’s post, let’s take a look at the flip side of that coin.
Why? Because we did see Lee go out of his way to try to save Maeve this week, something he would’ve never even thought to do in season one. To understand how we got to this point, let’s examine how viewers have increasingly been presented with a softer, more vulnerable version of Lee throughout this season in the interest of slowly spinning this possible thread of redemption into his arc as a character.
If step one in the establishment of Lee’s arc was “insufferability,” step two seems to have been vulnerability.
A key moment in this stage of his progression was in episode one of season two (“Journey Into Night”), in which Maeve saves him from a cannibalistic gold miner of Lee’s own creation. Though easy to cheer against Lee in the moments leading up to what was his apparent death, his quick turnaround into offering whatever help he can to Maeve after his near-death experience does show some gratitude on his part, even if it is based mostly in a desire for self-preservation.
Then as the season progresses, we find Lee in increasingly more vulnerable or humbling roles. Whether he’s relegated to guiding mules or otherwise playing a bit role as a background stooge, one thing is apparent: Lee is being ground down, forced to accept his position as a sidekick in a narrative that not even he himself could have written.
Though he certainly has his moments of utility and backstabbery, by and large he finds himself with less and less control over the situations in which he finds himself, as vulnerable as he’s even been before.
Sympathy and Empathy
What does that vulnerability buy the show’s writers, then? As the section header might indicate, it buys some degree of sympathy and empathy for the man over time, if for no other reason than that it’s easy for viewers to watch him and say, “Gee, he’s a human. Look at how out of his element he is. I could—no, would—be that mostly helpless human if I were in that situation.”
This view of a character on the part of a watcher or reader—regardless of where a character started their journey—puts writers in a powerful position; characters with whom readers sympathize or empathize are ripe for impactful character change.
None of that is to say that vulnerability on the part of a character or sympathy and empathy toward the character are required in order to slowly stitch in character development. On the contrary, there are a great number of states in which a character might find themselves forced to change, adapt, or fundamentally reevaluate who they are as people.
In making an otherwise distasteful character like Lee vulnerable, though, the writers have at least put viewers in a position to have to reckon with their notions of who Lee truly is at the present juncture in the story.
A Kind of Redemption
This brings us to what some might view as a sort of redemption when he goes out of his way in episode seven of season two to ask park security to spare Maeve as “one of the good ones.”
That said, I’m still not sure I buy into this perceived shift of character all that much. Why? Though this post has focused on Lee’s presentation as a character who’s been worn down a bit, he’s certainly acted out at times along his journey, too.
For example, in “Journey Into Night,” he does try to betray Maeve as a host only moments after she’d just saved his life, and the reason Maeve winds up shot by security in episode seven is because of a phone call he made to security in the first place.
Simply put, Lee’s redemption arc doesn’t exactly have him on a clean, clear-cut trajectory to becoming some sort of hero or fan favorite. In fact, given the inconsistency of his actions, it would be perfectly reasonable to make the argument that this isn’t a redemption arc at all.
I think the true “tell” of the direction Lee is headed as a character will be in his reaction to Maeve’s possible death. Whether she ultimately dies on that gurney or not, will he feel some guilt for the role he played in getting her shot? What cause will he take up without her if she dies or they otherwise become separated? Will he continue to look out for himself and mostly himself, or will a more altruistic version of Lee emerge on the far side of this episode?
What all of this really comes down to is that characters like Lee are complex and conflicted. Whether this ultimately proves to be a redemption arc on which Lee is set, we don’t yet know. We do know, however, that the groundwork has been laid to present a softer, perhaps less brazen Lee than before.
I personally don’t know if that could make up for the person he once was, but I figure it might be worth watching to find out.
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