For all those who have thought that HBO's Westworld is starting to feel a little too real, it turns out that one of the show's stars agrees. In a heartbreaking tweet, Thandie Newton pointed out how her Westworld character Maeve's search for her daughter resembles the current crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. This week, debate erupted over the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy in which undocumented immigrant and asylum seeking parents are being separated from their children. It's a policy that will sound eerily familiar to any fan of the sci-fi show.
The policy is tearing families apart, causing many on both sides of the aisle to question how anyone could defend such a heartless law that leaves young children crying at the border as they're separated from their parents and being placed in cages. It's also left many of these detained parents wondering if they are ever going to see their children again. This is exactly the scenario that author Marianne Williamson wrote about on Twitter to try and help people understand what the policy is really like in practice:
"Imagine a woman who made a desperate journey with her child, trying to make it to a place where maybe they could live a better life. Her child is taken away when she gets here; she’s deported is now in some village not knowing where her child is & with no way of ever finding out."
After reading this, Newton responded in a tweet of her own. "It’s like an episode with Maeve in Westworld," Newton wrote. "Despicable. Happening right now in the world... Bleeding hearts everywhere."
In Westworld, Newton's character Maeve, who was first introduced as a madam at a brothel, has become sentient. Her newfound memories of previous lives (or storylines) she lived in the park sent her on a search for her daughter from one of her past storylines, one she remembers dying to protect. Maeve feels as if she was this host child's mother, feeling real love for her, and has been trying to reunite with her throughout the show's second season.
That search has been one of the most tragic storylines on the show. And as Twitter user @stardustobiwan pointed out, the very real act of separating families at the border is a scenario in which "life imitates art but not in the good way."
But there's another heartbreaking way in which this family separation policy, which applies to all families who are crossing the border — both those who have crossed illegally and those who are crossing to request asylum, which is their legal right — connects to Maeve's Westworld plotline.
Spoilers ahead for Westworld Season 2. This season Maeve was able to finally find her "daughter," but when she did, she discovered that the Westworld powers that be had erased her daughter's memory and given her a new story. Maeve has seemingly lost her daughter forever, and there's nothing more tragic than that.
That is, until you realize that this is a very real possibility for some undocumented immigrant and asylum seeking parents who may be sent back to their country of origin without their kids, who have been placed in an immigrant children detention centers. John Sandweg, who acted as the director of ICE under President Obama from 2013 to 2014, told NBC News on Tuesday that the lack of a reunification protocol for children separated from their parents at the border could lead to “permanent separation” of parent and child, despite White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp telling Fox News that same day that the separations were "for a limited period of time between five to ten days."
But even those kids who are reunited with their families may face longterm damage from the traumatic experience, according to many medical professionals. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Colleen Kraft, who visited one facility in south Texas, told NPR last week, "By separating parents and children, we are doing irreparable harm to these children." Such trauma produces "toxic stress," which can lead to seriously impaired brain development.
On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order to end family separation but he will continue the zero-tolerance approach established by Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in April. This order will keep newly incoming families together, but those who have already been put in detention will remain there indefinitely. As The Associated Press pointed out, there is no clear plan in place to reunite families whose children are already being held in detention centers.
Westworld is just a show, but, as Newton pointed out, it's hard not to see the connection to what's going on in real life. And just as the plight of parents being forcefully separated from their children might remind some of Westworld, it will also be hard to think about Maeve without thinking of what real moms and dads are going through as they search for their own.