The Waste Lands:
End of book
Blaine Is In Pain, And That Is The Truth
If someone were to ask you to identify the villain of The Waste Lands, who would you name? Shardik is iconic, but he’s really just a beast, not the villain of the book. Gasher and Tick-Tock might come to mind, but they aren’t quite Big Bad material either. No, the only character who truly fits the bill is Blaine the Mono, the deadliest enemy the ka-tet has encountered thus far.
A supersonic train, controlled by a psychotic AI, Blaine is dangerous, charismatic in a sociopathic Hannibal Lecter kind of way, and entertaining as hell, slipping into John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart impressions like he’s Robin Williams doing a set at The Comedy Store. He ticks all the boxes of an iconic villain…but is he actually that villainous?
This isn’t a #ThanosIsRight argument; I’m not saying that Blaine’s actions aren’t villainous, because they obviously are. But can we truly hold him responsible for them? Blaine is nothing but a computer, an ancient computer, whose bad programming, whether buggy from the start or corrupted over time, is no fault of his own. If it were possible to arrest and prosecute a robot train for its wrongdoings, Blaine would plead not guilty by reason of insanity and he’d have a solid case. He functions as the villain in narrative terms because he is certainly the antagonist, but there’s also legal and ethical precedent for absolving him of guilt, allowing us to view Blaine from a completely new perspective: not as an enemy of the ka-tet but as one of their own.
“YOU ARE KA-TET;” Blaine declares at the end of the book, “ONE MADE FROM MANY. SO AM I. WHOSE KA-TET IS STRONGER IS SOMETHING WE MUST NOW PROVE.” (p. 603). While he is ka-tet, he also betrays an inherent misunderstanding of what that means. Blaine is confusing ka-tet and its root word, tet, a mistake I think most fans probably make regularly, just as I did in the first paragraph of this post.
According to Robin Furth’s Dark Tower Concordance, a tet is “a group of people with the same interests or goals.” A team, in other words, which could compete against another team and, as Blaine says, prove whose is stronger. But ka-tet doesn’t refer to a group of people, it refers to “the place where men’s lives are joined by fate.” Ka-tet is not the team, it’s the thing that binds the team together.
And now, with just over three minutes left in his ordinary life, Jake Chambers walked beneath the unseen umbrella of that force which Roland called ka-tet.– The Waste Lands, p. 141
Ka-Tet is not a thing, it’s a state of being. It’s a metaphysical “umbrella” one steps under, a space shared by the tet. And Blaine is under that umbrella with Roland and the others, his destiny bound together with theirs on this mad run to Topeka. They are not separate, opposing ka-tets, they are all ka-tet together.
I’m sure the members of Roland’s tet would disagree. Roland and the New Yorkers would hate being associated with Blaine. They talk about him like he’s a monster or a serial killer, and label him “a pain” long before they even reach Lud. They have nothing but disdain for the Mono, and they have good reason for that, but that hatred prevents them from seeing how much Blaine has in common with each of them.
Blaine is like a virtual composite of the four gunslingers. He has a split personality just like Susannah, unaware that Little Blaine even exists. The computer’s ability to analyze voices with its wireless connection to the mainframes back in Lud are not dissimilar to Jake’s latent telepathic abilities. Blaine’s imitations are reminiscent of Eddie’s class clownery, and the computer is also an addict, not for drugs or the Tower, but for riddles.
“FROM THE NEW YORK PLACE OF WHERE?” Blaine asked, and now the tone of his voice was perfectly clear, at least to Eddie. Blaine might be a machine, but Eddie had been a heroin junkie for six years, and he knew stone greed when he heard it.– The Waste Lands, p. 521
Blaine is especially like Roland, not because the robot is a gunslinger, but because the gunslinger is like a robot. Eddie is constantly teasing Roland for his seeming lack of emotion, saying things like “every time I just about make up my mind that you’re as mechanical as that bear, you surprise me with something that actually seems human.” (p. 78). Roland is even compared to the Terminator in The Drawing of the Three, and in this week’s pages King once again calls attention to the gunslinger’s expressionless face.
Obviously the gunslinger is not actually a computer, but I think it’s fair to say that he was programmed to perform a specific function, much like Blaine was programmed to keep operating long after the world has moved on. Also like Blaine, Roland knows what it means to lose his mind. All the way back in the woods, before Jake’s return to Mid-World, he too was going insane and becoming unstable. At one point Eddie pondered how dangerous and scary the gunslinger would be if he truly lost it. In Blaine, we catch a glimpse of what that might have looked like.
Roland was only going crazy for a couple of months, and it was both physical and mental torture for him until the wound in his mind healed. Blaine’s mental health went off the rails (forgive the pun) ages ago, with no hope of saving it, and yet we never think of Blaine as being wounded; we never consider what robotic equivalent to agony he’s been feeling for generations.
I AM PERFECTLY AWARE THAT I AM SUFFERING A DEGENERATIVE DISEASE WHICH HUMANS CALL GOING INSANE, LOSING TOUCH WITH REALITY, GOING LOONYTOONS, BLOWING A FUSE, NOT PLAYING WITH A FULL DECK, ET CETERA. REPEATED DIAGNOSTIC CHECKS HAVE FAILED TO REVEAL THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM. I CAN ONLY CONCLUDE THAT THIS IS A SPIRITUAL MALAISE BEYOND MY ABILITY TO REPAIR.”– Blaine the Mono, The Waste Lands, p. 589
Reading through this new lens, perhaps we can view the end of The Waste Lands (and the thrilling conclusion that follows in Wizard & Glass) not as a story in which the gunslingers defeat a villain who is a pain, but rather one in which they grant the dying wish of a sick companion who is in pain. If Roland and his tet could have seen how much they had in common with the robot, they might have been able to been able to accept him with more compassion and less contempt, and it might have earned them a less turbulent ride to Topeka.