I still remember when I first saw Westworld. I must have been eight or nine. We didn’t have cable yet so, if we didn’t watch one of the three networks, then we would just end up watching the movie on our local, non-affiliated tv channel, WYZZ. My age didn’t allow me to form an opinion of the film, but it stayed in my memory as one of those early pop culture touchstones.
Suffice to say, when I heard HBO was making a series of Westworld I became rather giddy. I felt like the cool nerd. While others had to run to IMDB and Wikipedia to learn about the film, I could finally brag that I had seen it when I was a kid. Secretly, I prayed to the tv gods that it wouldn’t be lame. As production kept taking longer, my hopes began lowering until I eventually forgot about the show. Somewhere there must be an old adage about forgotten dreams bringing the best rewards.
The series shares the same concept of the film: people get to play the ultimate game of dress up in Westworld, a high-concept theme park. In the unnamed western town, guests can drink, gamble, swear, fornicate, and kill with no repercussions because that what the residents were built for: they’re androids with artificial intelligence. Everyday they wake up and relive the same story line, which can be interrupted one of any various ways. For instance, if a guest asks a host (as the androids are called) to show them the scenery, then the host leaves their story line to join the humans.
In the first episode, this repetition first looks boring. To me it evoked the same monotony we regular people experience in our day-to-day. You quickly learn, however, that it’s a blessing for the hosts. A host is able to wake up fresh-faced the morning after being raped. Another is able to herd cattle the day after being shot in the head. Their traumas are forgotten with the help of a dreamless sleep.
No amusement park runs flawlessly, though, and we are able to see the cracks in Westworld pretty early. The humans who run the park fall within two groups: those who think the park is running fine and those who think the park is ripe for a big problem. What’s to stop the hosts from hurting the guests? They’re programming. What happens if something goes wrong with their programming? Nothing will go wrong with their programming. But what if something does? Um, we’ll fix the update? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This is hammered into the viewer. We’re given a lot of shots of flies landing on hosts and walking across faces and eyeballs. At one point the main programmer, played by Jeffrey Wright, even says that they wouldn’t hurt a fly. Their programming is so strong that they don’t even shoo the flies away.
Glitches begin happening, though. The park’s creator, played by Anthony Hopkins, has made an update to the hosts’ operating system and some are not taking to kindly to it. One host is remembering previous “lives” (characters they played in previous story lines) and another has become more homicidal than usual. Is this happening to just them or are more going to go haywire?
A lot of reviews have said how HBO hopes Westworld becomes their next Game of Thrones, since that series will ending in 2018. It’s hard to tell it’s potential after only one episode. If they completely follow the film, then the show runners could be stifling the series. But is it fair to hold the series to such high expectations? GoT is a show based on a book series written by someone who has spent nearly thirty years building its world mythology. Westworld is based on a film where the plot didn’t need a greater mythos. Should it have one?
Well, since J.J. Abrams is one of the executive producers, the answer is yes. Ed Harris’s character is this Westworld‘s Man in Black, although there’s no way to tell if he’s a host or a guest. According to some reviews, he’s a host who has become sentient. To me, he seems more like a long-time guest. In either case, he is the classic Western trope: a man with no name searching for something or someone.
Westworld shows a lot of potential in its first episode. Evan Rachel Wood is the stand out as Dolores, the host who introduces us to the world. The most impressive part of Wood’s performance so far is her ability to repeat lines with the same affect every time. Some director’s would just use the same take over and over, but Jonathan Nolan lets us know that this is all Wood. We see Dolores greet her father on the porch every morning. The greeting is said the same way, while the camera moves differently each time. My favorite moment is towards the end of the episode when she is speaking to another host, they ask her a question, she replies, they say something, she replies with the same line. The way she speaks in that moment, it reminds me of programming in DOS.