Westworld Review by Henry Tran

Westworld 1.01: The Original

Westworld 1.01: The Original

Written By:
Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and Michael Crichton
Directed By:
Jonathan Nolan

Complex television almost always demands at least one re-watch. Especially if one is not that familiar with the established material. Personally, I found watching this first episode of Westworld twice to be quite helpful and illuminating. The first viewing was more going along on ephemeral impression. I understood the premise and recognized some of the actors (the cast is chock-full of some serious established talent), but things didn't really click. I was distracted and sleepy and a little bit star-struck so my focus wasn't entirely on what was happening. The second viewing allowed me to understand the relationships between many of the characters, as well as get a better understanding of the rules that govern the show's universe.

 


 

The basic premise of Westworld is that uber-rich people pay a lot of money to experience an amusement or theme park of sorts called "Westworld," wherein they, as "guests" can interact in Old West-style artificial scenarios populated by human-looking robots, or "hosts." I have never seen the 1973 Michael Crichton movie that the show is apparently based on, but apparently, the crux of the movie is that we viewers have to side with the human guests once the theme park turns into an orgy of murderous rampage. The TV series, created and developed by Person of Interest creator Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy, aims to put the whole onus on the hosts as the sympathetic figures.

 

They do so with some shock and force in the beginning. It looks like a nascent love story will play out between Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden). While the first shot of the series clearly establishes Dolores as one of the hosts, Teddy looks like and acts like one of the guests. That isn't the case when a host of bandits come to rob Dolores' father Peter, and then the mysterious Gunslinger (Ed Harris) shows up to basically kill everyone and take Dolores into the barn to rape her.

 


 

This is extremely dark and disturbing material, and it proves to also be a potent tone-setter for the series. What I like about the episode -- and hopefully this sentiment can be applied to the series as a whole -- is that it doesn't conform to expectations. Every time I expect the story to go somewhere predictable, it goes in a completely different direction. Dolores, who proves to be a compelling central character, the potential anchor for the series, is "reset" by the programmers (Jeffrey Wright, Luke Hemsworth, Shannon Woodward) in the real world outside the theme park to start every day anew. The overall scenery doesn't change; Only certain details or interactions are changed. The hosts' memories are wiped. 

 

But therein lies the true depth of the hosts as characters that we slowly find out through the course of the episode run time: Their memories are never completely wiped out. Some hosts retain memories of certain personalities that were programmed into them. They start as minor glitches: The sheriff has pauses and stutters in his speech patterns and eventually becomes completely unresponsive. Those responsible for the running of Westworld want to pull these new hosts off the line for fear of turning away the guests. Every character in the real world is pursuing different agendas. The programmers are responsible for making sure that the guests and hosts interact with each other within the scripted scenarios laid out, and that no harm will come to the guests who pay for this privilege. Dr. Lowe (Wright), however, is following the orders of Westworld creator and overseer, Dr. Robert Ford (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and is trying to determine if the hosts are gaining some form of sentience.

 


 

Dr. Ford is simultaneously one of the more intriguing and opaque characters on the show. He sounds like he's become dissatisfied with what he's created in this artificial world populated by artificial beings. He feels that humanity has reached the pinnacle of its potential, and that its probable best achievement will be confirmed once one of the hosts gains that sentience. Does Dr. Ford really want the hosts to evolve beyond their original programming? Was that always his intention? Or was it a directive from the shareholders and investors of Westworld? Is he signing away the deaths of every human that is involved with Westworld?

 

There's a fascinating story brewing here, as it would seem that the hosts are headed for a full-scale revolt against their creators. In Westworld, the line between who is real (the guests) and who is artificial (the hosts) becomes so blurred that I had some trouble distinguishing who was what. And I think that becomes an issue for Dr. Ford as well as the park operators. They're seemingly blind to what the hosts are capable of. They become so arrogant as to dismiss a sudden change in personality from Peter Abernathy (he goes from being frightened about questioning his entire existence to straight out, chillingly telling Dr. Ford that he will exact revenge on him in an instant) as a fixable glitch in their programming. The Abernathys have such a long history that Dr. Ford may have implanted the questions of their reality or true nature well before what is depicted in the here and now.

 


 

Westworld is about the illusion of control, which is not an altogether novel concept in science fiction. Humans will continue to think they have a measure of control over their artificial subjects, and it will only be a matter of time before the inevitable revolt comes to pass. It's brewing behind a facade. Dr. Lowe can put Peter Abernathy out to pasture in cold storage with the rest of the new host models, but he and Stubbs (Hemsworth) and Elsie (Woodward) have a brewing problem staring them right in the face in Dolores. More than her "father," she would have multiple lifetimes of experience and personalities stored up and lying dormant as the oldest robot in the park that she will pose the biggest danger to everyone. It has already started with the little action of swatting a fly on her neck. Revolution always starts with something small.


Our Grade:
A-
The Good:
  • Jonathan Nolan strikes again with a series that delves into both artificial intelligence and humanity
  • The storytelling is rich and layered, demanding attention and even multiple viewings
The Bad:
  • May be too dark and disturbing for the average viewer

Henry Tran is a regular contributor of review for Critical Myth; The Critical Myth Show is heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @HenYay

Westworld by - 10/13/2016 10:38 AM154 views

Your Responses

Flaco_Jones
Flaco_Jones
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: A
I wasn't sold on the trailer and only watched after hearing good reviews from friends but ended up really impressed. I love how dark and twisted it is. The actors are fantastic, except maybe for the scenario writer guy. He's a bit too over the top for me, but at least he's a pretty minor character so far and I get the feeling we aren't supposed to like him anyway. It's beautifully shot and I'm glad they don't hold back on the gore. It really adds to the twisted nature of the show.

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