Westworld—Initial Impressions After Three Episodes
After a tumultuous journey to completion, HBO’s mega-budget sci-fi Westworld premiered just in time for the fall TV season. A lot is riding on this show. HBO’s previous attempts at creating the next monster hit post-Game Of Thrones have been largely unsuccessful; True Detective struggled during its sophomore season, and the Scorcese-produced rock-and- roll drama Vinyl didn’t even make it past its first. So, does the Jonathan Nolan-helmed show solve the drama albatross for HBO? Well, yes. After just three episodes in, it’s proven to be another wonderful addition to the roster of great cable dramas.
Westworld is based on the 1973 movie by Michael Crichton where the wealthy indulge in their wildest fantasies—no matter how twisted they may be—in a theme park crawling with A.I’s that pass the Turing test with flying colors. Guests—or “newcomers”—murder, rape and pillage with the knowledge that they will not feel any remorse for their actions nor will they be held accountable for them; kind of like in the GTA franchise. While the core of the movie’s plot—the glitches in the AI’s—is retained, a lot of layers have been added: the cast is more diverse, each AI (“host”) has its own character arc, and there’s a more profound look into the architects of the amusement park. Perhaps the most glaring omissions from the original story were the other two theme parks: one imitative of medieval England and the other of the hedonistic Roman Empire. All these differences aside, the show transcends its original source material.
My biggest frustration with movie was that Crichton squandered the opportunity to explore Westworld’s intriguing premise fully. After a one hour set-up of AI’s gradually malfunctioning, we’re left to bear with the ensuing man-on- the-run- from-pyscho- robot final act. Granted this can make a compelling story (Terminator, Ex-Machina), the set-up for that final sequence came off as way too long, and even worse, certain thematic aspects are left totally unexplored. The show dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s gracefully. Through the murderous rampage of some of the hosts such as the enigmatic Man in Black, played by Ed Harris, we get to understand how a bunch of do’s and don’ts we’ve spent centuries making up and amending are what’s keeping the fabric of society knitted together. The show asks: “Are we intrinsically moral or are we just good out of fear of the consequences of being bad?” Then there are the flashbacks that Doleres and Maedy—two AI’s played by Evan Rachel Wood and Thandi Newton—respectively keep having. These recollections of past events lead them to question the nature of their reality—an inquiry that Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard wouldn’t want running through the minds of the hosts. I imagine God or whatever higher power is out there faced with this same conundrum when we try and fathom the depths our own existence.
Ultimately, the shows strength lies in the captivating performances from its cast and the chilling mystery. It may not be a ratings juggernaut like Game of Throne’s, but it’s a damn good show—nay, a great one; in fact the best this fall.
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