To start, let me say that I went into ‘Westworld‘ without very many expectations, aside from knowing that it was based off a story by Michael Crichton and was being executive produced by Jonathan Nolan and JJ Abrams, oh and that the show had some major delays which is why we are not seeing it until now. But let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. I was instantly absorbed into the narrative, and I think for fans of science-fiction, the show does an amazing job of capturing the right feeling of technological awe and foreboding that often comes hand in hand with the best of the genre. It is hard not to marvel at the details of the story, the subtle technology that hides the advanced nature of the world these characters live in, and the feeling that everything is being handled by experienced and brilliant minds.
Jumping in, the pilot episode basically introduces us to the world of ‘Westworld,’ a future amusement park where people pay around $40,000 a day to dress up as cowboys and live out their wildest fantasies. It is basically a real-life game of ‘Red Dead Redemption,’ and I think the video game metaphor is apt. Visitors walking into the town have their choice of potential “quests” to go on, storylines that are happening and intersecting all over town that the guest (aka the user) can choose to jump into or ignore entirely. The “hosts” of the game are hyper-realistic robots created only to serve these guests, always immersed in the story to the point where if they see or hear something from “reality,” they complete ignore it and continue on their lives (much like the AI in a video game). Only problem is, people are depraved, and after forking over that kind of money people (much like in video games where they can choose their story) can choose to be evil SOBs, shooting, robbing, and pillaging the hosts in the town, and that does include some unwanted sexual acts. The good news for the guests is that the weapons in Westworld are designed to never be able to harm humans, even though they can cause a lot of damage to the robots in town. The bad news for the hosts is that they have no way to defend themselves against the advances of the guests.
In the pilot, we meet some of the basic hosts of the town including Teddy and Delores, the young doomed couple whose story always ends in tragedy. We also meet some of the local “woman of the night” who hang out at the local saloon, the sheriff, Delores’ father, and a gang of outlaws led by a man/robot named Hector. It is kind of sad watching them relive the same storylines over and over again as newcomers come into town to experience the park, the hosts blissfully unaware that everything about their lives has been painstakingly designed to feed into the entertainment machine that is Westworld. Or so we think.
The hook of the series is that the robots are starting to glitch, and potentially remember all of these “lives” they’ve had and their treatment by the guests. For behind the curtain we meet the park’s creator and primary programmer, Robert Ford and his team of scientists and engineers, including the enigmatic Bernard who seems especially interested in the welfare of the robots. We also meet Theresa Cullen who oversees the creative team and a security officer named Stubbs, who is armed and ready for a robot rebellion, which has been a fear in the park ever since it opened, especially since there was an incident there around 30 years ago. They are all struggling to figure out the latest glitch in the robots, though the problem did not start until Ford released a new trait for the hosts, dubbed Reveries, which basically allowed the robots to access the old memories hidden in their subconscious to create new gestures and facial cues which make them seem more realistic. Problem is, the robots are not allowed to remember anything besides the programmed memories they are given, as then they would know about the grotesque things they have been made to do over the years.
At the end of the day the pilot is very dense, with a lot of mysteries introduced, a lot of plot lines set in motion, and lot of characters introduced that do not really have much of an arc yet. We get an intriguing plot with a guest that people are calling the Man in Black, as he appears to be a customer who has been coming to Westworld for 30 years and is now seeking to figure out the intricacies of the game now that he has mastered every element, including the torturing, murder and rape of the hosts. And some of the glitches are making the robots appear downright hostile to Ford and his team, as Delores’s father delivers a chilling monologue about death and revenge to Ford himself after he glitches, making the team send the robot down to deep storage with the other problem robots. As for Delores herself, she never glitches, but we do learn she is the oldest robot in the park, and could perhaps have more going on beneath the surface than anyone realizes. Namely, the robots are programmed to never harm a living thing, as illustrated by their inability to really fight back against the guests, and visually by when flies land on their face, and crawl around unmolested as the robots literally cannot hurt a fly. Well, that is all gonna change in episode 2, as the premiere ends with a fly landing on Delores’ face, followed by her swatting it dead, foreshadowing some serious changes ahead.
WORLD OF THEORIES:
- Did Delores outright lie to the team when she was asked all those questions about the glitch? We already know she can break through the programming by killing a fly, maybe she learned how to lie as well?
- Is the Man in Black trying to break into the headquarters of Ford and company, or is his quest something deeper than that?
- The storage room for the decommissioned robots looks like an old mall, or company headquarters or something. Is there a chance we’ll get backstory into what that area was, and why it was left to rot?
- What is the real intention of the Delos corporation in financing Westworld? Are they trying to create the next generation of the human race? Or could the real human race be in shambles and they are trying to create slaves to bring things back from the brink?
- What is the “real world” outside of Westworld like in this time period? Clearly the technology is very advanced, but other than that we do not know very much else.
I loved this premiere, and recommend it for anyone looking for something new and cool and different on TV. I have heard some reviews saying the first episode was a little slow, but I did not feel that way at all. The pilot had a lot of heavy lifting to do to set up the world and the characters, and I felt it did that in a remarkably entertaining manner. I loved the cast, and the music (done by Ramin Djawadi of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame), and the writing, and the fact that it is on HBO which means the violence can be gruesome and the nudity flagrant. I cannot wait to see where everything is going and how they are going to keep the series going once the robots start to rebel. For now, we’ll just have to sit back and wait for the second episode to air next week…
Nick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, who belongs to the privileged few who enjoyed the ending to ‘Lost.’ For more of Nick’s thoughts and articles, follow him on Twitter (@starfro67)