TV Review: HBO's "Westworld," Jarring, Compelling, and Everything In Between

October 10, 2016

Everyone knows that HBO produces unparalleled television programming (although some might argue that Netflix is nipping at their heels), so discussing their newest masterpiece, a sci-fi episodic called Westworld, is a must, right? The series was created for HBO by J.J. Abrams, Lisa Joy, and Jonathan Nolan and premiered on Oct. 3rd. It stars Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, and so many more.

 

Ok, so this article was supposed to drop a week ago, after the Westworld series premiere…but ya know, life happens, right? Maybe it’s the dissonance talking, but, after seeing episode two, I’m glad I waited! I’ll tell you why.

 

The first episode of any series is called the “pilot” episode (most of you probably knew that already). The pilot is usually an episode that sets the tone for the series. It gives background information, introduces main characters, and typically presents a conflict. As far as introducing the series, they’re great…but that’s usually about as far as they go. Pilot episodes get the audience excited about the series, without giving away too many details.

 

That was certainly the case with Westworld’s pilot. We learned, very quickly, that in the future, Westworld is an amusement park set in, you guessed it, the Old West. It’s a place where the rich can live out their fantasies and basically do anything they want to the robot “hosts” living in the park. The interesting part? The robots don’t know they’re robots, they think they’re alive and living in the wild west. They have families and lovers, friends and enemies, and they are reliving the same day, over and over again. How does that work exactly? The hosts are programmed to purge the day’s memories at night, causing them to wake up the next morning without any recollection of what happened to them the day before.

 

 

And it’s a good thing too. Some of the park’s guests do really really terrible things to the hosts. (Like rape, and murder.) Even though the hosts are robots, because they’re programmed to think and act like humans, they behave the way any of us would. The life-like experience is part of what makes the park so enriching for the guests. For example, we see Ed Harris’s character murder Dolores, a female host’s father and boyfriend, and then rape her, which apparently he has been doing for decades. When she offers up her submission for the life of her boyfriend, Harris declines, saying it’s only fun if the host fights back…

 

This show is seriously dark and twisted.

 

Oh, did you think I was done talking about the first episode? We haven’t discussed any conflicts! Everything I mentioned is what’s supposed to happen. Westworld was built to entertain guests. The hosts are simply robots, there for the guests’ amusement. No, the conflict arises when the hosts start malfunctioning. They’ve noticed a correlation with the malfunction. Ten percent of the park’s hosts have been upgraded to a new operating system called reverie, a program that allows the bot to access past memories. It’s supposed to make them more lifelike. Some of those memories span multiple lifetimes.

 

Wait, what does that mean?

 

 

Westword is an amusement park, right? Well, instead of rides, they have various storylines taking place, all with different kinds of adventures. Wanna go on a hunt for buried treasure? Or maybe you want to skin an Indian? In Westworld, you can. And the best way to keep the guests coming back? Change the storylines. When a storyline is retired, the hosts in that storyline are reprogrammed to fulfill roles in new storylines. Meaning, if the host has been around long enough, it will likely have played a role in several different storylines.

 

Ok, now we’re ready to get to episode two…but first, I don’t want to dive too deep into this episode because I don’t want to give EVERYTHING away. If you watched the first episode and are on the fence, watch episode two. It dives into the science and technology of the series, making the whole thing more believable, in a way.

 

It begins in the Westworld lab. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the lab, but this episode does an excellent job of really introducing us to the other side of Westworld, the human, real-life side. The lab techs are examining the hosts, trying to determine the cause of the malfunction. In the first episode, we are primarily exposed to the human side of the hosts, but episode two disarms the illusion, confusing us. They are only robots, right? They don’t have feelings. We find ourselves a little less sympathetic to the sensitives of the hosts…which is darkly worrisome, right? (I mean, they’re getting raped and murdered.)

 

 

That’s why I’m glad I watched episode two before writing this review. This show has depth, a depth that only became clear in the second episode.

 

Ok, let’s forget about the storyline for a minute and talk about the artistic elements of the show. I know that when it comes to this genre I’m a little biased, but…THIS SHOW IS AMAZING. The setting, down to the music, is flawless. Just like the theme of the storyline I just mentioned, we are constantly being hit with extreme opposites. Obviously Westworld is set in the Old West…and half of our viewing time is spent there. Cut to the future, where everything is sleek, and shiny, and white, and robots are constructed with machines and something that I’m pretty sure is supposed to be milk. The music? Imagine a Salon style piano rendition of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” playing on a phonograph in the background. It’s jarring…and it’s meant to be.

 

And the acting. Oh my…the acting. Humans playing robots is hard, right? I mean, you can be cliché about it, sure, but if you can really nail it (like Alicia Vikander did in Ex Machina) IMO you are an acting god. If you can convince me, in that moment, that you are a robot short circuiting, well, then I’m just gonna hand you the Oscar right now (I’m talking about you, Loius Herthum). Maybe that’s a little dramatic, buuuut, so far, this cast is SLAYING.

 

 

If you aren’t convinced by now that you should give this show a chance, let me give this review a little more pizazz. The show is based off a film by the same name that was written in 1973 by Michael Crichton. He wrote Jurassic Park, you guys! I’m telling you, the story is really REALLY compelling and interesting. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s supposed to be. Would you rather watch reality TV or expand your mind, man? This show will make you think and explore feelings you did know existed. I’m telling you, it’s worth it.

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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