Whenever a new HBO show is announced everyone pretty much loses their minds. “Westworld” was no exception.
Based on the Micheal Chrichton 1973 movie of the same name and produced, written, and created by Jonathan Nolan (Momento, The Prestige, Interstellar) and his spouse Lisa Joy for HBO, Westworld invites us into a futuristic, si-fi filled world in which the wealthy can pay for the privilege to visit, well, Westworld: A technologically advanced, simulated amusement park of sorts in which guests can experience the wild west in real life.
The world is populated by AI – or “hosts” – who are designed to look and behave like human beings, reliving the same day over and over within their story arcs and pre-set emotional roller-coasters designed specifically around guest interaction. Guests – or “newcomers” – can interact with the hosts in any way they like without fear of retaliation. They can connect, talk, sleep with, murder, or harm. Anything at all. No strings attached, no judgement passed.
Such a premise garnered a lot of attention, and made Westworld so anticipated that the series’ first episode, named “The Original”, now holds the highest viewership rating of a HBO premier since the Emmy Award winning “True Detective”. But, then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less from the man who brought us Jurassic Park.
The trailer for the show is wonderfully created with sweeping vistas, enticing voice overs, and plenty of questions left hanging. As soon as it debuted, the hype train started rolling.
And, on October 2nd, the first episode premiered. Did it deliver?
Being the first episode, there is a lot of world-building and backstory. We meet Bernard (Jeffrey Wright; Casino Royale, Source Code), the lead programmer and developer for Westworld, and Robert (Anthony Hopkins; Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs), Westworld’s creative director, who are trying to determine the source behind some bugs in the system.
Specifically, hosts who are shutting down midday. Stopping their sentences, bleeding from their orifices, and going on murderous rampages. You know, the usual software glitch.
Teresa, (Sidse Babett Knudsen; Borgen, The Duke of Burgundy) Westworld’s ‘boss’ as it were, decides to pull the plug on all 200 hosts who have undergone a recent update which allows them to develop memories, believing this to be the source of the malfunction.
Of course, there are a whole hosts of characters to meet but Delores (Evan Rachel Wood; The Wrestler, Ides of March) and The Man in Black (Ed Harris; Gravity, The Rock) are, by far, the most interesting of the bunch.
The Man in Black is, it seems, Westworlds interior villain. He is a newcomer, a guest in the park who appears to frequent Westworld much more than the average guy would.
None of the ‘real-world’ characters appear particularly likeable – each controlling and inhuman in their own way – but The Man in Black is cruel, dangerous, and bloodthirsty. In this episode alone, he rapes Delores, guns men down, tortures and scalps a man. He runs rampage upon the land, doing as he pleases and taking full advantage of his newcomer abilities: the invulnerability to injury, the sheer power of memory, and his unwavering control.
He says, towards the episodes end, that he is playing a game here, and that he knows there is a deeper layer to this place. He seems to be searching for something in his violent path but, quite what, is yet to be revealed.
Delores is, we learn, the oldest host in Westworld. The original. The beginning. It is from her that all future programming evolved and the world created.
We hear a voice-over with her at the episodes opening, with her explaining the beauty of her world and her love of its vistas and her part in it. We meet Teddy (James Marsden; X Men, Enchanted), her lover, who returns, each and every day, on the train to meet her.
This dialogue we hear repeats at the episodes end. Delores is asked if she has ever questioned the nature of her reality, if she will ever hurt a living thing, and if she has ever lied to her creators. To all questions, she answers, truthfully and faithfully, no.
Though, as the episode ends, a fly lands upon Delores’ neck. She stands for a moment, as if to consider, before crushing the fly with her hand.
This is a big moment, a masterfully revealed plot point which could go missed by viewers who spend a second looking away. It’s a moment of realisation, of Delores malfunctioning. Her first step of the glitch, of acting for herself. The possibility that her code can become undone while she is in the system, undetected, and free.
This is the beauty of Westworld, the small touches. We see many, many different characters and the ease of differentiating between newcomers and hosts is extraordinarily easy, while remaining fascinating.
The prostitutes in the brothel repeat the same worlds daily, but we root for them when they kill the bandits. Delores goes through the motions time and time again, but we feel for her as she is dragged through the dirt by The Man in Black. We believe in the love shared between she and Teddy, in the humanity within them even though we know they do not exist. Even in their own world, they are manufactured. It’s wonderfully done, and expertly crafted.
Even smaller notes, of flies crawling over un-flinching faces and expressions and gestures repeated. Words said in the same old-timey way, with newcomers disrupting it all and talking like we would in a world seeped in the past. The parks guests treat the hosts as unfeeling animals, tools to be used, toys to be played with.
The Man in Black tells an unknowing Delores he cannot hurt her this evening as he “has other plans”, another couple poses for pictures and laughs beside a host they shot through the neck. We are presented with more humanity from the hosts than we are from the newcomers. It’s an utterly fascinating exploration of the human – or not so human – psyche.
As to where the story goes from here, there are an infinite amount of possibilities. I, for one, would like to see the hosts rise up against their creators, and disrupt Westworld from within. We see them have a presence in the real-world, interact with Bernard and the other employees, see Delores and her father speak to them. If they malfunction within Westworld, begin to think independently, could they do this in the real world too?
If you have any theories or noticed anything I missed, please let me know in the comments below! I would love to discuss with you!
All images credited to, and sourced from, IMDB