Westworld Episode 1 – ‘The Original’ Review

“These violent delights have violent ends.”

 

After being hyped and advertised for months, Westworld is finally here. Reportedly HBO’s biggest contender to take the (iron) throne once Game of Thrones ends, Westworld has been plagued with news of a troubled production and angry extras. But there has also been news of the stellar cast they have lined up in front and behind the camera. From J.J. Abrams producing and Ramin Djawadi doing the music, to big screen veterans Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins in starring roles. All in all, there is a whole lot riding on this first season. How does it hold up?

Welcome to Westworld! For an exorbitant price you and your loved ones can journey to the Wild West and do whatever you want. Just relax on your own plot of land for a few weeks or kill and steal everything in sight. The best part is, apart from other rich guests, everyone is a robot. They’re not people so you don’t have to feel bad about killing them, robbing them or even raping them. So that’s the set-up, and boy what a cool science fiction idea it is. The possibility for big questions about morality and humanity is off the charts. And Westworld seems to be more than up for asking a few. Since I saw the 1973 film when I was younger, it always struck me as a really exciting concept. In the pilot episode the show runners play the cards close to their chests and take it show, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some corporate intrigue, gun battles, and androids gone haywire.

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The pilot takes a Groundhog Day like structure, as we watch host (the park’s term for android entertainers) Dolores across three days in the park. She has her routine, waking up, talking to her dad, meeting James Marsden’s Teddy and eventually watching her family get murdered at the end of the day. This is her narrative, just one of hundreds for the guests to interact with throughout the park. Evan Rachel Wood is Dolores and she plays her as full of wonder but with a little bit of menace, menace that grows each day she wakes up to the same routine. The series plays it’s cards close to it’s chest, but each day things get ever so slightly more out of hand at the park. Thanks to a new update androids begin to malfunction and refuse to die in a gun battle, or they just start breaking. It culminates with Dolores killing a fly, taking life, and thus breaking one of the key safety features if the androids. It says a lot about the tension and the world building of this show that the simple act of a character swatting a fly can leave you with your jaw on the floor.

On the human side we get to see behind the scenes at Westworld. Anthony Hopkins is the mysterious creator of the park and he is excellent as the untrustworthy John Hammond-type. Just what is he planning? As well as that we have the always excellent Jeffrey Wright, just trying to keep control of the hosts despite Hopkin’s meddling and constant updating of the hosts. This raises the question of how lifelike should they be, don’t the guests enjoy Westworld so much because they know the horrible things they’re doing aren’t affecting actual people? Or are these 3D printed androids just the next step of evolution? It’s one of the many heavy question Westworld touches upon just in the pilot episode, and it opens up for endless science fiction possibilities. It’ll be interesting to see how the series plays out with these ideas in mind.

It’s not all slow, moral musings on the nature of existence, there’s some kickass Western action too! You expect a certain level of saloon brawls and shootouts on the street, they’re staples of the Western genre. The pilot has an excellent sequence in which famous bandit Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to the streets and starts shooting everything in sight. It works in two ways, from a plot point of view it allows the engineers to wipe out a large amount of hosts to investigate the new update, and as a spectacle it’s amazing. Hosts get shot to pieces as a jaunty saloon version of The Rolling Stone’s ‘Paint it Black’ plays. It really shows, visually, the potential of this show.

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The human guests so far are a little weak, with the only one of note being Ed Harris’s. He takes over the classic Yul Brenner role from the 1973 film, except this time he’s a human guest! He has been coming to Westworld for 30 years and is searching for something mysterious. Next week it looks like we’ll be seeing more human guests which will be interesting, especially because we’ve set to see two human guests interact.  But the show is taking  a relaxed pace and not revealing everything at once, which is a nice change.

The show sets a lot up in this episode and I really hope it can deliver. There are multiple plot threads weaved together, as well as Ed Harri’s hunt for a ‘deeper level of the game’. It all feels very Lost-like, in the best way. There is a lot of violence and nudity but it feels needed in this to show the excess and hedonism of the guests, and not just throwing in a quick tit for the sake of it like Game of Thrones. Also, as viewers watching and enjoying the host’s get their faces blown to pieces, are we as bad as the rich guests of Westworld? All I know is I can’t wait until next week.

Reviewed by Jack

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