The Westworld Triumph

I’ve finally watched all of Westworld season one and I’m left wanting more – much more. A sure sign of an excellent TV show.

If you haven’t come cross it yet, the premise is loosely based on the Westworld film of 1973, where a ‘wild west’ theme park is manned by robots.

Forty-three years later, special effects (and dialogue) have moved on, leaving the TV series streets ahead of the movie that inspired it. Fans of the film are sure to disagree, but the TV experience was full of suspense, misdirection, character development and some seriously mind-blowing reveals. To be fair to the original film, that’s tough to accomplish in 90 minutes.

If you haven’t watched any of it now, I’ll start with a brief summary, but after that it’s spoiler-central. You have been warned!

Westworld shows us a theme-park of the future, where guests can live out their fantasies in a faux-wild west environment. Guests can get into consequence-free gun fights – as the robots (called “hosts”) can’t really harm guests – or even consequence-free sex with these same hosts. So far, so creepy.

The show does a great job of illustrating how humans are at their worst when faced with the opportunity to let go and shed society’s norms and restrictions. While some of the guests have the time of their lives shooting and riding around on horseback, some inevitably take it too far, inflicting barbaric violence on the hosts.

So what would happen if the hosts started to realise what was being done to them?

Well now. That’s when things get very interesting.

The cast is impressive, too. Anthony Hopkins plays the inspired and distant designer of the technology and the original setting. Thandy Newton excels as one of the hosts who starts to gain awareness of her nature. Ed Harris is superb as a long-time visitor who is determined to – ruthlessly – get to the bottom of Westworld’s mysteries. Fans of Borgen will recognise Sidse Babett Knudsen, cast as a senior administrator of the park.

I’ll admit the first couple of episodes can be tough going. In order to make their point about the pre-programmed nature of hosts’ stories, there’s a lot of repetition. In addition, the show doesn’t going into painful and heavy-handed amounts of exposition in the first episode, instead leaving the viewer to figure things out for themselves.

Personally, I enjoy this style, but I know some people left the first couple of episodes with more questions than answers – and were frustrated as a result. I’d really encourage people to persevere, as there are superb levels of pay-off later in the series.

It can be hard to categorise Westworld. It’s definitely sci-fi but a very mature example of the genre. And not just because of the plentiful violence and nudity. It’s gritty and violent and confusing. But ultimately, extremely satisfying.

Where ‘Humans‘ (another favourite at the moment) presents us with a world of synthetic beings that act as servants and companions, we never really get to see the dark side of their experience. In Westworld, a lot of the story centres on some low-level employees who are responsible for repairing the hosts after they’re damaged in gun battles. In these scenes, we see the utter contempt with which hosts are treated.

For a start, and a realistic start at that, they’re stored naked. Indeed, why would you dress a robot in the first place? Well, these ultra-realistic robots are designed down to the very last detail. The very let detail. Cue lots of scenes where brave and professional actors spend  their time being either perfect still or naked. Or both.

Westworld doesn’t shy away from these scenes and doesn’t shy away from showing the diversity of body shapes, either. But it’s these scenes that had me rooting for the hosts. They’re treated like discarded trash, thrown about and generally disrespected. Discussed like they weren’t there. Mind you, how do you discuss your dishwasher? This is probably how they were viewed by the staff.

That said, have you ever tried to have sex with your dishwasher? Don’t answer that.

It’s in these scenes of host repair that Thandie Newton comes into her own. Despite the most degrading of experiences, she remains proud, smart and after a very short period of time, determined. Not a character you want to get one the wrong side of.

It’s definitely dark and very few people (hosts or humans) come out of it looking good. The opportunity to experience life without consequences doesn’t seem to have a positive influence on the guests. And the hosts’ patience does wear thin once they realise the reality in which they’ve been placed. It reminded me of ‘Game of Thrones’ in how characters’ development and experience just seems to lead them to make worse and worse decisions.

Would I recommend it? Well if the preceding paragraphs weren’t obvious enough, then yes. Yes I would. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s dark, it’s violent and there are some very gruesome scenes. But it’s also intelligent, very well constructed and brilliantly executed.

I’m disappointed that season two won’y come out until 2018. But at the same time, I think it’s testament to the quality of the production that they’re not rushing out  second season too quickly.

Go for it – give it a try. And if you’ve watched it already, would you agree with the above?

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