Title: Westworld: “The Original” Review
Air Date: October 2, 2016
Before we begin – There are spoilers ahead for Westworld. I will not celebrate every twist and turn, but if we are going to talk about what we like, we have to discuss the great scenes. Stop reading if you do not like spoilers. You have been warned!
As far as premieres go, there was a lot to unpack with Westworld. It called to mind many different books, TV shows, and films, including Groundhog Day, Dexter, Blade Runner, Cabin in the Woods, and Jurassic Park. It was incredibly gripping, and it is the type of show that makes you want to go back and watch it again the right way. It plays with your expectations, raises a ton of questions, and looks like it may be every bit the new Game of Thrones that HBO is shooting for.
Ultimately, Westworld succeeds where so many other stories by Michael Crichton succeed: it builds an effortless sense of tension and dread, even through what, at first glance, seems like a utopia. The writing pulls you in and keeps all sorts of valuable information from you. As a viewer, you have no idea which characters are hosts (the robotic characters in the park) and which are guests (the people who pay exorbitant amounts of money to spend time in the park). This builds immense tension, as hosts are unable to harm guests (for now). But not knowing who is what makes it extremely difficult to determine how conflicts will turn out. The initial conflict between Teddy (James Marsden) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is the perfect example. Teddy is set up as just another guest, coming in to save the host he has a crush on. Watching the sadistic side of Ed Harris come out as he guns down the good looking hero is surely a sign of things to come in Westworld.
In a way, what surprised me so much about the premiere of Westworld was how quickly it moved. The hosts are already having serious breakdowns, losing their programming, remembering things they should not, and executing the ultimate taboo: harming a living thing. Maybe it is the conditioning of earlier seasons of Game of Thrones getting to me (and maybe the creators learned from those seasons), but I thought it would be many episodes, if not the season finale when one of the hosts finally killed that damn fly. The reveal at the end that Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) was the oldest and most abused host in the park, and then seeing her harm a living thing, was the perfect climax for an intense episode.
Mystery seems to be the name of the game in Westworld. The cut from the host pouring milk on all over his victims to the creation of a new host in a very similar looking substance. Anthony Hopkins adding a glitchy new update after he decides humans are finished with evolution. What is that giant vault of naked, wet hosts? Why is the facility flooding and falling apart? And what is the Man in Black’s gameplan? “I’ve been coming here for thirty years,” he tells Dolores, right before he drags her by the hair into a barn. There are a lot of things to theorize about as this season continues, even if it seems like the hosts are going to turn on the public sooner rather than later.
Westworld clearly has a solid budget working for it. The acting is almost universally perfect, and the writing lets each actor shine no matter how minor their role. The cinematography is amazing: look to the dizzying shot of the Man in Black atop the cliff with one of his victims or the sunset over the mountains for proof of that. The editing and shot selection fit perfectly as well, and even the opening credits help build the viewer up to what is coming throughout the episode.
Not everything in the premiere was perfect. A few “too convenient” details existed. It was a good touch to have a child question Dolores about if she was “one of them,” but what kind of terrible parent would bring a child to a theme park like Westworld? And what was with the Lee Sizemore, the British programmer, and his introductory meltdown? It did not fit at all with the rest of the tone of the show and was probably the only time I was actually pulled out of the show. It seemed almost cartoonish, and it was good to see him put in his place multiple times later in the show, especially when Hector’s new speech was cut off in the most anti-climactic way.
Ultimately, Westworld had a premiere that was about as close to perfect as you can get. It raised a ton of questions without sacrificing speed, ticked all the boxes you expect from an HBO drama, and featured some excellent acting and cinematography. There were a few small missteps, but that’s a small price to pay for an extra-long premiere that swings for the fences. Look for this one to keep knocking it out of the park.
- Characters: Writing keeps you off balance about all sorts of things: who is human, who is good, and who knows more than they are letting on. Should be a fascinating character study.
- Story: Tons of mystery to work through as the story continues.
- Cinematography: Beautiful. Great shots, camera work, sets, and costume work. It feels like the old west but keeps you just a bit off balance with jarring technology.
- Acting: Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris stand out, but nearly everyone nails it.
- Beautiful cinematography
- Great casting and writing - characters feel very real
- Great sense of mystery
- Extremely fast for a premiere
- A few convenient plot points.