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HBO’s Westworld: more than just guns, sex and cowboys?

in Television by

Now five episodes into the first season of HBO’s new series, Westworld, plotline development has finally started to pick up the pace. Based on the 1973 film written by Michael Crichton, the story of “Westworld” revolves around a future reality where artificial intelligence has been nearly perfected. For $40,000 a day, “guests” are invited to enter Westworld, a park populated by A.I. “hosts” programmed to cater to guests’ every desire for sex, violence, treasure and everything in between.

James Marsden as Teddy and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy make up the quintessential cowboy couple in Westworld, and serve as a focal point for the plot of the show.
James Marsden as Teddy and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy make up the quintessential cowboy couple in Westworld, and serve as a focal point for the plot of the show.
Provided by John P. Johnson/HBO

Within this context lies the story of the A.I. hosts themselves who are designed and built to mimic human expression and biology— to the point of being able to contract a bacterial infection— but who have no real sentience. Hints of true consciousness have begun to emerge however, as their programming is updated and refined. Without revealing too much, suffice to say that some of the park’s upper management are becoming aware of these developments, but it is yet to be seen how the corporation and its shareholders will react to the situation.

Understandably, it has taken a few episodes for the plot to really start to reveal itself. The pilot and second episodes at times felt long and drawn out with scenes that can seem repetitive to the casual viewer. On closer inspection, the repetition of certain scenes is clearly a deliberate choice as a method to display the cyclical “loops” each of the hosts live and sometimes die in. It speaks directly to the A.I.’s programming when they repeat their dialogue or make the same decisions. But as a viewer, what’s most important to look out for are those sometimes small differences in behavior that develop as the A.I. begin down a road toward self-discovery.

Human guests, known as the "newcomers" by hosts, enter the Westworld park by locomotive.
Human guests, known as the “newcomers” by hosts, enter the Westworld park by locomotive.
Provided by John P. Johnson/HBO

As such, Westworld isn’t a show that can be watched easily while multi-tasking. Much like HBO’s other critically acclaimed series Game of Thrones, if the audience does not give the show their full attention, entire plot points can be easily missed. Some of the deepest character and story developments are mired in gruesome violence and naked orgies, so it wouldn’t be all that hard to see the show as nothing more than that if one isn’t paying attention.

Although the violence and brutality of the show feels over the top, it doesn’t feel unnecessary. Part of the show’s underlying theme is one that questions the behavior of humankind toward things that we as a society understand to be less-than human. Some scenes in Westworld where workers are cleaning and reassembling the mangled bodies of A.I. eviscerated for the amusement of the guests are almost reminiscent the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” or the photographs and descriptions of the Nazi gas chambers. To this end, the blood and guts of Westworld seems as purposeful as it is entertaining.

Rounding all of this off is the backdrop of Moab, Utah, where most of Westworld was shot. High desert plateaus colored in stunning red juxtaposed with the white, sterile environment of Westworld’s corporate building make for an aesthetically pleasing experience. Though it takes some time for the story to build, viewers who stick with the show will be rewarded with a cascade of events and drama that will surely become another one of those HBO classics right up there with Game of Thrones and The Wire. Just make sure the kids are in bed first.

Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton plays as the leader of an outlaw gang that regularly terrorizes Westworld's central town, Sweetwater.
Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton plays as the leader of an outlaw gang that regularly terrorizes Westworld’s central town, Sweetwater.
Provided by John P. Johnson/HBO
Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford cofounded Westworld over thirty years prior to the beginning of the show's timeline.
Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford cofounded Westworld over thirty years prior to the beginning of the show’s timeline.
Provided by John P. Johnson/HBO

 

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