Review: Westworld Season 1
On Westworld as an installment in a new theme in science fiction.
Spoilers for season 1 warning.
In response to the advancements in artificial intelligence and technology, movies like Ex Machina, Her, and even The Avengers: Age of Ultron, are only the beginning of a huge trend in film. These certainly aren’t the first movies to ask questions like what is consciousness when dealing with robots and their relationships to humans. But as humankind continues pushing forward with self-driving cars, personal assistants, and even cell phone technology, the answers are going to get much more complicated. Westworld, based on the 1973 film of the same name, is a television entry in that same vein. Having just wrapped up its first season, the HBO series goes deeper into the what is consciousness rabbit hole than its source material.
From the pilot episode, the audience has to decide who among these characters is a robot host and who is a human guest. After that, they have to decide if the hosts are conscious and if they deserve agency. Then finally, once that’s decided, they have to figure out what’s going on. If you’re not familiar with the original film, it takes about 4 episodes to get comfortable with the plot. Fortunately, figuring out the twists isn’t too complicated; the real struggle is piecing the hosts’ memories in order. I still have to go back, re-watch the whole season, and put the jigsaw puzzle of timelines and memories together. Though I didn’t call Bernard being a host at all, I did call Bernard being made in Arnold’s image (easy anagram: BERNARD LOWE = ARNOLD WEBER). I also called the William/Man in Black connection and separate timelines, but a lot of other people did, too (I may not be unique in my perception, but I’m certainly on point).
When I started watching the show, I had hoped the show wouldn’t go the mystery/conspiracy route a la Lost. I would have been perfectly happy with a show that was both the interior corporate world drama and the exterior park adventures between the hosts and guests. By the 3rd episode, when Dolores had wrested the pistol from her bandit attacker and Elsie narrowly avoided the stray woodcutter’s attack, I knew the show would be exploring a lot more than just bureaucratic nonsense and mindless action. I certainly didn’t mind because I became caught up in the mysteries and conspiracies.
But if you didn’t care for Westworld consciousness and agency, then you can watch it as a deconstruction of television in general. An enigmatic and brash director (Ford) butts heads with producers backed by the network (Theresa and the board, respectively) over his vision for the show (the park) while ego-maniacal and frustrated writers (Sizemore) see their work destroyed by higher-ups. Meanwhile, the audience (the park guests) connect and sometimes obsess over the characters (the hosts) who they perceive as real; but the actors who portray them are used, reused, and recycled when they behave badly (malfunction) or age out (become obsolete). It comes as no surprise when after years of mistreatment in the hands of the tech who “repair” them that the actors/hosts turn on them and then their audience for dehumanizing them.
Whether you watch Westworld for its intended purpose as a SF/Western or as an analogy for network tv, you’re bound to come away with a lot of questions. For me, I want to know how Bernard could work at the park without someone recognizing his likeness to Arnold. I’d also like to know who programmed Maeve to escape and when. I have a feeling this was Lee acting on Charlotte’s command but I don’t know when he would have done this or if he even could — can the writers update the code themselves, or does someone have to do it for them? And finally, how quickly can the techs fix the hosts? Pulling the “dead” hosts off the park, into repairs, and back into rotation looks like it varies from overnight to just a few minutes. At first I thought they had solved this problem with multiple copies of the same hosts, but it looks like there’s just one of Maeve, one of Dolores, one of Teddy, etc.
Overall, I liked the first season and am pleased to see how season 2 (and the subsequent planned season) unfold in the coming years. Plus, I need another SF/fantasy show to watch between Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot.
Originally published at www.katninetails.com on December 6, 2016.