Since the season 6 finale of Game of Thrones in June, HBO subscribers have been searching for their next addiction. The Night Of was short-lived, while the under-appreciated Vice Principals doesn’t really have broad appeal. So when’s the next big fix coming?
Premiering this Sunday, Oct. 2, Westworld is shaping up to be HBO’s Next Big Thing. But in order to really get invested, you’re going to need a whole lot of patience—and put your thinking caps on, because this is a show that will challenge you at every turn.
Based on the 1973 movie directed by Michael Crichton, the show focuses on a mysterious technology company that transports people into a fictional amusement park. Here, visitors can live out their wildest desires, be that gunning down an outlaw or fooling around with prostitutes. Whatever righteous (or despicable) behavior you want to partake in, Westworld exists to make those fantasies a reality. It’s almost as if you were able to jump into a real-life Red Dead Redemption.
The people who visit Westworld are known as “guests,” and it’s the job of the “hosts,” android characters created by the technology group, to help keep up the facade that the world they’re in is real. This is where things can get confusing, especially in the early episodes I watched. You know something weird is going on but you don’t really know what.
Westworld constantly jumps between the technology company and the amusement park, which we find out has set storylines for characters (the hosts), which are in turn meant to react in certain ways so that guests remain entertained. Westworld appears normal at first, but the universe goes off-kilter soon after Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) introduces a new software update to some of the host population.
While the first few episodes focus mainly on Dr. Ford and Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe, who is head of programming for Westworld, the show eventually narrows in on a host named Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who plays a frontierswoman. She’s seemingly the most normal of the hosts, living the same day in different variations, but following a number of odd occurrences, she begins to question her existence.
Seeing Dolores experience her Groundhog Day-style time-loop starts to bring into question themes of artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness. If the android hosts start to realize they’re part of a made-up world—kind of like The Truman Show—how will they react? That’s the main crux of the larger story.
In the movie, (spoilers) the robots turn on the guests pretty quickly, attacking and killing them; it’s pretty straightforward and mostly works for a feature-length film. HBO’s Westworld is a much slower, more methodical exploration of the high concept theme park. The first few episodes are all about explaining the world and building tension toward a big event. It’s also about figuring out, in some situations, who is a guest and who is a host.
Dolores isn’t the only character we spend time with in the first few episodes. Westworld also introduces us to Thandie Newton’s Maeve Millay, a madame; James Marsden’s Teddy Flood, a newcomer to the park; and Ed Harris’ gunslinger, a mysterious figure who appears to derive pleasure from wreaking havoc on the hosts. They all make for a fascinating and incredibly strong cast, drawing you into the mystery and thrill.
Beyond the show’s spectacular cast and high concept, Westworld is an incredibly beautiful show to watch. The show has long been in development and even halted production earlier this year, only for HBO to suddenly announce an October premiere. It’s easy to see why people were concerned for the show’s future but, at least based on what I’ve seen, you have nothing to worry about.
In a lot of ways, Westworld is a meta-commentary on our own obsessions of violence and mayhem. At one point, one of the amusement park’s staff says the world is so over-the-top because that’s what keeps visitors engaged and entertained. Isn’t that why we are so fascinated by these TV shows in the first place? Again, there are a lot of big themes at play here that make Westworld so fun to watch.
It’s a high concept that’s kind of messy at first—mainly because there’s such a dense, complicated world to introduce. But everything soon comes into focus as we watch people who have created a world filled with robots that are starting to become self-aware. Because we know some of the characters are robots, should we care about them? Is it all right to treat them like playthings when they display very human-like emotions?
How is that any different from the world we live in right now?
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