TV: ‘Westworld’ Review

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What is it to be human?

That has been the philosophical question, dangled out in front of docile Joe Public like a metaphorical warped carrot for the last ten weeks during Westworld’s first series. Did the final episode deliver? Mainly yes…but also with a stubborn mule kick of ‘not so much.’

Westworld had been touted as HBO’s next Game of Thrones, and it’s fair to say that people resonated positively towards the Wild West themed drama. It began and ended the series as one of the most promising television shows on air and in a predictable fashion left us wanting more. More androids. More surprises. More pre-recorded piano music.

For the uninitiated, Westworld (based on the Michael Crichton 1973 film of the same name) is a theme park where you can live out your ‘wildest’ dreams. (No apologies for the pun. None.) For $40k a day, you can fuck prostitutes, fan your revolver like a true outlaw gunning down desperados, and of course, rob the local tavern, laughing manically on your trusty stead as you ride off into the sunset.


The theme park is populated by lifelike androids, called ‘Hosts,’ who wake up each day in a narrative loop – kind of like an NPC character in a role-playing game; forever destined to ask the hero questions like, ‘Oooh, that’s a lovely big sword you have,’ or ‘There are rats in the basement. I would normally take care of it, but I got an arrow in my knee during battle last week.’ It’s here where we delve into the heart of Westworld, we view the stories of non-playable characters as they go about their daily chores; picking up groceries from the local shop, hunting bandits in a posse, or just drinking at the saloon. The difference between a role-playing game or a normal theme park where Mickey waves at you like a lobotomised gimp for several hours is that these characters don’t just spring to life when you’re nearby: if the sheriff of the town had a bounty on an outlaw, you as the ‘guest,’ would ride along with them and if you saw fit, bring them to justice and become part of the living story. Or you could put on your black hat and shoot all the townspeople in a glorious bloodbath. Westworld caters to your fantasies and doesn’t begrudge you for them.

But what would happen if the park’s androids developed consciousness? It’s been the generic template for many films over the years (Ex Machina, The Machine, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001: A Space Odyssey, I, Robot, RoboCop, The Matrix, Short Circuit, Blade Runner) all these films have attempted to answer the question of sentience in machines – the ghost in the shell – being more human than human.


We’d been bubbling all season to the moment in which the robots would finally overthrow their human overlords, and it didn’t disappoint. Indeed, the last episode, ‘The Bicameral Mind,’ was a visceral treat for fans awaiting the eventual bloodbath of the robot uprising. Many of the show’s grandiose mysteries had been revealed, or had already been guessed by fans – It was satisfying to have the William/Man in Black theory confirmed, to understand what exactly the Maze was all about and also to find out about Arnold’s death. It’s good to see Bernard back in action and Maeve’s Terminator inspired rampage escape from the park, but there were some other surprises left in store – did Maeve reject her programming to flee the park and instead return to her daughter? Who could have predicted Ford’s belated reversal to his tragic collaborator’s belief that the androids in the park had capacity for consciousness and allowed Dolores to control her own destiny? And how can we forget Shogun World? Or Samurai World? Or whatever the hell was happening there?

Of course there have been frustrations and criticisms thrown at the show – that everyone’s motives and actions seem transparently designed to serve whatever mystery or symbolism the show was trying to convey at any particular moment; that the season didn’t focus on the human element of the guests (the only characters I was really invested in was Bernard and Ford) and while intricately complex, the characterisation often felt random, lurching and swaying dependent on what the episode dictated them to do. It was with great exhalation to finally discover that Ford wasn’t really the bad guy in all of this, and that, surprisingly enough, he’d been on host’s side from the beginning.  Whether his motives really were to honour Arnold’s legacy, or he knew this would be his last hurrah before the board pulled him from the park, he gave the hosts the chance at freedom in a bloody showdown. But the development lacked in other character’s arcs – this is particularly evident in William’s character – starting out as a feeble, conscientious observer, the merging of the Man In Black and William was more of a necessity and a cheap reveal (if you hadn’t already guessed it) left to spout out dialogue that teetered on the edge of pseudo-psychology.


There are also some unanswered questions that we’re going to have to wait until 2018 for answers – Is Elsie still alive with Security Hemsworth brother? Did Logan ride stark bollock naked into the sunset? Was Ford really killed or did he merely dupe the DELOS board with a robot version of himself?

After 10 episodes of cerebral philosophy, it was enjoyable to watch Westworld cut loose and bring out some action – the killing spree escape, Ford’s dramatic exit, it all culminated in Series One being a provocative and compelling show. It’s hard to navigate which direction Series Two will take; with the machines unleashed and Ford (maybe) gone for good – there is possibility for a more action-orientated follow-up. The problem with most TV shows/Films that try to tackle the subject of A.I. consciousness is that we simply don’t know what the ramifications would be if your blender suddenly decided to go out for a stroll on a Monday morning before getting that nutritious smoothie shake. We don’t know how the television would react if it decided that it wanted to watch GooogleBox instead of us watching it. For sci-fi, giving machines souls has always provided countless stories for humans to behold. If the trifecta team of Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and Halley Wegryn Gross can keep up the goods with the next series, we should be in for a treat.


Review by Anthony Self

Stay Tuned for ROBOT TOP TRUMPS – landing on Monday 26th December 2016!

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