<Mild Spoilers Ahead>
Let’s get it out of the way first, I really enjoyed the premiere episode – absolutely adored it in fact. In case you weren’t tracking, Westworld is set some indeterminate time in the future and involves rich people enjoying a western style theme park complete with advanced robots playing the ‘hosts’. The show is an adaption of a Michael Crichton book so I think it is safe to divulge that it is a movie about technology going ‘wrong’. It is quite apparent in the first episode that the robots are gaining sentience and awareness of their condition. If you’re even passingly familiar with science fiction, than you know this is a slow motion disaster in the making and the show already has hit on motifs from Lost and Prometheus – right down to the shadowy corporation and the androids with milky ‘blood’. You also have a pretty good idea having a no-limits theme park is going to bring out the worst behavior of the rich guests.
Despite the now derivative story, it is elevated by an absolutely phenomenal cast. I mean, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachael Wood, Jeremy Wright, Thandie Newton are all top dramatic actors and Wood in particular dazzles as an android that is ‘waking up’. I would be remiss to not mention Ed Harris as a ruthless android which appears to have deviated from the whole program. The secondary actors are standouts as well with Louis Herthum as Wood’s father and an awesome Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes from 300) as a scene stealing outlaw. The story may have been done before – but when you are putting this sort of talent against it, I’ll watch.
Also the technical aspects of the show are well done. I think HBO doesn’t get enough credit – their television series are the most well done and competently produced out there. The scenes are gorgeous and the juxtaposition between the western aesthetic and the science corporate is particularly good. I would also give a shout out to the music. Using westernized versions of alt-rock songs like Black Hole Sun and Paint it Black really fits what they are trying to do. I felt the Black cover was the perfect complement to the climatic gunfight.
I mentioned Lost earlier and the first episode introduced several conspiracy threads, damn intriguing in fact. The timeline of the show is not explicitly stated and it’s possible they are on Earth, or they can be on Mars – they talk about rotations so it is definitely somewhere remote. There were a ton of other questions introduced – why is Ed Harris’s android free of his constraints? What is the agenda of the Corporation and does it match the Scientists? Has Wood’s Dolores slipped her programming? What was with the Cold Storage area looking like it was an abandoned war zone from an earlier time? My favorite question after last night was if they are even in a real place or is it a simulation? There are so many directions they can go and I excited to learn some answers. The story may be a familiar one, but you can see the seeds which could lead to some fascinating divergences.
But there lies my hesitation. Westworld has thrown down the gauntlet to be a slow-burn conspiracy kind of show. How quickly and effectively it answers its questions is going to be critical. The folly of Lost, which this episode reminded me so much, was it was good at introducing mysteries but never felt obligated to answer them. In the end, Lost failed to live up to the promise of intrigue and thus its reputation suffered. Westworld is going to have to provide answers early while at the same time asking new and interesting questions. While I hope HBO – which has credibility with me – lives up to the hope, I wonder if it is going to get to full of itself and lose the azimuth like Lost.
I recommend this show – I loved the premiere and want this to be a series favorite. I just think it is going to take four episodes to tell if the show is going to live up to the hype or if it is going to get lost along the way.