With the end of Game of Thrones looming, and the recent failure of Vinyl, HBO needed a new horse to back. That horse has arrived, in the shape of sci-fi/ Western mashup Westworld
Partner, before we mosey any further down this trail, be warned there are spoilers ahead.
The cable network’s new show, which premiered at the start of October, is based on a 1973 movie of the same name that was written by Michael Crichton, and was followed by a failed attempt at a series in the 1980s.
Hollywood heavyweights Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) and JJ Abrams signed on as director and producer in 2013, and after some pretty major development issues, it is finally here.
The show takes place in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, which is populated by hyper-realistic androids, called ‘hosts’. For $40,000 a day, guests can do whatever they wish in the park, which for the moment appears to consist mostly of the rape and murder of the hapless bots.
Every night, the hosts’ memories are erased, and the storylines are reset for a new day at the park. However, there is trouble on the horizon: the machines are becoming self-aware. And any fan of sci-fi knows that never ends well.
At the same time, a mysterious Man in Black (that’s his name on IMDb) is cruising around the park causing havoc, scalping hosts in search for a map that will take him “to the next level”.
Behind the scenes, we get a glimpse of the bureaucratic workings of the place. There is the petulant writer, the obedient scientists, and the guy with the God-complex who is behind it all: Dr Ford.
HBO has spared no expense with this show so it looks spectacular and has an amazing cast. The MIB is played by Ed Harris and Dr Ford by none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins. The special effects are great, too. In episode 3 we were treated to a digitally constructed young Sir Anthony. Surreal!
It’s early days yet, but there are some issues.
One is the problematic portrayal of women, an issue shared by Game of Thrones.
Critics have already highlighted the significant amount of violence against women in Westworld, which happens most clearly with Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood). Other critics have noted the lack of gay cowboys, and the over-complicated confusion of the early episodes.
Nolan said he took inspiration from video games for Westworld, and the influence is clear. Take for example the two new entrants to the park, Logan and William. William (Jimmi Simpson) is the perennial noob, who wants to learn the game and slowly figure out how it works. Logan (Ben Barnes) is the experienced griefer, the asshole who always has four stars in GTA.
But if Westworld is like a video game, it’s been noted that it’s quite a shitty one. This is primarily due to the lack of challenge: in a nod to Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’, hosts are totally unable to hurt guests. This reminds me of finding all the cheat codes for Doom: suddenly it was no fun at all.
Ratings for the show are healthy, so it’s no surprise that Westworld has already spawned dozens of podcasts and a thriving subreddit.
Fan theories abound, too. Each episode is being dissected and analysed, which is honestly half the fun. An obvious theory is that we aren’t totally sure who is and isn’t a robot yet.
More interesting is the recent timeline theory. In a nutshell, the suggestion is that William is the MIB, we are just seeing them at different times.
Don’t underestimate the people of Reddit though. After all, one user did recently uncover a major twist in season 2 of Mr. Robot.
Westworld may not be perfect, but it does look great and raise some interesting ethical questions about AI.
And if you don’t like it, you can always just play Red Dead Redemption 2.