Westworld, HBO’s new science fiction drama that will premiere Sunday, wants to be the big idea. Trade in your zombies and dragons for life-like robots. Tackling notions of morality, artificial intelligence, and entertainment in the premiere alone, Westworld wants to be a show that makes you think. Or perhaps it wants to make you despair.

Set in the near-future, Westworld is essentially a high-end period piece amusement park. Colonial Williamsburg but set in the Wild West of Hollywood imagination and populated by 3D-printed automaton “hosts” instead of humans. Tourists spend extravagant amounts of money to interact with these hosts and live in the fabricated frontier town. However, as you might expect from an HBO show, there is no limit to those interactions. So while a young boy might be excited to feed a fake horse, we’re presented with many characters excited to pillage, rape, and murder their human-like hosts. A visitor boasts about the great time he had on a previous visit where he went evil immediately.

Things are about to fall apart however as Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has introduced an update into the hosts that creates “reveries.” Normally at the end of the day, the automatons are repaired and have their minds wiped of whatever great or horrible experiences at the hands of their visitors. The update, however, allows traces of those experiences to remain in the hosts to, in effect, subconsciously guide their actions. The upload goes awry, however, and the automatons begin to remember more than they should, think more than they should.

It’s thrilling to watch as the delicate machine of the automatons’ lives begin to spin out of control. Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, and Thandie Newton promise to become more and more compelling as the self-awareness of their automaton characters begin to grow. It will be on the strength of their abilities to be “real” and “fake” that the show will live or die.

These are plenty of questions about the overall premise that the premiere doesn’t answer that left lingering could pose problems if never addressed (e.g., is the young boy excited by feeding the horse really permitted to be in a fake town filled with other humans who are gleefully play-raping?). Also, as might be expected for a Nolan product (Westworld was co-created by Lisa Joy and her husband Jonathan Nolan — creator of CBS’ Person of Interest and co-writer of brother Christopher’s Dark Knight trilogy), there is a stiffness in certain speechifying moments. It’s not a show that wants you to forget it’s about big ideas. For now I can say that I look forward to the potential though I might despair at what it says about our future.

SPOILING NOTES

  • I am 1000% certain someone we think is a human will turn out to be an automaton designed to work for and with mad Dr. Robert Ford. For now I’m leaning towards Sidse Babbett Knudsen’s corporate manager.

  • I guess visitors go with the understanding that it’ll be the same day over and over again? They don’t get to be the God but they get to be a god.
  • The best performance of the premiere has to go to Louis Herthum as Dolores’ malfunctioning dad. It’s rare to have two actors be in a scene together and Anthony Hopkins not be the creepiest one. That spark of awareness in Herthum’s dad is the show in a nutshell for me.
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5 thoughts on “What’s the Big Idea? A Review of HBO’s Westworld

  1. Some people fear a Terminator like situation in the future where machines revel against their human creators once artificial technology is advanced enough. Not just that but people have to remember things like nanotechnology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence were the things of science fiction a century ago but now are very much a reality as we advance as a species I imagine at some point in the future any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.

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  2. Dystopian apocalypses are so over. Zombies are tired, witches are a thing of the past, so now it’s back to robots, sexy ones at that. LOL

    The one parallel theme running across West World’s spectrum into our own is the homo sapien ravenous obsession with being constantly entertained. I am also wondering who is spending $40K a day to get their android fix? And I agree, you know that West World would not be at the top of guest’s list as a destination, try some of these instead:

    Woodstock World
    Slave/Plantation World
    NFL World
    MLB World
    NBA World
    Super Hero World
    White House World (Politics)
    50’s, 60’s 70’s and Roarin’ 20s Worlds
    War World e.g. (Revolutionary, Civil Wars, and WW III, only)
    Space World (Real Life Space Camp DNQ)
    Sex World

    P.S.
    I will not live to see it, but sentient, or not, I know artificial intelligence will eventually take over. Look at the primitive times of today: you have people obeying Siri’s etc. and people hanging on the every word of some robot oracle and adhering to its commands, next comes the autonomous vehicles and even I have a Roomba.
    P.P.S.
    I would not be surprised if Robert Ford himself is an AI. He might’ve died long ago and replaced himself with an android. I mean why does he prefer the company of Droids? Or perhaps it’s his #2 played by Jeffrey Wright. But I bet it’s Ford as played by Sir Tony Hopkins.

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    1. Not just that, some speculate genetic engineering will create a real life Khan Noonien Singh. As you know our technology has always been a double edged sword our primitive hunting spears, our wild ancestors used them on their neighbors over the next hill because they looked at them wrong.

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