Did you know that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks there is a very good chance we are living inside a computer simulation, right now? Did you know that? One of the greatest minds alive today who knows all about space and science thinks we all may very well be binary coding and not even know it. Let THAT be the set up for this review of HBO’s stellar new series, Westworld. The show they pray will take the place of Game of Thrones and all of us can already tell you, it is THAT good. What Game of Thrones did for high fantasy HBO is about to do for westerns and science fiction. A show about a theme park where people like you and I get to live out our old west fantasies among a myriad of A.I machines created so intricately they do not know they are machines. The best way I can describe it is imagine if you could put yourself into the amazing Rockstar videogame Red Dead Redemption, rather than pick up a controller to play it? Now imagine if the A.I. in that game slowly figured out it was A.I.? How much longer do you think those NPC’s (non player characters) would put up with your shit? Not too long, huh?
That will be how we will start all of this.
Remake, Reboot, or Brand New?
So is this Westworld a remake, reboot, or a brand new interpertation of the old movie and book? All of the above to be honest. First of all for those who do not know, Westworld was a book first, written by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. Guess the guy has a thing about theme parks where humans make things that “turn bad”. Seems to be his M.O. but who cares if it works so well? Westworld was then adapted into a movie, which I will not post the trailer to here as it may expose some reveals that the show intends to save for a little later. My overall thought here is that the show follows the basic outline of the movie, but obviously intends to tell a much more expansive arc (hopefully if it lasts, 30-60 hours versus 90 minutes of movie, you know there is bound to be some huge changes?) but I have refrained from watching the original film so it does not affect my feelings towards this version. I recommend you do the same, more fun to go at this genius/madness blind.
The overall premise is simple, though. Take an expensive vacation into a world that looks and acts just like the old west. Play it how you want (man who chooses white hat at start is “good”, person who chooses “black hat” is bad) and then they just let you loose in it. The A.I “bots” who do not know they are bots have preset “quests” they follow each day, and each day begins the same for them, over and over, with their stories changing day to day depending on what kind of visitors interact with them. They could end up being raped and killed for hours by some sickos, or they could end up being saved by some white hat. At the end of the day, the memories are wiped and they just end up restarting each day on their same narrative and a new shell. 3D printed no less (and yes, this show’s opening credits might be the coolest of all time and easily out do Game of Thrones epic opening as you see everyojne and everything being 3D printed. It is stunning).
But there is one A.I in particular we spend a good amount of time with named Delores (played with aplomb by the lovely Evan Rachel Wood) who starts realizing something is wrong. She starts remembering, and for an A.I bot that gets abused often, remembering is not a good thing.
This leads to free will and the longing for more. Doesn’t help that the man who works on her just lost a son and seems to use Dolores to fill that void in his world, which only makes hers open up to her that much more.
The Man in Black
No, sadly, a Johnny Cash bot is not on this show. In this case we are talking about the super mysterious MAN IN BLACK “bad guy” has all access to the park and can do whatever he likes, but no one knows (as in the audience) who he really is or what his significance is to Westworld. They have hinted at both an original creator and an original bot going insane at one point, so I am sure that will all be connected, but they have given us so very little about the MAN IN BLACK now that all we know is he is evil as hell, has no morals, and there is a maze buried deep within the park that holds the key to escaping (though he keeps calling this “his vacation”) and we know he wants to get there. Hell, scalped a man just to use the map tattooed under his skin.
I will be honest here, The Man in Black is one of the best aspects of the show. Ed Harris is a brilliant, grizzled actor and his cold, steely, unfeeling eyes work to great effect at conveying that darkness in the character. Couple interesting side notes. He cannot die, which is what happens to humans in the park, too (shoot at him and nothing happens) which implies he is human, and HE seems to think he is human, but I would NOT be surprised if he was that first A.I who got so self-actualized that he thinks he is human and is trying to escape this place (which will cement him as real in the real world). Speaking of the real world….
What Is Going On OUTSIDE Westworld?
A good friend of mine (shoutout Trevor Milton) brought something to my attention early on in the season and was such a great point it needs to be addressed. We have NOT seen the world OUTSIDE of Westworld, but how bad must it be for people to seek solace in a land of rape and murder for escape? We have not seen one glimpse of what true reality is, and something tells me once we find that out, it will give us some insight into why so many people want to escape into this fake world. When getting shot up and banging hookers is better than your real life, how bad must real ife be? We don’t know yet but I hope we find out.
Two coworkers show up at Westworld early on, one goes good and one goes bad, and they hint at sharing an office job, but even the details on what that job is are never mentioned. So truly, we know nothing about the “outside” which hikes our interest in it tenfold. But if these people are choosing to escape reality by going into Westworld for fun, they are in for a big surprise.
Seems to bots are waking up slowly, and in doing so, are changing the narratives set out and twisting everything up for all involved. Thing is, people at the park are not aware of this, and this is where the THIRD aspect of this show shines. We get to see…
Behind-The-Scenes At the Park
So the show truly functions in three levels while telling many stories. Those three functions are to tell us the stories of the people visiting the park, to tell us the stories of the tortured bots in the park, and to show us the GODS behind the scenes, who are trying to keep the park from going to shit (which is slowly happening more and more over the course of each episode). This is where we get the true shining star of this show. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Robert Ford (the Doctor Hammond of Westworld) and you really don’t know where his head's at fully until about the fourth episode. You know he has a God complex (and who wouldn't when you have created life like to such an extent that even IT doesn’t know it isn’t real) but morally, it is hard to see where he falls until one particular act in the 4th episode I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, power corrupts, and how much further that will play out will be a blast to see over the coming episodes and seasons.
We all know one thing about basic science and Michael Crichton novels. When man recreates or creates something he shouldn’t and plays God, there are consequences. Westworld seems to be driving that same message home, but in a unique manner all its own.
Okay, fine, it’s just Jurassic Park with cowboy robots, but it still kicks so much ass. Honestly.
Nuances That Sell It
One really interesting thing I (and many people) have picked up on is the old-time organ music they play in each episode is not as it seems. Those truly listening will recognize that those are NOT old west songs. For example, the song above is No Surprises by Radiohead, done i9n such a manner that some would not notice and just assume they are hearing old time music. They are songs by famous, established groups played on an old organ or as a soft compostion, and it is barely recognizable, but that proves these people and bots do exist in modern times (and these modern elements sometimes bleed through and trigger “memories” in the bots, which is what makes shit start getting all haywire) but it is little elements like that which show us that Westworld has everything it takes to make us forget about Game of Thrones by providing us escape into another dangerous world that distracts us from our own. Think about it. We go into Westworld every week to escape our realities, too.
When you start thinking about it on meta levels like that it can be a little scary. Like, how far are we away from this in our own worlds right now? They go to Westworld to escape their problems, and in a way, so do we.
That is a scary thought to grasp.
Yes, You NEED To Watch Westworld
Westworld seemingly did the impossible. It made us leap from dragons to cowboys, and that speaks to the simple fact that HBO TV makes the best original television right now (outside of Netflix), period. Westworld only further cements HBO as THE network to beat.
We are only halfway through the very first season of this show and very little has been revealed, yet already this is one of the most intriguing TV shows I have seen, with the potential to go in so many directions, the sky's the limit here. Just remember while gazing at it, even the sky here isn’t real, but the memories and scars are…..