Synopsis: Westworld is a place where wild-west fantasies come true. Guests who visit the sprawling park have paid large sums of money for the opportunity to interact with androids called “hosts.” This immersive experience allows guests (a.k.a. newcomers) to portray themselves in any matter without fear of reprisal. Meanwhile, the operations side of Westworld works to update the park’s androids, but this update produces unforeseen consequences.
WARNING: The following may contain spoilers.
Review: The opening of Westworld is cold and disturbing. Dolores, the first host we are introduced to (played by Evan Rachel Wood), sits naked and scarred. Something ghastly has occurred. The viewer is dropped right in the midst of a story, confused and disoriented. A narrative conversation begins, the scene shifts, and we get a jarring, yet pleasant, change of scene. (The series oscillates between the sterile lifeless world of the operators and the vibrant world of the hosts deftly.) Dolores explains the appealing nature of this world. It allows people to truly be who they are. Here, guests of the park have complete autonomy because this is a world that constantly resets itself. No matter what happens the day before, the hosts and scenes are wiped of their previous interactions. Every android is force to reenact the same series of actions and story lines until their programmers decide to change their stories. Their fates are bound in a cycle of servitude and abuse. In a world meant to surround their inhabitants in the freedom this past is mean to represent, Westworld inhabitants lack both their liberty and history.
The managers of the futuristic fantasy world painstakingly work to make the androids seem more lifelike through updating their hardware and operating systems. Images of programmers and technicians creating and repairing the androids are gorgeous and chilling. Since their subjects are not deemed sentient nor alive, the technicians treat the hosts inhumanely. The androids are handled as slabs of meat, and seeing them out of their western garb feels like a violation and intrusion. Furthermore, their operators refer to them as creatures or livestock. It is terms like these that reinforce the intrinsic ubiquity of these beings. So when the latest update begins to cause aberrant behavior in the androids, the programmers attempt to correct the situation by any means necessary.
Where Westworld really distinguishes itself is in the exploration of human wants and desires. Although the androids are constructs of advanced technology and coding, they seem absolutely human. Dolores and her fellow hosts display a bevy of emotions, and go through their scripted lives appearing to genuinely express love, anger, compassion and etc. In reality, the guests are the ones who often are careless and depraved. They do not view the hosts as human either, and so they act as terrible monsters, assaulting these human-like androids in horrific ways. These scenes pose the question of what is the measure of humanity. Violent acts, including sexual assault, happen in Westworld, and it has become normalized. Horrific scenes occur, and the human response tends to be that of glee and exhilaration. The case could be made that sentience alone does not make one human, yet the capacity for baseness shown within many of the human visitors strips them of their humanity.
Westworld operates on a vast concept. On its surface, it appears grandiose with its larger than life locales. On the other hand, the actors force the viewer to focus on the micro instead of the macro. Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Robert Ford, the park founder, is a character that acts as a lens to view certain concepts. Moments with Hopkins highlight existential questions in an effort to describe and navigate a society that would create a place of complete self-indulgence. Ed Harris, the Man in Black, is the embodiment of wanton ruthlessness and desire. Harris’ character stands as an example of what kind of person this world can create, or he depicts the type of amoral person can thrive in this constructed world.
HBO has created a series that instantly sets itself apart from other sci-fi series that tackle similar issues. There is a level of craftsmanship that heralds the beginning of something spectacular. Fans of the genre are in for a completely engrossing and engaging tale of what it means to be alive, what it means to fight for one’s freedom, and what it truly means to be human.
- Incidental Music9.0