With Season 2 just around the corner and considering the long gap between seasons it seems appropriate to provide everyone with a refresher on this complex and beautiful show. Note the wording ‘refresher’ as this is not a summary or a recap (though parts of what follow may feel like such).
When season 1 came out it was a pleasant surprise not just for the fans but I imagine for HBO as well. Until then its only current hit show was Game of Thrones and at that time the discussion was ‘what’s going to happen once that show ends’ (prequel discussions having not been made public yet). In came Westworld with an impressive cast, intriguing story and being handled by very competent talent behind the scenes.
It took off. Pretty much everyone had something to say about the show when it aired. It was intelligent but not condescending and mysterious but not without insight. The acting was superb and in particular Sir Anthony Hopkins as Ford seemed to relish his role portraying his character’s brilliance mixed with very real menace.
All of this made for great television and fan speculation. However, one of the side effects of doing a mystery show is that inevitably you want to be the one to solve it. The internet was aflame with various theories that almost got out of hand. Some of them ended up being right (the man in black in particular) others are just grasping at straws (westworld being on another plant is one that comes to mind). If you didn’t want the story potentially spoiled you stayed away from certain parts of the internet. Though the show itself was partly to blame for all of this. It kept its cards very close to its chest and revealed bits of information sparingly. The hysteria turned even mundane scenes into maddening guessing games.
The opening scene had me hooked and the decision to begin with Dolores as our introduction was brilliant. Through her we’re brought into a world of a high tech cowboy themed theme park with compliant lifelike robot ‘hosts’ who help human guests achieve whatever fantasy they want. Evan Rachel Wood deserves praise for her role depicting a layered performance that sometimes changed in an instant (Dolores herself being a host). The hook comes when we begin to see signs that she’s not quite following her programming as planned.
What followed was an array of genres that made the show feel fresh. Much like Dolores’ quick acting changes (freeze all motor functions), the show moved from action adventure, to romance, to sci-fi thriller, to mystery, to tragedy, and even into horror. The heist sequences in Sweetwater were genuinely thrilling, William’s love story with Dolores both touching and heartbreaking; Even Ed Harris’ Man in Black took the viewer through a range of emotions, from revulsion to redemption and – in the end – even pity.
Along with Dolores, Maeve would come to provide some captivating material. Her story was continually exciting, as she began to retain more and more information, and would test the boundaries of her reality in order to get more knowledge. Maeve’s programming made her brash and bold, which Thandie Newton conveyed perfectly, while mixing in her confusion and heartache, as old memories resurfaced and she found out so many staggering truths about what was really going on. Suffice to say, Newton was remarkable in the role. Perhaps one of the best scenes came when Maeve was being walked through the different levels of Westworld and she truly saw that everything she had ever known was a lie. She also has one of the best lines when she spoke about not being afraid of death.
And then we had episode seven with the most chilling reveal the show had to offer: Bernard too was a host and one that could kill on command. This too was a popular fan theory but unlike the Man in Black reveal this was done with much more dramatic flare. Up until that point Bernard’s more caring attitude towards the hosts he worked on made him sympathetic. Of the non-guest humans, Bernard was the closest thing to an identification figure the show offered, with Jeffrey Wright’s quiet, mournful dignity suggesting a level of empathy and compassion most of the other humans lacked. So when the reveal happened it was jaw dropping to say the least. Wright deftly portrayed Bernard’s struggle to understand the devastating revelation, while Theresa grappled with comprehending the fact her former lover was in fact an artificial creation. And as it was all unfolding Ford was there continuing to deliver killer lines about how consciousness is a burden the hosts have been spared, raising fascinating ethical questions about the meaning of free will when he dropped the paradox: “the hosts are the ones who are free, free here under my control.”
As for Ford his master plan is revealed in the end as one of elevating the hosts towards consciousness. A war is seemingly started between the hosts and the humans when the hosts start killing and even Ford is ‘sacrificed’. He effectively removes himself from control of the hosts minds to allow his ‘journey into night’ storyline to play out naturally, as it were.
The beauty of the show is that even after the end credits roll you’re left with lingering philosophical questions: Is Westworld’s park morally wrong? If a Host achieves true consciousness, are they truly alive? what does freedom actually look like? Are humans really the bad guys in Westworld? There are no straight answers and it’s really up to the viewers to make up their own minds.
And we haven’t even discussed all the other characters and scenes who could each take up an article on their own. Characters like Teddy, Theresa, William, Logan, Elsie and Charlotte all stand out for their great performances. Hopefully we get to expand on some of them in the second season.
Suffice to say this was an amazing debut for a show and has set the bar for itself very high. There are a few things that need to be fleshed out and explained a lot more (William and Logan’s back story for one) but despite those I have no doubt that the long gap between seasons will be well worth the wait.