This is one of the best shows not called Game of Thrones to grace the Home Box Office channel. I realize that it may not have the fanbase and dedication as Game of Thrones, but Westworld’s mesmerizing and methodical story provides an eloquence of complication that dares you to try and unravel it before it reveals its hand, which should be enough to hook any adventurer wanting to sign on for the first season.
And boy what a first season it was in Westworld.
Some history before we get into it. Westworld is an idea that was created, written and directed, in film form, by Michael Crichton in 1973 and starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. The story revolved around an adult amusement park for the wealthy that featured a real western setting and also featured dangerous gun toting androids (that weren’t initially killers — spoiler alert…shit, too late). Anyway, an infection mysteriously spread from one area of the park to another and eventually made its way into Westworld’s androids, which makes them become incredibly dangerous towards the guests. While I absolutely honor the idea and execution from Michael Crichton in 1973, this film has nothing on the show. In fact, it’s going to be tough to go back and watch the movie after seeing this HBO masterpiece.
The story of the show focuses on Westworld itself, the androids, and their habits, as well as the creators and patrons. Surprisingly, the androids and creators are at the forefront of season one’s story. While the patrons are important, they act more as catalyst and help to shape the experience of the androids and the decisions made by the creators. It’s an interesting role reversal in comparison to the film, but it works, as it’s easier to explain how an empty cup came to have water poured into it (cup = androids, water = you’ll have to find out). It certainly makes for a more complicated puzzle for the creators and writers of the show to work with and reveals how impressively entertaining the show is made out to be.
Getting back to the show’s story, it’s similar to Crichton’s vision, but not quite on point with the film. The show starts with the idea that parallel’s the original film, where rich visitors make their way to a western themed adult park where they can do anything they want until they’ve filled their heart’s desires. For the majority of the first part of the season things are unblemished and work just fine. As the season progresses, creators and maintainers of the park, led by Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and his mentor, and original creator of all the androids in the park, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), begin to find some inconsistencies with the androids. At first there is no danger posed to the visitors of Westworld, then things begin to slowly go wrong. Androids begin to shutdown and malfunction randomly. Some androids, including Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and her programmed sweetheart, Teddy Flood (James Marsden), begin to have memory recalls, which isn’t supposed to happen because they have no real memories to pull from in their robotic brains.
As time passes in the park, stranger things begin to happen. Androids start to become very unpredictable and scenarios that usually repeat themselves begin to have different directions thanks to different ways of thinking by the androids. On top of this, a Man in Black (Ed Harris) shows up from the outside world obsessively driven to find out the secrets to a ‘maze’ that resides somewhere inside of Westworld that would reveal everything about what is to happen to the androids over time. The maze was created by Dr. Robert Ford and wasn’t meant to be solved…at least by the Man in Black.
As the story starts unraveling, as planned, by its seams, heroes are revealed as villains and the memories that were carried by certain androids in the park become incredibly more significant than one could have imagined (no pun intended). So significant, in fact, that without that slow-burn of a journey to reveal why they are important, the memories would be meaningless and collapse the entire storyline.
Shifting gears away from any potential spoilers, the characters involved in the series play an important role in how everything shakes down. Three androids and two creators help to steer the Westworld ship through its proper course.
The lead androids that facilitate and shape the warped old west tale start with Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), a young lady raised on a farm and who strays away from violence. She seems simple enough on the outside, but on the inside, and this grows as the show progresses, she knows somewhere deep down that something isn’t quite right with her life, yet can’t figure out what that might be. Wood’s Dolores is a centerpiece for the entire first season and develops from an innocent bystander with no sense of self or of the dangerous world she resides in, then shifts slowly but surely to someone that needs to know what the hell is going on with her and a mysterious voice that begins chatting inside her head. I can’t express to you enough how much respect I have for Evan Rachel Wood’s ability to transform Dolores into what she ends up being by the end of the first season. It’s an incredibly job of evolving the character. I don’t want to say too much about her because it will give away spoilers, but Wood’s did a helluva job with her role. She is by far my favorite character, as she should be.
The next android that is vital for the story is Teddy Flood (James Marsden), a good guy on the surface that has a keen eye for Dolores’ heart (not literally), but someone with a horror-driven past that keeps recalling death and destruction all around him. Marsden’s Teddy, while minor in the scope of things and used as a plaything throughout the series by various characters, nefarious and otherwise, is THE catalyst and key to transforming Dolores and moving several plot points to their proper destination. Don’t get me wrong, Marsden did a great job with what he was asked to do, and he plays a great vicious character when the time calls for it — so cold and calculating, but he is a cog in the story’s machine that makes sure the story runs smoothly and gets to where it needs to go. He is used well and works well within the storyline built for him.
The last of the important android of the story, and of Westworld, is Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), a leader of the local brothel that patrons frequent. Through four or five episodes in the show you are treated to some bait/switch on her purpose. She slowly begins to pick up on inconsistencies in her women around her, even going as far as waking up during one of her reboots, but her purpose becomes an uneasy one in the story with an assumed future calamity ahead of her, yet not revealed in season one. Newton’s progression with Maeve in the story is one where she is more direct with the character’s evolution and doesn’t reveal her hand in the story quite yet, though one could safely assume how vicious she is eventually going to become. She herself knows she has a bigger role to play in the aftermath of the first season, but the writers and directors don’t give a hint of what that might be. It’s a beautiful way to push a character into something more, but at the same time hide her true intentions away from the viewer in order to hook them and keep them watching.
Anyway, the trio have different parts of the story to tell in the show and the trio play a pivotal role in how Westworld ends, as well as help give hints on where Westworld is going in the second season.
On the creator side of the story, the leading character that you see the most, and has direct interaction with Dolores, is Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe. What’s fascinating about Lowe is that while it seems like he’s trying to do the right thing and trying to do what’s best for Westworld, and its android residents, there’s another layer underneath that he doesn’t immediately expose on the journey to the season’s conclusion. There are some leftover scars from a tragic past and some need for redemption, which plays into his direct interaction and work with Dolores on her arc. It’s creepy, cool and sorta sad all at the same time. In the end, Jeffrey Wright shows the world again how much of a talent he truly is and the type of depth he can bring to a performance.
Playing opposite of him, and certainly not even close to as wound up inside as Wright’s Lowe, is Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Robert Ford. His character and how he plays out in the story is perfect. Ford is a laid back individual knowing that his creations, and his own self, are on the way out of Westworld. New change is coming and there is little he can do to stop it. In addition, he politely sees himself as a god-like figure, almost father-like to the androids in a sense. What’s neat about Ford’s role in this series is how he weaves himself through every portion of Westworld, top to bottom. His conclusion at the end of the season, how his story starts wrapping is amazingly sudden, yet precise and appropriate. It’s a gorgeous character that lives his life with taking orders from no one and not giving a shit about feelings. It’s just an incredibly built character that is played out well thanks to Anthony Hopkins.
Rounding out the important players in the Westworld: Season One is the intensely scary Ed Harris’ Man in Black. You will be left in the dark with his background and what he is trying to accomplish until midway through the season. He is a terrifying character that doesn’t hold back and absolutely is obsessed with Ford’s maze game. Harris, even in his older age, is about as intense and real as he was when I first saw him in The Right Stuff. The guy brings his A game every single movie/story and doesn’t let up. He plays a good semi-villain in this story, yet one will have to question by the end if the Man in Black is indeed a villain. Regardless, Ed Harris is spectacular.
Characters aside, there will be times during this season where you’ll just wonder where the hell the story is going and how in the world it can be pulled all back together in time for a season finale worthy of the journey laid out in front of you. It will take a lot of trust and patience for this show to pay off in the end, but ,dear readers, let me reassure you that it’s worth that journey. It’s worth all of your attention and effort not to turn away, as the show will pull you in and show you its cards, which will reveal its beautiful bluff. It has been a while since I’ve felt this passionate about a television show and you better believe that I’ll be there for season two.
On the special features side of things, here’s what you’re getting:
• Inside Look with Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy – Season One (New Featurette)
• Imagining the Main Title (New Featurette)
• The Key to The Chords (New Featurette)
• 2017 Comic Con Panel (New)
• Gag reel (New)
• Welcome to Westworld
• Crafting the Narrative
• An Invitation to The Set
• Welcome to Westworld: About the Series
• Reality of A.I.: Westworld
• “The Big Moment” Featurettes
You will be begging for more after finishing season one and the special features deliver it. While they certainly won’t fill the hole for season two, they will entertain. Enjoy the gag reel.