HBO’s newest sci-fi thriller, Westworld, embodies seemingly emotionless entities, while navigating the deeper meaning of existence. Before you read any further, be aware that there are major spoilers for the first two episodes of this season
Based on the 1973 film of the same name, Westworld, is a television show that airs on HBO Sunday nights (an outwardly useful placeholder until Game of Thrones is back). Garnering the biggest viewership since True Detective, Westworld dives into alternate worlds not much unlike our own. The majority of the show takes place in a fabricated western type setting, with wanted posters and saloons, all coming together amid the help of synthetic androids, or “hosts.” “Newcomers,” or the guest who pay a pretty penny to participate, are able to do whatever they want, with no repercussions, includes anything from sex to murder. Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, with both serving as executive producers in conjunction with J.J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub, and Bryan Burk, the show, at its core, asks ‘what’s so fascinating about living another variant of your life?’
In the first episode of Westworld, titled “The Original,” audiences are introduced to this world of contrived and fictitious augmented reality, with hosts playing characters that ‘reset’ after a days work. While the main focus of this episode seems to show audiences how Westworld operates, it leads into a classic sci-fi twist of events, as artificial intelligence gain a mind of their own. Dolores, who is played by the talented Evan Rachel Wood, is a host who casually kills a fly on her neck at the end of the episode, which doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal out of context. But it is important to note that hosts are seemingly made to not be able to cause harm to any living creature, human or otherwise. This is a question that she is asked when her parts are brought in for inspection and questioning, because of her association with her “malfunctioning” father, Robert. Head of Westworld Programming Division, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) noticed that Robert was acting strange in character, which was blamed on a recent update sent out to improve hosts. What they don’t know is that Robert stumbled upon a photograph, and is immediately stunned when looking at it, almost as if he remembers the events that took place in the picture. The only problem is that these hosts are man and machine made, with no past histories before being built, and no ability to create one…until now. While this episode briefly touches on the ways in which technology doesn’t always work the way we want it to, it also sets up future rebellion by the hosts, who are beginning to recall past ‘memories.’
Episode two dives deeper into the universe of Westworld, and the potential core values it upholds. We get to see how Newcomers enter the arena, and what it’s like to be a first-timer in the sequence. However, we begin to see more mishaps in terms of host remembrance, as seen with Maeve (Thandie Newton) as she is decommissioned due to odd behavior. But this behavior is because she “dreamt” of a time where she inhabited a different character, causing her to “malfunction.” The creator of Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins, explains to the staff that the guest are top priority in the operations, always giving them what they want. He continues to express that Newcomers come back because of the minor details and imperfections they see, and fall in love with. People pay for this service, not because they want to find themselves (like previous mentioned by several characters), but to simply see who they could be.
Westworld poses many existential crises for hosts, Newcomers, and creatures alike, while operating at different levels of control. While we are only two episodes deep, the show is being praised for its visuals, as well as thematic elements and the building of the fictional world. The show airs Sunday nights at 9pm on HBO.