Westworld has arrived! Is the latest HBO series worthy of your HBO Go subscription? Find out now!
That’s all I can really say after watching Westworld, the latest HBO series that’s most likely the heir to Game of Thrones. Based on the 1973 Michael Crichton movie of the same name, Westworld is far more than just “Jurassic Park with robots”. The Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy series is a sharp, beautiful, and shocking look into the nature of man and machine that will blow away any and all expectations.
Focusing on Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), Westworld introduces us to a world that is beautiful, but has a deep sense of menace floating just underneath it. Dolores is a robot “host” in Westworld, a theme park filled with shockingly lifelike robots that recreate the Wild West for those with enough money to visit. Once there, guests are free to do whatever they want: from robbing banks or playing the hero, nothing is off limits. The guests can harm the robots, but the robots cannot harm the guests. However, a recent update has started to cause some of the hosts to malfunction in peculiar ways that are counter to their programming, which has the potential to have some catastrophic events for the creators of Westworld.
To go any further into the plot would ruin the fun of the series. In fact, if I had it my way I would just write, “go watch Westworld” over and over again and call it that. But if you do need more, look no further than the cast, which is phenomenal. Evan Rachel Wood gives a potentially career-defining performance as Dolores. There’s an underlying look of despair and longing behind her eyes. Despite the fact that she’s a machine, there’s a sense of something missing from her life, and once the pilot continues it’s hard not to feel for Dolores more than her human masters.
Speaking of those masters, Anthony Hopkins is spectacular as the creator of the Westworld hosts. After slumming it in Thor: The Dark World, it’s nice to see Hopkins remind us of his abilities as an actor, and the sequence where he’s talking with one of his malfunctioning creations is incredible. Jeffrey Wright as his second in command Bernard Lowe is also great, bringing a lot of depth to a role that could just be seen as a “sky is falling” type character.
But of the entire cast, the stand out is Ed Harris’ “Man in Black”, a mysterious visitor who periodically menaces the Westworld hosts. His hatred and desire to seemingly destroy Westworld is a mystery for now, and it’s a damn intriguing one. Of course, this is all due to Harris, who brings a lot of darkness to the role, and is at times legitimately frightening in this pilot. He’s already a lock for pretty much every Best Supporting Actor award that will come next year, and deserves every single one of them.
Much like Game of Thrones, there’s nothing that looks like Westworld on TV. Jonathan Nolan shows that he’s just as good as his brother Christopher at crafting a compelling narrative, and the underlying themes of the nature of man, artificial intelligence, and even violence in fiction are all given new and fascinating spins by showing them through the lens of the Westworld hosts. Nolan really excels in this pilot at effectively explaining and setting up this world, something that could’ve derailed the whole series from the start if not done correctly. There’s a great sense of scope and history to Westworld, and hearing the off hand remarks about past “narratives” and roles for the hosts has me wondering just what the hell else was happening before the Wild West theme was put in place.
There’s a fantastic and eye-opening line from one of the visitors early on in the episode that has stayed with me long after watching it. While riding the train into Westworld, a man mentions to a fellow visitor that “last time, I went full evil.” The guest throws the line out there like his last time in Westworld was like going to Disney World. Whatever he did that was “full evil”, it didn’t leave a negative impact him. In fact, it only made his desire to go back even stronger.
With free reign to do whatever they want, the visitors in Westworld reveal their true natures as people, but by focusing on the hosts, we side with the robots. We don’t see them as machines like the paying guests of Westworld do. We sympathize with them, and when the truly brutal attacks and mistreatment of them happens, it hurts just as much as if they were “real”. While their memories are wiped after each “narrative”, we know what has happened to them, and more importantly, we also know that there are probably worse things that have happened to them that we don’t know about, which is even more frightening.
If you have HBO, you owe it to yourself to check out Westworld. If you don’t have HBO, sign up for it and check it out. It’s that good, and I’m hopeful for the future of the series. Westworld is the best TV debuts of the year. See it.