“Evolution forged the entirety of life on this planet using one tool: the mistake.”
I’ve got to admit the premise of Westworld is hard to swallow. Why go to all the trouble of creating hundreds of realistic robots that need to be constantly cleaned, repaired, cured of infections, and given amnesia, when creating a Virtual Reality version of Westworld would be so much safer and cheaper?
Let’s start with the safety aspect. I get that guns only work when pointed at the hosts (the robots), but what about other weapons like knifes? We see guests (the people) using these on the hosts, so you’ve got to wonder if someone has ever used a knife on another person thinking they’re a robot. Not to mention other dangers like fire or falling off a cliff. They act like it’s impossible for guests to be harmed in Westworld, but there’s no way that’s true.
And why do people bring kids here when there’s so much sex and violence happening all around them? We’re shown a scene in which a group of families head back to town sooner than expected, so the shootout has to be hastily drawn to a close. So there are a bunch of people whose job is to keep the kids from seeing what the adults are doing, but surely the kids will stumble across something they shouldn’t from time to time. Even if all the robots get automatically switched to a G rating when kids are around, the other guests aren’t going to follow suit. I also wonder when the robots get repaired. Everything is as good as new every morning, but surely many of the guests will be staying up late into the night.
So, yeah. The premise doesn’t work. But if you just go with it, it’s a really great show. I liked that they feature instrumental versions of 90s music throughout. That gave me a shot of nostalgia. Whoever picked the music is obviously into Radiohead. I like the literary allusions too. Alice in Wonderland is a particularly good reference to make. I also liked the fact this is filmed in my home state of Utah. Of course, it makes you wonder why there aren’t any Mormon characters. Mormons were a huge part of the Old West, not just in Utah, but in many surrounding states, and yet most westerns act like they don’t exist.
While we’re on the subject, many westerns forget that cowboys originated in South America and that one in four cowboys were black, including the man the Lone Ranger was based on. Also, the Chinese didn’t just work on the railroad. Most large towns had a Chinatown section. And where are the Irish and Scandinavian characters? Hell on Wheels did a better job of showing the diversity of the Wild West and all the different types of people who were there, including positive portrayals of Native Americans. Since Westworld is a Hollywood version of the Wild West instead of being the actual Wild West, I guess these lapses are excusable, but they’re still irksome.
Did anyone else notice there are more producers listed in the opening credits than actors? There are 18 producers, but only 15 actors in the opening credits for season one. (In season two’s opening credits, we get only 15 producers to 16 actors, but still, how many producers does a show need?)
A repeated refrain in the show is that Westworld is where people find out who they really are, but since identity is context-dependent, this isn’t true. Why would you be the “real” you when playing a video game (which is what Westworld basically is) and not the real you when you’re at work or with your family or engaging in some other hobby? I like that Dr. Ford contradicts this at the end of episode 2 and says the story doesn’t reveal anything about the guests, just the storyteller. He says horror, titillation, and surprise are easy. The best stories tell people who they can become. (This idea is repeated in episode 5 in which someone says dreams are the mind telling stories to itself of what it could become. Although, if that’s the case, what was my dream last night in which I had Christmas lights implanted under my skin trying to tell me?)
I guess it also bugged me that one of the messages to the story is that pain and suffering are necessary for a being to achieve consciousness. This doesn’t make sense though, because animals suffer without becoming conscious, and many people are conscious without ever suffering. So why would this be the key to robot’s becoming self-aware? I guess if your reality is good, you don’t question it, but that’s not the same thing as consciousness.
They drop hints pretty early on that one of the characters we think is a human is actually a robot. (The character quotes something one of the robots says as if it’s their own thought.) Honestly, after seeing the Battlestar Galactica reboot, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out everybody was secretly a robot, but I’ve got to say, when they revealed which one of the characters was a robot, I was surprised it turned out to be them. (It kind of doesn’t make sense though because who the robot is based on is a famous person in this world. Why wouldn’t anybody notice the robot looks and acts exactly like a celebrity?) I was surprised by the reveal of who the Man in Black really is too. This was a cool moment, probably my favorite of the series.
I had thought coming into it that Westworld would be a metaphor for writing with the writer’s characters getting out of hand and taking on a life of their own. However, it’s really more of a metaphor for slavery and the moral of the story is that slavery is bad. Dr. Ford says hosts are the ones who are free because they don’t have guilt or anxiety, even though they obviously do. He also says they’re free being under his control. Is he contradicting himself just to be cute?
There’s a particularly ridiculous scene towards the end of season one (spoiler alert) in which the robots have started killing humans and instead of killing the robots back, the security guys just ineffectively tell the robots to lower their weapons. Really? They kill robots all the time, but when their lives are in danger, this is the moment they suddenly become squeamish about it? “I know I’ve killed you countless times before, and I’ve just watched you kill my friends, but instead of shooting you, I’m just going to stand here and say, ‘Lower your weapon’ while you shoot me.” Right.
I know I’ve nitpicked it quite a bit in this review, but overall, I really liked season one of Westworld and would definitely recommend it.