When I was given ‘Westworld’ to review, I had previously kept away from it, mostly because I wasn’t sure how much it was being based on the original Michael Crichton films from the 1970s and how far they were going to move away from it. Interestingly, they took various elements from both films in the current two seasons and into a weave across a 30 year span, although not telling which was past and present.
This did produce a few surprises until the clicked much later and I suspect will ensure people re-watch to ensure they caught everything in the right context. I’m being very careful to avoid spoilers because this is a thinking person’s TV series and you really need to enjoy the surprises.
It does look like the creative team looked at the films and wondered at some unanswered questions and filled in the gaps. There is also several misdirections to raise expectations to see if you were paying attention for those who are familiar with the film version.
30 years on and Delos is the dream vacation for fantasy holidaying for those who could afford it, although the rates are not shown. The hosts are the robots and other than the human customers being able to shoot them, there’s nothing else to tell them apart from true organics. Well, except a voice command including the word ‘slumber’ to incapacitate them. Thing is, the latest programming update by Dr. Robert Ford (actor Anthony Hopkins) has triggered a program cascade into 240 hosts’ narratives. After two minor mishaps, these have all been withdrawn for examination and a step back to the previous programming. Something is going wrong, especially with the older models, and no one can work out which, who and why.
Into this mix is the black hat cowboy (actor Ed Harris), whose identity is only occasionally given. I think he is there to draw comparison to the original Yul Brynner version except he is very human or thinks he is with his own mission, to seek ‘The Maze’. Over the course of the first season, we learn ‘The Maze’ is some sort of host nirvana for when the robots are troubled. Figuratively, I think I need to redefine the robots as near autonomous androids as they can certainly pass for human. There’s a fantastic twist in the finale but it’s too much of a spoiler.
The second season seems to jump ahead after a serious host malfunction and then goes back in a non-linear fashion bringing the pieces together to show what has gone wrong. Revelations come from all over and you also get a chance to visit Shogun World, where honour and swords make the place very graphically violent. Everyone has their own agendas and so much spoiler. You would think the hosts would also have a strong sense of self-survival where possible. It’s a shame really that it wasn’t established in some way in season one.
In many respects, ‘Westworld’ is a mosaic but not all their stories in chronicle order so don’t expect it all to make sense unless you work your way through both seasons and see how right you were on various things. In fact, I found it easier to watch them straight through without a gap. Be careful with the disk order in the box because the third disk for season one gets hidden behind the opening disk for season two. When I realised season 2 didn’t have 2 disk 3s, I watch the missing episodes afterwards. The non-order of each story wasn’t actually disrupted but just filled in the various gaps.
I do find it odd that the host robots are stripped nude before ‘interrogation’ most of the time, more so as it doesn’t make any difference what they are wearing other than being gratuitous to the viewer. Considering how many are ‘shot’, it isn’t as though there isn’t an endless supply of clothes.
Another puzzle is the relentless destruction of the robot hosts. You would think that certain parts of the cavity would be made to spout apparent damage and blood and, when the guests aren’t there, just allow them to get up and walk to a quick repair shop then have endless expensive refits from their destruction each time. The cost of holidaying in Delos isn’t revealed but it must surely be less than the continual damage replacement. You would want to be more economic no matter how much money was poured into this theme park.
An odd comparison to original ‘Westworld’ robots is that these androids do not power down at night and you do have to wonder what is their power source? There are control panels to interface with them but a whole different set of controls and verbal commands to control them.
As to the human guests. We see a few notable ones but you’d be hard pressed to see or work out if any others are present which should make you wonder how Delos pays for itself. I think this is one element from the original films that it would be possible to tell them apart or you have to explain how the guns can tell the difference when they are being shot at hosts and humans. With modern day technology, you could certainly feed in recoil and such that makes it feel like you’ve got a real gun but use acoustics to let off squib charges in the hosts.
With the second season and where the hosts are taking over, you do have to wonder how they can tell the difference between themselves and the humans. Well, all right, the humans tend to run away from them when the hosts go rogue but you would think some humans would masquerade as hosts to hide in plain sight.
You should tell from my enthusiasm that I’ve been rather taken by this version of ‘Westworld’. It has superlative acting and a story that will make you think. I’m picking out some oddities but that is part of my job. Oddly, both seasons end in a way where they don’t need to go on if no more was ordered. As there is going to be a third season, considering the end of season two, you do have to wonder where can they go next? Then again, how much of what we saw there was real or virtual.
(region 2 DVD: pub: Warner Brothers. 6 DVDs 1202 minutes 20 variable length episodes with extras. Price: £22.00 (UK). ASIN: B07DXWX2M1)
cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Simon Quarterman, Jimmi Simpson, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins and many, many more
check out website: www.warnerbros.co.uk