TV Review: Westworld
The season finale of Westworld aired on Sunday, December 4th, so if you’re not all caught up on the season, read carefully.
HBO’s Westworld is a darker, more sophisticated take on Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie. If you haven’t seen the film, I wouldn’t go back and watch it. It’s pretty terrible. The only interesting things about it are that Crichton broached the pioneering concept of computer viruses back in the 70s, and that the script obviously influenced Jurassic Park (Crichton must have really hated amusement parks). The similarities between Westworld and Jurassic Park are innumerable, but both projects highlight the genius that is Michael Crichton.
Show creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (a husband and wife team) took Crichton’s ideas and were able to twist and modernize them to perfection for this series, directed by J.J. Abrams. The show is very, very well done, considering the concepts this show encapsulates. Broadly, it is about a western-themed amusement park which features lifelike robots or “hosts.” But it is also about intelligence, morality, and suffering. And lots and lots of shooting.
The issues begin when the hosts get a little glitchy after a recent update. The update includes reverie gestures, which are intended to make the hosts seem more lifelike, but are also causing them to remember past experiences. Obviously, this is a problem when those experiences include being raped and killed by park guests over and over again.
This show will make you hate the guests. Most of them are like Logan (Ben Barnes), rich jerks who want to rape and kill everything they see. As a vacation! Is this who we become when we’re allowed to do anything we want without consequences? Like Vegas on steroids? The park seems to bring out the worst in them, indulging their sins.
The most infamous guest, however, is the Man in Black (Ed Harris). He’s been going to the park for more than 30 years, raping and killing his way through each “vacation,” and now he’s looking for a deeper level to the Westworld game: the maze.
The maze is one of several themes at play in Westworld. The Man in Black is ruthless in his quest, but he’s repeatedly told, “The maze is not for you.” The maze is a journey inward, for the hosts to find their own true consciousness. When a hosts finds their own inner voice, they reach their freedom.
Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is the heralded park creator. At first, I was wondering how HBO was able to sign Hopkins on to this project when he was only saying a couple of lines per episode. But his character slowly comes out of the shadows as the series goes on. We find Dr. Ford struggling for creative control over his park. Board members are trying to steal Ford’s codes, but are yet to be successful. We also gradually learn that Ford has been playing God, ruthlessly keeping himself at the helm of Westworld. But he also confesses, “Everything in this world is magic. Except to the magician.”
Loops are another theme in Westworld. The hosts are stuck in their narrative loops, repeatedly offered for the guests’ entertainment. A host may be brutally killed by a guest, just to be cleaned up and thrown back into their loop the next day. As the hosts become more aware of their dire situation, many commit suicide to escape the pattern.
There is also repetition in the dialogue. Many lines are repeated by the hosts and the park employees. Who said it first? Who is influencing who? The differences between hosts and guests continue to blur. Aren’t we all stuck in a loop at times, not questioning our own choices?
The question of reality is best encapsulated in Delores (Evan Rachel Wood). Delores is one of the original hosts in the park, and also a favorite to park employee Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Dr. Ford. They pick her brain, and allow her to keep her memories. Unfortunately, the memories haunt Delores, gaining strength as the series continues, and she eventually loses her grip on reality.
Wood is perfection as Delores. Even in tight shots in which she must switch from an emotional damsel to an obedient host, she is superb. Her skill alone should make you want to watch this show.
Maeve (Thandie Newton) is another host suffering from past memories. She kills herself repeatedly in order to end up back at the lab so that she can learn more about herself and the humans who created her. She ends up concocting an escape plan. But in the last episode of the season, we learn the dreadful truth: Maeve hasn’t reached consciousness, she’s just in another loop, a character in Ford’s new narrative.
Suffering is another theme of the show. Both the Man in Black and Ford believe that “when you’re suffering, that’s when you’re most real.” And there is no shortage of suffering in this series. Bernard is suffering from the death of his young son, which causes him to bond with Delores, a child that will never die. Suffering makes the hosts more real, yet ironically it’s what the vacationing guests are trying to avoid.
And that brings us to the main struggle of the show, which is the argument between Ford and Arnold. Arnold wanted the hosts to have consciousness. Ford wanted them to remain in the bicameral mind, awaiting instructions from the omniscient humans (and unaware of themselves). And really, who is right? Does consciousness equal suffering or happiness? Why do the hosts have to suffer in order to reach consciousness? Would a conscious host even want to leave the park? As Delores says, if the park is so terrible, “why are you all clamoring to come here?” Sure, you don’t need a psychology degree to watch the show, but it wouldn’t hurt.
In the final episode, Ford is forced into announcing his retirement by the board members. But, always one step ahead, Ford doesn’t go down without a fight. He reveals his new narrative, “Journey into Night,” which he has been working on most of the season. Ford explains that it is about the birth of a new people, and who they will decide to become. But, like all stories, it is “a lie that tells a deeper truth.” We’re not quite sure what it’s about even as the season closes.
To use a quote utilized quite often this season, “These violent delights have violent ends.” And this new narrative is no different, since it begins with a killing. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait awhile to see what happens next – the 10-episode season won’t be released until 2018.