RogerBW's Blog

Westworld season 1 19 June 2017

2016 science fiction, 10 episodes. At the Westworld holiday resort, the android "hosts" exist to be shot, slept with, and generally taken advantage of. But some of them are starting to remember.

This is a series that starts out very strong, weakens for many of its middle episodes, then rallies towards the end and almost pulls it off. Where the principal theme of Crichton's film was the civilised man losing his civilisation (Deliverance with cowboys and tech-fear), this series much more sensibly looks first at the hosts: are they genuinely sapient? Does it really matter whether or not they really are, if they "think" they are? What about Julian Jaynes? And, as a strong secondary consideration, what is the effect on humans of being told "these things, which look and act just like people, are your playthings and you can do anything you like to them"? Really, given how badly some of the guests are affected by having the rules removed, one wonders how the resort has lasted as long as it has.

This is a massive and complex story, with more than twenty "main roles" and lots of moving parts, and plots that intersect and collide with each other. At least two deeply-opposed groups seem to be trying to engineer the same thing; although creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have ended up with at least co-writing credits on all but one of the scripts, there's rather less consistency in what is very much a single long story than one might have expected. Some stories go nowhere at all, just dribbling to a stop (particularly noticeable with the role of Luke Hemsworth as the head of security, who really only exists to have other people tell him bits of plot).

The nature of the resort itself also seems to fluctuate: the hosts are on endless loops of their own narratives, which can be modified by interaction with guests, but some of those narratives would clearly take much longer to play out than others; does someone on a long stay notice that the bank is being robbed at the same time every Monday? Or indeed is it? For the most part there's no real sense of how long things are taking, and it's quite possible that there are many multi-day gaps in the story as presented.

At times it feels like an attempt to make "science fiction with tits" in much the same way that Game of Thrones is "fantasy with tits"; there's very little of the story that would have changed had gratuitous nudity not been available. I suppose HBO has to justify its subscription fees somehow. (Indeed, there's talk of adding a Game of Thrones World in the second season of this show.)

Music, by Ramin Djawadi, is mostly effective… except that the main theme, in various arrangements, is re-used to excess in both diegetic (often on a player piano, because it's constrained by its programming, geddit?) and non-diegetic modes. Acting is universally solid among the main cast, with Jeffrey Wright particularly impressive, and Thandie Newton finally given a role she can get her teeth into. And the production is gorgeous, with classic backlot Western towns, sweeping vistas, and cramped underground labs.

The story very nearly comes together, with some disappointing choices in the last couple of episodes. I'm still interested to see where things go next.

A second season is expected in 2018.

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