Westworld S01E01 “The Original” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky Atlantic, Tuesdays
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, Michael Crichton
Director: Jonathan Nolan
Essential Plot Points:
- We’re introduced to Dolores, an android (or “host”) living in a highly complex Western theme park named Westworld.
- We’re also introduced to a tourist named Teddy, who arrives in town by train and has been there before – in fact, he’s had a relationship with Dolores, who’s pleased to see him but annoyed he’s been away so long.
- They go for a ride. A romance is rekindled. But then they arrive at her house just as her father is killed by bandits. Oh no!
- Teddy shoots them both, but just as it looks as though he’ll be the hero who’ll ride off into the sunset with the (admittedly rather tearful) girl, another stranger turns up…
- This stranger – a Man In Black – doesn’t die when he’s shot. In fact, he laughs at Teddy, then kills him too. Gasp: Teddy was an android all along!
- The Man In Black, apparently human, then has his wicked way with poor Dolores…
- …Who wakes up the next morning with no memory of what happened, as though she’s stuck in a Wild West Groundhog Day, with different tourists arriving every time for her to interact with.
- Meanwhile, the people running Westworld have just installed an update to 10% of the androids in the town; that’s around 200 hosts.
- Plus there are all sorts of politics and power-plays going on behind the scenes, because the guy behind the theme park, Dr Robert Ford (his name a play on Western filmmaking legend John Ford, perhaps?), is getting older and nobody knows who will replace him.
- The update is playing up, as well. Some androids start to glitch. One of the bandits who killed Dolores’s father goes crazy and shoots up the town, freaking out about milk… which is odd, because milk was involved in the raid the previous night. Does he remember? He’s not supposed to.
- The engineers remove him and realise they need to roll back their update. But first they must speed up the storyline for all the tourists and initiate a giant gunfight so they get their money’s worth before they leave…
- The next day, Dolores’s father has found a colour photograph of a woman in a modern city street, and the anachronism causes him to glitch, making Dolores panic.
- She rides into town to find a doctor and runs into Teddy.
- Unfortunately for them, the scary bandit Hector Escaton also rides into town and starts shooting everything in sight (and some things out of sight, too). It’s carnage. A full-on, crazy Western shootout. It’s glorious. You even want to yell “Yeehaw!” while you’re watching. And it’s to a Rolling Stones soundtrack, too, which somehow just works.
- Another tourist shoots Hector dead. Even if you haven’t been paying attention, you can tell he’s a tourist because he’s dressed the way Marty McFly dressed as a cowboy in Back To The Future III.
- It’s too late for Teddy, though – he’s shot dead too, and Dolores is distraught.
- She is brought back to the lab and interrogated by the scientists, who want to know if she’s behaving correctly, given that her father has gone mad; he’s recalling past personalities and talking about meeting his maker.
- Meanwhile, the Man In Black has captured and tortured an Indian named Kissy, telling him: “There’s a deeper level to this game. You can show me how to get there.” Then he scalps him.
- The scientists return Dolores to her life in Westworld, satisfied she’s okay. She’s the oldest host in the park, in fact: the “original” of the episode’s title.
- She says good morning to her father – a now a brand-new and very different-looking android, not that she notices – and idly swats a fly which lands on her neck. Which is terrifying, because the androids are programmed not to kill living things…
“Boy, machines are the servants of man!”
The most memorable line from the original 1973 movie, delivered by a delighted James Brolin after a stint in an android-filled brothel, seems all the more pertinent today, as HBO’s new take on the idea comes swaggering onto our TV screens, hip-holsters loaded and eyes squinting in the high noon sunlight under the brim of a dusty cowboy hat. And that’s enough Western cliches from us for the moment. (Sorry.)
This lofty update has had serious moolah poured into it ($100m, according to rumours, which is pretty stunning for a 10-part TV show) and it’s clear from the opening act – which shows us events from the POV of two androids we don’t realise are both fake – that we’re being asked to view the original story from a widened, more intriguing viewpoint. No longer the “servants of man”, these multi-dimensional creations could actually be the next step in our evolution. Are your Battlestar Galactica sirens sounding right now? So are ours. Not to mention the Dollhouse klaxon (right down to a ubiquitous phrase used on each android to send them to sleep), and, given the setting, our Deadwood alarms are rather strident as well…
Of course, the one thing all three of those shows had in common was their ability to make us think (or at least in Deadwood’s case, learn new swearwords), and it seems Westworld is determined to do the same. While the original movie – which spawned a duff sequel, Futureworld, and an extremely short-lived 1980 TV show named Beyond Westworld – was purely a judgement-free chase thriller, this Westworld is a deeper, thinkier piece. Do humans have the right to create machines so lifelike that a married man sleeping with one could be accused of cheating? How perfect can they become: more perfect than human beings? Is it disturbing that these androids can remember their past lives, or adapt their mannerisms according to learned knowledge? Should we be scared of them? And given that the most evil creature in the entire town in this first episode is actually a human, who’s out on his own and not following anybody’s programming, who are the bad guys here, anyway?
Moral ambiguities aside – and boy, are we going to have fun unpicking them as the weeks go on – there’s one thing that is certain after viewing this first episode: Westworld is excellent. Its gorgeous cinematography ports in everything from John Ford’s Monument Valley backdrops to Andrew Wyeth paintings. Its fight scenes are gut-wrenchingly violent, but also immensely entertaining (the Western clichés are both thrilling and Blazing Saddles-level familiar, such as the guy being dragged behind his horse down the high street – you almost expect him to spout the Mel Brooks gag: “Well, that’s the end of this suit”). The production design, with the contrast between old and new worlds, is pleasing. The music, by the always reliable Ramin Djawadi, is lush and evocative (“Black Hole Sun” on a player piano becomes somehow beautiful).
And the acting is superb from a cast that can’t be sniffed at: even Anthony Hopkins manages not to look bored, which is unusual for him. Kudos, too, for casting Denmark’s Sidse Babett Knudsen as the nut-cracking boss Theresa Cullen; the iconic Borgen star adds a breath of fresh air (as well as confusing a lot of viewers with her unfamiliar, American-apeing accent, which is her own).
However, the show is clearly going to fall down, and keep falling down as it goes on, when it comes to matters of race and gender. Would you like to be a Native American actor cast in Westworld? How many times do you think you’ll get scalped? And there’s barely a female android who keeps her clothes on, or isn’t the victim of an act of violence. This is all to be expected given the stereotyped nature of Westworld itself, naturally, but this show is clearly going to be as controversial as Game Of Thrones as it continues. Watch this space…
So, will Westworld be a hit? It seems it will: the ratings were impressive, and the show would have been the number one trending topic in the world on Twitter if only Kim Kardashian hadn’t been robbed on the same night (obviously the showrunners never saw that one coming). It’s compelling. It’s got the sex and violence HBO is known for. There’s a ton of potential. Westworld could be huge… and from the evidence of this episode, it deserves to be.
- The opening credits are glorious. Simply glorious.
- There’s something horribly visceral and wrong about a fly crawling around on someone’s eyeball… and them not even noticing. Nice idea.
- The relationship between Dolores and Teddy is touching; she’s so upset when he dies, you feel their connection. Which is obviously odd, given that it’s been programmed into them.
- “What is your itinerary?” “To meet my maker.” “Well, you’re in luck!”
- The glimpse of old Wild Bill Hickok is a lovely touch, particularly his jerky, creaky movements.
- Love the android practicing how to spin a gun. How do you even programme that?!
- An obvious one, this, but why so much female nudity and so little male? Or at least, that’s what we thought until the final act, in which we glimpse lots of male genitalia, too. Touché.
- Are the similarities to BSG a little too marked, perhaps? Will the androids’ search for their own identity come to reflect the Cylons’ in too many ways? A moot point if you never watched BSG, of course.
- Would tourists really take their little kid into a violent theme park filled with gunfighters? Sure, they can’t be hurt (…yet), but would they want their child to witness shootouts, gore and death? What terrible parenting! Perhaps Fluffy Kitten World was all booked up.
- Lab technician Elsie kissing the hooker really came off as nothing more than a gratuitous “let’s show some girl-on-girl action!” scene. Perhaps it’ll develop into a true love story at some point, but for now it seemed needlessly titillating. And if you think this is us simply being knee-jerk-offended, imagine the scene happening but with two male characters kissing. Doesn’t seem as likely to have been included, does it?
And The Random:
- There’s a throwaway reference from Bernard about the park having suffered a “critical failure” before, “more than 30 years ago”. Is this a sign that Westworld is a sequel to the original movie?
- If this is the case, then the Man In Black saying he’s “been coming here for 30 years” is intriguing. Is he the older version of Richard Benjamin’s character, the lone survivor from the movie? Has he come back to wreak revenge?
- …However, if it is the same universe, a question begs to be asked: where are the other two parks from Michael Crichton’s original story? Medieval World and Rome World are begging to be explored.
- The end credits feature “Fly Wranglers”.
- Best Quote: Hector: “The problem with the righteous is they can’t shoot for shit.”
Reviewed by Jayne Nelson