[TV] Westworld – Tracing Decay

This post is a second attempt at discussing Westworld. The first can be found here. This post has full-season spoilers for the first season of Westworld

My previous piece on Westworld felt inadequate and I really should have seen that coming. In retrospect, it was pretty naive of me to assume that I could discuss everything I wanted to, while still studiously avoiding spoilers. The end result was that the last post ended up being half-hearted and incomplete. While I still stand by everything I said in it, the post offered little beyond simply identifying what the interesting elements of the show were. This week’s post is a return to Westworld, with the intention of setting those wrongs right.

In case you missed the by-line above, this post has spoilers. Not light, early-in-the-season spoilers – real spoilers, you know, the ones that can actually ruin your enjoyment of the show. Consider this fair warning, there won’t be a second.

The post is going to be structured into two halves, roughly speaking. In the first part, we’re going to talk about the surface level of show. That includes things like acting performances, special effects, story-telling techniques and plot construction. There will certainly be some level of overlap with what was mentioned last week, but I hope to add a lot more in terms of detail. The second half will deal more with ideas and themes – elements that I believe made Westworld a little more engaging and thought-provoking than your typical sci-fi thriller. I tend to be rather hit-or-miss when discussing abstract ideas, but I do find them interesting regardless, and hope you do too.

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[TV] Westworld – Violent Delights, Violent Ends

This post is going to be a little different from my usual posts. It isn’t an episode by episode run through nor is it really a review of the show in a traditional sense. It’s really more of a written response to the series after a weekend long marathon. To those of you not familiar with Westworld, don’t worry – I won’t be spoiling any major reveals, but as a result I won’t be going into much detail. Westworld takes place in a very special kind of Wild West themed amusement park populated with near sentient robots. The robots are subject to exactly the kinds of twisted abuse that humans would inflict on things that they would consider less than human. This is usually not an issue – the robots memories are wiped clean routinely and the humans can live out their sick fantasies without fear of repercussion. Things begin to change when Dolores, begins to malfunction and recall inconvenient memories of the park and the people that frequent it.

Broadly speaking, it is the interplay of two elements that drives the success of any story; its premise and the way that premise is explored. In most television series, immediate, short term viability is born out of the former while true longevity depends on the latter. Game of Thrones, for example, for all the intricacy of its setting would never have lasted this long without great writing and amazing performances. In some ways, Westworld works in exactly the opposite way. Even if it weren’t the third attempt at adapting a Michael Crichton novel, the core of Westworld‘s premise hasn’t aged particularly well. The blurry line separating human sentience from its robotic counterparts has been explored quite thoroughly in other works and the looming threat of a robotic uprising is a trope common enough to even be considered passé. That is not to say that the premise has nothing going for it – our relationship with technology is something that has only become more relevant in the time since the novel was published and and the atmosphere within the setting, with its quests and daily ‘resets’, is evocative of many video games. Having said that though, the series leans more heavily on its cast and its script than other series would in similar stages of their lifecycles.

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[TV] Game of Thrones – The Winds of Winter

season-6-tease

This post is the third  and final post covering the latest season of Game of Thrones. If spoilers, including material from the books and fan theories, aren’t your thing, you might not want to scroll down too much further down

Part 1: Queen’s Landing

Part 2: Cutting the Meereenese Knot

Merry Christmas! What better time to talk about Game of Thrones – specifically the advance of the icy White Walkers and the winter they are bringing – than the middle of our real world winter? This is the final post on Game of Thrones season 6, and it’ll be covering the storyline closest to audiences’ hearts – the Starks of Winterfell. Before we get any further, let’s be real for a second. This storyline was not perfect but got it the job done. I didn’t watch the season as it came out in real time but I remember the social media and Reddit hype; it seemed like people were genuinely enjoying the season and seemed to be keenly anticipating the next episode each week. In fact, the internet pretty much seemed to have a collective orgasm in the weeks that episodes 9 and 10 (‘Battle of the Bastards’ & ‘The Winds of Winter’) and its not hard to see why. Those episodes, along with some of the more explosive episodes in the season, were engineered precisely for those reactions. While I’m not taking anything away from the quality of those episodes – I think they showcased some great writing and directing – I think the real test of the season is to see how well it stands up on a second, or even third, viewing, when the explosions and plot twists have less of an effect. By those metrics I’d say Game of Thrones season 6 fares less well, and the story in the North, which was arguably the centrepiece of this season, is no exception. I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom, though; I think for all its flaws and missed opportunities, this season and the Northern storyline, especially, has had some great moments and there’s plenty in it that has me excited to see where this story in particular goes next season as we finally approach the end of this long song.

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[TV] Game of Thrones – Season 6, Cutting The Meereenese Knot

season-6-tease

This post is the second of three covering the latest season of Game of Thrones. If spoilers, including material from the books and fan theories, aren’t your thing, you might not want to scroll down too much further down

Part 1: Queen’s Landing

Way back in 2011, when Game of Thrones‘ first season aired on HBO, the network spared no expense in trying to convince audiences that Game of Thrones wasn’t just another shallow attempt at riding the pop culture fantasy tidal wave that The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter had created throughout the 2000s. You would hear phrases like ‘it’s a fantasy show for people who hate fantasy’ or ‘it’s Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos‘.  I’ve never liked either description because I felt it set up false expectations. In trying to emphasize the politics and grit of the story, I think that HBO downplayed the fact that at the end of the day, Game of Thrones is very much a fantasy story, which means that whether or not the mass market likes it, there are going to be fantasy elements to it. Speaking in an incredibly broad sense, I think that the show’s fandom (which I think can be considered separate from the books’ fandom) was split into two parts during the first couple of season. There were those who loved the dramatic elements of the show – the politics, the character development, the excellent acting – but got a little uncomfortable when the fantasy elements were played up and then there were those who loved the fantasy bits of it but bemoaned that they were used so sparingly.

This week, we’ll take a look at where Season 6 took the characters in Essos, particularly Daenerys Targaryen, the character who has always had a stronghold on the magic in the series. Sure, Tyrion had his wildfire and the Others were stalking around beyond the Wall, but Dany’s story was the only one with the dragons and the magic house of visions. In some ways, this season was really do-or-die for Dany – I don’t think there was any segment of the audience that was ready for yet another season of the monotony in Meereen.

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[TV] Game of Thrones – Season 6, Queen’s Landing

 

season-6-tease

This post is the first of three covering the latest season of Game of Thrones. If spoilers including material from the books and fan theories aren’t your thing, you might not want to scroll down too far

Some of you might have been wondering why I had not covered Game of Thrones season 6 week by week as it happened. There are a few reasons. First, after the way season 5 ended, I felt a distinct lack of hype about the direction that the show was heading in. I did not like the way that characters like Sansa, Stannis and Shireen had been treated. I did not like the Sand Snakes and the bad poosi. I thought that Arya’s storyline was dragging on too long and I thought that the show had lost the spark that made it stand out way back in season 1. At the time, there was no doubt in my mind that I would eventually watch the new season when it aired. For a number of reasons – work, being busy with other shows – I didn’t watch the show when it aired, but I have fully caught up now. Some of the criticisms I brought up about season 5 still apply to season 6, as well as some new ones, but on the whole, I don’t think I am alone in thinking that season 6 is a strong step in the right direction.

Since I’ve already seen all 10 episodes of the season, and I assumed anyone reading this has as well or at least, doesn’t care enough about spoilers, I figured that I can cover most of what I want to say about the season in three posts. This week’s post is going to focus on the storyline in King’s Landing – a rather incendiary storyline, I’m sure most of you would agree. I’ll be talk mostly about what worked and what didn’t, things that I liked and stuff that I thought missed the mark as well as sharing some reactions I had to the first season of Game of Thrones in which I had no idea what would happen.

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[TV] House of Cards – Chapter 26 (S2E13)

Season 2 poster

The ascension is complete. In the space of a few years, Frank Underwood has risen from a lowly minor league politician to become one of the most powerful men in the world. Watching his rise from Congress to the White House to the leader of the free world it’s interesting to note that not once was a vote cast in his name, a testament to the sheer efficacy of his wheeling and dealing. His movements in this episode exemplify everything about him that makes him such a terrifying opponent; beyond his ruthlessness and cold practicality, Frank has an amazing instinct for understanding what toes he can trample on and what toes are sacrosanct. There is much to say about Francis Underwood but the short version is that he has a keen understanding of his and his opponents’ strengths and weakness and knows just how to leverage that knowledge to his advantage. Given how this season ends, we ought to also spend some time looking at just how the various characters played out from the political fall of the mighty Raymond Tusk to the moral and physical fall of Douglas Stamper. This season ended up being one that was more defined by its endgame than it was by the sluggishness of its middle – in light of all the shocking twists and turns of this episode, the relative drudgery of the trade war and politicking of the middle section seems much more forgivable.

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[TV] Hannibal – The Wrath Of The Lamb (S313)

Hannibal Poster

Just what was it that motivated the character of Hannibal Lecter throughout this series? Even after this series finale, it’s hard to think of a definitive answer though two answers rise above their peers. Perhaps he was just a force of nature, spreading misery and agony wherever he went; in this interpretation of the series, he has no purpose beyond just being what he is. It is a simple explanation, yes, but also an attractive one. It paints Hannibal as a thing more than a person and in doing so allows us to keep from considering any human elements of a creature like him – like a storm at sea, there is no reason for Hannibal; he just is. Yet, convenient as that explanation may be it is also insufficient in many aspects, primarily because it offers so little in explaining Hannibal’s interest and obsession with Will Graham. The dynamic between these characters goes well beyond predator and prey, especially since the roles each has alternated rather regularly throughout the series – these characters are more reminiscent of two planets circling the nexus of a black hole, destined to collide and annihilate each other. Add to this calamitous mix a dash of a fiery red dragon, which acts as a catalyst for the aforementioned collision, and you have the recipe for tense season finale.

Click here for the review