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.
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.