With all the buzz around the forthcoming new season of WestWorld I thought I’d better watch the first season, well, first. Having seen the original, Michael Crichton-screenwritten, film quite a few years ago (starring the magnificent and definitely creepy Yul Brynner) I was keen to see this and I have no idea why it has taken me so long to get around to it. This time round it has been created by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest, Memento, Interstellar) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies, Burn Notice).
A holiday park/resort is populated by hosts, an advanced humanoid/android product that interacts with the guests on such a level as to be entirely believable that they are actually back in the Wild West. Designed and run by the Delos corporation, the mastermind of Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
This new version of WestWorld is like a TV version of Red Dead Redemption: people playing at being cowboys, roaming around completing tasks, missions and side games and shooting anything and anyone that they want to (without any worry of retaliation). This series, in comparison, is just a bit more grown-up with added blood and death mixed in with a gratuitous amount of nudity and sex thrown in there for added measure. Having said that it isn’t all about the gratification of the guests’ desires as there is something far deeper and cerebral at work here that belies this coating of lust and wanton destruction. Reaching inside and finding the differences between the guests and the hosts, uncovering the real natures of each with surprising results.
As with most good series it takes its time and starts off relatively slowly, familiarising characters with the viewer, then adding more characters and deeper plot lines as we go. With all these multiple plots and characters playing out simultaneously, it can be confusing at times to keep up with what is going on, and I’m sure this was with good reason and purpose, keeping the viewer always just behind the curve.
With the degradation of the boundaries between what appears to be fact and fiction, dreams and real, this is where the plot begins to take additional turns and twists, giving an unreliable air to the scenes playing out, never knowing for sure which ones are true and which ones are the past realities for the hosts rising back to the surface. This ambiguity is done exceedingly well and adds a great amount to the culmination of this season.
The treatment of women is particularly hard to watch at times, even if they aren’t all technically human they are still sentient in some sense. And I’m not just talking about the way they are utilised within the various scenarios but the way they are viewed throughout the season. Maybe it is just a reflection on the times that this world is set in that women are deemed of less importance, categorised into either whores or little ladies. There is also a great deal of female nudity that seemed to serve no purpose at all in terms of story or setting. That being said, there are a number of central female characters and controllers in this series, all strong or pivotal to the main storyline, which is a nice counter-point to the day to day park life and storylines and the male-dominated technicians and workforce.
Anthony Hopkins is perfect as the park co-creator Ford, a kind of Cowboy-related Jurassic Park creator (which was also written by Crichton) in the mould of Richard Attenborough, but with more influence on the minutiae of the parks inhabitants, manipulating storylines, behaviours and creating new stories and adventures. Working independent of everyone else, there is no one that knows more about the inside workings of the park and its inhabitants, except perhaps the mysterious Arnold, his co-creator and partner in this venture. Arnold may not be around any more but his influence is still strong in everything that goes on in the park.
Jeffrey Wright as Bernard plays this role perfectly. Implicit in all that is going on at the beginning but increasingly cut adrift as the season progresses, seemingly playing catch-up to the revelations that are happening around him. Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores has a similar arc, but in reverse: starting all doe-eyed and innocent but ending as someone with more of a grasp of what is going on here than anyone else. Not to forget The Man In Black (Ed Harris), who has a deep understanding about the park and is incredibly focused on getting to the end of his quest and won’t let anybody get in the way. And then there is Thandie Newton as Maeve. If there is anyone in the show that has a better arc than Maeve then I must have missed it. Damaged, driven, resourceful and ruthless as she searches and investigates hunches, dreams and visions to find out what is going on and her ability to grasp the moment and take control is phenomenal. The standout performer in this season for me. Just awesome.
There is some great character development across the season as humans and hosts learn more about where they are and how they function under certain situations and the pacing of the season as a whole is absolutely superb. Just like in The Matrix there is an air of uncertainty for whether or not you are real or a host, allied with an amount of philosophical questions and existentialism.
Where will it all lead? Will anyone really know what is going on? Damn you Nolan and Joy!
Oh look, here comes season 2!