Westworld Pilot Review by Charlie Woodrow
“Westworld” is an exciting, violent, sophisticated, and confusing sci-fi Western that is set in the future but takes place mainly in the past. The show follows an amusement park modeled after the Wild West and inhabited by artificially intelligent human robots. The park’s visitors or “guests” come to the amusement park to act like cowboys and bounty hunters. They can track down outlaws hiding out in the mountains, pillage a village, or break any law or moral code they wish; think Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto meets Disneyland. A set of ground rules are laid out right away. The robots can not harm humans and the robots’ memories are supposed to be erased every day, except for preconceived backstories. In one year, a robot could be a kindhearted father and another year the same robot could be the leader of a cult. Every day the robots’ day restarts – circa Groundhog Day – and have no knowledge that they are not really human; at least that’s what the managers of the park had intended. The trouble comes when a new software update causes a series of bugs and the bots begin to question whether their world is real.
Anthony Hopkins plays the leader of Westworld. A contemporary Dr. Frankenstein-esque scientist whose artificially intelligent creations turn into dangerous monsters. Hopkins is by far the show stealer. Every moment he is on camera is captivating and all of his lines carry meaning. Evan Rachel Wood plays an innocent Southern Belle living on a ranch with her father. Her role is that of the stereotypical Spaghetti Western damsel in distress. That is until by the end of the episode where she begins to show signs of mischief, implying that the robots will rebel at some point in the future. Meanwhile, Ed Harris plays a sadistic rogue visitor on a quest to find a “deeper level” to Westworld.
Westworld’s plot is both wonderfully creative and borderline incoherent. At times the pilot feels like two different shows at once. It is half part a drama about business and the morality of AI and half part a purposefully cliche Western shoot ‘em up. These are two genres that should not naturally mix, and the show (barely) makes it work. The business drama storyline is its strongest and poses questions of morality related to cruelty and hedonism that are rare for TV. Meanwhile, the western storyline is entertaining at a base level, but frustratingly illogical. Although, two characters in the show who are pining to move up in the business hierarchy imply there is a larger purpose to the amusement park than, well, amusement, I doubt a satisfactory answer will come as to why this sort of groundbreaking worldchanging research is being done at a glorified theme park – Six Flags is not known for its cutting edge AI department. This really creates the main flaw of the show. It is trying to be both an intellectual drama like Ex Machina while at the same time an action-packed modern Western like The Magnificent Seven. And because of this extreme contrast, both storylines are dulled by lack of coherence.
In short, the main flaw of Westworld is that the concept requires it to be in the West. The scenes of the Westworld offices and the Westworld park are sometimes too different to be taken seriously. Moreover, the West seems like an arbitrary limit for the show. If the show was just called The World, then the park would encompass more interesting and logical settings. In my opinion, Space World and Medieval World are much more interesting than a Wild West World (West World is still more interesting than Sea World though). In short, Westworld is an amazing, cutting edge show whenever it’s not in Westworld.
All in all, the pilot of Westworld is a blockbuster with a brain. The story is unique, though muddled, and the cast is unusually phenomenal. Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of Interstellar and The Dark Knight) and Lisa Joy Nolan show flares of genius while at the same time writing themselves into corners. Flaws aside, I found the pilot to be pretty great TV and will absolutely watch next week’s episode.
Following sci-fi logic, one of the humans has to be a robot right? Let us know your theories on the show’s mysteries and thoughts on the pilot below.