How good was WESTWORLD – S01E01 “The Original”?

“These violent delights have violent ends”


“Westworld” is HBO’s new flagship show.

“Game Of Thrones” has just two years before its icy conclusion, the doomsday clock is ticking and HBO need a new show that people will pore over for years and scrutinise in minute detail, something to inspire a new frenzy of speculation.

Have you ever met someone who proudly declares that they “don’t watch Game of Thrones” as though it’s an achievement? How does that make you feel?

Like they’re missing out? Like they’re somehow foolish?

Well, Westworld seeks to step up to the Iron Throne as THE show to discuss at the watercooler and THE show that, in your mind, your less wise friends are certainly missing out on.
If only they knew the pleasures and depravities available to them.

Which is exactly the basis of Westworld.

vlcsnap-00006

Westworld is described as “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin” and mostly takes place in the eponymous, virtually realistic theme park. The rest takes place in a clinical, sterile facility where faultlessly flawed humans attempt to create a perfect impression of humanity for the gratification and vulgar delectation of wealthy customers, or “guests”, who want to experience the Old West in full; blood, syphilis and all.

The show, an adaptation of Crichton’s 70s techno-western, is helmed by Jonathan Nolan, the lesser known but no less masterful of the Nolan brothers. Skill is not genetic or hereditary, but the consistent auteurial brilliance and the commitment to realism and deconstruction of reality of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan sets them apart from and far above the contemporaries. I would hope that, in the future, they’re spoken about like the Bergmans, Hitchcocks and Leones of 21st century cinema.

 

vlcsnap-00014

The scientists, led by Geoffrey Wright and Westworld founder Sir Anthony Hopkins who are both excellent, have created a beautiful, immersive and endlessly complicated world filled with more vibrancy and life than the one they have no choice but to live in.

Westworld (both the show and the theme park) is stacked interconnected narratives, glorious cinematography, actors playing archetypes and almost seamlessly realistic robots, or “hosts”, acting upon precise man-written directives.
The hosts are totally harmless, wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it was in their pre-approved narrative.
There’s a strong element of meta-narrative to the presentation of the story.

Each of the hosts has a specific script that they are programmed to follow, their lives and deaths are all part of story they feature in. At the end of each narrative, their memories are wiped, they start again and begin the next day as though the horrors and pleasures of the last never happened, and, in a sense, they didn’t. If the system resets and no one recalls anything, can it be said to have happened?

vlcsnap-00015

Evan Rachel Wood plays (ostensibly) the lead role in this ensemble as Dolores, an optimistic “host” whose doomed relationship with travelling cowboy James Marsden always meets a grisly end.
The cycle starts again and the hosts have no recollection.  Or do they?

One thing the pilot executed masterfully; the first 15mins had us believing that James Marsden was our heroic Guest who has come to find romance in the Old West, nope, he’s revealed to be a Host as he is gunned down by Ed Harris’ The Man In Black, the ruthless, murderous apparently 30-year alum of Westworld, who appears to be on a bloody and existential quest to find “a deeper level to this game”.

vlcsnap-00010

This is interesting, more than once Westworld is referred to as a game. Westworld is an MMORPG where you’re the hero then, on the next “playthrough”, you can be pure evil.

The conflict that the real world scientists face is the Hosts memories aren’t completely wiping at the end of each cycle, they’re “remembering” fragments of their thousands of past “lives” and roles they played therein.

vlcsnap-00016

It is our memories who make us who we are, they give us context for our whole lives, and if the hosts ever had that context, would they then begin to qualify as human? And if they did that, could they act in violence by choice? Deceive their makers? Breakdown the artifice of Westworld?

The episode ends with Dolores going through her programmed morning routine with one major difference: she swats and kills a fly that lands on her, the one thing the makers said would never happen. A host has now hurt a fly.

I wondered why this episode was called “The Original”.

Then I remembered that HBO describes Westworld as about “the evolution of sin”.

and then I understood, or at least speculated, what “The Original” is.

vlcsnap-00005

Killing a living thing outside of the narrative directive and then lying to the makers about it has never happened before and is the first step toward sentience, the first step toward knowledge of what beyond exists beyond this Old West Eden.

I believe “The Original” refers to Original Sin.

The Original Sin was Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge when God said “see that tree over there? The one with the juicy looking apple? Yeah, ignore that, dont go anywhere near it”, the rest is history. Equally here, Dolores is made aware (perhaps unintentionally) of the option of killing a living thing, and does so after being told that to do so would be bad.
There’s SO much to talk about; characters, narrative layers, set ups and pay offs, twists, subversions, the production and the acting, but i’m going to leave it for now, until i’ve got more than 60minutes of material to ponder over.


What did you think?


Matt S

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.