Wow, Westworld most certainly took us on a voyage through the depths of sci-fi, posing intelligent questions along the way as well as providing us with the quality entertainment we’ve come to expect from HBO programming. Season 1 has now come to a finale and I’ve tasked myself with reviewing this epic take on the conception of AI and sentience that twists the nature of your typical western and fills it to the brim with all these future-thinking ideas that juxtapose beautifully with the old-timey background they develop under.
First of all, props to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy for finding a perfect place to develop all these grand sci-fi ideas. Like any great sci-fi project, Westworld asks the questions that matter, Why do we have free-will?, What are actually like?, and What does having a conscience entail? The park does bring some fun stuff with it, especially when it comes to the events it makes our characters participate in, but what its really there for is to serve as a breeding ground for this massive onslaught of concepts about waiting to be developed by the narrative. Here’s where the problem comes in, noting there are a lot of questions to be simply developed, not necessarily answered, some do get lost along the way as the showrunners decide to focus on the more important ones. Surely that’s good, the creators know what they’re doing by choosing what to further develop and what to cut, the thing is why would you plant a seed if you’re never going to attend, you might as well just have never planted the seed in the first place. The fact that they decided to keep remnants of these ideas in there is bothersome because as human beings, we have a natural inclination towards curiosity and wanting to figure out exactly what those ideas meant. But, the reason this goes from bothersome to a problem is because the ideas they choose to develop do take a long time to come into fruition. Maybe this is just my personal problem with impatience but seems like there’s about four episodes hidden in the midst of this season that are quite meaningless and meandering. Thankfully, when those ideas come fully alive they bring a punch with them and resolve that itching curiosity that had been brewing within you.
The reason I’d like to focus on the questions and concepts proposed is because they are what define this series. Westworld is series built for the proposition of wild theories and raising questions for the viewer, these two things are elemental to its viewing. If it weren’t for the discussions and conversations that come about after watching an episode with your friends this series would be awfully dull. Seriously, take out the exploration of consciousness and bending of the free will from Westworld and what are you left with? A myriad of Red Dead Redemption missions with characters that won’t ever really die, what jolly fun. Looking back at the series, the worst parts of it were those moments where we were left to follow Billy and Logan around the park on a quest because it all felt so artificially constructed and lacking any real sort of emotion. On the other hand, the story of sentience from the androids’ point of view is full of emotional depth and mind-bending propositions that overrode the badly presented nods to the western genre. That isn’t to say they were all bad because they weren’t, there are some really awesome and enthralling pieces of the narratives our characters follow, but in the end the quest for sentience from the Hosts’ mind is a thousand times more interesting than the cheap thrills derived from a gunfight.
Acting wise, this series truly holds some wonders. Not only do Ed Harris and Sir Anthony Hopkins do a magnificent job in bringing to life these enigmatic characters, but by the end of it actors like Thandie Newton are stealing the show from these acting giants. Of course, I’ve got to mention Evan Rachel Wood who I’ll only say plays a very conflicted character. With Dolores, Wood is enabled to turn the damsel in distress into a momentary heroic figure, she’s plays a routine based hopeful as well as a stoical and confused woman searching for something she’ll probably never get. Something that parallels perfectly with Ed Harris’s quest to resolve the maze which is something I do not want to spoil and will only says makes perfect sense by the end. Going beyond these guys, you’ve also got Jeffrey Wright playing an awesome part as Bernard. James Marsden tragically comic character who they used to pull an awesome twist on how the marketing originally portrayed him, the same goes for The Man in Black. Jimmi Simpson is as great as he is in any series and his juxtaposition with the character of Logan, played by Ben Barnes, is always either fun or thought-provoking. Then you’ve great actors like Clifton Collins Jr., Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, and Angela Sarafyan who all work together to make the series as well-acted as it is. This might be me knit-picking, but the only problem I had acting-wise was with Sidse Babett Knudsen who seemed to slip in and out of her accent sometimes.
Having said all that, the reason I wouldn’t put Westworld above Atlanta or High Maintenance is because some things just lack sense. Whether its how the bullets work, how much time a cycle takes in the park or bigger things relating to the birth of consciousness in the Hosts and Ford’s involvement in it, some of these things are just left unresolved and ignored. But, this isn’t done in a way that’s supposed to leave you with an itch for the next season, but it just feels lazily unresolved.
I’d love to ramble on and on about the things that happen in this season of Westworld, but that’d be cruel to anyone who hasn’t watched the series yet. I believe Nolan and Joy have set an amazing platform for greater things to come. They’ve struggled with some things in this season, but I can see them easily fixing those mistakes in the future, which would mean Westworld would be launched into status of epic sci-fi. Honestly, if the showrunners find a way to solve the things that prevented the series from being great and left it at good, Westworld could be this astronomical sci-fi titan that becomes a staple of our culture and we can look back as this epic tome of brilliance that posed questions about our future years before they ever became reality. If the following seasons of Westworld are handled in an elegant and intellectual manner, we could be witnessing the television version of Solaris or 2001, but it continues on the path its currently on it might not be best, but still manage to be a rather great piece of television. Westworld Season 1 poses a lot of mind-bending questions and reveals a lot of mind-blowing concepts, it does get a bit monotonous towards the middle but all in all its a great step in the right direction and a show that will definitely work as HBO’s next tentpole t.v. show once Game of Thrones comes to an end.