Westworld, “The Original” Review: Like a Newborn Baby, It Just Happens Every Day

wwep1

***Spoilers: Spoilers for Westworld through S1E1, “The Original”. Spoilers***

Why are we here? It’s a question humans ponder on a daily basis, so it seems only natural any thinking being would eventually wonder the same. Like Elizabeth Shaw in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, no matter how close to the fire we’re drawn, we can’t help but follow that inescapable desire to meet our maker; the results can run the gamut from disappointing to deadly.

Jumping off from Michael Crichton’s 1973 science fiction movie, Jonathan Nolan and (spouse) Lisa Joy’s grand, sweeping, world-expanding vision, with its lavish themes and sets, big-name actors, and primetime slot clearly wants to slide right into our soon-to-be-dispossessed Game of Thrones hearts. Westworld itself — the interactive story area — no longer looks like a movie set, with fairly easily identifiable bad guys: its experience is fully immersive, and sorting AI from human isn’t merely a spectator sport. It’s another level. This is where the Nolans invite the audience to play along, for the hidden game within a game is clearly: Who is real? Surprise, he’s a host (AI/android); she’s human! Starting with one of the first characters we meet, who at first seems a guest on his way to the adventure of a lifetime, but is quickly revealed to be just another player in one of the park’s myriad simultaneously running storylines. Not unlike our own constantly and rapidly mutating real world, the creative and technologically advanced Westworld experience is continually going through upgrades and experimental evolution, which — as we’ve learned from series like Battlestar Galactica and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — will only be to our own detriment. At the head of this particular braintrust is the brilliant (and expertly cast) Dr. Robert Ford, played to chilling perfection by Anthony Hopkins.

hopkins

One of the opening episode’s finest moments is a scene featuring Ford interacting Gepetto-like with the (decommissioned) second host ever built, “Old Bill” (well played by Michael Wincott): a grizzled, handlebar-mustachioed old-timer whose subtly robotic movements mirror Yul Brynner’s original Gunslinger. Ford seems to have a certain fascination with his creations’ earlier versions, an issue that later rears its head in several updated hosts’ odd malfunctions. One of the intriguing questions raised in a conversation between Westworld’s operational leader (and resident grammarian) Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and narrative director Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) is about motives. After Sizemore ostensibly throws his support behind Cullen for a “long overdue” ousting of Ford — “The guy’s going to chase his demons right over the deep end” — Cullen playfully queries Sizemore: “This place is one thing to the guests, another thing to the shareholders, and something completely different to management … what do you think management’s real interests are?” Indeed. Would we eventually be led to downloading subconsciousnesses — immortality of a sort — or would these hosts harboring secrets find a way to replace their Westworld overlords? For the audience, again, we must realize we’re on this same dark precipice, ignoring our own leery questions even while asking them.

harris

The cast is excellent, especially Evan Rachel Wood as the alternately cloying and cagey host Dolores, Louis Herthum as her “father” Peter, and, of course, Ed Harris’ purportedly reversed Gunslinger, whom we’re meant to believe is human (I don’t, especially since he wears gloves — perhaps a nod to the original movie; the robot hands were the only thing that couldn’t be perfected). The Man in Black is on a quest to find Westworld’s deeper level, gruesomely hunting clues underneath scalps in between gleefully maiming, killing, and raping hosts (does human/host even matter to him?). Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe is the calm behind Westworld’s raging and problematic programming storm, and particularly enjoyable were latecomers Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), bandits sent in to wipe out their fellow hosts, rounded up in a showy storm of bullets for rechecking recent malfunction-causing updates.

There are, as with most first steps, a few minor stumbles, including the cheese factor (especially with Dolores’ repeated lines). Akin to its movie and thematic cousin Jurassic Park we have to wonder: just how long can a dangerously malfunctioning resort be kept operational? Sustaining these ideas through a couple of hours in a film is one thing — even sequels and reboots can only bear out so long — how will the Nolans keep us believing Westworld could remain in operation? I may be in the minority here, but throwing in The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black didn’t work; it totally pulled me out of the scene and felt like it was specifically thrown in for the cool factor, rather than to connect us to modernity. Was Dolores’ repeating scenario merely an introductory ploy (because that sort of thing will quickly become a snore)? Why are the host issues so thoroughly revealed in the first episode; where do we go from here? Unless Westworld is about to become the first resort actually run entirely by AI … well, now, perhaps we’re onto something here. Anthony Hopkins’ manner does lend itself to wondering — which I’ve been doing since the moment I first spied him — did he lose a wife, a child, a family he’s trying to replace? Has Ford already been assimilated? Because there is so much storyline possibility, and the impressive cast is large enough to afford splitting off episodes for different characters (Thandie Newton’s Mistress Maeve is particularly intriguing, and I’d love to see Hector and Armistice go rogue), there’s enough here to keep us coming back to Westworld for more.

Other thoughts:

***Gross warning: Scalp ahead! Don’t worry, it’s not real. But what’s up with the underside of that scalp — the Gunslinger found himself a clue. Who put it there? I’m voting Peter or Old Bill … or Dr. Robert Ford.

scalp

Was Dolores swatting a fly indicative that she’s been hiding her self-awareness for a while? Did she know how to answer Ashley Stubbs’ (Luke Hemsworth — yes, he’s brother to Chris and Liam) line of questioning the “right” way? Why was the head of security questioning her in this instance, instead of Lowe, Dr. Ford, or one of the other programming specialists? (Are all movie/TV world heads of security doomed to be arseholes?) Did Dolores tell the truth about what her father whispered? (I don’t think so.)

Have the hosts been questioning their reality long before this recent update?

Were you uncomfortable with the series’ violence? In particular, I was very bothered by the guest couple at the end, especially the wife who wanted a picture of a dying Hector wriggling. The Gunslinger pulling a screaming Dolores by the hair. Would you ever go to a Westworld-type resort?

How many hosts has Shannon Woodward’s Elsie Hughes kissed?

kiss

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

You may also like...

  • Valhallaback Girl

    I just finished watching it not too long ago and yep, I’m all in. The pacing was fantastic, the Groundhog Day aspect to it was wonderfully done, the music was perfection (although, like you Cindy, the Paint It Black sucked me right out of the scene. Oddly, the Black Hole Sun cover didn’t in the brothel on the player piano.

    I love, LOVE this passionately already. I’m going to wait a few days and rewatch it. But excellent recap and ponderings. Definitely looking forward to the rest of the season!

    • Yeah, BHS didn’t really bother me…it wasn’t so in your face, maybe?

      So, what’s your opinion on fakeouts, human vs. host?

      • Valhallaback Girl

        The collecting of scalps by The Man in Black (TMiB) is interesting for me because of a few reasons. So it was revealed/established that he has paid an excessive amount of money to basically stay in WestWorld and he’s seemingly culling the herd having Groundhog Day his entire time there learning scripts, the robots and maybe some of the other human visitors.

        I’m not wholly convinced he’s completely human, to be honest at this point. Additionally, I’m also wondering if perhaps the designers (Robert Ford and Bernard Lowe) aren’t maybe robots too?

        Like, is it possible that TMiB created Ford and Lowe and then they created WestWorld? TMiB might be the ULTIMATE human and literally everyone else is a host?

        I dunno. But goddamn, I’m in love.

        • High fives. I think Harris’ Gunslinger is red herring central. Everyone thinks it’s a cool flip on the movie, but I think he’s a) a host gone supersmart (figuring out how to chip himself so the hosts think he’s human), or planted by Ford. And, I’ve been of the Ford’s AI (he downloaded his consciousness long ago) opinion from the get go. I’m very curious who created the maps…

          I think Lowe is likely real, and possibly at some point, he’ll be the one human — or one of only a few left — fighting to gain back control.

          What would really be interesting is if it ends up with the hosts running the whole place, and killing off the humans who are paying to come play out their fantasies.

          • Valhallaback Girl

            What if each season of the show presents a new theme park? I know they want to stay focused on the AI every season presumably for this theme park but it could end up like the walking dead where the few surviving AI try to travel to other development centers or try to take down the management?

          • That could work! Personally, I’m very interested in the AI and the story as cautionary tale. If we don’t destroy ourselves, there’s no doubt in my mind AI will. 😛

          • Valhallaback Girl

            I’m just thrilled that this adaptation feels less of Crichton and more of Philip K. Dick.

          • Did you not like the original?

          • Valhallaback Girl

            I haven’t watched it yet but I read the book and it does not hold up.

          • It’s just the script, right? The film (slow beginning) is really worth your time. Definitely, the time is right for a major update, and I love that it’s so futuristic.

          • Valhallaback Girl

            All right, Davis. Looks like I’m watching Yul Brynner tonight. I’ll report back!

          • I look forward to it! Just, seriously — it’s very slow in the beginning. You have to look past that.

  • Jelinas

    Ooh, I watched the pilot and don’t think I’ll keep watching. The acting was fantastic, but the darkness of the storyline would keep me up at night in a way that no horror movie ever could.

    I, like Cindy, was taken aback by that guest at the end crassly wanting a picture of Hector’s death throes, and I couldn’t stop shuddering as the Gunslinger dragged a hysterical Dolores into the barn (ERW totally sold that, BTW. Every scream was a dagger). And I was more than disturbed by the idea that a family would bring their child on vacation to the same place where others come for meaningless sex or to see what it feels like to take a life.

    I was surprised at how unsettled I was by the darkness of the idea that, in the future, people’s ideal vacation will be going to place where they can indulge all of their darkest fantasies without fear of real-world consequences. Is this really what people want? Is it only real-world consequences that are holding us back from making Westworld OUR world? I find that thought profoundly disturbing — mostly because I’m afraid it’s kind of true.

    Also, I really didn’t care for the use of “Paint It Black.” I found the orchestral arrangement to be overwrought; it turned a dramatic moment into a melodramatic one.

    I did, however, oddly enjoy the Old West player piano cover of “Black Hole Sun.” It was so low-key and really fit the wistful melancholy of that scene.

    • Yes, those aspects — the kid! — were disturbing, and I’m not entirely sure we don’t have people who would act exactly like that. Personally, I’d have no desire to play cowboy, and I struggled with that concept in the movie as well. BUT, I can assure you (military) there are plenty of folks who would, and it’s scary when you meet those people IRL. There’s a difference between feeling like you have no choice but to kill someone, and choosing to do it for fun. Is that a normal desire that dovetails right into a cowboy fantasy, or would most people be happy just to play that version of laser tag, or shoot blanks at each other? Not sure. The sex, well, I could easily see people going to have their fantasies fulfilled, but I don’t really want to think about the ones who’d do what the Gunslinger did to Dolores. Completely agree on ERW’s screams; they cut me to the bone.

      • Jelinas

        It’s scenes like that that help me to understand why so many actors get into drugs. In order to be able to emote in such a realistic way, I’d imagine that you’d have to believe that it was real; that it was really happening to you. If I had to convince myself that something like that were real and relive it take after take after take, and the physicality and costuming and sets were as real as they are nowadays, I could easily see myself taking to escaping pharmaceutically. I only watched it and I’m having a hard time shaking it off.

        I suppose I should be glad, though, that it affected me as deeply as it did. It would be even scarier if I were calloused to it.

        • I think there are plenty of great actors that can just put themselves into a terrified state of mind, and they blow my mind.

          Definitely haunting. I can still hear her in my brain.