**This post contains Spoilers for Westworld, Season 1***
We may have a lot of things to complain about lately, but HBO’s Westworld isn’t one of them. With first rate actors, smart writing, gorgeous visuals, an inspired score and puzzles and mysteries to solve, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s in-depth reimagining of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film does just what it should: cause us to think about the deeper levels of our own humanity. On the brink of expanding real world Artificial Intelligence to lifelike androids, Westworld forces an earlier face to face, a precursor we should already taken heed of by virtue of lessons in our reading and movie viewing. It’s hard to imagine not feeling emotion for something we’ve created ourselves, for other lifelike beings made in our own images and yet, we need only look around at this very moment in time to know that as a people, we’ve learned all too well how to distance ourselves from one another.
Anchored by astoundingly fearless performances from two talented lead actresses (Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton), straight out the gate Nolan and Joy have used their opportunity to do what many major and equally able series have had to course correct: present an excellent story with equality and inclusivity. Despite a bit of apprehension on the part of audience and critics, we survived past (bolstered by cast encouragement) the first episode’s nudity and violence against women; Westworld has clearly proven itself to be a diversely imagined playground that forces viewers to not only question what they’re visually experiencing, but what perceptions our minds play on vs. the actual information received. A great example of this is in Episode 1, “The Original“; Ed Harris’ Man in Black grabs Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores by the hair, and drags her toward a barn, presumably to rape her. But, the audience never sees that happen and as the season has progressed, it seems less and less likely that a sexual assault occurred. The Man in Black isn’t looking to Dolores for physical gratification; he’s looking for information that will take him to a deeper level.
What’s also interesting are some of the conversations among avid fans, some of whom are still struggling with any depiction of attacks against women. In our current environment where violence toward women take place on an alarmingly frequent basis, it’s absolutely horrifying (and for some, triggering) to witness brutal violence like what we saw against Clementine and Theresa in “Trompe L’Oeil“. Some people have suggested that perhaps the violence could have been directed at a male or even a gay male, that it might somehow feel different, but the fact of the matter is that several male characters (Teddy, Lawrence, Kissy, Hector) have been subjected to horrific attacks; do viewers feel any “better” about those instances? In our minds we may be separating the characters out by their gender or color but as presented, what we’re meant to and what we should consider is that seeing anyone suffer violence or brutality is terrible. Does it matter if the Hosts are self-aware, or they simply believe that they are? Either way, their pain and suffering is real to them and to the audience. As Westworld‘s living (at least partially biological) beings, who may have attained a level of consciousness, are kept in servitude, are beaten, scalped and drained of blood, we see them as reflections of humanity, regardless of persuasion. We don’t somehow feel better that Teddy was left hanging from a tree, or that Lawrence was killed and bled simply because they are male. Our minds go to places because of our experience or conditioning, but Westworld is creating a different worldview for another purpose, a contemplation we would do well to take at this particular juncture in our existence. We are people, living, breathing, bleeding and hurting the same, regardless of color and gender, of who we are sexually, ethnically, geographically, religiously … politically. And, if we create other beings who are at all sentient, we bear the same responsibility to them as we do to ourselves.
Personally, I’m heartened to be so mentally stimulated by a television series that’s at the very least, trying to do better. In Westworld, people of color and ethnicity are front and center, there is nudity equality (yes, we’ve had penis sightings) and though the resort is a hedonistic, debaucherous place, from the audience aspect, its nudity and sexuality isn’t exploitative. As the episodes have gone by, I find myself paying little attention to physical nakedness, instead watching people’s faces and expressions for some giveaway, or a character’s intent. The big orgy scene the media went crazy over reports of before the series even began turned out to be of little consequence; following Dolores’ point of view through the scene, we studied her trying to comprehend and again, watching her responses was of more importance than the sexual acts happening around her.
The little touches, inclusivity — Elsie allowing herself a Clementine kiss, and Clementine inviting human women to her bed, and Charlotte Hale’s (Tessa Thompson) unabashed sexuality (using Hector [Rodrigo Santoro] as her sex toy) is refreshing. Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) is an expert shot and for a series just out the gate, the care given to every detail is appreciated. Going forward, would it be grand to see added diversity, maybe an Asian lead character who isn’t a tech, a relatable Middle Easterner, and gay couples that break stereotype? Absolutely; it can only enhance the experience. For now, though, let’s allow for a little Joy and Nolan congratulations, and our own enjoyment of the incredibly well-done, immersive and thought provoking series that Westworld is.