Caution! Potential spoilers for the first two episodes of Westworld follow.
Good day, everyone! I don’t know about any of you, but I’m already pretty taken with HBO’s new series Westworld, based on the 1973 film written by Michael Crichton. I watch several television shows pretty regularly, and this one looks like a good one to hold onto Game of Thrones’s slot in its off season. In fact, and as discussed in a recent Wired article, where Game of Thrones has offered a more grounded introduction to fantasy (limiting early magic use, keeping fantastic creatures under wraps for a time, etc.), Westworld may offer a similar introduction for mainstream audiences to science fiction. After all, and not to sound too tongue-in-cheek, but Westworld is rather “grounded” science fiction—there are no spaceships, no breathtaking otherworldly planetscapes, no unfamiliar aliens meant to make us look at ourselves and be ashamed. In fact, Westworld does quite well in its own right exploring this final theme, as I shall discuss below.
The Top Three Things I’m Enjoying and Looking Forward to in Westworld:
Foremost, the rise of artificial intelligence. This has been a popular topic in science fiction since at least as early as the days of Asimov. Westworld is an immersive resort designed by Dr. Robert Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins. The resort is filled with hundreds of “hosts,” robotic actors designed by Ford and constantly reprogrammed and upgraded by him over the course of 30 years. At this stage in their development, the hosts, foremost among them Dolores Abernathy (the stereotypical Old West maiden with iron in her spine, played by Evan Rachel Wood), her father (played by Louis Herthum), and Maeve Millay (the Old West madame implanted with memories of a traumatizing past, played by Thandie Newton), have begun exhibiting behaviors and retaining memories not in keeping with their programming. Indeed, trauma and memory run heavily throughout the story, as the hosts are repeatedly exploited, sexually abused, and even murdered by wealthy human guests who come to the largely lawless Westworld on vacation.
Next, the old trope of providing an example of humanity’s ugliness in something otherwise unfamiliar has been used in science fiction since before the original Star Trek. Here, however, that old paradigm is tossed on its head; humanity itself is the greedy villain, the monster (currently expressed best in Ed Harris’s Man in Black), and its robotic creations are its victims. (See this recent article on Tor.com that says a bit more about this in light of the original movie’s implicit themes). There’s a strong parallel with the reimagined Battlestar Galactica here, and if you enjoyed the ways in which evolving artificial intelligence were presented there, you’ll also enjoy Westworld. These machines also have the added bonus of actually being sympathetic, unlike the militant Cylons. I am eagerly awaiting to see how these two points play out across the life of the series, and I hope that it lasts longer than a single season.
Third, a lighthearted point—this show has some of the best opening credits I’ve seen in a long time. Check them out below. I’m curious to see how the symbolism in them plays out as the show’s story progresses.
As of the publication of this post, the first two episodes of Westworld should be widely available from HBO. From here on out, I plan on doing an episode-by-episode review each week, so be sure to stop back by. Thanks for reading!