“Westworld” is HBO’s latest show with potential to be everyone’s new obsession. Filled with intrigue and mind-bending futurism, “Westworld” paves its own way in masterful fashion through questions that are hyper-relevant to our current exploration into robotics engineering and artificial intelligence. The show manages this while maintaining a fantastical element of late 1800s Western society and confronting viewers with questions of their own empathy and potential for cruelty.
“Westworld” is based on the 1973 movie of the same name, written and directed by Michael Crichton (of “Jurassic Park” fame). The concept of the HBO show is essentially the same: In the future, humans have advanced technology to the point where anthropomorphic robots are indistinguishable from real people. These robots (or “hosts”) are placed in a gigantic theme park where guests pay exorbitant fees to visit and pretend they are living in ye olde Western times.
The original movie centres on a parent company called Delos which contains three parks: Western World, Medieval World, and Roman World. As far as we can tell from press screeners given, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have pared Delos down and are only focusing on Western World — hence “Westworld.”
By focusing on one location, the HBO series is able to deepen its narrative and expand the cast of characters. The biggest strength of “Westworld” is the writing’s ability to draw in viewers with the mythology of the theme park. We are teased again and again with glimpses into the park’s 30-year-old history, and learn more about the possibly dark past of each human and host character.
At each episode’s end, viewers will wish the season was a binge-able Netflix series like “House of Cards,” but the weekly anticipation will pay off just as “Game of Thrones” successfully delivers Sunday after Sunday. We certainly hope it eventually draws in a “Game of Thrones”-sized fan base, since Nolan and Joy already have five full seasons planned out and season one has us eager to discover more.
Sex and violence is a given. Robots that look and feel human at the disposal of rich park goers looking for a rowdy good time? It’s only a matter of time before a host gets raped or murdered (or both). The writers tread this inevitability carefully — yes there’s gore and uncomfortable assaults, but it never goes into gratuitous territory. The camera pulls back and leaves viewers to their own imaginations at the right time.
That brings us to the heart of the story “Westworld” aims to tell.
As trailers have revealed, Westworld begins to run into issues with its hosts becoming self-aware. Nolan spoke with Entertainment Weekly about their chosen starting point for the series:
When it comes to the question of consciousness, we always start with ourselves as the answer. As the be-all-end-all. It’s understandable — we’re the only consciousness we’re familiar with. But we wanted to challenge that assumption. The ‘hosts’ are discovering that they have been created in our image, but beginning to question if ‘humanness’ is really what they want to aspire to.
What does it mean to be human? If something looks and feels human, and is capable of displaying emotional actions and reactions, should we empathise with it? Kill it? Rape it? What moral obligations do humans have to their robotic creations, especially ones forced into such violent narratives?
“Westworld” confronts its audience with these questions and much more. The stellar cast (which includes Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, and Thandie Newton) will seduce you into their universe of intrigue while keeping you entertained and in awe — similar to how the fictional park guests likely feel when they step into Westworld.
We won’t say much more, since the viewing experience is enhanced if you don’t know much about the individual characters, but this new series is definitely a must-watch. Tune into the series premiere on Sunday, October 2 at 9 p.m. EST, and see for yourself why “Westworld” is a universe worth diving into head first.