Many of us have played MMORPGs before. From Everquest to Warcraft to Final Fantasy XIV, millions of people log in and quest with friends every day. But what if you didn’t just log in. What if you lived it? You didn’t control an avatar—you were the avatar. That’s part of the premise of Westworld, a show about a park that delivers a storytelling experience unlike any other.
Westworld takes place at an unspecified date in the future, where most of humanity’s problems have been solved due to huge advances in technology. Robotics, for example, has evolved to the point where it can be almost impossible to distinguish human from machine—think Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. These androids are called Hosts, and the populate the park, the titular Westworld.
The park itself is almost like a living MMO. The players are called Guests, and then are brought into the park to interact with the Hosts in a living, breathing version of the 1800’s frontier west, complete with gunslingers, saloons, and shootouts. The Guests have “Loops” which dictate their storylines and quests. For example, Dolores (a Host) wakes up each morning, has a conversation with her father, and then goes to town to buy groceries. The Hosts are allowed to veer away from their Loops when accompanied by a Guest, and they have the ability to improvise well to compensate for the changes in their Loops. If, perchance, Dolores were to drop a can of beans while shopping, and a Guest picked it up for her, her entire Loop might change for the day based on that one interaction.
The draw to the park is that the Guests can do whatever they want do the Hosts. Speak with them, play poker with them, shoot them, rape them; anything is fair game here. And the best part? The Hosts cannot hurt a Guest. They’ll put up a little token resistance, and maybe throw a punch or two, but to paraphrase a character, the Hosts will only hurt you enough to make it feel real. This means getting shot by a Guest is no worse than maybe getting hit with a really soft paintball.
You quickly see the types of people this park attracts, and you also see the park’s potential along with its darker nature. Some people go to have fun and experience the West, maybe track down a wanted criminal with a crusty bounty hunter Host; however, at the same time, others seem to revel in the chaos—the murder, the robbery, and all the other debauchery that they can get into. Remember, there are no consequences, so why would they hold back? To paraphrase that same character again, this park shows a person who they really are.
Early in the first season, we’re introduced to many Hosts and Guests, but the real action starts up behind the scenes with the people who operate the park. Bernard Lowe, the head programmer, and his protégé, Elsie Hughes, begin to realize there is something wrong with some of the Hosts’ coding. They are remembering events from their previous “lives”—their memories and Loops are supposed to be reset at the beginning of each day, but they are recalling various interactions and even deaths. Imagine an android with a grudge, one that remembers that the last time she saw you, you raped and then murdered her. Can you see how this might cause some problems?
In the park, the storylines revolve around a handful of interesting Hosts and Guests. There’s Dolores Abernathy and Teddy Flood, two Hosts whose courtship always seems to end in disaster; Maeve, a Host who is also the Madame at the local brothel; William, a Guest on his first venture into the park; and Logan, William’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, who is a regular Westworld veteran. Rounding out the story are Robert Ford and the Man in Black. Ford is the park director, and he is largely responsible for the storylines and programming of the Hosts. The Man in Black is a Guest, but who he is remains largely a mystery, although it’s obvious that he knows his way around the park.
The characters on both sides of the park are brought to brilliant life by the amazing cast. There are some really big names here, including Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford, Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, James Marsden as Teddy Flood, and Ed Harris as the Man in Black. Those names should speak for themselves, but the rest of the cast is also tremendous—I didn’t notice a weak link anywhere, even with minor characters.
If you have an interest in things retro, have a gander at the original Westworld movie, which was made in 1973. It was written and directed by Michael Crichton; the same Michael Crichton who penned hits like Jurassic Park and Sphere. While there are some similarities between the original movie and the series it inspired (such as the Man in Black character and the basic premise of the park), I found there were enough differences to make this a fresh, if not delightfully campy, experience.
Westworld really is some top-notch TV. There are ten episodes in season one, and while there is a bit of a quality dip around episode 5 or 6, it immediately picks back up and will seriously mess with your mind for the last three, fast-paced episodes. It seemed like after each one of these episodes I was texting friends that have watched it with “OMG” messages, each with varying degrees of profanity to paint a rich emotional tapestry.
If you’re in the mood for something new to watch, and you’re not afraid of some grit, mosey on over to Westworld and give it a shot. Or six.
+ Excellent cast
+ Very interesting concept
+ Plot is full of surprises
+ Will have you thinking some philosophical thoughts; i.e. what does it mean to be alive?
+ Not as gritty as other HBO productions, so it’s easier to get into
– Some pacing issues around the mid-point of the season
Andrew Garvey is a writer/editor for The Geekiverse. When he’s not watching and reviewing amazing TV shows, you can find him gaming on Xbox Live, PSN, and Steam by adding FeirlessLeider. You can also watch him get scared out of his pants on Grisly Geek Theatre and his Resident Evil 7 Geek Plays.
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