Imagine, a world in which you may enter and explore every depraved and honorable desire that has ever seized your attention. An arena in which the execution of such desires comes as easily as breathing, and your peers similarly indulge their own unwound imaginations so that they cannot cast judgement upon another’s method of satiation nor have it cast upon them. A place where fantasies of all colors and avenues can be exacted. An escape where you may appease impulses of lust, crime, heroism, avarice, vices and virtues and all roads in-between without consequence or lasting responsibility. A haven of sin so that it cannot exist. And then you can leave, returning to the real world and its mundane normalcy.
That type of world is Westworld. It is explored in the HBO drama Westworld, based off of the 1973 movie of the same name. The show explores a near-future historical reimagination that wonderfully blends the crisp stylization of a modern world with the natural awe-evoking grittiness of the western era. Westworld itself is an adult theme park set in the Wild West and populated by the hosts, hyper-humanoid animatronics programmed to adhere to certain narratives. The guests, once they pay an expectedly exorbitant admission fee, immerse themselves into park and engage in the scripted narratives that each host is looped on or create their own adventures in the lawless land. The premise, of course, is genius and allows for an incredible analysis into the boundaries (or lack thereof) of consciousness and humanity in both the android and human characters.
The stellar cast—headed by the incredible talents of Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Ford, the creative director and creator of the park), Eddie Harris (The Man in Black, a mysterious guest who is a veteran of the park), Jeffrey Wright (Bernard, a programing specialist and Head of Behavior for the park), Thandie Newton (Maeve, a host who breaks her narrative of running a brothel)—is lauded highly and for good reason, for their intriguing portrayal of complex characters whose motivations and histories are largely a mystery from us is a task not often completed let alone done with such mastery. As expected for such a renowned television program, the writing and directing are superb; whereas some shows turn to spectacle to engage an audience, the creators of this show turn to cerebral, thought-provoking dialogue that strikes both poles of the soul—the mind and the heart—often at the same moments. The technical side of Westworld is also of a high caliber, for while the aforementioned practitioners of their craft received merely (but well-deserved) nominations from the just-concluded 2017 Primetime Emmy’s, those behind the magic of sound mixing, hairstyling, make-up, production design, main title design, cinematography, sound editing, picture editing, and casting were additionally nominated and (for the first three categories) a few garnered the winged award. There are certain classes under which series’ will fall under, and despite there only being one season (season two premieres in 2018), Westworld is of a distinctively higher quality than most.
The core of the story, as alluded to earlier, is the enthralling exploration of the search for and result of what is referred to as “The Maze” (the path to consciousness). Dolores Abernathy (played by the captivating Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve Millay, two hosts in considerably disparate narrative loops, each have arcs that deal with the realization that there is a maze. The former is aided by two guests, William (played by Jimmi Simpson, a first-time guest hesitant of the park at first but later resolved to help Dolores) and Logan (played by Ben Barnes, a frequent guest well-acquainted with the indulgences there are to be had), and is centered in the park. The latter is (reluctantly) assisted by two low-level host cleaners (they essentially refurbish the hosts after they are killed as a product of their narratives or of guests). There is another who searches for the maze, however, and that is the Man in Black, an incredibly mysterious and stone-cold stockholder of the park who aims to find the secrets left behind by Arnold Weber, Dr. Ford’s friend and co-creator of Westworld. Dr. Ford, Bernard Lowe, and the other high-level officials that run the park, on the other hand, are preoccupied with assessing and rectifying the causes of malfunctioning hosts (those who had somehow gotten too close to the center of the maze and were unable to comprehend their own comprehension of their own self) that no longer followed basic protocols such as the inability to hurt any non-host intentionally. Behind the ostensible world presented before us, however, there are subtle hints that there is a greater game behind the scenes—a sort of maze that the storytelling builds for us. The center of the maze for the audience, then, cannot be consciousness but may be a greater understanding of such consciousness; we may come to realize, as the Man in Black said, that we are most ourselves when presented with trauma. Trauma is a recurring theme throughout the episodes, lurking in plain sight as the answer to that which cannot be solved. The unique presentation and scrutiny of such intelligent concepts and themes that the premise and exceptional cast and crew allow for are what distinguishes Westworld from the expanse of narratives already concerning themselves with the pursuit of introspection and understanding.
And the marvelous ideas and the underlying answers and hidden revelations are all wound up in this elaborate bow that we begin to untie in the first episode—confused but enticed—until the final two episodes in which we succeed and learn the truth behind the secrets that taunted us while finding another, more elaborate bow as the present inside. The twists of this show—while one will attempt to guess them and often will succeed—are so satisfying. A good twist is not crafted on unpredictability alone, but mostly plausibility. The seeds are planted in the early episodes and we practically tend to their growth throughout until we realize, just as the storytellers usher us to, that we’ve been watching a sunflower seed birth an African elephant; two binaries that we are given and reminded are separate entities are revealed to be one whole, shattering our illusions and awakening us to the reality the maze offers. And that is the point of the show: to awaken us to this “maze” as we follow the characters who try to do the same. To display a world in which this maze is the foundation and purpose, where despite locked destinies the effect of trauma is as visceral and far-reaching as it is in the real one. To show that the random and all-encompassing nature of trauma is not something to fear but rather appreciate, for it grounds us in a consciousness greater than that of the bicameral mind. Imagine, a show in which the very acquisition and functionality of consciousness is depicted through the interconnected plots of real, human characters whether programmed or not while still maintaining the conventional purpose of any show: to entertain.
That type of show is Westworld.
Rating: 4.6 Violent Ends for 5 Violent Delights
By: Ryan Hill
Photo Credits to HBO