Westworld is gorgeous. It has the production quality we come to expect from HBO, with lavish sets, incredible acting and a score that complements and elevates the show’s themes. Yet, this doesn’t deter from the fact that Nolan has yet again crafted a world lacking in much-needed exposition, solely to enable him the creative freedom to peruse a narrative. When the underlying foundations of a world you have asked an audience to understand are not well established, it leads them to question fundamental ideas set into motion, rather than that of the mystery that drives the narrative itself. This is particularly paramount when dealing with the high sci-fi concepts that Westworld attempts to tackle.
Westworld is a theme park where guests can enter a fully immersive western world where they are free to peruse whatever desires they want. It’s pretty much a renaissance fair, but instead of actors pretending to host the world, it’s sophisticated artificial intelligence. So sophisticated that you can’t tell the difference between who is human and who is a robot. Guests are allowed to drink, sleep with and murder whatever they want within the park allowing for a sci-fi version of the theme park from Pinocchio. You know, the one where everyone turns into donkeys because they’re shits. The guests can harm the robots as much as they wish, however, the robots cannot kill any of the guests; only hurt them a little. Any host that was killed or injured would be taken underground by the powers behind the park and be repaired, ready to be introduced into the world at a later date.
It might sound like I have a particular grudge against this series. This isn’t the case. It’s more the fact that the issues the show tackles are done so well that it feels particularly frustrating that the beginning episodes don’t establish a more vivid understand of the world’s parameters. I found myself questioning more how the park functioned than the actions of the characters. It really did require a small segment presented by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) to introduce the guests, and in turn the audience, to the park; much like Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park.
I found myself confused by the fact that the guests could kill the hosts but the host’s bullets didn’t hurt the guests, despite the fact that the guests could use the same guns on the hosts later. I found myself confused where the guests stayed. Did they sleep in the park with the hosts? If that’s the case how did the maintenance team get into the park to remove the bodies without the immersion of the park becoming broken? These are only minor questions, yet, I managed to guess the narrative’s many twists at least an hour before they were revealed, leaving me pondering the functionality of the park more. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’, but it’s issues like these, and those seen in ‘Inception’, that really put a sour taste in my mouth when it comes to Nolan penned sci-fi. Nolan doesn’t like to patronise his audience when he writes about complex ideas and concepts. This is refreshing for movies because most of the time there is some cringe-worthy dialogue that helps everyone follow the plot. Nolan takes it to the other extreme, leaving plot holes in his concepts so much to allow him narrative freedom. This leads to the initial concept becoming incredibly foggy, making any further narrative mystery difficult to follow.
Aside from my grudges on the show’s exposition, it’s a world class show. It hits all the right beats, the acting is brilliant across the board, with Anthony Hopkins stealing the show every time he’s on camera, and trickles just enough information to keep an audience guessing. Yet again, the parameters of the show lead to characters that fail to make an emotional connection with the audience. The fact that the guest cannot die and the hosts can just be repaired, there really is little peril or power to anything that happens in the show until the very end of the series. Maybe the show works better on a second viewing. The fact that they have, somewhat predictably (Assassins Creed *cough* *cough*), set up their material for future seasons, I have confidence this can become the showrunner that HBO needs for when Game of Thrones ends.
Westworld is fun. It’s unique enough to feel like something I’ve not seen before yet its riddled with issues from sci-fi that I have seen before. If you are of the persuasion that Inception was amazing and you trapesed through Reddit reading theories of what everything means, you’ll love this show. I just wish they’d spend a little more time on getting the fake science right to begin with.