Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Westworld, Season One, Episode One: The Original

I have to admit that this is a stretch for us because it's sci-fi but we're going to give it a shot for now. I went into Westworld not knowing much about it except a basic premise and I have to say at this point, despite the fact that HBO clearly spent a mint on this, I'm not certain that I'm sold.

The show essentially takes place in what seems to me to be a western style theme park.  The residents of the town are all robots and are made through the process of 3d printing.  Each day a train brings in new guests and hosts who explore the town for a real old west experience.  For the guests, this involves visiting a saloon, sleeping with prostitutes and even being part of a posse to track down a criminal.  There are 100 stories actively happening in Westworld each day with the hosts interacting with each other and guests, altering their behaviour and speech patterns depending on the actions of the guest. Each day the robots live some version of the same day.  It's like they are caught in a perpetual Groundhog day.  This fact takes itself some time to be established, making the 1st episode difficult to understand at first. We don't necessarily know who is a human and who is a cyborg.

The first cyborg we meet is Dolores Abernathy the oldest robot in Westworld.  Dolores appears as a  a spirited young woman, with a hopeful view of her life.  She tells her creators that she goes into everyday confident that what will happen is what is supposed to happen.  It's too bad for Dolores that this means finding her father Peter dead, watching as her lover is murdered and then being savagely raped by the man in black over thirty times. I for one believe that it's lazy script writing to use rape for the purposes of conning the viewer into feeling empathetic, or even like a character.  Furthermore, given the violence the man in black engages in, did we really need rape for the viewer to understand that he is a bad person? His attire alone indicate before the first word he speaks that he is evil to anyone who has ever watched a damn western.

On a side note, doesn't Ed Harris play creepy, evil bastard well? The man in black claims to be playing the game in a way that no other guest is which is clearly going to be a problem as the androids are becoming sentient.

Doctor Robert Ford is the creator of Westworld. When we first meet him, he is on the 83 level of the Westworld facility. Ford is in antechamber area of where they keep the no longer functioning androids. They are lined up naked and this scene is clearly about showing their vulnerability and powerlessness.   At this point, Ford, along with Bernard, the lead programmer at Westworld, seem to really care for the machines that he has built and Bernard maintains. They both see at least a form of humanity in them.  This is obvious when Ford sits down Old Bill, an older model robot  and comments that he was always a good listener.  This however doesn't stop Ford from telling Old Bill to put himself away and watching while the robot zips itself up in a body bag. Ford wants to make the machines as life like as possible and is always adding small movements and gestures that he picks up in his observation of humanity.  Ford however seems to be almost wistful about a time when the machines were less lifelike.  Ford however has his hands full right now with the malfunctioning machines and seems to have no idea that Teddy wants them both gone.

Bernard is quick to believe that the malfunctioning androids is due to Ford's latest updates.  Ford eventually agrees but says that the problem is deeper.  Peter, who goes on the fritz after finding a modern picture on the ground begins to understand that there's something going on.  He repeatedly expresses desire to warn Delores and to protect her.  Yes, each day the characters start over but over time there's a build up of past experiences.  It's this build up that allows Peter to threaten Ford in a most terrifying manner.  It also gives voice to the injustice the androids live through while heavily suggesting that there will be a reckoning.

In terms of strong women we have Cullen.  I haven't quite figured out where she fits in yet but she's clearly senior to Bernard and certainly the park's head writer Lee Sizemore. Sizemore is very interested in giving Ford the heave ho but he doesn't know how the moving parts of the Delos corporation fit.  Lee's big idea to is take the hosts (read:robots) back to an earlier time because it will mean less glitches, maintenance and ridding themselves of Bernard.  To say that Cullen is unimpressed is to understate the matter. Lee is certain that the corporation has more plans than allowing the rich to play with the hosts because of the technology.  This is when Cullen gives Lee a chance to put it together and when he fails, she takes a strip off of him and in case he missed that she intended to humiliate him, she goes as far as to correct his grammar.  I don't know anything about Cullen beyond the fact that she's a smoker, playing a much large game, and is not someone to be messed with but I already think she's kind of awesome.

There are a lot of side characters on this show so far.  The brothel is very busy and so at some point I'm certain that Maeve Millay aka the great Thandi Newton is going to make her mark on the show. Yes we got to see her displeasure of having her bawdy house robbed but I am sure this is a taste of what is to come. I do think that it's telling however that Maeve seems to be the most prominent woman of colour on the show and she's a madam.  Given that other than Bernard, the only other characters of colour don't seem to spend much time on screen, it's really to early for me to have an impression about how Westworld is going to treat race.

Finally, I have to bring up Elise, Bernard's assistant.  Most of the sexual activity during this first episode involved male guests fucking female hosts.  I'm not including the rape in this because rape is about power and not sex.  The only exception to this is when Elise kisses Clementine, when she gets a moment alone with the robot.  In episode one we have a same sex kiss which like all other sexual interactions in Westworld is problematic because there's a question as to whether or not Clementine can consent.  We already know that hosts don't have the ability to hurt guests in any way, no matter that they are being brutalised on a daily basis. In the end whether this constitutes a violation or not, is going to come down too whether or not the audience believes that hosts are deserving of humane treatment.

Because of the large cast of characters, I don't feel like I really got to know anyone.  Westworld has quite a task set up for itself in terms of characterisation. At least in the end, Westworld did get world building done pretty well.  At this point, I'm going to have to assume that everyone is miniaturized when in West World because the Hunger Games like setup in the control center.

 With the robots becoming sentient and allusions to a time when they had a critical failure thirty years ago, clearly we've been set up for a big rebellion. I do find it interesting that the man in black has apparently been coming to the park for 30 years. Is there some connection that the writers are alluding to? The number of robots who have been decommissioned and are in the head building is also a set up for a future problem.  Let's just hope the writers don't forget about this little fact later in the season.  As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this one folks.