Westworld: Season 1
Most major cable networks had humble beginnings typically showing recent films unedited from their theatrical runs and uninterrupted by commercials. Then, the potential of the distribution media, explored with the networks creating their own. Original television series. When Home Box Office, commonly branded as HBO, redefined the Monday morning water cooler conversations with groundbreaking series such as ‘The Sopranos.' After that their owned the prime real estate of Sunday at 10 pm with an uninterrupted run of programs that pushed the envelope of television finally freed from the regulations of the FCC mature content was available to the public. With zeitgeist altering series recently culminating with ‘Game of Thrones,' HBO has secured their place at the pinnacle of cultural juggernauts. Millions of fans flooded the social media networks curious to know what the next great project would be. Last year the answer came to the rousing cheers of people that demand thought-provoking drama that unfolds un a multiplicity of levels. Answering the call was the resurrection of a cult classic science fiction movie from 1973, ‘Westworld.' This original written and directed by American novelist Michael Crichton, took the animatronics created for the Walk Disney Theme Parks to the ultimate level. In that film, the guest would pay exorbitant sums of money to vacation in a near perfect recreation of the old West. By Permitting the guests to fully experience the unbridled carnal lust and lack of consequences for any hedonistic act up to and including murder. To make this reality the creators of the park devised convincingly real robots to serve the guests in all possible ways. During the intervening 44 years, science overtook many of the popular tropes of science fiction. Robots, no matter how life-like, were passé. Technology has soar passed mechanical emulations with a mastery of organic design. We are approaching a juncture in the existence of our species. It has been a favorite theme in Sci-Fi, but at long last, the potential for our creations to overtake us grows each day. This new park employs a technology that is simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying. With this foundation, HBO’s first season of ‘Westworld,' rose to the topic of conversation, minute analysis, and serious speculation.
The human guest arrives using a period-authentic train pulled by s steam locomotive. Outside the windows, the guests gaze out at the seemingly endless, rugged landscape. The displayed vista is Utah, and the train cars sit on a trolley instead of the typical directorial choice of CGI. Although there is an unavoidable use of these technological marvels, whenever feasible, practical effects are employed. This detail is crucial to understanding the level of commitment to realism embraced by the showrunners, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. They are ardent supporters of the new movement to return to practical effects despite the incredible advances made with computer imagery. This does seem to be catching on with HBO’s top-shelf shows as evident by its use in ‘Game of Thrones.' As a lifelong devotee of special effects dependent films and TV shows, it is obvious that when done well as seen here, the results are staggering. As soon as the latest batch of guests disembarks the train, the prewritten scenario begins to unfold. Simple action will soon become meaningful as a young woman, Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), drops a can from her groceries. Excited guest talks about what they want to accomplish, generally drunken whoring and gunfights. Dolores has a romantic interest, a gunman named Teddy Flood (James Marsden), another android host who just came to town on the train. Many of the guests immediately head for the local saloon that also serves as the town’s brothel. The well-furbished establishment is ‘owned’ and operated by it Madame, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). She frequently is shown with her employee and confidant, Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan). They talk about the naivete of the guests, their predictability, and gullibility. Of course, these exchanges are always in the context of their pre-programmed personalities and circumstances. There is a myriad of ground rules, most transparent to the guests. Host follow their scripts and cannot harm a guest and the weapons only fire live rounds at a host. The extent of technology is stunning with the animals, dogs, horses and snakes, all a product of the behind the scenes technological magic.
The method behind the explosive rise of HBO to one of the dominant forces in entertainment was the unwavering commitment to quality that is on par with and frequently exceeds the best that is offered by the artistic expression of cinema. One advantage held by all the upper echelon of cable television is lying outside the purview of Federal oversight. This freedom made possible the intricate crafting of the narrative, building it on a multilayered narrative that urges viewers to re-watch each episode carefully scanning for minute details that might provide clues to the deeper meaning of the story. A major contributor in achieving this goal is how different venues and timelines are juxtaposed. While the basic story is related to following guests I the park as they interact with the hosts, the themes are provided with greater intensity when the focus shifts behind the scenes. The original novel and film by Michael Crichton were based on the operation of Walt Disney Land. The visitors are largely unaware of the myriad of park personnel is working literary beneath the ground in a vast maze of activity. Westworld is on top a vast underground sit where the hosts are created, maintained and researched. The head of this team is Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), the head of Delos' Westworld Programming Division. He reports directly to Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Westworld Park Director and Co-Creator, Delos of Destinations. They have a relationship that goes deeper than merely defined by work. Bernard views Ford as a Mentor, the genius behind the new technology. There is also a paternal aspect to how Ford relates to Bernard. This type of plot device is very common, emotional ties between characters. Under the direction of the brilliant creative mind of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the simple plot point is transfigured into clues to the true nature of the story.
In the movie adaptation of the story, the antagonist was ‘The Gunslinger, ominously portrayed Yul Brynner, the relentless man n black who left death and carnage in his wake. He was a robot host run amok slaughtering the guests. The image in this version is present, but aside from the sober taste in wardrobe, the similarities end there. The role of this modern variation of the ‘Man in Black,' or simply MIB on the fan sites, was entrusted to a master class actor, Ed Harris. His interpretation of the role is understandably brutal, devoid of empathy as well as most of the psychological traits that produce a member of humanity. Biologically he is human, but emotionally he is further away from our species than any host. After the broadcasting of the first episodes the internet ignored pondering who, or what, this unnamed character is. The questions intensified with the introduction of a pair of new guests, Logan (Ben Barnes), and his brother-in-law, William (Jimmi Simpson).at first William is reluctant to fully immerse himself in the bacchanalian excess that is fully embraced by Logan. This does introduce another standard contrivance, the juxtaposition of contrasting personality types. Once again, this is another instance of attempting to lull the audience into a false sense of understanding. Fan theories crowded the internet with the most prominent being William is the Man in Black. This would require a substantial change in the fundamental tenants od storytelling. At this point, most people know the details but to try to avoid spoilers suffice it to state the story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion. The best analogy to expand upon this is to relate it to Quentin Tarantino’s seminal classic film, ‘Pulp Fiction.' This is also rational for the benefits of multiple viewings of each episode. You will also find backtracking episodes to reconcile uncovered details and revisions to the fan theories better.
It is exceedingly rare for a program on television, even on a premium cable network like HBO, to produce a property with such a simple premise as the showcase for an incredible array of themes, topics, and meaningful discussion. After all not many science fiction TV series can invoke deep conversations regarding the philosophical treatise, The Bicameral Mind. This still controversial hypothesis forwarded in ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’ by Julian Jaynes, Ph.D., a noted theoretical psychologist. The theory details how consciousness is achieved in a similar way the biology traces the changes in lifeforms through evolution. Within the context of the series, it considers the potential for the hosts to break free of their programmed responses and become self-aware. This propels a science fiction story about dangerously malfunctioning robotic into one of the most detailed and intense considerations of latest perceived technological danger on our established social order and general zeitgeist.
There are so many interconnected details integral to fully comprehending the themes contained in the story that this is an example of why the paradigm for entertainment has, in many instances, changed from sitting and watching a movie or TV show once is gone. When my generation was growing up in the fifties and sixties, an episode of your favorite program was broadcast once, at a certain preset time and channel. Aside from the possibility of a summer rerun or syndication, a show was a ‘one and gone’ experience. Subsequent viewings of this series is an experience in constant flux. Each viewing is filtered anew through the culmination of experiences. Even the events that initially provide a showing twist hold up with repeated viewings. Careful attention will reveal certain apparent anachronisms such as the saloon’s player piano playing contemporary songs. The stated reason, according to interviews and commentaries is to remind the viewers that despite the authentic ‘old west’ ambiance this show takes place in the future. As with most aspects of the series, there is a deeper meaning that relates to the complex sociological themes that are explored. Those audience members with an eclectic background in classic literature will realize the connection to the works of writer Kurt Vonnegut. His first novel released in 1952. Considered by some to be a prelude to the singularity the story details the near-future society that is almost mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This creates a class distinction between human management and mechanical labor. Westworld represents a natural progression for decades of thought-provoking science fiction, we all are fervently awaiting the second season which might come as soon as spring 2018.