- Product Rating -

Westworld: Season 1

| November 8, 2017

For decades, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins; Silence of the Lambs) has been building lifelike robots to populate his wild west themed amusement park.  Westworld is a place where the very wealthy can go to indulge their deepest desires with complete realism and total lack of consequence.  They can hunt down outlaws, rob banks, search for buried treasure, rescue damsels in distress, or join the confederate army.  Practically anything one can imagine doing in a fantasy, Westworld is happy to oblige.

The series hit HBO earlier this year and was an immediate phenomenal success, and it’s not hard to see why.  The premise is unique, the cast is great, and there are cataclysmic levels of sex and violence.  Unfortunately, I found the series to be a little disappointing.  It’s not bad for what it is, but once I finished the first season, I was overwhelmed by the amount of wasted potential the series clearly has.  In a world where the clients are all but omnipotent, I expected and hoped to really see what was possible when inside the park, but all most clients want to do there is kill robots or have sex with them, which gets boring by about episode 3.

The series does play with some interesting elements throughout which were enough to keep my attention and make me curious to see what happens in season 2.  There is some playing with who’s a robot and who’s not, which leads to some great reveals throughout the series.  The plot following Maeve (Thandie Newton) becoming more and more powerful throughout the series is fun to watch, and my favorite aspect of the show is how it plays with time.  Since the robots don’t age and the park doesn’t change, the audience doesn’t always realize they’re watching a storyline taking place years before something else that’s going on in the same episode.  This level of imagination again is what makes me recognize how much potential the show has and how creative the writers and producers must be, but need that imagination to shine through in more ways as the series moves forward.

The pilot of Westworld is one of the best I’ve ever seen, masterfully building tension to some sort of inevitable conflict between the robots and the guests, but when that conflict doesn’t happen, the series’ ability to maintain that tension quickly diminishes.  Other conflicts and philosophical ideas present themselves in various ways, but they’re no longer contributing to the unavoidable breakdown of the system and the mass hysteria and death that the pilot so wonderfully dances around.  This makes for a middle section of the season that feels like it’s treading water before anything truly catastrophic happens; at 10 episodes long, the series feels like it only has enough story for 5 or 6.

I do have to make special mention of Ed Harris’ (Apollo 13) performance as the man in black.  He is ruthless and sinister in his exploration of the park in search for what is simply known as the maze – something he believes to be a bit of super-reality hidden away in the otherwise manufactured and failsafe park.  His quest for the maze and what he does to get there is one of the more compelling aspects of the series.

I also fine Anthony Hopkins’ character really interesting as forces seem to constantly be conspiring against him, but he continually reveals that he is 10 steps ahead of everybody.  It’s fun to watch an incredibly smart character utilize his intelligence in so many ways.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.  Between the explosive season finale and the promise of other parks to explore in future seasons, the show could still convince me of what everyone seems to think already: that Westworld is one of the best series on television.  It just has to live up to its potential.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from HBO Home Entertainment.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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