Westworld, S1 Ep1 – The Original

Westworld premieres with a dark and intriguing episode that’s also full of some of the most beautifully shot Western scenes in recent memory. It’s ironic then that all this well-executed cinematography is for an elaborate Western-style theme park where rich, bored customers get to live out their fantasies. The first episode effectively sets the scene for this twisted story and introduces us to some of the main players. 

We meet the hosts, robots with very convincing human appearance, who have been pre-programmed to follow certain scripts and story lines aligned with the customers’ needs and desires. Although they look almost exactly like human beings, they are indeed robots and they are incapable of harming any living thing. The customers, however, may do what they like with the hosts, and some particularly brutal examples are shown in the episode.

Westworld, S1 Ep1 - The OriginalWestworld is a well-oiled machine, with its every feature analyzed and updated by an army of technicians, scientists, and bureaucrats. We meet the architect of the whole endeavor, the mysterious Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) who seems obsessed with his creations. Every line he utters is heavy with significance, and some words that are particularly memorable are:

“We’ve managed to slip evolution’s leash now, haven’t we? We can cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive and one fine day perhaps we shall even resurrect the dead, call forth Lazarus from his cave. Do you know that that means? That means we are done, that this is as good as we’re going to get.”

 Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is tasked with making sure everything is running smoothly and that all the hosts adhere to their programming. And from the corporate side is Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babbett Knudsen), the operations leader who is determined to keep the park functioning properly at all times. And though this has been the case for the past few decades, some minor malfunctions have been occurring with certain hosts and though these are immediately identified and sent to storage (a strange choice when it would surely be safer to destroy them completely), nothing too grave happens.

Westworld, S1 Ep1 - The OriginalBut all throughout the first episode of Westworld, one gets a heavy sense of foreboding, that something sinister is bubbling beneath the surface of these A.I. machines. Their memories are wiped every day and they are programmed never to hurt any of the customers but considering how often and how intensely they are abused by the humans, one would not fault them for getting a little rebellious.

As previously reported, Westworld is based on the 1973 film by Michael Crichton. But the show’s creators have tweaked the concept of the Western-style theme park where the robots go awry and have filmed the show from the perspective of these mistreated hosts. They may be machines but the way they are presented in the show is that they seem to be more human than their human masters, depraved and spoiled customers who have the chance to indulge their basest desires in the park. One such menacing character is the gunslinger (Ed Harris), who has a darker agenda in mind even after having visited the park for the past thirty years.

Westworld, S1 Ep1 - The OriginalThe hosts are an interesting bunch. The premiere focuses most on the perspective of Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), later revealed to be the oldest host in the park. Her life is a bit of a “groundhog day”, re-living the same day over and over again, trying to maintain a cheerful disposition in the face of her daily struggles and enjoying a tender romance with fellow robot, Teddy (James Marsden.) But even she is slowly and subtly beginning to question her reality and at the end of the episode when she casually kills a fly on her neck (after swearing that she would never harm any living thing), it’s clear that a major change is underway.

 There are other characters who have yet to be developed but who made fascinating debuts in this episode. Among them are Thandie Newton’s Maeve Millay and Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector Escaton. We hope to learn more about them as the show progresses.

 As early as now, the stage is set for a major conflict between the humans and the robots. Some of the hints are subtle but Westworld very effectively sows the seeds of doubt and dread in the audience. There’s trouble brewing and if the show sustains this level of quality, Westworld is shaping up to be HBO’s next big hit.

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