HBO recently premiered Westworld, a sci-fi thriller series based on the 1973 film by Michael Crichton. Just two episodes in and I am already hooked!
In this series, the mouse house (Disney) no longer rule the theme park business. Instead, the wealthy spend their time in a western-themed park, Westworld, populated by fully synthetic gunslingers, bandits, sheriff and prostitutes (yes – it is HBO). The selling point of Westworld is that the synthetic populace (dubbed “Hosts”) believe they are real – complete with human emotions. The guests (dubbed “Newcomers”) are given free reign to toy with those emotions without consequences. Whether it is becoming a glorious hero, a caring lover, a murderous bandit or even a psychotic rapist – all are allowed as the hosts, by design, cannot harm the guests. Or can they?
I am intrigued by this series and here is why.
The theme and the world building. Created by the husband and wife pair, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the first two episodes cleverly sets up the premise of the series while dropping plenty of surprises. By hitting the audience with thought provoking questions – e.g. “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”, the pair asks the audience to examination the boundary of artificial intelligence and human consciousness. By presenting scenarios where innocent artificial creations become corrupted by the worst of humanity, the pair prompts the audience to examine their own morality. Personally, I don’t know if there are right or wrong answers to these questions. I am hooked because I want to know how Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy tackle these themes through a riveting story.
Populating Westworld is the most talented cast ever on network TV. You have veterans such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright accompanied by Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – just to name a few. Surprisingly, Sir Anthony Hopkins didn’t steal the show. For me, it was Evan Rachel Wood. She had the impossible task of conveying the subtleties of an A.I. that believes herself to be human – and she nailed it. Her performance in the pilot episode was hauntingly realistic and reminded me of Alicia Vikander’s performance in Ex Machina. I would extend similar praises to Thandie Newton for her portrayal of a troubled synthetic prostitute in episode two. I suspect, given time, I would likely praise the remaining cast.
As HBO looks for a Game of Thrones replacement (set to end in two seasons). Many critics are hailing Westworld as the one. Personally, I am not sure if that will be the case as these two shows attract very different audiences. An audience that wants to be immersed in the world of Westeros and an audience that is intrigued by the concept of A.I. Regardless, Westworld has been planned for five seasons, so we will find out soon enough if Westworld is a money maker. For me, I am in it for the long haul!
Rating: If the concept of A.I. intrigues you, definitely get your hands on the first episode!