Westworld: season 1 episode 1 review – The Original
Inspired by the 1973 film of the same name, HBO’s highly anticipated new Westworld series has finally arrived. The story is about a technologically advanced Western theme park that is inhabited by synthetic androids, referred to as “Hosts”, who cater to high paying guests, or “Newcomers”. The series explores the darker side of human nature, as visitors are able to do whatever they wish within the park without any fear of repercussion or retaliation from their Hosts. Below is our spoiler-heavy review.
The Westworld pilot serves as an intriguing opening to the series, revealing a lush setting via stunning cinematography, enticing music, compelling characters, and a strong ensemble cast. Unlike the original Michael Crichton film, the world is introduced from the perspective of androids who have recently undergone an update that’s bringing them close to gaining self-awareness, which in turn begins causing chaos for their human overlords.
This episode’s focus is mainly on a host named Dolores Abernathy, the embodiment of a southern belle played by Evan Rachel Wood, a naive and mild mannered young woman who is kind to others and a devoted daughter, and many of the parks themes and concepts are introduced through her. Viewers learn that the hosts operate within the framework of a predetermined script with only minor improvisations, which is then wiped clean at the end of each day to start anew, allowing for the hosts to overlook the abuse they suffer at the hands of the parks paying guests. Most of the visitors seem more or less incidental thus far, as the pilot only reveals that a variety of individuals visit the park, including families with children. Remarkably, most of these paying guests are depicted as being rather facetious and far more unlikeable than it’s inhabitants. We’re given brief glimpses as to how these characters interact with their hosts, but no clear motivation as to what entices them to indulge in what the park has to offer.
The sole exception to the abovementioned is that of the lead protagonist, who is referred to as The Man in Black portrayed by Ed Harris. While his agenda is also unclear, he is certainly on a definitive path of destruction that has him dead set on destroying the park’s inhabitants. Though his scenes feel somewhat out of place, he is certainly a captivating and formidable character.
And perhaps the most intriguing element of the episode is the men and women behind the curtain, those individuals involved in the day to day operations of the park, as well as the creation and maintenance of its inhabitants. Schemes involving power and ambition are hinted at, which serves as an interesting counterpart to the happenings within the park itself. The world outside of the park has yet to be revealed, which is by design and hints at much bigger intrigue and revelations to come.
While many scenes stand out throughout the pilot, the most riveting is one between Peter Abernathy, father of Dolores played by Louis Herthum, and the parks founder. Herthum delivers a powerful performance as his characters recent update allows him access to memories that he presumably should have no recollection of and he begins to malfunction. Designed to be a family man who’s main drive is to provide for and protect his daughter, the revelation of what is allowed to be done to her enrages him and he delivers a chilling speech to his maker, Robert Ford, who is depicted by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is brilliantly cast as a scientist who is cleverly pushing his creations toward sentience, a notion that’s difficult not to root for. While Ford listens with intense curiosity about the revenges his creation would have upon him, you can’t help but feel empathy for Abernathy. His threats are delivered with such fierce emotion and conviction that you secretly hope he’s able to make good on them one day.
This is an interesting twist adapted from the original film, as the perspective of the hosts was not explored there and the focus was on the park’s visitors. It gives the series an atmosphere of slaves about to revolt against their masters, rather than technology running amok, and makes for a more compelling narrative.
Admittedly, the pilot wasn’t quite as captivating as I had anticipated. However, it does set the groundwork for becoming a fascinating and thought provoking series with a wealth of potential, and I look forward to the moral and philosophical themes that will be explored in future episodes, as well as the further development of the characters and the exploration of the inner and outer worlds. Furthermore, there are several pressing mysteries teased in the pilot that are likely to have fascinating resolutions. For those who have yet to view the episode for yourselves, I highly encourage you to give it a chance as it does offer a visceral and alluring viewing experience.
Image credits: HBO