Westworld Season 1 Review
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Is HBO able to successfully adapt the admired ‘Westworld’ film? Are Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy the right duo for such a mammoth task? Will these A-List actors phone it in or give great performances? How much of a mindfu*k is this show? Here’s my review of ‘Westworld’ Season 1
- The entire cast gives some of the year’s best performances, all able to do justice to characters that have duplicitous motivations and personalities.
- Thandie Newton is incredible in this career-defining role as the magnetic Maeve, who is intoxicating to watch due to her bold, unpredictable moves which are developed in parallel to the innocence and pain conveyed in her flashbacks. A massive task that Newton shines in.
- Evan Rachel Wood also is able to provide a clear progress in her character’s will to find self-enlightnment and trying to understand humanity. Her journey to find her own self is made even more affecting by Wood’s charm as well as her ability to be formidable and driven, especially in the finale.
- Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris more or less play similar characters to what they always do, but do so in a mesmerising manner, portraying menace, superiority, arrogance but also hope and admiration.The nuance in their performances cemented their ambiguous motivations and intentions.
- In the case of Hopkins, he was able to present a character of unknown intentions, symbolising his god-like influence, yet still be intriguing and vulnerable. His performance always alluded to the idea of their being more to the character than simply a power-hungry, selfish villain, something confirmed in the finale.
- Jeffery Wright was able to create a seamless transition from Bernard to Arnold and back, grounding the character in his emotional back story. Bernard was very much a character that the audience could connect with and Wright’s curious, relatable, and passive performance reinforced this.
- Jimmi Simpson perfectly captured the development of his character from the innocent, restrained character we first meet, to the determined, merciless, but calculated Man in Black we know. His performance in the finale is spectacular, especially in highlighting the pain he felt in losing Dolores and how this influenced his future.
- This season was able to take multiple genres and run with them, turning clichés and tropes on their head while also paying homage to what makes each genre so good. From science-fiction, to westerns, to mysteries, ‘Westworld’ incorporated these genres beautifully into their narrative, making the show even more appealing.
- This season works incredibly well in hindsight, as you grow to understand that the writers had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve. This wasn’t a case of the writers getting to the finale and adding in a twist for the sake of it. There were hints and references throughout the season, making the pay-off super satisfying. However, on the other hand, being able to watch a series that carefully constructed its wider mystery, never giving too much away, intriguing the viewer enough to come back or think about the wider conversation is also monumental. No other series has had such an insightful commentary on the human condition, and none has presented such a conversation in such a gripping manner.
- The reveal that Anthony Hopkin’s Ford was never ‘rolling back’ the conscious Hosts, but simply delaying them in order to make sure that their eventual awakening and rise was successful was a powerful moment. It provided much-needed context to Ford and was intellectually grounded in Ford being a god to these being and therefore influencing their fate and narrative. Again, it was also well constructed within the context of what we had seen episodes before. It wasn’t a random change, but one that was clearly built into the fabric of the show from the beginning. It made sense in the narrative, intellectually and for the character
- The show’s continuous intellectual foundation was fascinating to me. I have never seen a show with such a confident understanding of the complex discussions it was putting forward about humanity, destiny, evolution, the god complex and duplicity. These were strong, bold statements, but supported by the narrative and characters.
- In the same sense, I was also surprised by how well these discussions were handled in terms of dialogue and exposition. After the introductions of characters and the usual initial exposition, ‘Westworld’ never felt bloated, never drawing out scenes for too long or having monologues run on forever. The show understood its vision and point and got to it with style and substance.
- Maeve is one of the best characters I have ever seen on TV. She was stunningly well-developed and her progress was built upon at a consistent pace. Again, ‘Westworld’ provides its characters with rich back stories, personalities and tendencies, with Maeve being influence by her memories and how these impact her views. She doesn’t want to simply be a pawn to a god, but be able to decide her own path, which she does with her eventual escape from Westworld. The twist that this was always a part of someone’s (probably Ford’s) larger narrative highlights the significance the show places on destiny and fate. With Maeve returning to the park, the defiance against this narrative with have some massive implications.
- Any sequence that involved a Maeve wandering around the administration and engineering parts of Westworld’s ‘backstage’ was brilliantly directed, particularly in the finale. These were tense, foreboding scenes that teased the potential of the hosts, something that is beginning to be realised with Dolores killing the human board members. Their awakening is a suspenseful aspect of this show.
- While the reveal that William was the Man in Black was figured out by the internet, I appreciate that ‘Westworld’ was able to realise the twist in an emotionally impacting manner. The use of flashbacks with Ed Harris’s voiceover was a great sequence as we were clearly able to see William’s evolution and the factors that impacted him. This also clarified the multiple timeline theory and how it unfolded. Allowing the audience to experience William first coming into the park as an innocent guest with little interest in sex or violence, and then in the finale showing him fully formed as a violent man wanting to feel real pain and suffering, highlights such a clear transition.
- The relationship between Dolores and William was slowly, but carefully constructed, to maximise the pay off. This show didn’t have a lot of classic love stories, which I appreciated, but it was nice to see two characters, a human and a machine, fall in love, and the devastating consequences of this.
- I also appreciate that while the show was filled with theories, mysteries and twists, you could watch it as a sole property, never needing to research it or go online to learn more. The property by itself would always make sense as every theory was beautifully explained both orally and visually, while flashbacks and memories allowed the writers to showcase differing perspective and therefore play with the audience’s viewpoint.
- Similarly, as while the twist that Bernard was Arnold was predicted by many, thanks to poignant writing and brilliant performances from Wright and Hopkins, this sequence was thrilling and heart-breaking at the same time. It took Bernard, a character who acted as an audience perspective, and showcased how the reveal that his life was a lie impacted him. This allowed the audience more insight into how it may have affected other hosts. The need to provide the audience with a connection to the hosts is important as it is their overall arcs to find themselves and grow that this show centres upon. While it is necessary to also showcase the successes and failures of humanity, and therefore have relatable human characters (as we did with Elsie, Felix, to some extent Ford, and Theresa), Bernard was able to showcase both sides of the coin, as a host who thought he was human.
- The world building on this show was exceptional. From the park itself and its many factions, towns, characters and narratives to how ‘Westworld’ was viewed outside of the park, ‘Westworld’ was made to seem like a very real place with its own set rules, administration and procedures. One of my favorite sequences is seeing William first arrive and learning what awaits guests when they come to Westworld in terms of choosing their costume and what sort of ‘player’ they wanted to be. This not only cemented the show as being inspired by video games but was linked to the idea of choosing ones narrative and William as a human character having choices and liberty that hosts did not. Guests could choose their own adventure, finding hidden secrets, yet hosts were stuck in their loops, in a pre-determined narrative.
- The portrayal of ‘humans’ in this show is very well-balanced, as while the show makes a point, especially in the finale, to highlight how self-indulgent some are, it interestingly uses the hosts and their human aspects, such as love, loyalty and will, to present humans as complex beings.
- By making the hosts so varied in their personalities, reasonings and views, the writers were able to allow the audience to connect with them. Instead of the hosts all being evil or morally corrupt, the audience could see their motivations for wanting to awaken, and most importantly, it was not simply to overthrow the humans. They simply wanted liberty and to craft their own narratives. This yearning for freedom and self choice is at the core of humanity.
- The corporate espionage storyline was also well incorporated into the main plot, weaving into the reason for some hosts malfunctions, Ford’s new narrative as well as intellectually in regard to the conflict of humans and power struggles.
- Music was a massive aspect of the show, both from a technical and narrative stand point and Ramin Djawadi was able to capture both a Western and modern vibe, to again represent the evolution of the hosts and their duplicity.
- The production design and costuming was also beautiful, having to create a fluidity between the ‘Westworld’ park sequences and the behind the scenes area, while also keeping in mind the technological state of the time periods.
- At the start of the series, due to having to introduce so many storylines and characters while also setting up the park as a destination and its mysteries, the show did struggle in creating transitions between each sequence. Some felt a little clunky and there the pace often suffered.
- There were some episodes where the mysteries (particularly the maze) were talked about in a super generic sense. While this would all have pay off down the line, sometime it became a little tedious and a more consistent rate of reveal could have helped earlier on, by which I mean that these mysteries could have been given more specificity rather than simply ideological discussions and statements.
- By trying to keep the character’s motivations unclear for narrative reasons, the characters often became defined more by what we didn’t know about them, than what we did know. This made some difficult to connect to or understand why they were going on such a journey. This was particularly true with Ford, who was overly ambiguous for much of the series. While this was key to his character, it didn’t make him particularly defined.
- Not having any resolution to Stubbs or Elsie’s storylines/captures/deaths was a little annoying.
- The Man in Black’s storyline did drag a little bit in the middle section of the show. It felt like the writers kept giving him side quests to go on simply so he wouldn’t get to his destination until the finale.
- I also really disliked Sizemore. While his purpose to be a millennial, youthful figure in an organisation plagued by traditional thinking did have some meaning, his dialogue became a little cringe-worthy and he certainly was not as impactful as other characters who he stole time away from.