And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,It seems that after some trouble (trouble thy name is Vinyl) HBO finally landed their next great hit - the first episode of Westrworld premiered to 3,3 mln audience last Sunday. Will it continue to have such a big audience? I'm not sure. While watching the fantastic premiere I was often reminded of another disturbing big budget HBO show - Carnivale. Because of huge cost and not big viewership the visionary series was cancelled after merely two seasons. Westworld's first episode sparked so many theories and ideas after only one episode I have never seen anything like it when it comes to HBO show. Hopefully the audience chooses to engage in this mysterious, puzzling narrative instead of finding it too complex for their liking.
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
- Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, scene 6
The series is set in a futuristic world where one can go to the theme park and do whatever he or she desires. For $40,000 a day you can rape, torture and kill. And it's all right because you are not doing it to people - but to robots designed to look, feel and bleed like people. In the series we follow the people monitoring the park as well as robots (called "hosts") and guests in the park.
The story begins with one of the hosts Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) waking up and beginning her day. She says hello to her father (Louis Herthum), she goes to the town. There she meets Teddy (James Marsden) - another host, who just arrived in the train. When the two return to Dolores' house her father is killed and the mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris) shows up and begins assaulting Dolores. Teddy shoots at him but the bullets do nothing to him. Man in Black kills Teddy and drags crying Dolores to the barn.
Back in the headquarters Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), a scientist, and Elsie (Shannon Woodward), whose task seems to be assessing hosts' behavior are working on Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), a prostitute. They notice she lightly touches her lips - a new gesture implemented in her by dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins) who added that to her update. When they are alone Elsie kisses Clementine. Next Bernard goes to the storage where unused hosts are and finds dr Ford there having a drink with older kind of host.
The next day begins the same. Yet again Dolores wakes up, says hello to her dad. This time she doesn't meet Teddy - the can she drops is picked up by Man in Black who tells her that day he has different plans and wishes her a good day after telling her he has been visiting this place for 30 years. He goes to the brothel and stares at the dealer. In the meantime one of the hosts has a glitch and appears to have a seizure.
In the headquarters Bernard describes to Lee (Simon Quarterman) and Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), fellow employees of the corporation, that the anomaly is just a glitch having to do with the latest update. He explains that the hosts, even glitching like that are still not dangerous to guests and "wouldn't hurt a fly". Cullen wants to roll the updates back to Lee's disdain.
Back in Westworld Dolores is painting a picture by the river when a family of guests with a little boy meets her. Little boy says "you're one of them, aren't yuo? You aren't real" and Dolores is puzzled by his words. Dolores' dad finds a picture of a woman standing in a street, which looks like its from our time. It completely confuses him.
Meanwhile Cullen is approached by Lee who tells her they shouldn't update the hosts at all because this place only works if people realize that this isn't really happening and they don't want to think they actually killed someone. She tells him that there is a bigger picture to this whole place but he isn't smart enough to know what it is.
Man in Black captures the dealer. Back in the town there is another anomaly - the bandit type hosts kill other hosts spilling milk over their bodies. Cullen, Bernard and Stubbs - security guy - (Liam and Chris's brother Luke Hemsworth, how many of those are out there?!) show up and Bernard explains that it's another glitch and a proof that the update was a problem. Bernard tells Ford that update containing reveries is causing a glitch and Ford remarks how human beings evolved using only one tool - "mistake". He asks Bernard, who clearly admires Ford a great deal to indulge him and allow him a mistake from time to time.
Meanwhile, Man in Black tells the dealer he wants to get to the higher level in the game and he can help him get there. He then begins scalping him. In the ending we are shown that the inside of dealer's head contains a drawing - a map of a maze.
When Dolores wakes up it turns out her dad was awake all night looking at the picture. He asks her what she thinks of the photo but she responds it doesn't look like anything to her. He then begins to tell her she needs to go and whispers something to her. Startled Dolores rides to the town to find a doctor.
Back in the town a bandit (Rodrigo Santoro) and his gang arrive just as Dolores finds Teddy. A shootout begins and the bandits are set to rob the brothel. All of this is being watched by the team in the headquarters with Lee being excited about the opportunity to show off his new narrative. We are treated to an awesome sequence of a robbery/shootout with Armstice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) rocking that riffle to the tune of cover of "Paint it Black". Before the main robber gets to his monologue he is shot by one of the guests, to Lee's disappointment and Cullen's amusement. Teddy is shot and dies in the shootout to Dolores' horror.
Ford is brought to talk to Dolores' dad and in the premiere's best scene her dad tells Ford that he knows of what people are doing to Dolores and he has to warn her. Then he starts using a lot of quotes showing he knows literature and he tells Ford he always wanted to meet his maker (in an awesome Blade Runner homage) he also promises Ford and Bernard revenge and then after launching at Ford he is shut down.
Ford deduces that this behavior, which Bernard calls something beyond a simple glitch is the amalgamation of the reveries since in past narratives Dolores' dad was among others a professor. Her dad is taken to the storage and left there but just before that Bernard whispers something we don't hear into his ear.
Meanwhile Dolores is being questioned by Stubbs. She says her dad whispered the words "These violent delights have violent ends" (from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet). She appears to be very complicit and repeats her opening statement about the beauty and order of the world she sees. Stubbs informs us and the lady in the room that Dolores is the oldest host and she has been repaired so many times she is practically brand new. In the final moments of the premiere we see Dolores again, waking up, saying hello to her dad (now played by the host who played bartender before getting shot). As she stands on the porch a fly lands on her neck.
And she swats it.
Here's Wood talking about those flies:
"We weren’t even allowed to harm a fly on set. I think that was a dead fly. But the one crawling on my face, not the one in my eye, obviously, but the fly on my face [was real]. They have fly wranglers. This is someone’s job.
They freeze them so they’re still alive. They take them out and stick them on your face and wait for them to thaw. Then they can walk but not fly, just crawling all over my face for like 10 minutes until it flew away. This is my job, I’m naked on a stool and there’s a fly crawling on my face and people are filming it. That’s my job. (Laughs.)"
I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to see HBO offering something clever and thought provoking (I hear Leftovers is good too, but I just couldn't get into it) after witnessing two idiotic Game of Thrones seasons. Game of Thrones has managed to sink to levels of such schlock that the most amazing thing about Westworld to me is that they managed to make something so smart and well written in HBO. I sit here in disbelief, much like I did when I realized the same studio which mangled Suicide Squad released Fury Road. Amazing gems can come out of a shitter, apparently. While watching the premiere I felt like I was watching the old HBO of Deadwood, Six Feet Under and Carnivale times, before Benioff, Weiss and Lena Dunham's general awfulness ruined HBO. Can Westworld restore its greatness?
The show is shaping up to be terrific and it starts off with a better cast and bigger budget than Thrones. Long time no see Evan Rachel Wood finally lands a big role and is wonderful as Dolores - is she just sweet or is she also sinister? You can't know for sure. Of course the biggest names here are Hopkins and Harris, both terrific but there is also Jeffrey Wright whose arc - it appears his character lost a son - promises to give the actor interesting things to do.
There are actors here I am never impressed with - Marsden, Santoro and Newton - with former two managing not to be awful and Newton being actually good. Her character is shaping up to be very interesting too.That's another beauty to the show - how interesting the people there are. We wonder why the guest visit that park to begin with. And we wonder what the reveries will cause to do to the host. We even wonder about the characters we barely got to know so far like Clementine and Armstice.
Obviously the ending with the fly is an indication that something is up with Dolores' software. And there is something wrong with Teddy too. Let's look at it:
Dolores kills the fly going against the programming of not killing a living thing. She doesn't have a program that would give her an instinct like you and I have - to swat a fly if it lands on you. But what happened is that for 30 yearss or longer as a host she saw guests swatting the flies. She probably has the programming that allows her to imitate the guests. And that part finally overcame the 'not killing' part. Why?
As for Teddy, notice how the 3rd time he wakes up he touches his arm...where he was shot last day. But his memories were wiped. Why does he has that instinct? Is that the reverie programing kicking it? Is the roll back not successful in all of the hosts or just these two?
Now here we have the comparisons of the three times we saw Dolores wake up. As you can see each time is different. Look at the second - that would be her waking up after being dragged to the shed. In 'Dreams' trailer you can see Dolores holding up a gun when she is lying on the hay - it looks like we will see what happened in that shed and something tells me that the assumption of majority - that the Man in Black raped Dolores is wrong. For one we have him speaking with disdain of people coming to Westworld to 'shoot Indians and get their rocks off'. And also - it's HBO, guys. If someone was getting raped, we would have seen it.
The theory about the show I liked the most is that Ford is on the side of the robots and Man in Black is on the side of people. Ford clearly wants to develop higher form of robots, one that perhaps are not only like humans but better than them. Just today I read a great variation of this theory where the author wondered if Ford is the last alive human being and everyone else is a robot created by him. He is racing with time to somehow preserve humanity, ironically by creating something artificial.
As for Man in Black wouldn't it be a cool twists if see that all of his cruelty (we know he kills Maeve in front of a child from the trailers) was justified because he is aware of Ford's agenda to develop AI and wants to destroy the organization before the robots are too powerful? Or maybe after 30 years of visiting the park the Man in Black is Westworld's equivalent of a hardcore gamer who convinced himself (and perhaps is right) that there is a higher level to the game and he desperately is trying to find it?
And then there are other questions - who is in the picture? Who left the picture and why? What is inside the maze Man in Black is looking for? What is 'the bigger picture' Cullen is referring to? Are the people observing the hosts actual people or maybe they are hosts? What is the state of the outside world? How many different interactive worlds are there? Is Dolores modeled after someone close to Ford? What was the incident they are referring to that happened 30 years before?
And dozens more.
JJ the Nerd King Abrams had his Easter egg leaving hand in this show so let's just pray that this will go better than Lost - which was one of the most fun shows to theorize about ending in a lazy, plot hole ridden raging disappointment. Jonathan Nolan is involved too as the creator of the show and the director of the premiere so I just hope this is gonna be his Prestige not Interstellar for TV.
So far I'm definitely hooked. Not only is the show amazingly well done, it is also so thought-provoking and it's so much fun reading all those theories online. Let's hope they continue like this.
Next episode is entitled Chestnut. Lee pitches his latest narrative, but Dr. Ford has other ideas; Bernard and Theresa debate whether a recent host anomaly is contagious; The Man in Black conscripts a condemned man, Lawernce, to help him uncover Westworld's deepest secrets.
Here is the brand new trailer for the rest of the season: