Westworld Episode Review: Contrapasso

“He told me I was going to help him.”

“Help him do what?

“…to destroy this place.”

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-2-38-09-pm1

Up until this point in Westworld there has been little to write about by way of a review. Perhaps it’s the size of the ensemble cast or the gravity of the themes it explores, the last four episodes have felt like a continuous introduction to the various characters and conflicts that are oh-so-patiently being fleshed out and this is fine. However, I found myself with nothing to watch the other day and thought, you know what, let’s give this Downton Abbey show a chance. Just for giggles, I said. Sure enough by the third episode of that show I realized I had just gasped and whispered to myself “…that catty bitch!”  It occurred to me so much more had happened in such a limited amount of time with a comparably large cast of characters that Westworld had some serious ‘splainin’ to do. Very little forward progress has actually been made as lush set design, beautiful prose, and complicated thematic ideas alone a great show does not make. Not without character arcs or stakes or a clearly defined conflict. Fortunately, Contrapasso  (“suffer the opposite“) seems to be moving things forward and it thankfully brings out the big guns in a tense, cryptic conversation between the show’s veteran legendary actors.

I have been eagerly anticipating the conversation between Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris as Dr. Robert Ford and The Man in Black, respectively since last week and it did not disappoint. It was God Himself and the Devil sitting down over a bottle of rye, while poor Teddy Flood, the puppet engineered for their amusement, could only look on in despair. I did not want this exchange to end, they could have dedicated a full hour to these two opposing forces, the creator and the destroyer, musing on purpose or lack thereof and I would have drank it all in and asked for more, however, in truth the scene was exactly as long as it needed to be. The normally implacable Man is caught off guard for just a second when he realizes who is sitting down across from him while Ford is as even as a metronome, so fully in control of the situation that we don’t even realize, as an audience, that all the Western affectations from the chatter to the player piano have all gone silent until he snaps his finger and brings them back to life. It was an interesting inversion, like some moment in Greek mythology where Aries and Hermes peak in on us mere mortals to muse over our fates, only in Westworld we are the gods looking in on our creation, wondering how things will turn out. Even without this fantastic exchange Contrapasso is the best episode of the series yet, there finally seems to be a narrative in place and some actual stakes. Above all, Dolores has discovered her own agency and put it better than I ever could, “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.” You’re damn right, you did.

westworld-contrapasso-image-6

To the point, she imagined. As Bernard points out in the ‘previously on’ recap, she shouldn’t be able to do that. She’s improvising like a Guest at this point while at the same time hearing this mysterious voice in her head who is directing her towards a maze that looks conspicuously like a top-down view of a human brain. How the maze and this war-zone or ‘revolution’ are related remains to be seen but the fact that nitro-glycerin is being smuggled to the front in corpses does not bode well for anyone. What’s more, although it feels like Dolores is finding independent thought and defying her programming she is still allowing herself to be manipulated by some outside force to an unknown purpose. I don’t want to spoil the obvious here but the voice she hears in her head is not going to be some god-like entity or religious experience. Elsie’s discovery of a satellite uplink inside the arm of one of the hosts points to a much more practical explanation. I’m starting to think that if they are able to see this quest all the way through to its end it’s going to be a bitter one for poor Dolores and the god in her head is more than likely another puppeteer whispering sweet nothings into a ham radio.

Regarding Ford interviewing Dolores: he asks her when the last time she’s interacted with Arnold as if he suspects exactly what we’ve suspected since he was first brought up, that he is somehow still alive and manipulating events in the park. Further, we learn that Dolores is the last person (?) to interact with Arnold before his death (?) but she does not remember (?) the circumstances or the event itself.  The fact that Dolores is now able to lie directly to the most powerful man in Westworld is an interesting new development, it implies her awareness is now leaps and bounds ahead of where it was when she was simply slapping flies on her neck. However, this is one of the more unsettling encounters in a television program that is replete with unsettling encounters, “Are we very old friends?” Dolores asks, with a slight smile. “I wouldn’t say that, Dolores. I wouldn’t say that at all.”  Well, fuck you then.

westworld1280jpg-fe1fea_1280w

It’s also going to be a mystery as to whether or not the big smooch she landed on William is genuine or another affectation of her programming. Either way they are going to make an interesting duo considering her new found ability to inquire about the outside world and his partaking of the veritable Kool-Aid, enthusiastically joining the narrative after nearly giving up on it all. I did think it was adorable how awkward the two of them were at the orgy. That’s pretty much how I feel at almost every party all the time.

Speaking of which, kudos(?) or jeers are due to HBO for somehow making a Bacchanalian sex-fest seem mundane. There was nothing titillating or exciting about the sequence at all, it just seemed to be there with a friendly helping of all kinds of genitalia. That’s actually a better way to put it, there wasn’t so much boning and dicks and boobs as much oral copulation, sexual activity, and that oh-so-unsexy word ‘genitals’. I’ve seen marble reliefs that were more compelling and maybe that was the point? The setting was perfect for the final rift to be driven between Logan and William, the former of whom is clearly trying to push the latter out of his comfort zone and succeeds, even if that means watching our White Hat hero abandon his douche-bro buddy to a much-deserved ass-whooping at the hands of the Confederales. Again, this is finally where a sense of stakes are starting to kick in, where it’s starting to feel less like watching someone else play a videogame and more like an adventure worth watching. Maybe the Guests aren’t able to be seriously injured or shot but they can clearly get the shit kicked out of them. And maybe…fall in love? Tread carefully, young William. I recommend Ex Machina as reference material (pro-tip, doesn’t end well).

ed_harris_as_man_in_black_-_credit_john_p-_johnson_hbo-h_2016

A word on the technicians in the lab side of Westworld. Uhm. What’s going on there? “You’re a butcher. And that’s all you’re ever going to be!” What are you, the mom from CarrieJust because a guy wants to learn how to program a sparrow? For a show that is so very good at tone and mood this whole exchange was frankly… maudlin. I’m surprised the guy didn’t burst into tears and run away and while searching for a way to phrase that so that you knew I was talking about the tech that was being mean I realized it could honestly apply to either one of them it was such an after-school-special moment. All it needed was for one of them to shout “You’re not my real dad!” and the scene would have been complete, pack up a PB&J and a Capri Sun. This strange vibe continued when Felix finally succeeds in resuscitating the bird and watches it flutter around the room like a Disney princess. If it was all a setup to reveal an apparently cogent Mauve holding said bird looking dope as hell, well, all right. But let’s not do that again.

1-9oyiksu5hccck7ws7z1rgw

Again, I feel like this is the strongest episode of the series so far. The characters are actually changing instead of just exploring internally or otherwise. A larger endgame is starting to appear on the horizon, however distant it still feels but I will voice a little trepidation that I have with the series, by now at the half-way mark. Every other modern HBO series I’ve seen, with maybe the exception of Game of Thrones has had its big moment by this episode. From True Detective to Deadwood and others, by now there has been some big thing, a main character suddenly getting merc’d or an intense pivotal sequence that becomes the signature moment for the show, something to reward the five or so hours over as many weeks we have invested in the show up until now, and although I am still one hundred percent on board with Westworld I feel like that moment hasn’t happened. Criticism leveled at the show regarding its lack of stakes and funereal pace are not without merit and I say that as an admitted fanboy before the show even premiered, it would have to fuck up on a massive scale to lose my loyalty and so far I don’t see that happening. On the other hand, I understand that if HBO expects Westworld to fill the shoes of Game of Thrones one day, they are going to have to get the lead out and start wowing us before the casually curious crowd canters on. Some random alliteration might help, for example. People love that shit.

 

Bonus: This week’s player piano cover is super cool. Although, I may have gone with this one even though the lyrics are so on the nose I’m reminded of our favorite goofy lab technicians again. Next week they get high on the marijuanas.

 

 

Advertisements

Westworld Episode Review: Dissonance Theory

maxresdefault

First off, I’ve been avoiding broaching a particular subject for fear of ruining or spoiling a twist that I suspected the showrunners were setting up with regard to one specific character. Plot-wise they have been implying and then inferring and then outright saying that I was wrong about this suspicion but I decided to live in denial until last night’s episode and now I feel comfortable enough letting go of my theory. If I do turn out to be right somehow, ….my bad. That being said, even though I have seen the film, it looks like we’re all on even ground now as Westworld the TV show does not appear to be in lock step with the original. Is that enough of a disclaimer? It’s going to have to be.

So in the original 1973 film there is a character simply referred to as The Gunslinger that was portrayed by Yul Brynner. No one outside of the Baby Boomer generation is going to hear that name and react at all but he was a big deal back in the day, starring in The King and I and the original version of The Magnificent Seven among others. His significance in the original film is that he was essentially the Big Bad of the park, he would wordlessly stalk guests and initiate a quick draw battle. And when things go pear-shaped (I won’t get into specifics there) he plays a big part of the finale and in the first episode of the TV show I was on the look out for an analogous character. It seemed obvious to me that this was going to be Ed Harris as the mysterious Man In Black and I don’t think I’m completely off-base assuming this. Granted, he’s invulnerable to Host gunfire. He talks about the narrative and the story lines in the park. He’s been going there for 30 years. I get it. But my suspicions were still there, I thought maybe he doesn’t know he’s a Host. That for some reason he’s programmed to think he’s a Guest to add a new layer to the game. With this theory in place I decided to shut my mouth and let it play out, no one wants to be that guy.

rodrigo-santoro-in-westworld

An episode or two later Girls Name outright identifies The Man in Black as a Guest, ‘He gets what he wants‘ while he is massacring Lawrence’s family. Still, I held out. This felt like a casual misdirection meant to make me (yes, me specifically) drop my guard. I do not trust the park employees to know exactly what’s going on, they are clearly missing some things and only idly scratch their heads rather than raise an alarm. However, during last night’s episode we encounter the evidence I needed to finally let it rest. We receive what I’ll call independent verification that The Man In Black is indeed a Guest when two fellow Guests approach and attempt to compliment him on his life outside of Westworld. ‘I’m on vacation’, he says after threatening to cut their throats. Well. Shit. There goes that theory. It’s still possible somehow I suppose but exceedingly unlikely unless he is somehow a robot living in the real world without anyone suspecting. Based on the inferior earlier models it’s unlikely they built a flawless prototype around the same time. Moving on.

evan_20rachel_20wood_20as_20dolores_2c_20jimmi_20simpson_20as_20william_20-_20credit_20john_20p-_20j-0

Speaking of The Man In Black, we spent a lot of time with him this episode as he continues his search for the entrance to the Scalp Maze. I understand some of the complaints a friend brought up about the show a week or so ago. Although it looks fun to be a part of the action there is an issue with stakes. As in, they aren’t really there for anyone. The Hosts will just be rebuilt. The Guests can just stand there and get shot. I am genuinely curious about this Lawrence character, however. This is the second time this season already that he has been blindfolded and on the verge of being executed when the MiB shows up and saves him, with all the action happening off camera. It’s a bit early for motifs in my humble but this one seems too deliberate to ignore. It may be an effort to be more efficient, storytelling wise, to avoid too many gunfights that may water down the whole experience. I’m not sure.

What is interesting is what the Snake Lady revealed about his final objective, and not just that it has to do with this mysterious Wyatt character. No, what really has my noodle baked is the fact that Wyatt wasn’t a part of Westworld until the most recent update. Think about it. This maze, the map of it, the rumor of another layer of the game had to have been around for a while, it must be fully realized if it’s accessible at all. MiB expounds about it, in fact, including a pretty consistent history of park founder Arnold. But Dr. Ford only added the backstory regarding Wyatt to Teddy Flood’s lore recently (as far as we know). How has there been this other level this whole time without there being an entrance until now? What inspired Ford to suddenly change the park’s narrative in such a drastic way, a way that appears to be arcing towards this secret level? Just in case you don’t hang around through the credits to watch the sneak peek of next week, we have a real treat coming up. I can’t recall off the top of my head if it has happened before but two of the greats are about to go head to head and share the screen. I absolutely can’t wait, even if we don’t get the answers we want.

nwneeua

Maeve finally gets the confirmation she’s been looking for with the help of Hector and a hunting knife. There was a truly distressing moment as she scribbles out a drawing of the engineers in hazmat suits and discovers her hiding place is already full of them. It reminded me of a particularly cool moment in Doctor Who. Basically, the Doctor and his companions encounter a race of aliens who erase your memory of them once you stop looking at them (which is probably a mercy). In order to determine if they are in trouble or not they decide to make a mark on their arms when they encounter one in order to remind themselves they are in danger. Sure enough, once they run into one of these creepers the companion looks down at their arm to make a mark and realizes there are dozens of marks already there. It’s a genuinely horrifying moment although Maeve appears to be a gutsy lady, she will be a force to be reckoned with once she gets her feet under her but it’s unclear how her revelation will persist into her next incarnation.

The creepy little Mexican girl that knows about the maze is now actively directing Dolores towards it which is an interesting revelation. Not that it’s Dolores specifically but why a Host? The park narratives are for the Guests, why put her on the trail of this mysterious end-game? Also, she’s been palling around with William and Logan for only a few minutes now and I’m already bored of it. The latter is doing a great job being a complete shit-head and I’m not going to reference the original film too many more times but I am hoping that there is some similarity between the story-lines there. That’s all I have to say about that.

chris-browning-as-holden-ben-barnes-as-logan-and-jimmi-simpson-as-willi

Special words of praise need to go out to Evan Rachel Wood, by the way, who is doing a spectacular job with the material. She pivots so effectively from doe-eyed ingénue to emotionless robot to confused soul becoming self-aware it’s easy to forget we’re seeing three different performances going on simultaneously. Of all the fictitious scheming and god-complexes going on within and without of the park, her Dolores Abernathy is the emotional lynchpin of a huge story that could feel like nothing more than a soulless philosophical MMORPG made for television. Which it kind of is at times, but between her and Thandie Newton it’s impossible not to feel a sense of sympathy for these two characters which easily supersedes any connection we may have for the Guests at this point. And here I thought Wood was just another bland pretty blonde actress but I recently found out that she was once engaged to Marilyn Manson for a spell which is unexpected but cool. Apparently, she a little freaky. Good for her.

I also have to unpack some hopes I had for Westworld that have been debunked in an interview with the showrunners. In the original film there were two other parks, a Roman World and a Medieval World, and I wanted to keep that knowledge to myself in the hopes that maybe HBO had the sets from Rome and Game of Thrones in mothballs somewhere but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. I am not alone, for that matter, George R.R. Martin is totally on board for a crossover. I don’t know about you but I’d spend a year’s salary to give Sam a wedgie, maybe slap around Ramsay Bolton, and follow Margaery around like a love-sick puppy. Who are we kidding. JON, I JUST WANT TO HANG OUT, MAN. I think we’ll be best friends even if you were a robot. What were we talking about again?

Bonus: Here’s our player piano jam for the week in its original form.

westworld-dissonancetheory-1

 

Westworld Episode Review: The Stray

westworld_the_stray_review_anthony_hopkins

This week we’re finally getting a better idea of who’s turning the wheels on this crazy train. Dr. Ford is starting to show his true colors (jerk). Bernard and his existential obsession has a motive (dead kid). And we have a mysterious new angle to the host’s behavior regarding this Arnold character, and by the way I’m not buying word-one of his little biography or supposed demise (unreliable narrator). I also feel like we encountered the one thing this week that might actually threaten the longevity of the show with regard to staying power and I’d like to break that down first.

This Arnold person, according to Dr. Ford, was a co-founder of the park who became obsessed with the idea of creating consciousness in the machines and that same obsession (somehow) resulted in a park accident that claimed his life. Now, I enjoy the kind of conversation that followed, the idea of exploring the nature of existence and what makes a human being self-aware. Unfortunately, this is going to lose some of the casual audiences and I’ll make my case as such. The massive appeal of Game of Thrones is that while it is complex and harrowing and graphic, it’s also pretty accessible to a mainstream audience. As my main man Ian McShane put it after the internet blew up on him for kind of, sort of spoiling a plot point in the most recent season before it came out, his responsive was delightfully Al Swearengen-esque: “You say the slightest thing and the internet goes ape. I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think get a fucking life. It’s only tits and dragons.” The thing is, he’s not wrong. Westworld is a big gamble for being more than just that, in fact the repetitive nature of the overlapping narratives, the initial ambiguity regarding who is a host and who is a guest, and these philosophical musings on the nature of existence and identity are not going to draw the same audiences that GoT pulls down. When it comes to the people of the land, the common clay of the new west, they are going to be turned off by this kind of subject matter, it doesn’t exactly titillate. It’s possible I’m underestimating the audience but it’s just that I’ve been hurt before with the previously referenced Deadwood and the bizarre but kind of brilliant horror Carnivale, both of which were cancelled before their time for not drawing a large enough viewership, among a few other examples. But I digest.

westworld-elsie-bernard-episode-3-the-stray-850x560

So Elsie the Analyst, is on one hand a sort of cool, confident, sassy lady and, on the other, kind of creepy for making out with an inert Clementine when no one was looking. When she discovers that the errant host only killed other bots that murdered him in previous narratives, everyone kind of raises an eyebrow. The fact that no one is more seriously alarmed at the idea of these robotic victims remembering their treatment at the hands of each other, let alone of guests which seems likely to come, makes me feel that sort of removed amusement you feel towards characters in a horror movie that just decide to go on with the adventure and stay in the spooky house anyway. All despite the creepy gas station attendant who leered with unveiled predatory joy when they stopped for a fill up or the rabid cur chomping on what appears to be a human femur posted up at the gate. Or the fact that they are a conspicuously diverse group of ethnic and gender stereotypes with promising futures and raging libidos. (Note to self: rewatch Cabin in the Woods at some point.) Anyway, it doesn’t take a lot of prescience to feel like no good can come of this and that their somewhat distant concern is going to be their undoing. If they don’t see that bad thing coming they frankly deserve it, so we might as well enjoy the ride.

westworld-the-stray-645x370

That seriousness aside, William saw some action in the park itself this week. I mean, he sucked at it, letting a deputy and a bounty hunter get shot down in front of him with Clementine being taken hostage before he skinned that smokewagon. He’s now on an adventure that has taken him outside the confines of the town with his unlikeable buddy Logan and it’s good to see some progress being made here, I was afraid they were just going to peter around the gift shops all day. He’s currently your typical boy scout and I relate to that inherent un-coolness so my real concern about his character is that he’s going to get a taste of that bad boy image and go full on Dark Side. I like the actor but he also seems perfectly cast to Break Bad at some point. I’m also genuinely interested to see what his interaction with a newly independent Dolores is like. She’s the sweet, old-fashioned rancher’s daughter with a dark secret which is kryptonite to weenies like us. Maybe they’ll fall in loooove.

westworld0005_0

Teddy got himself a little backstory too, courtesy of the newly cold-blooded Dr. Ford. This felt like a little bit of a 180 on his part. The first two episodes implied a kindly, sentimental old man who enjoyed long walks in the desert with young robot boys but in The Stray he immediately chastises a programmer for covering up a nude host. They are things, not people. Well, it’s a particularly realistic ‘thing’ and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want it pointed at me while I was working, either. So while uploading some history for poor Teddy, Ford coldly informs him of the futility of his existence and desire for Dolores, to no apparent purpose. Further, the aforementioned conversation with Bernard Lowe about the history of the park and the supposedly expired former co-founder Arnold seemed particularly curt and distant. You’d think he would at least demonstrate some sense of remorse or emotion or, I dunno, humanity but it wasn’t there at all. Methinks there’s even more to Dr. Ford than this, and if he seemed anti-morbidity and gruesomeness last episode, his newly written Teddy Flood narrative and bounty on the mysterious crazy guy Wyatt belies that idea. I mean. Fuck. Those dudes were nailed to a damn tree.

westworld0003_1

Onto Bernard and his sad story. “Where is your son?” Dolores asks. “…nowhere you would understand.” There’s a lot going on in that exchange and he immediately ends the conversation to investigate its origin. This is the nature of his focus on the nuances of consciousness he sees in her, the reason for his secret conversations. Based on the conversation with what would appear to be his estranged or ex-wife, the trauma of losing his son is in no way completely processed. That pain is still very persistent and nagging and you feel for the guy but it’s interfering with his ability to remain objective with the park hosts. At first I thought it was obviously Ford’s update that started triggering the aberrant behavior in the robots but I’m starting to suspect Bernard at this point. Particularly if he’s the one who planted the gun where Dolores would find it. Her newfound ability to escape her narrative is the real ‘stray’ of the episode and, again, it remains to be seen how her vulnerability will jive with William’s inclination towards do-goodery. I invented that word just now.

westworld-hbo-d-204440-1280x0

Finally, Elsie and the head of security Ashley (*looks up actor*….Luke Hemsworth?! There’s another one? Are these frickin’ guys multiplying?!) venture out into the desert to pick up a different kind of stray who has been inexplicably carving constellations into woodblocks. Once its discovered stuck in a crevasse, Girl’s Name climbs down and proceeds to hack the head off the malfunctioning host in order to gather data because for some reason, in the future, they don’t have flash drives anymore and it’s far more efficient to just cut off their fucking heads. This understandably goes pear-shaped. What I want to know is not why it ultimately bashed its own head in with a big rock but rather why it was attacking Elsie in the first place? She posed no threat. It’s as if it had gone rabid up until the last second before being remotely set to self-destruct. Oh, and one other thing, why did it bash it’s own head in?!

westworld0002_1

This episode really brought the crazy with more actual horror than the existential kind. Some questions to ponder: who is this Arnold, really? I know the first theory to hit the top of the charts is going to be that he’s really the Man in Black. But I’m not buying that. No, I think if this Arnold character is still out and about he’s somewhere in that deeper layer that Ed Harris’ character is looking for. What’s our adorably sweet Dolores going to do now that she’s off-script? Are they going to catch her and figure out her secret? Is Bernard’s treachery going to be discovered? Why did that robot bash its own head in?! This show, if anything, has reminded me why I hate waiting a whole week to watch the next episode of a series, it’s barbaric.

Bonus: This episode was directed by the writer-director of one of the few horror films I sincerely love. If you ever get the chance, check out the original non-American edit.

 

Westworld Episode Review: Chestnut

 

In hindsight, I never outright said in my first episode review whether or not Westwold is objectively good and after viewing the second episode I can say with relative confidence that this is the most exciting, well executed, promising show on television. Where the pilot was cryptic and existentially fascinating, Chestnut gets the journey going and starts the actual narrative. We have an avatar to follow through the park itself in the form of Jimmi Simpson from House of Cards as William, we have a potential direction for the unexplained errors in the software update, and we have the next step of whatever dark quest the sadistic Man in Black is on. We even have the briefest flash of humor saddling a genuinely horrifying moment with Thandie Newton’s character Maeve basically waking up during surgery and stumbling through the abattoir that is left over after a day in the park. Most television shows require a few episodes or even a whole season to find the kind of confident footing that Westworld already has out of the gate and very few are this compelling so suddenly, so it’s going to be a challenge maintaining this momentum. But, so far so good.

westworld_still_1

I am not even sure where to start. Usually there is one or two interesting plot threads that I save until the very end while I round up the obvious stuff for funsies but every plot point is fascinating in this show. I have to be careful or my sentences will just start smashing into each other in nonsensical fits so I’ll just try to go in order. Dolores Abernathy, as implied by the technician’s conversation early in the episode, is now ‘infected’ with this existential awareness apparently triggered with that oh so awesome line of dialogue ‘These violent delights have violent ends’. It’s apparent now that this is a passphrase that must have been embedded in the most recent software update which is causing all kinds of problems. That infection has been passed on to Maeve whose own usefulness is being questioned by the park QA. I question this logic for one basic and obvious reason: if the park visitors are not interested or sexually attracted to Thandie Newton the problem isn’t with her, it’s with the damn Guests. How about pulling them aside and being like, “What is your damn problem. You’re kicked out of the park, go home and re-think your priorities.” I may be compromising my objectivity there. Anyway, that infection culminates in a full on wakeful awareness while she is being repaired by two chatty engineers who are understandably freaked out when she rabbits her way around the complex in horrified confusion. It remains to be seen if this is going to call further attention to the glitch (also as someone with ~10 years experience in almost all levels of Quality Assurance and software testing I hate using that word but using the word ‘bug’ might be confusing in this context, so….’glitch’ it is *climbs down off high horse*) in the upgrade and whether or not it’s clearly intentional implementation will be discovered. If I had to hazard a guess, I think it’s Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) the park’s Creative Director designing some kind of next level artistic expression that will foment in an ALL OUT ROBOT UPRISING. But I’m not putting my chips down just yet.

westworld-image-jeffrey-wright

Back to Dolores, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) has been having secret late night powwows with her because he is fascinated by the way she thinks. This sounds like a pick-up line you would hear in a college bar that never works, not-that-I-know but it means he also may be responsible for the burgeoning self-awareness in the parks population of androids. It might be safe to assume he’s responsible for her little sleepwalking discovery at the end of the episode but why? It’s one thing to encourage sentience in A.I. out of curiosity, it’s something else to arm it. Someday when the machines rise up and wipe us all out and some alien species comes along and discovers our history I’d bet damn good money that one of them will absolutely say the words, “You know what’s really fucked up about this? They made a movie about this exact thing happening and still went ahead and invented the damn things anyway.” And then whatever alien the first one was talking to will do the equivalent of shaking its head and go, “Assholes.” That will be the history of the human race in the Galactic Encyclopedia.

1-crm5n2-cbsln5n2kj162ja

Dr. Ford seems a little spacey to me. This week he shot down his underlings plans for a story line in the part with a Caligula-esque orgy of sex, violence and mayhem because, according to him, people don’t want to find out who they are, they already know that. They want to find out who they can be, and I like this line of reasoning. The comparisons to open world video games are unavoidable at this point and others have already made the reference. The NPCs hanging around offering missions to the player feel right at home to anyone who plays GTA or Fallout or, in my case, Borderlands. But Grand Theft Auto is probably best example since it tries so hard to appear as close to contemporary society as possible, it blends more closely with reality itself and the moral choices feel a little bit more thrilling because of it. Anyone who has played for hours on end knows that scary impulse you get while actually driving down the highway when you spot an empty car carrier trailer or an off-ramp with the right angle. And even though you’re in real life, not a game, all you see for a split second is a ramp. But further than that some people play those games as safely as possible, they do the right thing, they don’t kill pedestrians, and they feel genuinely bad breaking the laws in a fictional universe. I know because I am one of those people. For instance, when my friends made me pick up a prostitute, “employ her” and then kill her to get my money back in GTA: Vice City  I stopped playing the game for like a week. Other folks…okay most other people go the other direction causing as much damage as possible, and the game design itself encourages this kind of delinquency. Dr. Ford, in his wandering around the desert with a small robot child, has something big in mind involving what appears to be an abandoned church steeple, which seems like an odd direction to go in. What is his vision that is going to be somehow more compelling than Lee Sizemore’s, the narrative director with the Gordon Ramsay temperament? Obviously there is going to be some kind of religious aspect to it, as if the philosophical musings about God aren’t apparent enough.

westworld-chestnut-image-3-600x400

The objective of The Man in Black became just slightly more apparent in this week’s episode but at the same time not really. Somehow he has discovered Easter Eggs in the game itself and is working to discover some inner level or deeper layers but the thing that stood out as critical to me is how he paid for that information. At first glance handing two bullets to Lawrence’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) young daughter appeared to be an overt threat on their lives. However, he takes only one back and leaves her one which implies he’s using live rounds as currency, reducing his price as a negotiating tactic. This gives further credence to that theory about an approaching ROBOT REBELLION and here is where I have to shut my mouth a little bit. Having seen the film I know at least one or two things that have not been revealed yet so I’ll have to play dumb with regard to certain storylines. I have no doubt that Jonathan Nolan and friends are going to take the story in a unique direction and I want to avoid implying there are is some big twist coming because then it’s going to be hard to avoid looking for one. So I’ll just say that this thread is the one I’m most interested in at the moment.

westworld-chestnut-image-8-600x400

I don’t really have much to say regarding Bernard Lowe and his little hook up session with the executive lady. I think Jeffrey Wright is a fine, gifted actor with gravitas to spare but trying to picture him having a passionate affair with a woman is like imagining a Ford Escort and a Honda Civic get in a low-speed fender bender, whereupon both drivers get out and reasonably exchange insurance information, there’s just absolutely no thrill there at all. But the most compelling part of this episode, to me, was the beginning introduction to the park and possibly our main protagonist, William. There’s a obvious metaphor at the end of his costuming: the hat selection. White or black. He and I obviously have a lot in common, all the choices he made are the ones I would have with the exception of his rejection of the super sexy prostitute Clementine Pennyfeather. By the law of transitive properties she’s only a few steps removed from a fleshlight. …..right? Ethically? Okay, my own logic has succeeded in creeping me out.

Bonus: Just in case anyone happened to miss this week’s anachronistic player piano’s song in the bar, here it is in it’s original form.

 

Westworld Episode Review: The Original

 

Westworld debuted this Sunday and if anyone is not familiar this is HBO’s newest big budget extravaganza that they are hoping is going to dovetail into the spot left by Game of Thrones when it concludes in two years. I’ve done episode by episode reviews of the sixth season of that show, which was exhausting but a lot of fun and I wanted to keep that magic going with this new hotness. I even resurrected my GoT ritual of snacking on some fresh baked bread, olive oil and balsamic and a dash of salt and pepper and a glass or four of wine while I watched the premiere episode The Original. I only had one thought at its conclusion. I usually watch these kinds of shows at least twice, once for the ride, a second time for the craft, for the little nuances and thematic…thingies that lurk right below the surface in these types of adult dramas but I haven’t done that yet because of how unsettling the whole experience was.

westworld

Undeterred, I jumped on the old QWERTY and tried to put together a generic review with some wacky gifs added along for humorous effect but the whole first effort ground to a halt because, to be completely honest, there is no levity whatsoever in Westworld. It was light years easier to joke around with the subject matter of Game of Thrones which should indicate how much more intense this new show is. “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” What a fucked up thing to say to someone, even an android. Just the fact that you’d ask implies that I should and that’s a perfect way to ruin an already crappy Monday morning. If you’re not familiar with the basic premise, Westworld is an amusement park/role playing game populated by nearly perfect humanoid android characters that visitors pay a huge entrance fee to hang out with. There is a narrative to the experience and also, like Fallout or GTA, an open world for you to explore and destroy as you please. You can kill the android ‘hosts’ but you can’t kill other ‘guests’. There is no morality or police or rules. And most disturbingly, the androids don’t know they aren’t real people, which is where the underlying conflict or theme of the show presents itself: if you program a machine to think it’s a real person, at what point does it matter whether or not it was a machine to begin with? At what point does it become something more?

westworld-hbo-ed-harris

Further, at what point does that machine that believes it’s human get tired of being shot, stabbed, sexually whatevered ad nauseum? And what does that say about the guests who perpetrate said abuse? Is being inhuman to something that is designed to look human a reflection of some dark desires or just innocent fun? I’m dropping more Q-marks than The Riddler over here and that’s why this episode and ultimately, I believe, this show is so very good. It’s intelligent and thought provoking, there is no denying that, but I have a concern that it might be too smart for it’s own good and will not connect with a large enough audience to sustain itself. I am also sincerely curious as to how the show can be extended through an entire season. Somehow I am the only person I currently know who has seen the original film and The Original covers about a third of that story already. I don’t want to spoil anything here but lets just say Michael Crichton is most famous for his other little yarn about an amusement park called The Jurassic Park. Which we know ended with a laugh and a milkshake for all.

westworld-evan-rachel-wood

One of the most unsettling aspects of the show is the portrayal of the hosts as animatronic robots. The already impressive acting is augmented with subtle digital effects to make them seem just this side of the Uncanny Valley, both believably fake and heartbreakingly real all at once. Because of how effective the performances are it immediately begs the same question of the audience that Bernard Lowe asks of Dolores Abernathy. Are you sure what’s real and what isn’t? And I held my dog a little closer. I almost linked the dog scene from I Am Legend to that sentence but I don’t want to accidentally see it and also I am not a monster. Will Smith is. Speaking of monsters, Ed Harris is a terrifying man. I don’t have anything else, just that that is a true fact and his portrayal of the man in black is going to be legendary. There’s one more character that also deserves acknowledgement and that is Westworld itself. Filmed in the famous and iconic Monument Valley, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, and I say that without fear of hyperbole. As a fan of the Western genre in general, this first episode was like landscape pornography. The town as well feels like it would be perfectly at home in another more grounded series, Deadwood a show that was critically lauded but never brought the audience it needed to sustain its budget. But where Deadwood was bleak and filthy and real, Westworld is more…I guess the word is lush, it’s more of a fictional take on what the Old West looked like.

westworld-hbo

There is a lot of nudity in Westworld and I’m expecting the same observations to surface about HBO and it’s rampant sexposition. But presenting the hosts as nude during their interrogation sequences is not sexual. More than that, it’s degrading and dehumanizing, I think it serves to keep a distance between the engineers and employees of the park to prevent them from viewing the androids as anything other than objects. There is definitely sexuality in the park itself but that’s just human nature. I mentioned once about a similarly themed film Ex Machina that answers the age old question, how long after we invent convincing Artificial Intelligence will we try and have sex with it? According to Alex Garland and, if that AI looks like Alicia Vikander, me, it’s not very long at all in case you were wondering. Westworld is the extension of that question: how long will it take us to create Artificial Intelligence in order to have sex with it. I have a feeling that the sexuality and violence is only going to get worse, and by worse I mean less about titillation and more about the dark corners of the human heart. Supposedly there are four or five seasons already planned out ahead of time, which leaves a lot of room for debauchery.

That’s a start, hopefully next weeks episode will shed a little more light on the recurring cast of characters and that mysterious glitch Dolores has at the end of this week but for now there are too many unanswered questions to keep track of. What exactly did her father whisper into her ear? Who is the man in black and what is he even doing? All I know is if someone actually said to me, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here” I don’t care if we are sitting at an IHOP, this is my next move.

westworld-hbo