On October 2, HBO released the series premier of Westworld, produced by Jonathan Nolan, brother and creative partner of Christopher Nolan, and J.J. Abrams, of Lost and Star Trek fame. The series is a remake of a film of the same name made in 1972 about a theme park inhabited by robots that act out roles such as the friendly sheriff, the wanted outlaw, and the salacious prostitute. The guests live out their cowboy fantasies with no risk, until the robots start to malfunction and play out their murderous roles a little too well. Nolan and Abrams deliver an updated vision of this exciting premise, with new twists and well-defined characters in a gripping first episode.
Westworld lays out the details of the titular amusement park meticulously. Through an elaborate simulation, guests are able to interact with the park’s robots as a player in an open-world video game can interact with in-game characters. Though the robots are designed to go through their own storylines, guests are able to interrupt the storylines, while the robots are designed to improvise and carry on, maintaining whatever personality the park’s designer programmed them with.
Most of the robots play the role of simple, law-abiding townsfolk, interacting with each other, having scripted romances, robberies, and plain small-talk, basically trying to live a simple life and earn an honest wage. They can be interrupted at any time if guests feel any desire to interact with the robots on their own – the robots improvise while maintaining their scripted personality.
Although some of the theme parks guests are happy families who seem to just be looking for an alternative to Disneyland, other guests use the park to address their darkest and even most psychopathic pleasures. Guests are allowed to have sex with the robots, with or without the robot’s consent. In particular, one guest, a mysterious figure dressed in all black played by Ed Harris, seems to delight in the sadistic torture he can engage in with zero repercussions. The robots express seemingly genuine displays of pain and anguish, but they are completely unable to resist the base urges they are subject to. The robots are programmed to be unable to kill or hurt any guest.
Meanwhile, there are several signs that suggest that the robots are beginning to reach a level of higher self-awareness than their designers had ever intended. Although the park immediately decommissions any robot who begins to question the nature of their own reality, they begin to act out in bizarre ways. As one of the show’s characters puts it, though the robots have not yet begun to rebel against their masters, it seems as inevitable as children eventually rebelling against their parents.
Of course, the first episode does more than just repeat the same plot points of the original film. The show sets up some bigger mysteries. It is hinted that the park serves a true purpose to its management that is unknown to most of the guests and even most of its employees. This true purpose is kept as veiled as possible. These larger questions keep the audience engaged and wanting to delve deeper into the show’s intricate universe.
Westworld is a beautifully-made series that absorbs the audience into its universe as completely as the show’s titular theme park absorbs its guests. The show executes a fantastic premise wonderfully, creating an engaging premier and laying the groundwork for future episodes to delve into the show’s well-constructed plot.