TV Review: ‘Westworld’ [Episode 1]

HBO’s newest large-scale endeavor, Westworld, is trying hard to entice. If you haven’t seen the press surrounding it, there’s been some serious concerns with content. What Westworld manages to accomplish in its pilot, “The Original,” is firmly establish tone, backstory, and future conflict. It does so with a great deal of success, with only a few outlying weak points. Although the show isn’t quite a Game of Thrones-level hit, Westworld’s pilot sets up enough to entice viewers.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, fret not. Westworld differs enough from what’s come before that you shouldn’t feel lost. If anything, the show seems most similar to the Jurrasic Park franchise. Westworld is set in the not-too-distant future, where the rich spend time in a robot-inhabited cowboy environment. We don’t quite learn the specifics of how the alternate reality is set up, but we do see technicians walking around frozen robots, working out kinks in spastic models. There’s loads of death, sex, and drinking in the pilot (more milk than you’d expect, though). From the very beginning, “The Original” knows exactly where to guide the audience. We quickly learn about how the world works, the role of robots, and what’s beginning to go wrong. All the conflict is set up perfectly, promising loads of action to come.

Many of the characters are fleshed out well, if not sporadically. Our apparent protagonist is Dolores, one of the “host” robots. For the most part, she seems stuck in the world’s loop, unaware of reality. Her wonder and innocence makes her a sympathetic figure – and makes the twist ending that much more exciting. Bernard Lowe, the Westworld host programmer, is a perfect balance of eccentric and fatherly. Bernard is supplemented well by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the creator of Westworld, who longs for the old days (which old days is hard to say). On top of the host-creator conflict set up, there’s also the mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris). How he fits in the universe is hard to say, but his viciousness makes him incredibly engaging.

Not every character gets a clear explanation, however. Thankfully, the less defined characters are mostly supporting cannon fodder. Teddy (James Marsden) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) seem to be hosts with a level of self-awareness, although unspecified. Lee (Simon Quarterman) could be either an antagonist to Bernard, or a protagonist fighting the corporate bigwigs. His motivation, outside of writing the hosts’ melodrama, seems unclear. It’s also unclear if we should expect from outlaw Hector Escaton, who’s been built up only to die. These characters may not be central yet, but they seem likely to return. So it’d be nice to know what exactly to expect from them.

Overall, the way Westworld set itself up is fantastic. Especially for a show that could become another cultural staple, it’s nice to see such high-quality content. While there’s certainly a sizable amount of nudity, it seems like the rumored excessive sexual content won’t be present. Dolores killing the fly at the end could give Walter White a run for his money. While “The Original” does rely heavily on the mysteries – and too many instances of characters whispering secrets – it clearly has a game plan.

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