I really like TV. Love it, in fact. So when I say that HBO’s new drama Westworld is the best show of the season, I mean it. It’s good. It’s real, real good. And the people who’ve been calling it the new Game of Thrones aren’t wrong to make that comparison. I mean, this thing is going to be huge. Like, your aunt Myrtle is calling you to talk about it huge. Quotes trickling into pop culture huge. Death threats levied at they who would spoil huge. I know we gave a shout-out to this baby in last week’s “What We’re Feeling,” but I’ve gotta say that I am still feeling it. And if you want to come along for one of the best entertainment rides of the year, you should be feeling it too.
So what is this show about, anyway?
OK, so you’re not just gonna take my word for it? Fine, then, I’ll give you the run-down. Essentially, Westworld is a show about the most detailed, realistic theme park ever made. The park, itself called Westworld, is a perfect replica of the old American West: cowboys, saloons, big old revolvers, it’s all here. For a price, guests can enter the park and explore a new and lovingly crafted world full of people ripped straight out of an old Western film. Except…the “people” walking around this world aren’t really people at all.
Meet Dolores, one of the first of these “people” we see. She looks human, sounds human, and almost even acts human, but she’s not. She’s one of many incredibly advanced robots (or perhaps “android” would be the better term, if I may be so nerdy) that roam Westworld. Her job is not unique, she is just one of several hundred “Hosts” for guests to interact with. Hosts all have their own stories, their own scripts that guide them through their world, though guests are encouraged to speak with them, to get involved in their stories and maybe even try to change how they end. Almost like humans, Hosts can improvise new things to say, simulate emotion, and even have a self-preservation instinct.
The park operates with only one rule: Hosts can’t hurt humans. If a host shoots a gun at a human, the human will walk away with nothing more than a bruise. Humans, on the other hand, can do whatever they want to Hosts. And I do mean whatever they want. Murder. Rape. The worst of the worst. Every night, the park operators repair the Hosts and wipe their memories clean, and the next day the Hosts wake up and do the whole dance again. If you have any love of sci-fi, you probably know where I’m going next… What happens when something starts going wrong with the Hosts?
I won’t say anymore on that note for fear of spoiling anything. So tell me, are you into this yet?
Hmmmm…The idea sounds cool, but lots of shows have good ideas.
Good point. If the show were simply a cool premise, I wouldn’t so highly recommend it. Instead, everything, and I do mean everything, about the show is simply top-notch so far.
We’re only three episodes in, and already the world is intoxicating. Layer by layer, each episode adds new details, shows you something terrifying or surprising or even funny about how Westworld works, about what people become when they’re given absolute freedom and zero consequences. New plot elements are doled out and secrets are revealed with exquisite precision, the mark of master storytellers at work, and each moment feels intentional, important. There is no “filler” here. It’s all meat, all serving some larger purpose. And as the curtain is slowly pulled back on the season’s larger story, I find myself constantly wanting to know more. Each episode merely leaves me hungry for the next.
And then you’ve got the cast. I mean, Anthony freaking Hopkins is playing Dr. Robert Ford, the old man who created the park! And as you would expect, he plays it to slightly creepy British perfection. James Marsden (a longtime crush of mine) and Evan Rachel Wood are other names you may be familiar with, but really, everyone is terrific. Watching a Host switch from the natural, emotional speech they produce as characters in the park to the mechanical, blank affect they exhibit when questioned by park employees gave me chills. The cast, similar to that of GoT, is sprawling, but, at least for now, the showrunners are giving everyone a purpose, and they all fit into the larger tapestry beautifully.
One last thing that might persuade you: the network really, really thinks this show is something special. And when HBO, arguably one of best producers of television in the world, thinks something is good, we should all be paying attention. They’ve thrown GoT level money at it from the beginning (more than $100 million dollars for the first season), which is practically unheard of. And it shows in the production values. The show is just stunning to look at, from the beautiful natural setting of the park to the incredible scenes in the futuristic labs beneath it. HBO did not skimp on the visuals here.
If you’re someone who likes sci-fi even a little bit, there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be watching this show. If you’re someone who likes television then you should at least give Westworld a try. I promise you won’t regret it. Also, just look at James Marsden. UGH. MELTING.
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 PM ET on HBO