David: Hello and Welcome to a log belated edition of TVTuesday! We have a special guest back with us in the form of Ryan, pulling himself from his many priorities to join us. For that, I say thank you for gracing us with your virtual presence Ryan.
The TV show in question? HBO’s Westworld. For those unfamiliar, a brief explanation is probably due of the show’s content and origins. The first episode aired on 02 OCT 2016. The show itself is a remake of sorts of a Michael Crichton film from 1973. However, the show quickly surpassed it and has grown into something much bigger and bolder. The general plot is this: there is a futuristic theme park (Westworld) that is populated entirely by artificial “hosts” that are there only to serve as entertainment for those that go to the park. Essentially, it was the founding of several of the ideas that became more firmly grounded in Jurassic Park.
The show stars several well-known actors, including Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, and Jeffrey Wright. The show is five episodes in as of Sunday’s (30 OCT 2016) episode, so this will be a mid-season review that touches on content, themes, and events from all episodes to the halfway point. With all that introduction, without further ado, let me announce the return of Ryan to DoubleFeaturePreachers.com!
Ryan: It’s good to be back! Thanks for having me. I have been enjoying Westworld quite a bit these past few weeks. The strange premise piqued my curiosity and I’m glad I tuned in. Although I’m not much of a horror film buff, I do enjoy watching twisted and creepy stories this time of year. Westworld is definitely twisted and creepy. But this show is much more than an eerie tale peppered with violence and nudity. It’s perfect water cooler TV. You have the HBO production value, a great cast, LOST like mystery, and philosophy questions out the ying yang.
So much to talk about, David, but lets start with Dolores just as the show did. If there is a “main character” she seems to be the leading candidate. How do you think her story arc will play out in the near term.
David: Ah, Dolores. First off, let’s just celebrate the incredible achievement in acting that Evan Rachel Wood is bringing to her character. There are moments where she literally has to turn her emotions off at the flip of a switch, and she does it absolutely believably. Not only that, but we are seeing an incredible gamut of emotions that range from fear to loathing to gradual acceptance to grief, and pretty much all the other ones too. The only thing about Ms. Wood’s performance that I think could improve is control over her accent, which at times seems much thicker than others. This may just be a difficulty presented in having to maintain an accent only when her host is in character, and then turn it off whenever she is in a robotic form - or who knows, maybe it’s a conscious choice. Maybe as Dolores falls further and further away from her programming, she’s losing some of the twang that she is supposed to be exhibiting.
To bring it back a bit, I think Dolores is a fascinating character in almost all aspects. It’s been stated that she is the oldest host in the park. That means that she has died countless deaths, had unspeakable horrors committed to her (indeed, the first episode that introduces us to her shows the Man in Black about to commit exactly such a deed), and simply resets each morning. There’s no telling how many times her configuration has changed, how many lives she has lived. That’s what makes it all the more fascinating when we see her breaks from character in her brief interludes with Bernard. He seems to be searching for something as he probes her mind, frequently uttering commands to change her delivery at a whim. He is obviously tracking some of her mental development, as she quotes scripts and Shakespeare and other tracts he has allowed her to read.
This show is so character rich that it is really hard to talk about in detail in a blog post. Dolores is just one highlight, but I’m really enjoying Bernard, Elsie, and Ford, along with the Man in Black himself (which I’m a little peeved is his name since it’s a pretty obvious Stephen King knockoff - but I digress). What are you thinking of these characters? Are there any that you are enjoying that I missed?
Ryan: I agree, Evan Rachel Wood is fantastic as Dolores. There is no shortage of interesting characters and high level acting. It is particularly pleasing to me to see one of the McPoyles (Jimmi Simpson) doing something other than creeping me out in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. While I enjoy his performance as William, I don’t find him to serve much purpose other than the show’s moral compass. He apparently is here with his soon to be brother-in-law on some sort of family bonding trip. If I’m following the show correctly, William works with his brother-in-law Logan, played by the british actor Ben Barnes. Logan’s family owns a wealthy company with a stake in Westworld and is looking to deepen their investment. Logan plays the role of the Id here in Westworld. He treats the amusement park as just that, a place to do as he desires, a place he can murder and fornicate without causing harm. William is on the other end of the spectrum. The world and hosts prove to be too convincing for the super-ego. William cannot detach himself from real world moralities.
Their story line will hopefully get a little more interesting as the ‘awakening’ Delores crosses their path. Is she to be the ego and reign in both men?
As far as my favorite characters go, Maeve might be number one. Thandie Newton plays the brothel queen who, like Delores, is trying to make sense of memory flashes (no pun intended) as she moves through her daily routine. The scene where Maeve wakes on the operating table while undergoing repair, might be my favorite of the show’s so far.
What about you Dave? Are you on team Maeve or team Dolores? (Sorry that was lame).
David: Definitely Team Dolores so far, though the final scene with Maeve in Episode 4 is pretty intense and almost sways me. Despite the hosts being extremely interesting, I think some of the characters that aren’t hosts are even more interesting.
Take Ford for instance. When we first meet him in the first episode, he seems to be a senile old man who is content to watch his creations and tinker with them (apparently unsuccessfully). But as we continue to watch his reactions with Bernard and with some of the other characters (particularly with some of the broken hosts), we start to see not just the extreme intelligence arise that is within him, but also a bit of malevolence. He tells us stories his past, and also some stories about the different people who helped play a part in the creation of Westworld, like the mysterious Arnold. Hopkins is consistently channeling bits of his famous Lecter role, while still maintaining some of the grace of a new character.
The fluidity with which he controls the hosts, seemingly without using the same codewords that we see many of the others use, is positively haunting. He also insinuates that he has eyes on the whole park and all of its employees. This means that he probably knows everything that is going on, including all the problems that are occurring with the hosts. Does this mean he has a deeper part in what’s going on? I don’t really know - but I’m sure we’ll find out eventually.
Ryan: You’re right, Dave. Some of the players outside of the park are just as intriguing as the hosts. Could some of those people actually turnout to be synthetic? (I’m looking at you Bernard) The evolution of sentience is a captivating topic and one which seems central to the show. But as far as plot, I wonder if the central conflict of Westworld is Ford vs Arnold? Or is it them against the world? Arnold, the Westworld co-creator supposedly died in the park in some sort of accident. The details are mysterious at this point. But the show seems to hint that his death is related to the host “glitches”.
I think back to the conversation between Ford and Bernard in episode 1, “Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool, the mistake.” Was Arnold’s death THE mistake to kickstart the evolution or was it a result of evolution itself? These two characters are the central mystery of the show. What does Ford want? What did Arnold want? My guess is Ford and Arnold were at one time aligned trying to develop a synthetic brain of sorts. Ford wanted to commercialize the research in order to fund the project. Arnold, who we know, well, at least according to Ford, was against commercialization. Was it a bitter dispute that led to his death? Or did Arnold sacrifice himself in order to spring life into his creations?
I will have to stay tuned to find out. What the hell do you think is going on here Dave?
David: As I continue to watch the show (Episode 5 especially - we see several interesting interactions with Ford and other people), I think more and more that Ford may have killed Arnold using a host. That’s my initial impression, but because my brain also tends to take things into overdrive a bit, I start thinking of all kinds of ludicrous twists, where Ford or Arnold turn out to be hosts, or Ford is a host and Arnold was his original programmer and then Ford rebelled against his programming and killed Arnold and took his place. That would mean that everything that is happening with the hosts is some type of pre-programmed safeguard.
However, that’s a bit out there. I do agree that I think eventually at least one person who seems like a “real person” (there’s really no good way to term that) will turn out to be a host. Your Bernard thought is spot on with me - I think he seems the most likely candidate. I think we could roll with this topic for a long, long time, but I want to talk about one final thing before we close: Dolores’s terminator scene in Episode 5.
That was awesome: seeing Dolores “break out of her modest little loop”, to quote Ford. What did you think?
Ryan: Dolores reminded me of Neo of the Matrix Trilogy. I was waiting for a Keanu Reeves esque “Whoa! I know gun fighting!”. Very cool stuff. I hope to find out later how she was able to flip the switch so to speak. Did she always have these capabilities but was restricted from using them? I hope it turns out that she learned how to shoot practicing with Teddy day after day, loop after loop. Either way it was a cathartic release and a peak at what’s to come. Both Dolores and Maeve have taken major steps forward to untether their leash. I’m looking forward to see where these awakened hosts take us.
Thanks for having me Dave. I’ll chat with you later after we watch these violent delights come to violent ends.
David: No problem Ryan. I hope you join us again soon. Thanks for reading everyone. Tune in soon for more exciting thoughts on HBO’s Westworld on the next installment of TVTuesday here at DoubleFeaturePreachers.com.
David and Shannon write about movies.