WestWOAHrld: a review of HBO’ s Westworld

When the trailer for HBO’s new show Westworld came out I was in awe. I’d only recently developed an affinity for the western genre, a genre of what it means to be living on the fringe of the unknown in a new world. Western film and television represent and reflect on an era where you could trust your neighbors that were sparsely spread throughout the new American landscape, but what was beyond your neighbors was frightening. Westworld takes classic western motifs and adds a dose of realism as it updates the genre.

My love for western films grew from taking care of my Grandma and watching nearly every John Wayne movie ever filmed over home cooked meals on our family farm. Compared to classic western films and John Wayne films in particular the settings and scenery in Westworld are beyond anything the western genre has ever seen. Westworld is like the old True Grit multiplied by The Alamo raised by The Searchers squared, and even then that’s not an accurate reflection of the amount of boundaries that have been broken for a western film by HBO’s new show.

Back when Hollywood was making western movies routinely it would have been insanely controversial to have the gratuitous violence and nudity that today seems expected to get ratings. In many respects though the shedding of puritanism in film allows for a more accurate depiction of historical times. You would be hard-pressed to find too many John Wayne movies where blood actually explodes out of a wound or the entire town was laid to waste by a pack of murderous robbers. In many of the old films the themes and ideas are the same but only alluded to. Due to the changing of societal norms Westworld is able to not only approach the same themes but go into much more graphic detail than has been done in the past in film. Westworld is probably the most accurate reflection of the old west in popular film to date.

When you move away from the setting of the show and you add the fact that Westworld is a simulation, things just get better. The show concept is unlike anything that I have seen on TV, with the slight exception of Fantasy Island, but it’s really not comparable in the end. Mr. Rourke would never allow the things Dr. Ford allows to happen in Westworld on his own Fantasy Island. On Fantasy Island you go with a goal to better yourself, but in Westworld the world shows you what you really want to be.

To the freshly immersed individuals in Westworld it is a novelty to experience the fruits of an unfettered world restricted by societal norms. You see how those who are just visitors for a moment experience the novelty of the world with a childlike wonder. The new visitor who proudly walks into the crowded street as we await the finish of a new storyline and shoots the main antagonist before it’s end is the perfect example of that wonder; he proudly looks at his wife after he kills the villain. Those who are weathered in the fruits of the world have a much more macabre view of the simulation. The Man in Black seems unphased by anything the world has to offer anymore, including being left to hung and having to find his way out alive.

The casting and characters are incredibly done. Old western films didn’t have too much diversity in their casting whereas Westworld has a wide range of diversity and accents that you would expect to see in an era of American history where nearly everyone were only recent immigrants to this country. The show feels authentic to what one might expect to see if you went back to the late 1800’s.

Aside from the settings, cast, and concept, the music is brilliant as well. The western genre to me is the equivalent of the American opera, and although there is no singing in Westworld I think the show backs me up with it’s use of music to guide the show’s story. From the modern songs playing on the old-school parlor piano to Claude Debussy’s Reverie playing as the Hosts have reveries of the past the show is on point auditorially. Their versions of No Surprises by Radiohead and Chopin’s Nocturne No. 9 are flawless and all of the music fits perfectly with the events that unfold.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t complain about spoilers if you read past this.

….Seriously, SPOILER ALERT!

The first few episodes gave me the feeling that the Man in Black was not a typical bad guy and just someone playing the game. At that point, we didn’t know anything about him though. Now at season’s end, I feel the same but I am really confused as to how his relationship with Dr. Ford will work going forward as I viewed the two to be nemeses. Now having learned that the Man in Black is William though, I feel as if there is no way Dr. Ford would allow William to become the majority shareholder in the company if they weren’t seeing eye to eye.

As far as Dr. Ford, I have always felt that he was the one to be worried about. I think it might be because it’s hard to see Anthony Hopkins as anything but Hannibal Lecter, but he has felt like a tragic villain since the first episode. He means well, but he’s an evil and maniacally ruthless SOB. He is growing old and knows that him time is running out to see his creation through.

The show seems to have set up that the hosts will rebel against the Westworld operators and succeed this time, but we can’t be sure as the show continues to throw us for loop after loop. For those of you that have seen the finale, I’m not positive that Dr. Ford is dead yet. We have seen his cunning in the past and for him to have a host version of himself killed in front of the Board of Directors would remove a lot of the Board’s power over the park while Dr. Ford could sneak around the world he created while the hosts take over the world outside.

Without diving into more theories on the show I want to end my review. I could discuss much more about what I think about the show and it’s characters but I’m just going to leave it here. Fan theories are great but I would rather read them than make them because I know I’m likely to be wrong and would rather experience the story as the creators release it sans expectations.

Final Review: 10/10, would highly recommend to anyone that is not a Puritan.