Westworld, Season 1 (2016)

(On Cable TV, October 2017) Early word on Westworld was not good. Hyped by HBO as their next big-budget SF&F show now that Game of Thrones is on its way out, the show suffered ominous-sounding production delays while scripts were re-tuned, which didn’t bode well in the wake of Vinyl’s failure. But while this first season definitely has its issues, the result occasionally reaches delirious peaks of peak TV goodness, playing with savvy audience expectations and delivering reality-altering perceptional shift. While the show begins and more or less ends where Michael Crichton’s original 1973 movie did, there’s a lot of complexity under the surface, and the attitudinal shifts in the show’s sympathies for artificial humans is notable. In-between Inception and Memento, show-runner Jonathan Nolan is known for mind-warping scripts and Westworld is occasionally no different: the first episode is a fantastically twisted introduction to a familiar concept, while the end-stretch of the series delivers solid revelations about the nature of some characters, narrative time-play and unexpectedly philosophical rambling. It’s hardly perfect: much of the stretch between episodes 2 and 6 could have been compressed in half the time, while the so-called deep thoughts of the conclusion feel both ponderous and nonsensical. But when Westworld works, it really works. Episodes 1, 7 and 10 alone are worth the long stretches in-between. Top-notch actors such as Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton deliver good performances, the script cleverly plays to an audience that demands more from their TV miniseries and the visual polish of the result can be astonishing. Even the most pretentious aspects of the script can be seen as a plus given how high it aims. The sympathy of the series for its synthetic characters is a notable representation of the maturing of media Science Fiction—especially when humans act this rotten, can we really blame the robots for turning on their masters? I’m not sure where season 2 can take us, but as far as HBO is concerned, it’s mission accomplished for Westworld—expectations run high for the follow-up.

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