I’m not captivated by the artsy program, though I curiously want to be. I don’t care about any of the key players – real or synthetic – though I hold out hope that some of this detachment is by design. The story doesn’t seem particularly novel or groundbreaking – robots run amuck by human or even divine intervention has been done to death since the invention of these machines – and I found so much of this highly-praised first season to be much ado about nothing. By the end of these ten episodes, I felt instead of seeing “Skynet on steroids” that the HBO program de-evolved into “C3PO on barbiturates.”
Now, some of this may be owed to the fact that – on one level – there’s too much going on.
Without spoiling “the twist,” it’s safe to say that Westworld toys with the narrative in much the same way park co-creator Robert Ford (serious Thespian Anthony Hopkins) toys with his creations: ever the tinkerer, the diehard roboticist has allowed his God-like tendencies to go to his head. (HBO’s storytellers have done the same here.) When narrative trickery becomes the norm, audiences tend to grow cynical, knowing right off the bat not to take what they’re seeing literally since they’ve learned that what’s really happen is much more figurative OR chronologically re-ordered. Unlike the pay cable channel’s vastly superior Game of Thrones, Westworld doesn’t have all that many “change of settings” to help viewers establish definitively who is where and what’s being done; thus, the writers had to take a different tact with some unveiling some of these events, and – therefore – I thought some of it a bit muddled.
Every one of these characters is shackled with not only his or her own psychologically quandaries (“who am I?” and “why am I?”), but they’re also imbued with whatever figurative role they serve in separate or collective arcs. Apparently, it’s no longer sufficient for TV writers to bless their creations with “intellectual curiosity”; now they should browbeat them with existentialism ABOUT their own existentialism. At no point is the sheer spectacle of a world where humans fundamentally coexist with robots sufficient to sustain these ideas; rather, they’ll put the viewers through endless retreads of symbolism and substance ‘til the cows come home … though this West is curiously void of cows, now that I think about it.
Still, the essential problem I have with so much of the show’s first season is, sadly, it’s chocked to the brim with ideas and concepts we’ve seen done much better before and elsewhere.
AMC’s Humans (itself a re-incarnation of the Swedish original) has taken the whole idea of a world where humans and synthetics co-exist and given it a much more personal and relatable presentation; HBO’s androids are a bit ‘stiff’ by comparison, though some of the roughness is probably owed to the fact that the hosts are caught in an endless loop to serve the ‘narrative.’ Ex Machina (2015) won accolades for its theatrical story of robotic duplicitousness, and one might even suggest that the Westworld writers’ room simply enjoyed a movie night (or two) and decided afterward they’d try to do it better. And why aren’t the makers of Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica all up in arms over HBO’s fledgling robot drama? In some regards, the themes seem picked right off the surface of Caprica and deposited in the Old West? As a storyteller myself, I realize inspiration has to start somewhere, but Westworld seems ‘joined at the hip’ to far too many previous explorations of artificial intelligence than it should be for originality’s sake.
To its credit, Westworld ended these ten episodes probably where most viewers expected, with the big promise of a robot rebellion that took its time simmering to the cybernetic surface. Deaths were delivered, and rebirths (none all that surprising) were hatched. (Robots never really die, do they?) That event alone – if The Terminator franchise is any indication – might bring most folks back in 2017 … but it’s hard to tell at this point. I suspect I’ll be there to see what develops, but – in the meantime – I’m more hopeful for AMC’s upcoming season (two) for Humans than I am for a second visit to this Jurassic Lark.