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Westworld Season One Review: humanity wrapped in artificial skin

HBO's Westworld
HBO’s Westworld

HBO’s Westworld is the most ambitious series in modern television. It is a ballsy narrative that invites audiences to live in a fantastical, sci-fi and immersive world but uses this as a means to an end. What Westworld actually concludes itself to be is a deep and meandering analysis of human nature, morality and society.

Examining Humanity

Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have a stellar track record. Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan, has penned the likes of Memento, The Dark Knight and the criminally overlooked Person of Interest. Joy, his partner in crime and in life, worked on the latter of those productions and is a fantastic writer in her own right.

Together the two writers have fashioned what is essentially a sequel to Battlestar Galactica but one that doubles down on the morality. It is a show that uses non-humans to examine humans. It isn’t heavy handed in its messages or its themes but purposefully confusing and discombobulating. Westworld wants you to think about an episode for days to come and, more often than not, this is the case.

Lack of Consistency

However, there is a lack of consistency in this first season. It starts of strong and meaningful and incredibly aware and ends in the same vain, whilst promising great and intriguing things to come. But in the middle, much like its characters, it strayed too far from its path.

One could tell that the full weight of this vast and heavy world was becoming a burden on the production team and some strands just didn’t feel like they belonged. It needed tightening, snipping and a third eye and hopefully the show will learn from these mistakes.

Modern Audiences and Theories

Nevertheless, Westworld must retain and highlight mysteries. Modern television audiences are more active. Television isn’t just an immersive experience anymore … it is an actively participatory one. Audiences don’t just watch shows … they dissect them. Westworld, and its creators, know that and the first season is abound with mysteries, coy on theories and brimming with twisty revelations.

Acting Department

Westworld is also one of the best-performed shows this year. Anthony Hopkins, the show’s titan and the park’s creator Robert Ford, is the highlight and the scene-stealer. His ability to portray a veritable smorgasbord of emotion in mere seconds is unmatched and Westworld is elevated as a result.

Jeffrey Wright, Ford’s right hand man Bernard, is smooth and subtly brilliant in the show. Thandie Newton is the biggest surprise, and the one you’ll be rooting for till the end. Evan Rachel Wood is brilliant as the malfunctioning Dolores. Ed Harris is captivating as the mysterious man in black. Jimmi Simpson cements himself as one of the best supporting actors working today.

Westworld is embarrassing in the calibre of acting on screen. For instance, all these names and performances and James Marsden’s brutally tragic Teddy hasn’t even been mentioned yet. In the acting department, Westworld is 99% bug free. The 1%? Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore. Sizemore just didn’t belong in this show. He’s simply not convincing enough to sell his character.

How to recommend the show?

Overall, Westworld is an odd show to recommend.

Someone may ask, “What’s the show about?”

To which I would reply, “It’s about this wild west theme park housing robots that people visit and adventure in.”

But it is so much more.

It is lazy and incredibly obvious to make the parallel but Westworld is exactly like one of the hosts it showcases: It is humanity itself wrapped in artificial skin. It is more a commentary on video games, desensitisation, social mobility, family, suffering, legacy, hubris and breaking boundaries than it is about humans vs robots.

Score: ★★★★1/2


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