HBO’s Westworld could be new masterpiece

This review contains spoilers for the pilot episode of HBO’s Westworld.

I’ll admit it. When HBO first announced their newest drama series, Westworld, I was skeptical. A western drama with a sci-fi twist? Meh. Not really my cup o’ tea. So when the popular cable network released the series’ pilot episode last Sunday, I went in with limited expectations. There’s no way this show could be even remotely as good as Game of Thrones, right? Well, if the pilot episode is any indication, I was dead-wrong and HBO may just have another masterpiece on their hands.

Created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (the younger brother of film director Christopher Nolan, the famed creator of Interstellar and The Dark Knight trilogy), Westworld is a re-imagining of a Michael Crichton film by the same name from the early 1970s. The show begins by introducing us to Dolores Abernathy, a young woman living with her father and mother on their cattle ranch, and Teddy, a man who serves as a sort of guide for visitors new to the area (called “newcomers”) and as a potential love interest for Dolores. Teddy and Dolores spend their days in the community, helping and interacting with the various newcomers who come to visit. Little do they know, their world holds a dark and terrible secret and nothing is what it seems.

You see, Dolores and Teddy aren’t real. In fact, none of the inhabitants of this community are real people, save for the newcomers who frequently come to visit. Instead, the inhabitants (or “hosts”) are actually artificial constructs; synthetic people who were created to make the theme park they inhabit (called, you guessed it, Westworld) seem more lifelike to the guests (the “newcomers”) who pay exorbitant amounts of money to visit and live out whatever fantasies come to mind. Among the guests is a mysterious unnamed man in black played masterfully by Ed Harris. While the man in black appears at first to be the archetypical western villain with a penchant for cruelty, we soon learn that he’s after a secret far more ominous and complex than the usual banditry and villainy.

While it may not seem like it at first glance, Westworld is actually a surprisingly deep and complex show. The show, or at least this episode, regularly questions the nature of reality and multiple characters begin to question their existence by the episode’s end. In fact, philosophically, Westworld almost feels like The Matrix on steroids, albeit as a television drama rather than a cyberpunk action flick. The writing is impeccable and utilizes a number of literary and biblical reference to great effect (seriously, the “By most mechanical and dirty hand” quote referencing Shakespeare’s Henry IV and King Lear may be my favorite part of the whole episode). Altogether, the masterful writing and complicated themes blend together to create an experience that sucks the viewer in from the opening sequence all the way to the very last shot.

Speaking of shots, Westworld is visually one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. The desert landscape shots really help to build up the world these characters inhabit (real or not) and create some incredibly striking vistas. In the park’s headquarters (where its creators constantly manage and repair the inhabitants), we get a glimpse as to how Westworld’s hosts are made. I won’t spoil how it all works, but there are some eerily beautiful visuals here that really help to convey that ominous feeling that undertones the whole episode.

The cast of characters in this show (at least the ones we’ve seen so far) are superb, as well. Evan Rachel Wood (American Gothic, True Blood) stars as Dolores with James Marsden (the X-Men franchise), Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind, Gravity) and Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) as Teddy Flood, the Man in Black, and Dr. Robert Ford, respectively. Sometimes a TV show will cast a well-known actor as a character that just doesn’t feel quite right, but not so with Westworld. Each member of this ensemble cast perfectly captures the personality and complexities of their character, and not once did any of their performances feel out of place.

All in all, the pilot episode of Westworld (titled “The Original”) does a spectacular job setting up the series and the philosophical themes behind it. The combination of great writing, acting, and cinematography work to create an enrapturing experience rivaled by very few other television shows out there. It’s a hell of a great way to start a series and I, for one, am extremely excited to see what Westworld has to offer next.

Reporter Rating: 5/5

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