Westworld is a theme park – the newcomers are the players, the high-paying guests who get to live out their cowboy frontier town fantasy. Sex and violence is the top two reasons people seem to play, and sexy violence is probably competing for third place. The innocent townspeople who populate the game are extremely advanced androids (incredibly beautiful and faces full of character), who live in a Groundhog day-dream state, to please the guests and keep them entertained.
Through wholesome Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her cowboy lover Teddy (James Marsden) we briefly glimpse a clichéd romance fantasy before life quickly turns sour. It’s horrific to watch, and worse still she wakes in blissful ignorance the next day to be preyed upon all over again. Despite how real these androids seem these are just toys programmed for paying customers pleasure. We know this and yet our sympathies lie squarely with the machines from the opening moments.
The producers have chosen some seriously beautiful locations in Utah and California for the game landscape, and the cutting edge tech facility is shiny and gorgeous too. This makes the blood and guts even more revolting and shocking, especially as this isn’t ‘real’ violence, or nasty medical procedures, this is just a software update. The 3D printing of people looks like an entirely possible dystopian future. Anthony Hopkins as the games founder Ford, sits watching the creepy process as he talks about all evolution being a series of mistakes. Hannibal Lecter has an army of robots. Shudder.
It quickly becomes clear that the latest update has failed. The hosts are fritzing out and not sticking to the script. The faulty bots must be recalled, with extreme prejudice. The programmers are afraid of a critical failure at a potentially dangerous theme park. They fret about issues with livestock management (not, not the horses – the androids are the livestock). Sounds familiar? The original story was written by Michael Crichton a few years before he found fame with Jurassic Park. No dinosaurs in Westworld yet, but who knows what the next expansion pack might look like.
I was happy to spot the magnificent Sidse Babett Knudsen who we known from Scandi political drama Borgen doing a bang up job as Theresa Cullen, the bitchy ops manager determined to keep Westworld open for business. Looks like Borgen’s Prime Minister has found a murkier business than politics.
Black hat Ed Harris is a player who has been coming to Westworld for its entire 30 years. He seems to be cast as a monster torturing the hosts in cruel and imaginative ways, convinced he will find a deeper meaning in the game. Is he a bad guy? Is he any worse than Ford? He tortures his creations on a daily basis. Why give your dolls real emotions just to make their lives an agonising misery? These toys are real to the point of blood gushing out of them and at Ford’s command they will power down and zip themselves up in their own body bags. Disturbing doesn’t even come close to describing it.
Well, it seems a change is coming. We’re told that lovely Dolores can’t hurt a fly so of course she does just that at the end of the first episode. With that one gesture we are hooked. The machines are glitching and becoming self-aware. How much longer will they take their daily abuse for company profits? Dolores can kill a fly – what else can she do?
Bonus points for viewers who spotted the rendition of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun on the pianola and the violent shoot-out crescendo was underscored by beautiful arrangement of the Stone’s Paint it Black. Not only does this series look good, but it sounds good too. More please.
In the UK Westworld is available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV. Next episode is due on 11 October.