Westworld, HBO’s newest series, was created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Christopher Nolan’s brother and sister-in-law, respectively). The show, which is based on the 1973 Michael Chricton movie of the same name, premiered on Sunday night — with promises of becoming the network’s next Game of Thrones.
In the first episode, Dr. Robert Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins, delivered this line: “This is as good as we’re going to get.” Ford is talking about several things in this moment — but to the audience, it’s clear that the state of humanity is what’s truly troubling him.
Westworld’s plot concerns the fictional park of West World — a theme park created in the future based on “the Old West,” replete with saloons, cowboys, outlaws, murders and show downs. Though the pilot doesn’t discuss delve into the entire mythos of the series, the film Westworld also features two other “worlds,” Roman World and Medieval World. The presence of all three worlds gives a sense of the different options and desires for humans in the future.
The show itself is rife with with complex sociological and psychological musings — how would we, humanity, treat life-like “hosts” (robots) whose sole purpose is to enact our own fantasies? Would we view them with respect or disdain or something in between?
“We wanted to go flat out, full scope, sleeves-rolled-up plunge into the next chapter of the human story, in which we stop being the protagonists,” co-creator Jonathan Nolan said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
The pilot, while fascinating, felt tedious at times because of the dialogue’s complexity without much elucidation. But that isn’t to dismiss it. What Westworld offers far exceeds what it doesn’t.
Shortly after its premiere, television bloggers and critics were quick to jump on the bandwagon criticizing the pilot’s “gratuitous” violence, especially violence toward women. Evan Rachel Wood, who plays protagonist Dolores Abernathy, spoke out soon thereafter, promising that the violence was leading to something bigger.
“I don’t like gratuitous violence against women at all, but I would wait for the context in which it’s being used,” Wood said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Meanwhile, co-creator Lisa Joy explained that series examines the extremes of human nature, from love to violence.
Though the violence left many watching disturbed, I wondered why so many were quick to judge the pilot — considering that HBO’s extremely successful Game of Thrones is rife with continual beheadings, murders and other acts of violence.
Of course, being the author of this column means I am no stranger to snap-judgments and quick assertions all in the name of getting “the story.” However, I felt frustrated that the internet did not give the pilot the benefit of the doubt, especially when we only have one hour of a ten part series to base our judgments.
What Westworld’s pilot did provide, however, was a look into what seems to be a diverse cast. Not only is our main protagonist a woman, but women also occupy many important roles — or roles that will later rise to prominence later in the series. Wood’s character, though seemingly naive and idealistic, is actually the oldest host in the park — proving her importance to both the plot and the characters within the show.
There’s also the manager of Westworld, played by Sisdse Babett Knudsen, who rules with an iron fist and isn’t afraid of standing up to her male colleagues. Of course, positive gender politics blur when examining the park itself, wherein classical western stereotypes are substantiates through the exploitative use of hookers and prostitutes. However, the showrunner’s goals are meant to challenge such stereotypes and examine them.
Westworld is by no means a perfect show, but so far its diverse representation more than makes up for its somewhat confusing narrative and seemingly gratuitous violence. Unlike what the character Dr. Robert Ford said in the pilot, the show seems to promise that more good entertainment is just around the corner, instead of already being in our rearview mirror.
Minnie Schedeen is a a senior majoring in cinema and media studies. Her column, “Film Fatale,” runs on Wednesdays.