TV Review: Westworld, Season One

Season Two will be out soon, so we’re taking a look back at “The Maze,” the puzzling first season of Westworld.

Cast and Crew

Directors: Jonathan Nolan, Richard Lewis, Neil Marshall, Vincenzo Natali, Frederick E. O. Toye, Michelle MacLaren, et al.
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, Charles Yu, Hailey Gross, Katherine Lingenfelter, et al.
Based on the screenplay by Michael Crichton

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy
Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay
Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe /
Ed Harris as Man in Black /
Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford
Jimmi Simpson as William
Ben Barnes as Logan
Talulah Riley as Angela
James Marsden as Teddy Flood
Louis Herthum as Peter Abernathy I
Luke Hemsworth as Ashley Stubbs
Angela Sarafyan as Clementine
Shannon Woodward as Elsie Hughes
Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa Cullen
Jasmyn Rae as Maeve’s Daughter
Daniel Two Feathers as Ghost Nation Warrior
Geronimo Vela as Ghost Nation Warrior
Ptolemy Slocum as Sylvester
Leonardo Nam as Lutz
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Armistice
Tessa Thompson as Charlotte Hale
Bradley Fisher as Mariposa Bartender
Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton
Clifton Collins Jr. as Lawrence
Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore
Izabella Alvarez as Lawrence’s Daughter
Steven Ogg as Rebus
Sorin Brouwers as Wyatt
Patrick Cage II as Phil
Demetrius Grosse as Deputy Foss
Jeff Daniel Phillips as Tenderloin
Damon O’Daniel as Behavior Tech
Hiroyuki Sanada as Musashi

Premise

In the near future, thrill-seekers enter a park that recreates a fantasy version of nineteenth-century America, where they can have adventures unrestricted by morals or qualms, since artificial robots inhabit the park.

However, Westworld has deeper, darker levels, and some of the hosts may be awakening to sentience.

High Points

The film features many plot highlights, but few so remarkable as the double-twist revealed in the final episodes. They clearly telegraphed both the identity of a certain character and the nature of that character’s quest, but I failed to suspect until quite late in the game.
(I freely admit this fact. Of course, many people speculated on one of those reveals very early on in the broadcast history. I avoided reading any online coverage, however).

Westworld could have signed off for good with its finale. Obviously, I will be interested in seeing where they go next, but less than the showmakers might prefer.

Low Point

The show initially positioned itself as the next Game of Thrones. While this series, like GoT, features exceptional actors performing a small army of characters, it lacks many memorable characters. Beyond the leads, you may find yourself not caring much about anyone, or even remembering their names.

Ed Harris’s Man in Black makes for a curious example. The character takes time revealing any depth. The acting is compelling, but I couldn’t see the character as much more than a driven sociopath/walking mystery for most of the season.

I really enjoyed the finale, but I found Maeve’s final decision puzzling. It undercuts her character’s journey, and seems to have been made only to set up Season Two. Of course, it might reinforce the idea that we really don’t have free will. I also acknowledge the show already has more than a few apparent missteps that eventually pay off.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The show takes its inspiration from the cult 1973 cult film (set in 1983!) and it raises questions both ancient and contemporary, with echoes of Frankenstein and every artificial intelligence story since. Nevertheless, it answers some of those questions in original and provocative ways, and it transcends its source material.

Effects: 6/6

Acting: 6/6 The show boasts a strong cast, led by Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores and Thandie Newton as Maeve. Wood has carved out a place for herself that might surprise those who missed the steps between her lost girl in Thirteen and now.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Story: 5/6 The story makes heavy demands on the viewer’s attention, and it falters in places, but the connection among the disparate components eventually becomes disturbingly clear.

Production: 6/6 I sometimes wish anything I watched as a kid had even a fraction of the budget and effects available to prestige shows in the present era.

Overall: 5/6 The series raises several intelligent questions. It lacks the overall narrative power of Game of Thrones.

In total, the first season of Westworld receives 36/42

11 replies on “TV Review: Westworld, Season One”

  1. I loved Westworld and even went back to watch the original (Mostly because I saw Majel Barrett was in it.)

    I am looking forward to season 2.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      The original is on the watch list, though (from what I can recall) it pales beside the series.

      • It does. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s not our modern story-telling movies, either.

        • JD DeLuzio says:

          I’ll rewatch this weekend, if time permits, and do a review of it next week. I’m curious to see how it holds up.

          No– I am not expecting the tv series. But it might hold up better than that other relic of the 1970s that inspired a better series in this century Battlestar Galactica.

  2. zocalo says:

    “Westworld could have signed off for good with its finale. Obviously, I will be interested in seeing where they go next, but less than the showmakers might prefer.”

    While I suspect they will diverge even further from the source material, it’s worth keeping in mind that they’re only about half way through the plot of the original movie. Actually, I kind of hope they *will* diverge from that, because when you get down right to it, there’s not really a great deal of plot or exploration of AI in the second half of the movie – it’s really just one long protracted chase scene leading up to the final showdown.

    I also really liked the way they did all the fore-shadowing and flashbacks/parallel timeline in the first series. I’ve binge watched the Blu-Rays twice and still don’t think I’ve caught all the subtle hints they provide as to what is going on and who is who. While I think a lot of people had at least an inkling something was up, the double-twist at the end that finally made it all clear and tied up most of the loose ends (saving those needed for season 2, I presume) was really nicely done. If they can even get reasonably close to the same level of production values with season 2 then I’m sure I’ll be more than happy.

  3. lost says:

    “… I found Maeve’s final decision puzzling….”

    I don’t think that her actions are particularly out of character. They seem that way on the surface in that it’s a dramatic reversal of what her goals seem to have been. However, there are a couple of details leading to that point that suggest possible explanations. (And those are, indeed, related to the free will theme.) I fully expect that choice to be explored in much more detail during the second season, and, if the producers have planned things out as well as I think they have, there will be a solid payoff in the end.

    • zocalo says:

      Similar view here. She was recalling her earlier life with a daughter all the way through the season, so seeing the mother and daughter at the critical moment presumably triggered the decision. However, there are also some subtle clues on the various monitors showing her “decision trees” that her entire series of actions might actually have been pre-programmed by Ford as a means to an end, in which case her decision was presumably to ensure she remained within the confines of the park. Either way, it’s clearly a setup for a Season 2 plot arc and I’m curious to see exactly where they go with it.

  4. Brian says:

    The wife and I found it utterly fascinating. She didn’t know it was Jonathon Nolan behind the script and was confused for half the season, then I mentioned it.

    Totally an “ah-ha!” moment and she started picking it apart more carefully.

    Looking forward to season 2.

    • Brian says:

      Also, can we just take a moment and marvel at how much fun the score was? Remixing Classic Rock songs as old-timey piano tunes was just awesome. Ramin Djawadi does not get enough attention for his work.

      • JD DeLuzio says:

        Thank you. Yes. That was one of the first things I noted about the first episodes, and then I forgot to mention it. The score was pretty much perfect. I especially liked this rendition:

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