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Westworld Season 1 Review – Only the very Bestworld

Westworld is Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s re-imagining of of the 70s film of the same name, but fortunately no one will have difficulty distinguishing which version anyone’s talking about – the 2016 TV show is an immense success, both in terms of quality and popularity, and it’s likely to be present within the cultural zeitgeist for quite some time.

The show depicts the trials and tribulations of humans and synthetic androids (called ‘hosts’) within a colossal Wild-West-themed amusement park named Westworld, all set within a near-future post-scarcity society where capitalist captains of industry are the figures of power. The affluent come to the park to indulge their fantasies, which often involve horrendous afflictions upon the hosts. All the while, individual hosts seek to escape the oppressive programming and attain free-will.

It’s the Right Time to InvestWorld

In a year where HBO has been taking, and losing, some gambles, Westworld has proved the breakaway hit. The hope is that the show’s popularity will ensure it makes returns to recoup any losses incurred with flop Vinyl, which might prove difficult. HBO pumped money in to Westworld, bringing onboard expensive Hollywood actors such as Anthony Hopkins, as well as a lot of popular TV talent, such as James Marsden.

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Regardless, the investment has, at least in terms of quality of drama, already paid off hugely. In particular, Hopkins brings an exquisite performance as Ford. Hopkins is well-practiced at playing subtly sinister characters, but this has to be his best performance yet (making his follow up with a Michael Bay Transformer film all the more painful),  and the rest of the cast is finely put together as well, performing fantastically. The unique talents of popular TV actors Jimmi Simpson and James Marsden are particularly well-used, and further accolades should go to Simon Quarterman, who has managed to go from The Scorpion King 2 to possibly the most true-to-reality performance in the entire show as Westworld’s crude and base chief narrative writer

Many Ideas are ExpressedWorld

Nolan and Joy have clearly done their research for Westworld – not only is the show dense with theories and philosophies of old, but they have also thoroughly read up on the predicted futures of society, technology and artificial intelligence. Thankfully the show almost always manages to avoid obvious and cumbersome exposition, despite the meaty themes it’s biting into. The show should also be commended for its recognition of gaming within society’s fabric. Video games and their wider evolution into consumer-driven entertainment are often disregarded in sci-fi, but Westworld doesn’t just acknowledge their growing place in society, but also explores what they might evolve into.

It’s Easy to DigestWorld

Westworld is one of those rare gems, like The Matrix, that can be taken at whatever level of intellect you like. The show balances discourse on the existence of consciousness, with slick shootouts between Cowboys and Indians. The action, forgivably, doesn’t have the explosions or fast-paced editing of a Hollywood action film, but adversity at every turn of a twisting plot that doesn’t let its foot off the accelerator means there’re plenty of thrills for those who don’t want to start philosophizing about their TV.

Meanwhile, all the deep themes the show incorporates – the existence and pursuit of consciousness, the purpose of human endeavor in a post-scarcity society, theory on what makes a game of genuine worth – are all dealt with maturely, and, rather than insisting it has the singular answers, the show expresses differing interpretations that can just as easily lead the audience to further questions. This approach is something the show had to do if it wanted to pull of its more intellectual elements. ‘Consciousness’ is one of the cornerstones of the show, and this thing we call consciousness is notoriously difficult to prove or disprove. Any insistence either way would have seen the show getting over-bearing as it began making claims about consciousness which it couldn’t substantiate, rather than stimulating its audience.

Add to this inclusivity Westworld’s great writing, plot, visual design, and original sci fi, and it’s no wonder that Westworld has found success. Just about the only thing Westworld isn’t getting full marks on is the cinematography, which is merely ‘very good’.

Not a Show for Sex-and-Gore-ObsessedWorld

Westworld is also an object of rarity due to its approach to violence and nudity. HBO has diluted their shows with varying degrees of voyeurism throughout the years (something even True Detective couldn’t escape), but Nolan must have coded a backdoor in to the execs, because the camera is so discompassionate about violence and sex that it’s basically Game of Thrones antimatter. As Jonathan Nolan moved out from under the shadow of his brother, while his creative skill was already proven, the worry was that he lacked Christopher’s skill at handling execs while not compromising his artistic vision. However, clearly Jonathan knows what he’s doing. Thank God! Voyeurism would have completely betrayed the show’s portrayal of the humans seeing the hosts as just things to be used for entertainment.

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The Camera is PossessedWorld

It seems every TV show has to have an unreliable narrator these days, with the camera ceasing to be just a camera, and instead showing what the character would perceive. Mr Robot recently re-wrote the textbook Fight Club originally published on imaginary characters, and now even shows like Preacher are flirting with the idea. This is something to be celebrated. The camera increasingly showing the subjective perceptions of an imaginary character over what would be the objective reality means producers and directors are growing more aware of the characters within their creations, which means TV itself is growing more self-aware – just like the hosts in Westworld. More conscious TV means the habits of old being increasingly questioned, meaning better, more creative and diverse TV. On top of this, Westworld doesn’t just rehash current trends. The perception of time and memory are dealt with in an original way that explores ideas Nolan and Joy are working from (not to give too much away).

A New Take on the Protagonist’s QuestWorld

Something else to love about Westworld is its radical take on ‘character development’. Rather than grappling with a character’s journey in terms of relatively vague emotion, instead we follow artificially intelligent hosts whose ‘character’ is a matter of coding; observable lines of script dictate their ambitions, memories, personality and so on, and their development is their progressive usurpation of that code as they become increasingly conscious. Compared to the human characters like William (portrayed wonderfully by Jimmi Simpson), whose character arc is more a gradual exposure of his pre-existing true self, in a lot of ways a character redefining their fundamental nature seems truer to the phrase ‘character development’ than what we’ve seen before. If that seems cryptic but intriguing, you’ll need to watch the show.

I Need to give these Puns a RestWorld

Westworld is a large and majestic beast, too big to wrestle into a single article. What should be clear by now, however, is that the show is of the utmost quality, accessible to everyone, and brimming with originality. It is recommended to anyone.

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