I can imagine the meeting at the HBO offices. Okay guys and gals, Thrones is coming to an end, and we need something already in place by the time it ends, but how the hell do you follow up Game of Thrones? One of the most massive, expensive, and most highly regarded TV shows ever made? Then one dude sits forward, baked out of his mind and says “Westworld was on TV last night and I watched it. It was a movie about an amusement park set in the “fake” old west filled with androids who become self aware and dangerous and it was cool as fuck. I bet his name was Chad, and they all just laughed at him. Oh Chad, they chortled. How do you even still work here? Meanwhile, Brent (and we ALL hate that fucking dude) goes into his office, hits up Michael Crichton *who wrote original and writes every “scientist’s recreate something long gone , build an amusement park around it, and it goes poorly” stories ever, and Brent quietly gets the rights. Next thing you know, the show is already kicking ass on HBO, the buzz is deafening, and Brent has a raise and Chuck is still sitting in his cubicle, weeping, loading shells into the shotgun he will use in an hour to go postal. Such is life. But whatevs, Westworld is pretty dope, so how we got it means little to me.
The Name Says It All
Remember that moment when you were playing Red Dead Redemption and you thought to yourself: Man, I wish I could do this in real life only without any actual consequences? That is Westworld. A park built up and filled with 3D printed people and horses who are all programmed the run certain A.I paths and stories (like NPCs in video game). It is also about the people who pay a great deal of money to go and live out their actual old west fantasies there. You want to go to Westworld and just bang old school whores? That is fine, Westworld welcomes you. Do you wanna go there and pick the black hat (decision at beginning which speaks for itself if you know anything about cowboys) and just shoot people in the face and be a wanted man? That can happen, too? What if your dream is simple and you just want to go there and uphold order and maybe meet some colorful souls you would otherwise have no chance to interact with? Yup, they go you there, too.
All those things are acceptable at Westworld. But much like Jurassic Park, we all know when you recreate something from the past purely for monetary gain in the future, it never ends well for anyone, does it?
This is where Westworld gets interesting. Based on the movie of the same name but taking that premise and stretching it way further, what happens when the NPCs you program around the park start retaining memories? In some cases, awful things happen to them day after day, so it is essential there is a memory wipe at the end of each day. The problem is they have also been working on pushing the AI making it more and more realistic, which poses more threats.
At what point does the machine or code figure out it’s pointless existence and choose to step up and do something to change that? It is what we worry about right now in society, it is called technological singularity and it basically means, when the machines become so advanced they realize they no longer need us. What is our place then?
Well, in Westworld, that is where the fun starts.
Playing God (and Playing Good)
One of the more interesting concepts in Westworld is the character of Dr. Robert Ford (played tremendously by Anthony Hopkins) and his leanings between being a creator and being a God. We have not seen the dynamic played with too much so far (we are still only a few episodes in) but we have seen that some of the NPCs as I will call them are very much aware of who Ford is and in one chilling scene one of the NPCs looks at him with a crooked smile and says he wants to meet his maker. While we do not know the full extent of what Dr. Ford has done, playing God never goes over well with the playthings. In this case, the playthings seem to getting ugly, much like the raptors of JP.
The “playing good or bad” is another interesting aspect of the show. You see, much like open world video games, in Westworld as a player, you can do whatever you want. You want to show up and shoot the whole place up, so be it. That is your game. You want to show up and save the “woman in distress” tied to the train tracks, you can do that, too, but nothing is without its consequence as these things slowly become more and more sentient with each passing moment or memory.
Something a player may see as harmless or without consequence may not be seen the same way by the NPCs. They begin to retain and re-access memories, which is where things begin to go off the rails. Just how far off we do not know yet.
So Much Mystery in Westworld
What makes Westworld work so well this early on is, it is heaping on the questions that make the show an enigma for now, but sets them up in such a way where you KNOW this story is going somewhere and you KNOW all the questions you have will one day be answered. Where do they get these artificial beings? How are they retaining memories on their own? Why do some park workers seem to have different agendas then some others?
How much does it cost to go, how do you get there, how long has it existed? The list of inquiries goes on and on. Like I said, they gave us a cavalcade of questions you can be assured HBO will give us answers to in due time.
On top of that, one awesome but VERY mysterious element to watch for in Westworld is….
The Man in Black
Every cowboy story has one. The man in Black. The man who kills without abandon and has no regret. The man you recognize by the trail of the dead he leaves behind him. Westworld has one of these, too, but we know very little so far.
If you are one of the few who have seen the original Westworld movie you know a little more about The Man in Black than people coming at the show blind, but don’t forget. This is HBO. They could change it all up (like Thrones) just to ensure no one really can telegraph where it is going. But we meet The Man in Black early in this show (right away, actually) and it is quite clear to see he is this world’s devil. Thing is, we do not know why, we don’t know how he is allowed to do some of the stuff he does (we hear park workers talking about how he gets special access and such, but it is only hinted at and we don’t know why) and he is played with great flat-yet-chilling effect by Ed Harris, sneering his way into our nightmares, slowly but surely. where this character goes and what his motives are have us all chomping at the bit to find out.
By the way, chomping at the bit is an expression that actually came to be in the old west, and it means when a horse is chomping on its bit before a race, eager to get to full gallop. Boom, you just learned something.
So Where Will Westworld Take Us Next?
Anywhere it chooses or wants to. That is the true beauty of a new series that hits the ball out of the park right away. Westworld could take us anywhere. They could tell an elongated version of the story from the original movie. They could be setting up ten years of this world, evolving styles every couple of years. They could have rewritten the old movie to fit modern times and themes (which is what it feels like) and make this beast into anything they want. That’s what’s so fun about jumping on board this early.
You know you are in store for one hell of an adventure, and you can’t even pretend you know where that will take you. What is more exciting than that?
Plus it feeds our needs until Red Dead 2 gets officially announced….