REVIEW: Westworld

Jack Cogen, Staff Writer

The question of what it means to be human has been asked in pop culture so many times that it has started to border on cliché. However, there is a reason that the themes of artificial intelligence and dehumanization are so prevalent: they create excellent stories.

The most recent and prominent example of this theme is the new HBO show Westworld, based on the 1973 science-fiction film of the same name. Set in a Wild West themed amusement park populated by androids called “hosts” who are nearly indistinguishable from human beings, the show explores the perspectives of the guests at the park, its human employees and the hosts themselves. The park’s Old West theme is more than an aesthetic: inside, there is no limit to the pain guests can inflict upon the park’s android inhabitants– a state of lawlessness juxtaposed with the rigid structure of the orderly, sterilized future we see behind the scenes. The bulk of the show takes place inside a hidden facility on top of a mountain at the center of the park, where the hosts’ memories are reset and bodies repaired while the staff work on new storylines and increasingly complicated artificial personalities as well as fixing an ever-increasing number of bugs in the hosts’ behavior.

Westworld is an extraordinarily fascinating series, the latest example of a TV show higher in production value than many movies. Anthony Hopkins (best known for his work as the psychopathic Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs) delivers an excellent performance as Robert Ford, the park’s enigmatic founder while Ed Harris portrays the sadistic and endlessly curious guest known as the Man in Black with a level of nuance that would be lost to most other actors. Standout performances from lesser-known actors include Thandie Newton as Maeve, a host determined to escape the prison of the park; Jeffrey Wright as Bernard, the park’s head of behavior who struggles with the memory of his deceased son as well as the intricacies of artificial intelligences; and Evan Rachel Wood as Delores, a host who relentlessly believes that the world is fundamentally good despite her constant suffering. The show’s soundtrack mixes a haunting, violin heavy orchestral score with player-piano renditions of more modern songs like “Black Hole Sun”, showcasing Westworld’s unique unification of past and future. The overarching plot is complex, well-paced, and packed with twists, though often hard to follow. Some characters’ actions make more sense than others, though their motivations become clearer as time goes on. Overall, Westworld is one of the best binge-watching opportunities 2016 has to offer, and is highly recommended provided you have an HBO subscription.