HBO’s Westworld debuted this week, and the season premiere only left viewers itching for more. The premiere, titled “The Original”, set up the detailed universe of Westworld, including both the western-themed amusement park and the behind-the-scenes work it takes to keep it running. The episode revealed which characters were android “hosts” and which were guests slowly, with a few surprises along the way. Despite being an episode dedicated to worldbuilding, it was an incredible hour of television. Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Setting the Stage
Westworld’s opening credits sequence is pretty fantastic. It documents the way the androids (and their animal counterparts) are created. Desaturated and in slow-motion, the sequence is both beautiful and a little creepy. Music by series composer Ramin Djawadi gives it a special flair – he also does the music for Game of Thrones. Djawadi’s score is great throughout the first episode, as he recreates classic songs from the past century using more traditional instruments. Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” can be heard playing on the automaton piano, while a fully symphonic Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black” plays throughout the episode’s final gunfight. It’s a neat little tribute to the way the series mixes the old and the new.
The first segment features Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden) meeting in the town. Dolores is thrilled to see Teddy, who has just ridden in on the train. “You came back,” she says, wrapping him in a hug. Later, the two are attacked by The Gunslinger (Ed Harris) outside of Dolores’ home. Teddy tries to shoot The Gunslinger and can’t – he’s a guest and Teddy is apparently one of the android hosts. The Gunslinger taunts and kills Teddy, then takes Dolores into the barn to rape her. It’s a brutal scene that quickly sets up the injustices the hosts face. It also establishes The Gunslinger as one of the show’s antagonists, and Ed Harris kills it. He is a terrifying monster of a man on par with many of HBO’s other top villains.
The androids are taken in and repaired and the stories are reset for a new round of guests. Scientists Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) marvel as one of the hosts, a prostitute named Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) displays a new type of movement. Bernard explains that the creator of the park has installed these in the new update, and that they allow the host to access memories from past “lives”. It’s a touch of realism that makes them seem even more human.
The creator of the park, by the way, is an odd man who seems to do whatever he wants inside the complex. A security team is forced to go into the storage unit, where they find him interacting with one of the park’s oldest hosts. The decaying android serves him a drink and chats him up, though his movements are quite jerky. The way the actor moves is incredible, with smooth motions broken up by tiny jerks. The other actors playing hosts do this in smaller degrees – Dolores, for example, moves more robotically when she is confused.
The Anthony Hopkins Effect
Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of the park, is played by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is clearly enjoying himself in the role. Ford is a scientist who has put himself into the role of God. There are characters like him throughout fiction and history, but Hopkin’s megalomaniac creator has almost succeeded in being a deity. His behavior raises ethical and moral questions, as does the rest of the episode. His insistence that the hosts become more and more real is portentous of the problems that are sure to come.
One of the newly updated androids breaks down during an adventure in the mountains, and the scientists discover that all of the updated androids may have this glitch. Those in charge argue about whether to pull all of the 200 updated hosts or only those exhibiting problems. Another host goes haywire and begins murdering other hosts left and right and dousing them in milk. This pushes them to find a way to pull all 200 hosts to check on them and roll back the update. In order to do so, they change the story to speed up a massive shootout that will effectively kill off the affected droids in the park’s elaborate plot.
This goes mostly according to plan in the episode’s insanely violent climax. Westworld isn’t afraid to revel in the awful, and the final shootout is done with plenty of blood splatter. The androids are taken back into the slick, glass-walled rooms for adjustments. Dolores’ father (Louis Herthum, who is incredible here) found a photograph one of the guests left behind, and it’s damaged his mind. He has realized to some degree that his world isn’t what he thought it was, and that there is more out there. He becomes obsessed with warning and protecting Dolores, whom he showed the photo and warned earlier in the episode. He begins quoting Shakespeare to Dr. Ford, accessing memories from a previous “life” as a school professor in a horror narrative.
After getting a lobotomy, the dysfunctional android is retired to the storage level with the others. He threatens Dr. Ford before he goes, pledging a world of misery upon him. It’s chilling stuff, though Ford seems unfazed. Some of the team then assess Dolores, who appears to be operating just fine. One of the scientists expresses concern that Dolores might have residual effects from the incident. She finds assurance, however, when someone explains that Dolores is the oldest host in the park. She’s the closest thing Dr. Ford has created to a perfect host.
Dolores is put back into the world and goes about her usual routine, even interacting with a different android in the role of her father. When she goes to stare out at the land before her, however, she does not immediately bat at a fly on her neck. She pauses for a moment, then swats it. It’s a hint that she does remember what’s happened before, and she’s starting to piece things together. Wood does a fine job as both the sweet programmed version of Dolores and the “real” Dolores that exists after the stories are over. In fact, there isn’t any bad acting on Westworld so far – everyone devotes themselves to their roles fully, without concern for being too hammy with some of their repeated lines or robotic overtones.
After the credits rolled, HBO gave viewers a look at what’s to come in the next few weeks. Things are going to get even worse in Westworld, and some of the hosts are clearly going to rebel. I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.
- The opening confrontation between the handsome do-gooder Teddy and the villainous Gunslinger is harrowing. It’s also a great way to set the tone for the series, and it immediately sets up a clear villain and gives viewers a reason to root for Dolores and Teddy. The Gunslinger has a great line where he comments on the creators “pairing some of (the hosts) off”, and that it seems cruel. Odd, given his own cruelty.
- Thandie Newton’s character Maeve didn’t get too much screen time this episode, but every second of it was filled with sass.
- When Bernard leaves the room after assessing Clementine, Elsie kisses the dormant host on the lips. Is it a hint at something more to come between them, or just proof of how sensuous Clementine’s behavior is? Only time will tell.