Monday, December 19, 2016

WestWorld (2016) - Season 1

WestWorld is the must-see TV show of 2016! Although it is considered an adaptation from a movie by Dr. Michael Crichton (of Jurassic World fame), it is one of the most original scripts on TV! Of course one could argue it's not TV, it's HBO!

WestWorld takes place in the near future, where artificial intelligence and robotics have become so advanced that it is impossible to tell the difference between code and human brain, or between synthetic and organic tissue. WestWorld is a theme park set in the wild west era (late 19th century), and is filled with robots (or "hosts") that are indistinguishable from humans. The guests can pay $50,000/day to enter the park and take part in different quests - similar to role-playing video games that people play online.

WestWorld is an ensemble show that focuses on multiple story threads at the same time. These threads happen within the same geographical location (i.e., the WestWorld theme park), but during different time frames. Some of the interesting twists and reveals of the show are about deciphering the timelines and chronological order of events!

As an ensemble show, particularly within the first season, it might be hard to make a connection with individual characters. WestWorld, however, rose to the challenge and made us care about most players of the game. Credit goes to writers, as well as the actors.

Speaking of actors, the casting is magnificent! Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers a flawless and nuanced performance that could be studied for ages! Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, and Ed Harris also did great jobs with their respective characters. But as I mentioned earlier, perhaps the real stars are the writers. Not only they managed to tell an engaging story, they also put a lot of depth and symbolism in the narrative of the show.

I can think of three philosophical issues that WestWorld incorporated in its story - they didn't necessarily give definitive answers to these questions/issues, but I think it was a faithful representation. Okay, the first one is about the moral fibre of the society. It shows what people would do when there are no (legal) consequences to their actions! Guests can simply do whatever they want in the park with the robots. They can play the hero and save the damsel in distress, or they can become an outlaw and commit heinous acts (e.g., steal, rape, or murder). Although there is no impact on the real humans, the intentions are still the same - ethic scholars talk about morality of consequences vs. morality of intentions. WestWorld is an interesting case study of this debate (consequences vs. intentions), and shows what people would do when they are not limited by the consequences of their actions.

The second important issue that WestWorld covers is about awakening! As I mentioned earlier, the artificial intelligence has become so advanced that the robots are almost sentient. The robots (or hosts) in the show have started asking questions about their own existence and their creators. They began to refuse the bans and restrictions, and seek objective facts. This might be analogue to what humans went through during the renaissance era!

Finally, the third topic is about what it feels to be a (or "the") god in the world! The creators of the theme park have ultimate control over everything that goes on in WestWorld. They can control weather, events, settings, and even beliefs! Sir Anthony Hopkins, as Dr. Robert Ford, brilliantly shows what godhood feels like!

I praised the story a lot, but it is not without flaws! There was one particular storyline that simply didn't make sense! I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible: in this thread, one of the robots managed to manipulate the human technicians and turned herself into a god! Her arc was interesting and her character was sympathetic, but the progression of her status defied reason and logic! The show tried to imply that it was all part of the plan, but it was too coincidental! The other "miss" that the show had was perhaps about playing with different time frames. Most of the story arcs were happening within a span of months, expect for one that covered a few decades. That little disparity did not mesh well with the rest, in my opinion...

The creators of the show, Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J.J. Abrams, have developed a story that has the potential of going on for many seasons, and having multiple spin-offs (e.g., Shogun World)! I, however, hope they don't overstay their welcome and conclude the story before they have to jump the shark!

The first season was 9.5/10 for me. I cannot wait for the next season (probably in 2018?) to see how deep the rabbit hole goes!

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