After repeated delays, HBO’s Westworld has finally arrived. Based on the Michael Crichton’s 1973 science-fiction film of the same name, the Westworld series has some serious pedigree behind it, with Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy Nolan serving as showrunners and J.J. Abrams serving as executive producer. HBO has been looking for its next Game of Thrones for awhile and while it’s still much too early to tell whether Westworld can be that series, it’s certainly started off on the right foot. The series premiere is an immaculate piece of television that delivers a fantastical world full of intrigue and danger. While entertaining, Westworld also introduces a number of complex concepts, and it can all be a bit much to wrap your head around. The premiere left me with a number of questions heading into the rest of the season, so let’s dig a little deeper into this show and see if we can figure out just what the heck is going on.
Also, please note that I’m coming at this from a position of relative ignorance, as I have not seen Crichton’s original film and have limited my viewing of pre-release trailers so as to not spoil the experience. So if some of these questions have very obvious answers, forgive me.
10. Who Are The Villains?
Clearly, Westworld is a show that has far greater ambitions than simply drawing a line in the sand and having clear-cut heroes and villains, but at the same time, the first episode throws a bunch of characters at us and it’s difficult to know who we should root for and who we should root against. Based on the limited time spent with these characters so far, you could make the case that Ed Harris’ mysterious gunslinger (more on him in a bit) is the main villain, since he acts the most sadistically, but even that’s a complicated assertion to make at this stage. We don’t see him commit any violent acts against any of the human guests and it’s clear there there is some higher purpose to his actions, as if he’s trying to figure something important out.
Besides Harris, Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Robert Ford could emerge as a major antagonist, as Hopkins kind of has a proven track record of being a good bad guy but again, we don’t really know enough about his character yet to make that call. Perhaps Westworld is the type of show that will continue to plow ahead with a cast of morally ambiguous characters who could all reasonably be considered villainous and/or heroic. We’ll just have to wait until we see more.
9. …And Who Are The Protagonists?
Building off the previous point, Westworld also doesn’t give us any obvious protagonists, with the possible exception of Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores Abernathy. As a robot slowly realizing that her entire existence is a lie, Dolores arguably has the clearest character arc right now, but does that make her the “hero” of Westworld? Right now, the show seems to be trying to get us to sympathize with her the most, so I would probably classify her as a protagonist, but what of the rest of the sprawling cast? James Marsden’s Teddy Flood is certainly depicted as a “good guy” but that’s because he’s been programmed that way, so it’s difficult to say whether he’s a character worth backing right now.
On the human side of things, Jeffrey Wright’s programmer Bernard Lowe seems to be on the up and up, but it also wouldn’t be that much of a stretch if it turns out he has more sinister motives. Part of the appeal of Westworld at this early stage is that almost all of its characters are interesting and have the potential to swing any way on the moral spectrum, but it also wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the show gives us some definitive heroes and villains over the course of the season, if only to avoid a situation where everyone is an unpredictable antihero.
8. What’s The Deal With Ed Harris’ Sadistic Gunslinger?
While every Westworld character is a bit of an enigma at this early stage, Ed Harris’ “The Man in Black” is the most intriguing (and mysterious) of the bunch. Harris is ostensibly playing a 30-year Westworld veteran who has been going to the theme park for so long that he’s moved well past the desires for playing cowboy that most of the other guests have and has begun trying to throw the place into chaos by poking holes in the park’s many routines. According to Harris, his character “thinks there’s some deeper level to what’s happening in this park … he thinks the more chaos he causes, the more destruction he can create with these AI folks.”
So does the Man in Black have an idea of what that deeper meaning may be? And why would Westworld’s overseers continue to let him operate within the park if they know he’s trying to unravel everything (if they are even aware of what he’s doing, that is)? Whatever the case, the Man in Black made a strong first impression and is definitely the character I’m most intrigued by right now.
7. Why Does Sub Level B38 Look Like A Shopping Mall?
At one point in the premiere, Bernard accompanies a security team down to sub level B38, where they find Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Robert Ford chatting it up with an outdated Host model. This is one of the few looks we get at the facility where Westworld is housed and what’s peculiar about sub level B38 is that it looks like a rundown shopping mall. Was Westworld actually built on top of an old shopping mall? Do those no longer exist in the show’s present? This could very well be one of those small details that is never explored further, but in a show like Westworld that is all about building mystery , no detail, no matter how small, is insignificant.
6. What’s The World Outside The Facility Like?
Westworld is set at an indeterminate point in the future and although characters drop a few allusions to what the outside world is like, the outside world is a pretty unknown quantity at this point. Dr. Ford alludes to humanity having achieved some semblance of technological perfection, which certainly points to this being a utopic vision of the future in some ways, but it’s still unclear what the climate is like outside of the theme park and the facility running it. Heck, it’s not even clear if Westworld is located in the United States.
With the show already drowning in characters and plot points, it’s likely that we’ll just be drip-fed information about the outside world, but it would be cool if we learned more about it, like if there are other parks like Westworld built around different themes and time periods (you just know there has to be a samurai-themed park out there doing the same thing).
5. Is Anyone On Staff A Robot?
Based on what we’ve seen so far and what we know about the Westworld premise thanks to Crichton’s film, it’s clear that the Hosts slowly waking up to the artificiality of their reality is going to be a major part of the plot, but is it possible that at least one of the hosts has made this discovery already and is posing as a human? One of the theories being tossed around right now is that Ford is actually a robot and while that’s certainly possible, it could just as well be someone else among the Westworld staff. It’s all just speculation at this point and there’s nothing in the premiere that suggests that anyone on the Westworld staff is actually one of the Hosts, but seeing as how half of the show’s characters are A.I. so advanced they seem human, it’s not something that can be easily ruled out either.
4. Was The Music Put In There Deliberately?
So far, Westworld is a series with an impressively intricate structure, to the point where we have to question whether the music selection is operating on multiple levels of meaning. In case you missed it, the premiere uses Western-themed renditions of both Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” to score important scenes and while that’s a clever bit of musical direction on composer Ramin Djawadi’s part, could there be an in-universe explanation for why those songs are used?
The notion of “reveries” — an upgrade that Ford makes to the Hosts that allows them to have more human-like gestures — opens the door for other “improvisations” that could have been added by Westworld’s programmers. Could “Black Hole Sun” and “Paint It Black” have been added in by a programmer who’s just trying to show off? We probably won’t find out, as this is one of those subtle mysteries that would lose its impact if it was revealed to actually be true, but it’s interesting to think of how everything in Westworld, right down to its choice of music, could potentially have an in-canon explanation.
3. How Long Will The Groundhog Day Structure Go On For?
Westworld establishes a framing device early on where the park’s Hosts live out the same day over and over, with minor variations spurred on by their interactions with the park’s patrons. We see Dolores wake up to the same day about four or five times throughout the episode, although none of those days play out exactly the same way. But will each episode play out like this as well? Obviously we have things like the day-to-day activities of Westworld’s staff and the many different “storylines” that the A.I. follow to break up any repetitiveness, but is the show still going to keep returning to Dolores waking up in bed and saying good morning to her many fathers (how great was it seeing a totally different Host model playing her proud papa at the end?). My guess is that the routines of Westworld — both the park and on the meta level of the episodes themselves — will move away from the Groundhog Day-esque model quickly as the Hosts start to wake up to lie that is their lives.
2. Where Do The Guests Go At Night?
At one point in the premiere, a guest mentions that they’ve been at Westworld for two weeks and it made me realize that it’s not really made clear what the guests do in between each day of the park’s constantly-repeating cycle. We observe that at the end of each day, the workers clean up the mess of that day’s events and prepare everything for the next day, which begs the question of how ongoing stories work in Westworld.
If everything resets at the end of the day, then how do guests participate in ongoing stories and interactions with Hosts when the latter will have no memory of them the next day? And do the guests just stay in some on-site hotel before returning? To be fair, the premiere didn’t spend much time with any of the guests besides the couple that take down Hector Escaton and his gang, so hopefully a bit more light is shed on the guest experience in future episodes.
1. What Will Be The Trigger For Guests Starting To Die?
It’s only a matter of time before things start going very wrong in Westworld and guests start to die at the hands of the Hosts, but it’s unclear as to how and why. As we’ve already seen, bullets don’t really harm any of the guests, a safeguard put in place to make sure the Hosts aren’t able to harm anyone who visits Westworld. Series co-creator Jonathan Nolan notes that guests have to sign a waiver form of sorts before entering Westworld, since there’s an inherent injury and risk to entering the park in the first place.
By design, the Hosts aren’t able to harm the guests — it’s even stated at one point that they can’t hurt a fly — but as we see at the end of the episode, Dolores is most certainly capable. Is Dolores’ action the catalyst for the guests starting to come to physical harm or will there be another development that leads to human bodies starting to drop?