Possible spoilers ahead!
After a somewhat lengthy delay that included the pilot being filmed in 2014, and a break in production halfway through its first season, HBO’s “Westworld” has finally arrived on our TV screns.
Westworld begins with “The Original,” directed by show runner Jonathan Nolan. The show is basically about a theme park where the rich and powerful can do anything they want in a western town. But as we soon find out, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more to this place than meets the eye.
The premiere episode’s fractured timeline follows series protagonist Delores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) as she goes about her life, repeatedly playing out the loop the park’s writers have created for her. Delores is one of the theme park’s many semi-autonomous “hosts” or artificial life forms created by Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his team which includes the always great Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe.
Delores’s life plays out in a series of repetitious events, some of which include James Marsden’s cowboy Teddy Flood, while others include some of the parks’ guests – like Ed Harris as the Man in Black and later Jimmy Simpson’s William.
From the start, Jonathan Nolan uses events to play around with the idea of control, as in who has it and who doesn’t. We get to see this play out from both sides: the artificial life forms, and those working in the park. But none of it would work without the stellar character work on the show. It’s both fascinating and scary to see.
The acting is so good that it doesn’t take long for the audience to understand the growing dilemma between Delores and her surroundings. The horrific implication of her initial run-in with the Man in Black and the reveal that Teddy is a host, and not a guest as his initial introduction indicated.
“Westworld” also attempts to wrestle with the concerns of using sex and violence as entertainment. This episode introduces characters created for the sole purpose of entertaining the park’s guests. These A.I. are engineered to be so lifelike they are indistinguishable from the real thing. Meanwhile, the guests are encouraged to forget about their everyday lives and indulge every fantasy no matter how deranged or debauched it may be.
“Westworld” is everything you’d expect from an HBO show. In the first hour alone there are a number of shootings, at least one stabbing, and more than one implied sexual assault. This is definitely not for the kiddies. And I gotta say my favorite sequence involved a saloon holdup, all while a piano version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” plays in the background.
“Westworld” was one of the most satisfying premiers so far this season, and I think HBO has found its next big epic. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
“Westworld” final score: 10
“Westworld” airs Sunday at 9pm on HBO.