Season One, Episode One — “The Original”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. The dangers of playing God is far from a new subject – for centuries literature and film have long warned us that humanity’s own fallibility makes it inherently risky for us to impart intelligence into our own designs. Yet here we all sit with back-talking oracles almost constantly on our person, checking us into our favorite coffee shops and guiding us through our Sunday drives. Which is precisely why Westworld, even as a retelling of a previously-made film, manages to be more intriguing and thematically germane than ever. Add this year’s attempt to develop the Grand Canyon into even more of a tourist attraction to the mix, and the show’s sweeping landscapes and parks controlled by unseen hands are even more bitingly relevant.
Westworld spares no symbol – if The Great Gatsby was your favorite book in high school, you’ll be equally as excited picking apart “The Original”. Some Cliff’s Notes in a nutshell: 1) Bugs. They’re everywhere. Flies in the eyes and gadgety glitches. 2) Milk and blood. There’s an awful lot of mixing the two, so surely we will see loads of “biting the hand that feeds us” in due time. 3) Denial. Characters shelter themselves from the true nature of their situation with routine. Characters deny that any technological advancement would lead to anything out of the ordinary, even when the subsequent flaws become more apparent.
That leads us to Peter Abernathy (played by Louis Herthum), named after the Apostle who denied Jesus, who may become an unlikely symbol of stability, provided his shakey faith proves to be the rock on which the other hosts build their foundation.
The cast is stellar – Anthony Hopkins reins over the park in a John Hammond-esque role, quietly pushing the envelope, deliberately taking things a little too far. He has a scientist’s curiosity, but perhaps a privileged enough past to be okay with bowing out of this life before having to pick up the pieces of an experiment gone awry. Ed Harris adequately Ed Harrises through his role as The Man in Black, delivering his sociopathic actions mundanely enough for us to figure we should question who’s side he’s on (Guest or Host? Human or Machine?).
Of course James Marsden smirks satisfactorily through his pretty boy cheekbones to play the How Could This Be Happening To Me pawn in a much larger play. But the real stars are those who hint at depth and greater things to come – much lingers beneath the surface of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), all of whom provide evidence that events in Westworld won’t be as carefully curated much longer.
“Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. The disarray. I choose to see the beauty.” – Dolores, asserting her view on her perfectly curated world (or has she, in fact, learned to ignore the disarray in the name of a defense mechanism)?
“Winning doesn’t mean anything unless one of us loses.” – The Man in Black.
“They’re only yours until they stop working, Bernie. Then they’re mine.” – Theresa.
“Doesn’t look like anything to me.” – Dolores, as evidence of either her perfect programming or honed denial.
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here; these violent delights have violent ends.” – Peter/Daddy crosses wires and Shakespearean works as he quotes both The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet whilst shorting out on Dolores.
“There’s a path for everyone. My path is bound with yours.” – Dolores. She’s not wrong…
BEST MOMENT: The turning point for me was when Maeve (Thandie Newton), a brothel madam, blasts a hole through the face of a would-be rapist during a shootout between the notorious Hector Escaton (played by the perennially sexy Rodrigo Santoro) and most of the town. In the midst of a highly scripted bloodbath, Maeve shows an instinct to protect her own against the others. Sure, this could have been merely her programming – after all, the hosts are allowed to kill each other, just not harm the guests. However, the assailant’s brains spatter onto the player piano’s perforated paper, remixing the music into a frightening improvisation and paving the way for future violent aberrations from the script.
EPISODE’S MVP: Louis Hertham delivered an incredible performance as Peter Abernathy, tying together various creator vs. host plotlines and serving as a foil to basically every character who encountered him. Hertham creates fantastically moving moments, as his all-too-human pain emerges in his face-to-face encounter with his maker. Real pain, real tears and real injustice burn through his eyes before being powered down and taken out of the narrative. Peter’s breakdown proves to be the most human moment in the entire episode, setting the stage for the blurred lines ahead.
DOWN THE BARREL:
– Two guests, a husband and wife, venture out with a group of “hosts” to find a bandit – wife is juxtaposed as quite put-out by having to swat away gnats as husband encounters the first major machine melt-down of the series. And for our denouement, the lovely Dolores, who is programmed to be incapable of killing any living thing, absent-mindedly swats a fly on her neck. Storm’s a-comin’!
– Ramin Djiwadi (of Game of Thrones opening sequence fame) eases us into the show with his usually fantastic composition. Then slow rolls us into the guns a-blazing sequence with… The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black”? Okay…
– Mr. Djiwadi also snuck in Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” into the score. Cheeky.
– Does the show’s logo look like the Devil’s horns/Rock On text emoji to anyone else? I can’t unsee it.
– One of my personal favorite tiny moments came early on, when a pair of mischievous urchins dropped a scorpion on a passed-out drunk’s head. Doesn’t get more Wild West than that, I suppose.
– HBO delivers a copious amount of titties, as per usual.
8.5 out of 10
Next: “Chestnut,” soon.