April 22, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Westworld”



No one would ever accuse HBO’s WESTWORLD of being straightforward, but by the time Season 1 ended, series creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy had placed at least some of their cards on the table.  We were told, barring a surprise or two, who the human characters were and who were the robot “hosts,” and we knew something about the diverse timelines that Season 1 followed.  Most importantly, in last season’s finale, the shoe of sentience dropped for most of the hosts, and the “violent ends” foretold throughout the series began to come true for various ill-fated humans.

Production of Westworld‘s first season was famously called to a halt to allow the writers to sort out the show’s complicated mythology, and the series has been off the air since December 2016 so that its story and logistics could be put in proper order.  With Game of Thrones approaching its final 6 episodes, and no other obvious breakout hit in play, Westworld is more important than ever for HBO, which has thrown its bevy of resources at the production.  The series premiere, written by Joy and Executive Producer Roberto Patino, and directed by Richard J. Lewis, has the scope and imagery of a feature film, a mix of wide vistas and detailed CG.

Although as usual with Westworld, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the passage of time, the season appears to pick up shortly after the events of the finale, albeit in jumbled fashion.  Survivors of the hosts’s massacre are hiding from the robots and attempting to reach safety–well, all but the ever-enigmatic Man In Black (Ed Harris), who we now know is the William of the earlier timeline.  He’s embraced this new bloodthirsty version of the theme park as his next and most encompassing challenge, with news of a new game (this one involving a “door”) via Robot Child Ford, the Anthony Hopkins character’s version of his own youth.

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has become an avenger, riding the plains with Teddy (James Marsden) for ends that are currently unclear.  More amusingly, Maeve (Thandie Newton), still on a quest for the “daughter” she had in an earlier stage of her programming, has attached herself to one of the human programmers, the whiny Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), which allows for meta discussions about the quality of the writers’s dialogue and plotting.  Poor Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), the most upset to learn of his robot-hood, has become unmoored in time, seemingly experiencing his travels with corporate hatchet woman Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) simultaneously with a period (earlier? later?) when many hosts have been found dead in a body of water that didn’t previously exist in Westworld.

The premiere re-establishes a truth from Season 1:  the hosts are fascinating; the humans, less so.  Charlotte, Sizemore and the Man In Black are so far one-dimensional characters, and while there’s probably some intentional irony in that fact (a la HAL’s depth compared to the humans in 2001), it doesn’t make them compelling to watch.  Dolores, Maeve and Bernard, on the other hand, are complicated and ambiguous, engaging because they’re literally works in progress.  This is where the show’s explorations of free will, time, fate and consciousness come into play.

Westworld is so puzzle-laden that its opening hour is almost guaranteed to be more like the beginning of a trail than any kind of destination.  Nolan and Joy pack enough action and distraction into their premiere, and HBO has provided enough deluxe features, to make the journey feel worthwhile.  At some point, though, the series is going to have to run its full program.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."