“Westworld” intrigues in pilot episode


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Rob Carraher

Deriving from the creative mind of the late Michael Crichton, HBO’s newest series, “Westworld” (2016), marries niche genres of science fiction and westerns to create something altogether original and intriguing in its pilot episode.

The series, which is an adaptation of the 1973 film of the same title, reveals to viewers a world where paying customers can live out fantasies in a wild-west themed park. The line separating that fantasy from perceived reality appears to be blurred. The viewership is left with a small taste of what is to come and a whole load of unanswered questions, ensuring a continued interest in the weeks to come.

The “Westworld” pilot, entitled “The Original,” begins by introducing Delores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). She is allegedly one of many robotic “hosts” set to interact with guests within Westworld. In Sweetwater, a Westworld town, Abernathy is part of a narrative including love interest, Teddy Flood (James Marsden). All appears to be as planned until the “Man in Black” (Ed Harris) turns their world upside down. It is from this point that strange occurrences begin to play out.

Park programmer, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), is tipped off to these strange behaviors exhibited by a handful of recently updated hosts. In trying to analyze the hosts’ issues, Lowe includes park founder, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), in resolving any further concerns.

There are very few questions answered as the first episode comes to an end. Audiences are left wondering about many of the show’s characters. But the intrigue is there. Who is the “Man in Black” and what is he doing in Westworld? What does Abernathy know about the world beyond her fabricated town of Sweetwater? Will Lowe and Ford be able to continue evolving their hosts without losing too much power over them? And what is Flood’s role in all of this?

Jonathan Nolan, creator of this updated version of Crichton’s original, has written interesting characters that beg viewers to ask for more. Nolan and his cast of many talented actors bring this world to life.

Part of what makes “Westworld” so interesting is the contrasted environment of both a futuristic-looking laboratory and the vast landscape of a wild-west town at the base of desert mountains. It seems as though these places could never quite fit together within the same plot line. Watching how the pieces fit together becomes a treat in itself. The scenes within “Westworld,” filmed in Arizona and Utah, highlight the beauty of nature’s landscape. The show is worth watching for this aspect alone.

Nolan entrusted music duties to Ramin Djawadi, composer from “Game of Thrones” and “Iron Man” (2008).
Djawadi’s choice to use popular songs and arrange them for a saloon style piano was absolutely brilliant. It gives audiences not only little Easter eggs to pick up on in the background, but also a further sense of the marriage between an old-time western setting and a modern world beyond the fantasy taking place within the confinement of “Westworld.” The rest of Djawadi’s original compositions also fit the feel of the series in very appropriate manner. The result is one of the more powerful aspects of the pilot episode.

There are some mysterious aspects of this first episode that play a huge role in the intrigue level being developed. First, the use of milk shows up several times throughout this first episode. But the purpose behind its role is never determined. Going forward, viewers should be on the lookout for its continued use. Additionally, flies are shown on the faces of the hosts during several scenes.

On the surface it appears these instances are being used to show the fabrication of the hosts, but its repeated imagery cannot be ignored. Before season’s end, there will likely being a greater investigation into these happenings.

Crichton’s concept works in 2016 just as well as it did in 1973. In fact, it may even work better today. Nolan has technologies at his disposal allowing “Westworld” to become visually extraordinary. But it is the ideas beyond the visual experience that bring “Westworld” to life.

It is those same ideas that will hook audiences and keep them invested. Even though the pilot episode leaves audiences with more questions than answers, it should be enough to keep their attention for bigger things as the season progresses.