The producers of Westworld don’t deserve the cast that was assembled for them. With very few exceptions, the acting in the first three episodes of this series has been superlative, working overtime to add subtlety and grace to scripts that has little patience for those qualities. The blunt moralizing and philosophizing, as well as the rough application of backstory and motivation, sounds almost poetic coming from the mouths of an Oscar winner (Anthony Hopkins), a Golden Globe winner (Ed Harris), a Tony winner (Jeffrey Wright), and a gaggle of sharp young character actors (Jimmi Simpson, Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden).
What Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, J.J. Abrams, and the gang somehow fail to fully realize is what a gift they have in this material. Throughout this third episode, I found myself slipping and forgetting that so many of the characters within Westworld aren’t real. And the situations that the rich folk attending this theme park are putting themselves in aren’t necessarily dangerous. Watching William get taken down by a fake bandit shook me for a second before I realized he can’t get seriously hurt by the androids.
There’s also that creeping realization that the folks visiting the park may not be safe for much longer. The system is slowly breaking down with the full knowledge of the folks in charge. They may be excited for the technological breakthroughs they are making in creating sentient beings that are saddled with memory and a conscience, but sooner or later, someone’s going to get hurt. But, without fail, I was brought back to reality again and had my bubble burst by the stumbling exposition and minor scenes that added nothing to the plot or atmosphere of the show, like Hopkins dressing down a subordinate for protecting an android’s modesty.
Westworld is, therefore, a curious and frustrating affair so far. The show has so much potential and so many positives that to watch it falter and collapse like a wounded horse is particularly agonizing. They have the gift of this brilliant feminist allegory with the self-actualization of both Dolores and Maeve, both women who have been serving at the pleasure of the gruff men of the park and are now breaking free of their “loops.” I just don’t trust that the writers are going to know what to do with it.
I’m also not entirely sure that anyone has thought beyond the first season of the show. As far as I have researched, there’s no indication that this is a limited series or that they’re even being considered for a second run of episodes. Yet, within each week, the feeling is that we are being slowly and steadily led to a big conflagration in the final episodes of this initial batch, a conflict that will surely leave dead bodies in its wake and be resolved by December 4th, Season One, episode ten’s airdate.
There’s no guarantee that that will be the case, of course. We could be witness to the slow disintegration of this theme park over the course of multiple seasons. Even that prospect, though, doesn’t seem terribly welcome considering how the series has presented itself in these three episodes. I’m not sure I necessarily want 27 episodes or more of blather, slow burn and administrative infighting.
Instead, I’m doing my best to use The Leftovers as my ballast. Here was a show that scuffled along through 10 episodes, with moments of brilliance that carried us to the big blow up that ended its first season. I didn’t see any way forward for the show, until Season Two rolled in and blew all of my expectations and concerns far, far away. And I’m now suffering with a deep, unsatisfied itch for Season Three to hurry up and get here.
That same trajectory could be the future of Westworld. With seven episodes left in the first season, there is ample opportunity for moments of brilliance, or deeper dives into the darkness that is seeping into the picture with the strange Wicker Man-like cult that was introduced in this episode. And with intelligent people manning the controls of the series, they could easily find ways to move this storyline along, beyond a huge revolt by the androids or more of them braining themselves with boulders as the episode’s titular “stray” did. That’s why I’m sticking with Westworld until the assuredly bitter end.