Westworld: “The Original” Series Premiere Review

Photo Credit:http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/westworld-premiere-date-divorce-insecure-hbo-1201827128/

After seemingly countless delays and apparent story retooling, HBO’s Westworld has finally arrived. The sheer amount of press surrounding the series almost renders the pilot moot. “The Original” establishes the concept of the show with few surprises inbetween. That’s fine. Westworld‘s first episode didn’t need to be as groundbreaking as people may have wanted it to be. In fact, much like the Game of Thrones pilot, to compare HBO’s two high-concept dramas, the premiere does exactly what it needs to in merely having its audience absorb this vast world and get comfortable in it, only introducing potential story threads intermittently and at the very end. What allows the series to get away with this is that Westworld itself is both complicated and fun.

Anyone familiar with Michael Crichton even at the most basic level will feel his influence over the series (after writing and directing a film of the same name back in 1973). In the not too distant future, humanity has built a giant living, breathing theme park based on the Old West. Populating the park besides guests are androids that have their memory wiped every 24 hours only to start over the next day with the same basic narrative. But as the architects behind the scenes roll out a new upgrade for the androids, guests start experiencing problems with the theme park’s populous.

Series creator Jonathan Nolan directs the pilot, pacing it perfectly to let the world sink in so we can get to the real story starting next week. “The Original” is like the first half of Jurassic Park, of which Crichton wrote the novel, where everything is mostly fine but you understand just how bad things can get when they’re not fine.

But instead of a sense of dread for the fall of the theme park, Westworld intends for us to root for the android revolutionaries. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is the most prominent in the pilot, as the narrative puts her on the path to discover the true nature of her “life.” The final moment of the episode where she ruthlessly kills a fly on her neck is the kind of moment I hope this series gets to deliver more of once it settles. But there’s also Teddy (James Marsden), the archetypal cowboy, and Maeve (Thandie Newton), a gun-toting prostitute that makes the local saloon her home. How or if they ever end up joining Dolores’ journey looks to make for good fun down the line.

On the human side, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) work behind the scenes to ensure the androids are safe enough to interact with the public. Then there’s the mysterious gunslinger (Ed Harris, who makes the best impression out of cast thus far). His role is the most interesting, as his mission appears to involve uncovering Westworld’s secrets, which is very much in the interest of the audience as well.

Other than that, “The Original” was mostly about establishing the world and tone of the series. While hardly revolutionary, Westworld has already showcased several different paths it can go down that’ll keep things interesting for a while. Now it’s just a matter of the emotional connection the series will make with its viewers. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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