SHOWRUNNERS Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy CAST Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright
PLOT The creation of Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Westworld offers a unique immersive experience for wealthy tourists to engage their every whim (sex, violence, wearing bad headwear) in an authentic Wild West environment. There’s only one cloud on the horizon — the artificial attractions are on the blink.
“THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS have violent ends,” warns Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores Abernathy at various points during Westworld. This Shakespearean quote (Romeo And Juliet, Act 2, Scene 6, Bard-fans!) lies at the heart of the JJ Abrams-produced reboot of Michael Crichton’s 1973 theme-park-goes-ape-shit classic. On one level, Westworld 2016 offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of indulging human whim and the ways technology upscales sin. And on another, it’s about pistol-packing androids. For the uninitiated, Westworld is Jurassic Park in chaps. The John Hammond here is Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the creator of an entire Wild Westverse populated with artificial beings (or ‘hosts’, in the show’s parlance) who interact in interconnected storylines with the guests (or ‘travellers’), who are pleasured in every conceivable way. The story cycles between the two worlds of the park. Hosts Dolores and saloon madam Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) begin to question their existence while director of programming Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and his team start to investigate these glitches, butting heads with chief of operations Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and the park’s dickish scriptwriter Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman, British obvs), as withdrawing dangerous hosts muck up his plots. There hasn’t been a park malfunction for 30 years. Until now.
The show is at its most enjoyable pulling back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes operations. This element delivers an engaging Truman Show quality as we see lives manipulated and repeated. The elements are familiar — AIS gaining sentience, talk about playing God, corporate shadiness, even
Blade Runner-style close-ups of eyeballs — but they are parlayed by sharp writing and delivered by a strong cast, especially Hopkins, who gets to do a Jedi mind trick on a rattlesnake. It doesn’t flinch on intense moments (a drill up a nose) but is also alive to the story’s emotional nuances of robots realising something might be missing.
Yet for all it’s sci-fi trappings, it doesn’t skimp on Western business. Ed Harris glides through as a skilled ‘traveller’ gunslinger on the hunt for a mysterious maze (all very Lost). Episode one has a terrific street shoot-out, and later we get a lastminute gallows rescue, scalpings, exploding cigars and a prison breakout. In a fun touch, listen for plinky-plonky versions of modern tunes such as Radiohead’s No Surprises on a saloon piano.
It’s playing a long game and episodes three and four feel less involving as the revelations slow down. But you feel in good hands. There is a nice meta joke on the nature of TV storytelling, with discussions about the point of backstory for the hosts as we are learning the backstories of the show’s characters. You would expect an Abrams-nolan collaboration to be smart.
Westworld doesn’t let you down.
VERDICT Westworld serves up violent, thoughtful fun built on a still-terrific premise. And the cast — especially Newton, Wright, Knudsen and Hopkins — are across-the-board good.
Hopkins and Perspex: screen gold.