Like deep fried Mars Bars, Hilary Clinton and the fourth Season of Arrested Development, we all know what it's like to root for something so desperately only to be left surrounded by deflated dreams and an uneasy sense that we've been conned. While proving to be the dazzling master of distraction, unfortunately HBO's Westworld has proven to be no exception to this disheartening trend and with Season One now officially finished it's time to look back and work out just what the hell happened to a TV Show which started with such promise.
I stuck with #Westworld like a steadfast limpet on the underside of a slowly dying beached whale and I can say that, while the ride was mildly entertaining, I'm not sure it's an experience I'd ever volunteer for again. As a massive fan of intelligent Sci-Fi, theme parks and Evan Rachel Wood, I thought Westworld would be a surefire hit. However, it turns out that my love of characterization, actual story progression and Sidse Babett Knudsen would in turn, be the undoing of my naive, determined dreams of discovering my new favorite TV Show.
While certainly far from being terrible, with its colossal budget, all-star cast and team of highly regarded writers, Westworld was more of a disappointment than an awful televised travesty (i.e. Vinyl ). Taking some time to mull my bicameral mind over, here's why I think Westworld was hailed down in rain of blank-bullets, and really missed the mark.
'Westworld' Trolled Itself By Giving Us A Host Of 2D Characters
- Question: What do #HBO's greatest TV Shows such as Game Of Thrones, Six Feet Under, The Wire and The Sopranos all have in common?
- Answer: Characters that have emotional depth, flaws that we can identify with and personalities that we can support and champion throughout the Series.
- Question: What do Westworld's characters have?
- Answer: None of the above.
In perhaps one of the most meta moments in recent television, while Ford, the park's creator, was introduced as the grandaddy of narrative design, obsessed with detailed, nuanced storytelling and fleshed out characters we, the actual guests of the Westworld Universe, were subject to what felt like a set of characters created by the insufferable unrepentant urinator, Lee Sizemore.
Both hosts and humans alike felt as characterized as a uniform stash of dehydrated space food and could all be summed up in an elevator-pitch style one-liner, which is handy for online dating, but not so much for building a loyal fan base.
Here, try to guess the character from the following bio:
I am confident, young, ambitious & uninhibited, willing to get rid of anything in my way and have apparently no weaknesses or backstory.
Aside from the fact that Charlotte is most likely a direct link to 'Charlie,' Arnold's deceased son, which would flesh out her character quite considerably, this bio could quite easily also belong to Armistice, Sizemore or Hector. If you paste in the backstory of having her child brutally murdered by the Man in Black, this character bio could belong to Maeve, if you paste in the narrative of coming from a rich family with your rival/future brother in law then you get Logan and if you replace "no weaknesses" with "curiosity," then you get Elsie.
So shockingly two dimensional are Westworld's characters that not only is the viewer denied the ability to truly emphathize with any of them, but until Maeve begins her long laborious interactions with Felix & Sylvester (who I will scorn with the rage of a thousand burning suns shortly) we're unsure who we're supposed to champion. At first it looked like Dolores was going to be our heroine, but the damsel in distress act wore a little thin after Episode 3 and when she got entangled in the monotonously drawn out 'narrative' of her, William and Logan traversing the Westworld plains in search of, well, 'themselves,' I began to care less about her character and more about how I'd like to see both William and Logan throwing themselves down a deep, bottomless crevasse. Which brings me on to my next point.
'Westworld' Killed Off Its Best Character Way Too Soon
In a move that only served to add further insult to injury, the writers apparently thought that it would be a smart move to kill off their most intriguing, three dimensional character in Episode 7. Aside from the fact that Sidse Babett Knudsen is a veritable human god who can act most mere mortals off the screen, Theresa, the character she was portraying, was by far the most fascinating in the show for the following reasons:
- 1. She was a three dimensional human character.
Along with being a strong, independent woman who could put Sizemore in his place with but a mere raised eyebrow, Theresa was also flawed and therefore loveable. A chain smoker who would very demonstrably register fear or concern upon her face, especially when being threatened by Ford, we were also shown that she balanced her somewhat cold outward persona with an inner warmth as depicted by her secret relationship with Bernard.
As well as being an intelligent character with a great deal of influence within HQ, Theresa also gave us our most insightful look into inter Host-human relations, much more so than Dolores and William, with her and Bernard's relationship having the potential to become one of the more interesting relationships in the show — had Bernard not fatally smashed her head against a wall. She was also representing for the older women, leaving in her wake a show of literally nothing but bright young females, with Thandie Newton becoming the resident female elder at the tender age of forty four.
And while the writers were busy blood sacrificing their greatest asset, they were letting others criminally survive:
Felix & Sylvester Butchered 'Westworld' Into A Brutal, Ceaseless Submission
To say that Felix and Sylvester, the park butchers who were roped in to helping Maeve escape, were under-characterized would actually be an understatement. The fact that these two characters, both named after cartoon cats, both without any logical reason to aid Maeve in her suicide mission, didn't turn out to be hosts is hands down the biggest character fail of 2016.
According to the Westworld writers, we are to assume that Felix apparently fell in love with Maeve during a two minute interaction after helping reanimate a bot-bird and Sylvester is so scared of being outed for banging the inanimate hosts that they were both willing to sacrifice their livelihoods, their lives and the lives of others over a spot of bot-lust and a spot of fulfilled bot-lust.
Not even the most hormonally rampant adolescents would fall for Maeve's wiles if they risked losing their lives, and by extension their genitals, when they could so easily opt out of this bad deal by, for example, swiping her intelligent levels down to a solid Paris Hilton benchmark. Fools. Needles to mention how the the rather uneasy lube-drenched scene in the season finale demonstrated how preparing inanimate hosts for some rather pumping anal is de rigueur among the host reanimating techs. This makes Sylvester being blackmailed into submission over having his common-place sexual appetites revealed seems even more ludicrous.
And speaking of sexual appetites:
What On Earth Do (Straight) Women Do When They Visit 'Westworld?'
Having established that the guests predominantly enter the park to either have sex with or to kill the hosts or to go on their quests (or both) it seems that Westworld is largely a haven for males. Not only do we only follow the stories of male guests (Logan & William/Man in Black), but more often than not we see mostly male guests in the park, all female guests are either accompanying a man or their family. Further, while we are provided with a brothel filled with eligible young women willing to cater to both male and queer female fantasies (which is commendable), there seems to be an astounding lack of potential male host partners for the straight ladies looking to have a good time.
This in large part is why I think we are shown Charlotte having sex with Hector in such an unbridled power-play with Theresa in Episode 7, but it's sad to think that the show is apparently pushing the agenda that only the more "adventurous" and "uninhibited" women are the ones who will take advantage of the robotic male phalluses roaming the park. Ironically, this perhaps epitomizes the alienation that many women feel in the computer gaming industry as a whole. While they are equally as interested as their male counterparts in going on epic quests or going rogue and savagely murdering or having sex with a bunch of innocent VR characters, they themselves are rarely represented within the game, as is the case with Westworld.
Like The Park Itself, 'Westworld' Is A Failed Experiment
Ultimately Westworld felt like a huge experiment with the following hypothesis: Can a TV show survive on a thriving bed of theory and speculation, stunning cinematography and a slowly drawn out plot alone? Well if Lost, the second season of Twin Peaks (don't hate me), Dexter and The Americans are anything to go by, then yes. But, is that enough to make a really great show that stands the test of time? Then no, because in order to do that, you need to create characters that permeate deep within the viewers' minds, creating a complex blend of empathy, understanding and a level acceptance of their essential flaws that they may even struggle to extend to people in their everyday lives. That is the true magic of television, and it's a trick that the creators of Westworld for all their grand Ford-like vision, certainly and regrettably missed out on.