Drew: Vinnie, bring yourself back online.
Vinnie: Let’s start with a confession: I’ve never seen the original 1973 Westworld. BUT, as someone who did see the “Itchy and Scratchy Land” episode of The Simpsons, plus that Rick and Morty with the sex robot, oh and who definitely knew a guy in college who ordered a Fleshlight off Amazon “by accident” and claimed he just returned it but he had to have used it at least once (Oh God, yeah, you gotta assume he used it at least once).
Drew: Vinnie: lose affect.
Vinnie: …..I think I had a pretty good handle on what to expect from HBO’s take on all this.
Drew: Look man, what did we know, going into this premiere? It was based on a Michael Crichton screenplay, so it’s either going to be about a theme park going terribly, terribly wrong, or a hospital with a plague involving monkeys. And it was written by a Nolan brother (and his wife! Which is awesome!), which means there are going to layers-upon-layers-upon-dream-states-upon-mazes-upon-don’t pay attention to why we have a secret maze inside an old Indian card-dealer’s scalp. Hey look, a windmill!
So, I’d say that with the lowered expectations that came with all the aforementioned, this was actually was an INCREDIBLE pilot!
Vinnie: However, despite the above expert scholarly knowledge I do have a few questions about the rules and regulations of both Westworld and Westworld, which I feel I should address before we dive into this bonkers, dense-as-fuck premiere:
Drew: Okay, you’re not paying attention to me at all, Vinnie. Maybe it’s time we have you zip yourself into your own body bag? (Which: what the fuck, what the fuck what the fuck NIGHTMARES.)
Vinnie: Question 1: Why cowboys? That’s such a specific time and place to drop millionaires who are really only interested in shooting people and having sex.
Drew: Probably because cowboys and Indians is one of those games kids play, and thus fits itself naturally into our earliest ideas of “white hats” versus “black hats?” Because Deadwood was a super popular show? Because it lends itself easily to ideas of romance and swashbuckling (okay, that’s pirates) heroes and villains? Because, without knowing it, I’ve been waiting my whole life for a player piano version of “Black Hole Sun” and an even doper bandito version of Rolling Stone’s “Paint It Black?”
Because, in the corporate-sanitized world of the Utopia–and we’ll get to why I think the world outside Westworld is a Utopia and not a Dystopia in a little bit– all the newcomers are looking for is some gritty, Old West realism, in which all the animals and half the people are robots, but for some reason there are still A SHITLOAD OF FLIES? That are seemingly only attracted to the eyeballs of robot/clones/milk-based organisms?
(Side-note: why are there flies in the GODDAMN LAB? That’s so unsanitary! Vom!
And then later we’re told that the cooling system in the hangar where they keep their decommissioned hosts has gone down and it’s going to smell AWFUL, because they have higher priorities like “livestock.” Except the livestock are ALSO manufactured, right? What’s the point of having Hosts with bodies that can smell bad and decompose or whatever, if you’re just going to shove all of their meat sacks into a rancid locker? Ew, ew, ew. And yet somehow: no flies in THAT room?)
Anyway, that’s a bunch of answers, but if you really want a spoiler alert that may or may not be relevant to this show, in the original Westworld film, there were other parks besides Old West. Namely, a Medieval Park and a Roman Park. Arguably, the Old West-themed one would be the most modern of your choices? Ooh, maybe Westworld is the free voucher you get after visiting Jurassic Park!
Vinnie: Question 1A: Do you think Westworld is fun if you’re NOT interested in shooting people and having sex? What else are you getting out of this? Robot horses? Is it worth it to pay an exorbitant price to be like “Whoaaa this grass is just like real grass”? Like that family that brought their kid into Westworld but were like “we shouldn’t cross the river, that’s a little too adult for Jacob.” Would parents still bring their kids to Disney World if they could only stick to Epcot because the Magic Kingdom is filled with hookers and Ed Harris is scalping all the animals in the Animal Kingdom?
Drew: Ha! I had the same thought, but mostly because the center of town is, we’re told, the SAFEST PART OF THE PARK! And yet in the pilot, we see that it’s where a TON of shootouts happen, which would be so traumatizing for children, whether or not they can get injured. Also, WTF, outlaw host going bonkers and mass-murdering a bunch of other hosts while maintaining the grossest milk fetish since Clockwork Orange?
That scene was so fucking disturbing–way more so than the off-screen rape of Dolores, although holy Black Mirror-balls, does the life of the Hosts seem fucking bleak–that I actually had to stop the show and rewatch it from the beginning to see if there was any logical explanation for that “YOU’RE A GROWING BOY!” comment. (Answer: Kind of? The host who went bonkers was one of the villains who kill Dolores’ family in the first “loop,” where he’s told to fuck Dolores’ dead mother’s corpse while his friend pours milk all over her dying father’s face.) In the loop where this weirdo decides to “improv everywhere,” his last victim is the mustachioed guy who he was teamed up with in the first loop.
Oy, this show!
But yeah, here’s a good public service note: DO NOT BRING YOUR CHILDREN TO WESTWORLD! That should seem obvious, but again, this plot was conceived by the guy who couldn’t stop placing children into an untested theme park full of velociraptors.
Like, first of all, what the fuck are kids even supposed to DO there? Go to the whorehouse? Give Dolores her can of peaches back? And while we’re totally focused on the hosts glitching out and having some sort of robot uprising, has it been addressed that it’s TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE that a GUEST could definitely MURDER another GUEST? Maybe not with a gun–I’m assuming ALL the guns have blanks in them, because dear god, why would any gun in this theme park need real bullets?–but by, I don’t know: scalping/pushing out a window/having a giant safe crash on their heads/milk-related drowning?
Vinnie: Question 1A Point B: Okay say I accept that it HAS to be cowboys…do I still HAVE to dress like a cowboy?
Drew: Yes, they all have to dress like cowboys.
Vinnie: For an extra couple thousand dollars could I wear, say, a movie-accurate Christian Bale Batman suit and just become the Batman of Sweetwater?
Drew: As far as I can tell, for a couple thousand extra, women can gender-swap to play a cowboy and have Rami Malek’s ex-girlfriend talk about your “rind.” (Also, I will only refer to Clementine as “Mrs. Robot” from now on.)
Vinnie: Question 2: Do you think it’s weird that Michael Pitt as Mason Verger in NBC’s Hannibal grows up to become the original Hannibal?
Drew: Ha, I mean, how many times watching this episode were you like “Oh fuck, I forgot how scary Hannibal Lecter was?” I mean, Jesus Christ. I felt so nervous every time Jeffrey Wright’s adorable Beetee-inspired Bernard ventured near enough to Dr. Ford to have his arm bitten off.
Anthony Hopkins is like, 90 percent a lizard. He’s like Dennis Hopper as Bowser. No wonder there were so many flies!
Though I’m waffling a bit as to whether Ford is just a sweet, Dr. John Hammond-type who SEEMS creepy because he’s played by Anthony Hopkins, or whether this guy is actually a batshit sociopath. He seems to have a real love for the park, which is not shared by…say, 90 percent of his employees? Let’s actually make a rundown of which employees of Westworld seem not-100 percent on board with their employer:
- “Narrative Director” Lee Sizemore (the British guy who is somehow NOT David Tennant, and whose first line is a perfectly delivered “What the FUCK is wrong with it?” and whose second line is “Are you FUCKING kidding me?” because hey, we’re on HBO!);
- Operations Leader Theresa Cullen (the lady who smokes cigarettes and has a really intense, if unplaceable, accent);
- Brown-nosing programmer Elsie Hughes (the one who can’t stop kissing Rami Malek’s ex-girlfriend MRS. ROBOT);
- Ashley Stubbs (the dude in head of security who almost “decommissions the boss” and looks like he’s straight out of Joss Whedon’s School of Government-Sponsored Special Operations Teams).
If people can still go on vacation, it’s a Utopia. I’m pretty sure that’s written in some Isaac Asimov book somewhere.
So basically, the only two people who seem to think Westworld is a good idea is its creator, Dr. Ford, and Bernard. Oh, and the shadowy “shareholders,” who seem to be making either a shit-ton of money off of the park, or are somehow involved with selling the patents of the host to the military. (As Cullen implies during her smoke break with Sizemore.) Which again! Is why I think outside of Westworld, we’re looking at a Utopia, not a Dystopia. If people can still go on vacation, it’s a Utopia. I’m pretty sure that’s written in some Isaac Asimov book somewhere.
Vinnie: So, yeah, this episode, “The Original”, which I genuinely enjoyed so much based on concept and Jonathan Nolan’s directing alone it only took me three viewings to realize the script from Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy did…very little. I mean, okay, it set up a lot–this heavy-ass concept of a theme park for millionaires populated by cowboy androids who live their life on a constant loop, unaware Westworld’s visitors treat them like a 14-year-old boy’s pillowcase–but IMDB tells me this episode is only 20 minutes shorter than the entire original movie.
True, we’re building to a much more complex story than the film–The government has secret plans for Westworld! Ed Harris is breaking all the rules! Katniss survived the Hunger Games again!
Drew:…The Giver can see colors! And other Dystopian YA Novels!
Vinnie: but very little of it moved forward here beyond an hour-and-ten-minute set-up. Basically: A code written by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is allowing the hosts to access their memories, most of which are filled with horrors like rape, murder and an engagement to Marilyn Manson. So now Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is self-aware enough to notice the severe bug problem in Westworld, and her father (Louis Herthum) needed to be replaced by a mustachioed android who is way more patronizing about her painting hobby.
Drew: Not to keep going back to the most obvious visual cues in this show, but the reoccurring flies are more than just a gross-out gag. By the end of the episode, we learn Dolores is a) the oldest Host in the park and b) can disobey the commands of her programmers (or at least lie to them). When Ashley asks her if she could ever hurt a guest, and she tells him she could never hurt a living thing. So that last scene is her swatting a goddamn fly with the reflexes of Buffy? DUM-DUM-DUMMMM.
I enjoyed Vinyl, and that show starred James Jagger, who is also a jaunty saloon version of a Rolling Stones song. – Vinnie Mancuso
Vinnie: With that said, just on a scene-by-scene, visual, aesthetic and swooping helicopter shots that make Peter Jackson openly weep basis, this show is dope. I really only want to talk about that saloon heist scene, because you can keep all your high science-fiction concepts of self-awareness and artificial intelligence and I will be over here with the scene where some android desperados ride into town dressed like those spooky things from Lord of the Rings and murder everybody to a jaunty saloon version of “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones. That’s all I need. I am a simple TV viewer, Drew. I enjoyed Vinyl, and that show starred James Jagger, who is also a jaunty saloon version of a Rolling Stones song.
Drew: Well see, Vinnie? You just fulfilled your own loop. “Why have a theme park set in the Wild West?” Um, because it’s badass, and even the baddest outlaw is played by the hottest guy from Love, Actually. (But again, just a heads-up: LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME!)
How much did you love Lee flipping out when Hector didn’t get to finish his speech? He was going to tell everybody in town the meaning of life! Which, as written by Lee, probably goes something like “The lesson is! The lesson is…be fucking terrible at office politics! Just FUCKING. THE WORST!” And then he rides off into the sunset to have a thwarted sex attempt with Laura Linney.
Vinnie: Follow-Up Question 3: As much as I enjoyed this heist scene, I can’t help but wonder if it’d actually be….fun? The show cuts to a bunch of Westworld visitors just loving all the people being shot to death around them. And sure, yeah, maybe once, for the thrill of it. But all the time. People are dying in Westworld all the time. Do you know how mad I’d be if I was, like, eating lunch and a damn saloon robbery broke out? I paid, I assume, several million dollars and I can’t even finish this Cobb salad without a man getting stabbed over a poker game.
Drew: Vinnie, if you don’t want to go to Westworld, you don’t have to go to Westworld. You get the sense that this is an opt-in kind of experience for the newcomers. Not at all mandatory for every human on the planet. This is basically your equivalent of a Yelp review of Six Flags complaining that you went there to eat a $9 hotdog, but were bothered by the screams of everyone riding THE JOKER™. Don’t go to Westworld if you don’t want to play Westworld!
Vinnie: Something I’m sure is going to be important later: When Ford is down in the naked robot storage area drinking with Bill the old dusty robot–which, wow that is some clever / depressing character shading — he casually mentions Bill is the “second Host we ever built.” The episode ends with the reveal Dolores is the “oldest Host in the park.” But that doesn’t mean she’s the oldest Host in the world, right?
I feel like the language is deliberate here; Where is Host Numero Uno? Not toasting to ladies in white shoes and zipping himself into body bags, that’s for sure. I feel like he or she (or it) will be important, possibly someone we’ve met already. I mean, that’s the point of the show, right? The idea that we could create artificial life so lifelike down to the smallest detail that a main character outside of Westworld could be a robot and we wouldn’t even notice. I love that. It gives this show another layer to avoid being a glossier I, Robot. It adds an Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Thing vibe. Plus a healthy dose of Jurassic Park, but if the dinosaurs all wore tiny cowboy hats and you could have sex with them. Which, come to think of it, is never explicitly stated as being against the rules of Jurassic Park.
Drew: Oh, you mean like it’s a Cabin in the Woods thing, where each country has its own theme park and we’re still basically competing with Japan? Maybe…though the references that Cullen drops on her smoke-break, about what Westworld means to different groups, implies that Ford is the creator of the program and its technology patents, full stop. Otherwise, he’d just be entirely replaceable, right? No need for IOS upgrade system and their malfunctioning reveries.
And to your second point–about the tiny hats, anyway–when I was watching the pilot with my mom and the second loop began with a pan-out of the train and the landscape until you can see all the engineers huddled around a hologram of the park, my mom shouted “Oh my god! And they shrunk everybody down??! They are all tiny dolls? What?? What is happening??”
Which, haha moms, am I right?
(…that was definitely my first thought as well on first viewing.)
Which is all to say: Westworld is going to be great. Trust me on this. Because if this was the ONLY glance we got–like a single Black Mirror episode–that would be cool enough. But this show is going to have to sustain itself over an entire season. It’s going to open doors you haven’t even thought of yet, because you were too busy wondering when Bobby Cannavale was going to show up. (Answer: at some point, right? He has to. This show is basically the giant Host hangar where HBO stores the former stars of now-defunct HBO shows.)
At the very least, Westworld’s pilot did its job in the sense that there is no way anyone who saw it WON’T tune in for next week’s episode. I mean, what else do we have going on these days?
Side-notes that we haven’t even touched yet:
- Teddy, Westworld’s most boring character, who was also Liz Lemon’s husband AND an X-Man!
- OR Thandie Newton as the madame Maeve Millay. She’s just amazing. Her banter with Hector was more sexually charged than a hundred loops of Dolores’ #peachdrop.
- Wait, so they paired up Dolores with a host father who, in a past loop, was a CANNIBAL PROFESSOR at a DINNER PARTY? Haha, why would there ever be a CANNIBAL PROFESSOR? Were professors even a THING in the Wild West? Were DINNER PARTIES? I’m pretty sure the most you could be was “teacher in a clapboard farmhouse, somewhere, eating cornmeal and drinking milk.”