Westworld: The Recappening Begins
So, Westworld. I watched the first episode, and I’m confused.
The thing is, I have to accept that confusion is natural. It’s important to remember that I started my Game of Thrones recaps in Season Two. I binged watched that first season like a sweating child sucks down a Zooper Dooper on a summer’s day. If you’d had asked me what was going on after the first episode, I would have said “I think those blonde people doing it doggy style in the tower are related” but that’s about it.
That’s right, even my famous ab-doration of a NOW TRAITOROUS bastard of Winterfell didn’t emerge fully formed outright.
So I’ve got to be circumspect and understand that one hour does not necessarily equip one to summarise the entire philosophical statement and artistic direction of a series.
But guys - it’s just robots gaining sentience and rebelling against their human masters yeah? The whole “What makes a human a human?” thing, yeah? Except this time they’re cowboy sexbots, yeah?
Also - did anyone else think the fantasy land was all in miniature, courtesy of what can only be described as a GIANT WAR ROOM FLOOR MAP (albeit a fancy circular variant)? I spent most of the episode just trying to understand how the tiny robot people were being brought out of the tiny park, resized to normal human proportions to be upgraded/interrogated, then shrunk back down again to re-enter, only to wonder what technology they were using to do that to the normal people too, until the moment when they sent a clean-up crew in to reset everything and realised “Ohhhh. The GIANT WAR ROOM FLOOR MAP is just, like, a digital representation.”
Look, I never said I was clever.
Anyway, here it is folks, my first attempt at watching/recapping the HBO series Westworld. I apologise in advance for the shambles and incoherence that is likely to follow.
GO WEST! Life is (Not) Peaceful There.
S1E1: The Original
I guess I understand a little bit why if you decided to create an immersive theme park you’d go with the Wild West. Americans love their guns, after all, and what better place to fire away with gay abandon than the lawless West? I imagine they had to remove the racism against African-Americans, Native Americans and Mexicans as well as the chronic venereal diseases to give it a bit of gloss, but boy that John Ford view of Monument Valley sure is pretty.
Personally, I think I’d prefer enjoy the English court under Elizabeth I, or the French court under Louis Roi Soleil, or the Russian court under Catherine the Great…. ok, fine, I’m predictable, I just want to wear corsets and take lovers SO SHOOT ME.
Hell, if you offered me the chance to escape to a simulated boat for some not-so-simulated naughty-cal action with Jon Snow, you’d have my life savings before you could say V-Rrrrrrrrggggh, me hearties.
So I suppose I shouldn’t be too judgemental of the “rich assholes” who decide paying real dollars to shoot and/or root robots was not a colossally douchey thing to do. Even if it’s like putting an actual face on a bullseye target or a sex toy.
I digress. I’m still trying to understand the plot, but so far this is what I’ve come up with:
A shadowy “corporation” runs “Westworld”, which is like SeaWorld but with fewer dolphins and slightly more rides that break down.
The grandfather of the technology is Anthony Hopkins, who adopts the fashion of the Wild West era instead of normal clothes in a sartorial indicator that he has developed more sympathy for his Frankensteins than his fellow humans.
His offsider, or head of programming, or something of that ilk, is Felix Leiter from Casino Royale. When not busy being a CIA agent undercover at high stakes poker games, Felix is tenderly correcting malfunctioning naked robots or marvelling at the latest upgrade that allows them to appear as if they’re remembering something, or perhaps just turns their snot into a slightly more realistic consistency, it’s hard to tell.
Felix is harangued by a Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman, who seems to have The Bottom Dollar at the Forefront of her Calculating Mind. I think it’s set slightly in the future, but weirdly, she smokes. She also smokes weirdly.
There’s also very shrill British man running the game who likes to shriek about HIS NARRATIVE BEING DESTROYED whenever the boffins decide to recall a dodge-bot. He is basically every bratty screenwriter who ever banged out a clanger on their MacBook Pro and insisted their lead female was fully fleshed out despite the character description reading simply “Susie is the kind of woman all men want to f***”.
Of course, in this case, you CAN have a fleshed-out female lead, because they’re all 3D printed squidgy sexbots. Our lead here is Dolores, the kind of ethereal mid-19th century country beauty that probably never existed because adequate dental hygiene was not a thing. She is Olivia de Havilland in Gone With the Wind, all porcelain skin and wide-eyed innocence.
Delores lives a happy enough life on her homestead with her Daddy, whom she farewells every morning while looking out over the land as if she’s about to burst into song. She seems to have some sort of pseudo-fling thing happening with Teddy, aka Cyclops from the original X-Men movies. The ones where they’re in the modern day, not the past. Of course it was the early 2000s, so it is the past now, but you get what I mean. Despite being a robot, he has no red flashing eyes here; he’s just a regular Cowboy Biclops.
Sadly, his lack of mutant skills means he’s unable to defend himself - and Delores - from Ed Harris, who turns up looking just as evil as Ed Harris usually does. Gosh, it must be hard for him to pop to the shops of a morning for a sausage roll. “OH GOD, IT’S ED HARRIS, JUST THROW HIM THE BOTTLE OF SAUCE AND HIDE BEHIND THE PIE WARMER ‘TIL HE’S GONE.”
With a voiceover of Delores’ real-world interrogation playing over the top, explaining that she is essentially Kryten from Red Dwarf with softer contours, we see Ed Harris dispatch two gunslingers who’d just shot dead her parents, got milkdrunk and prepared for some good ol’-fashioned necrophilia, then withstand a series of shots from Teddy, before returning fire with deadly accuracy, and dragging poor Delores off to an unpleasant barn.
This serves to illustrate the key difference between the robots and the “newcomers” aka “rich game-playing assholes”: the robots can die. They die of course in classic SuperMario Bros style, to be rebooted back at the start of the game/day/narrative loop/however it works.
Ed Harris references the fact that he’s been “coming here” for 30 years, indicating he’s a veteran Westworld visitor who’s had numerous encounters with Delores and her family. But whereas all the other rich assholes seem to be mostly bumbling idiots hoping to kill what Donald Trump might describe as “bad hombres” or indulge in some cathouse kink, Ed Harris seems to have a malevolent go-it-alone streak.
By the end of the episode, we’ve seen him drain the blood and semi-decapitate a character in an attempt to get to the “deeper” level of the game. So is he just a regular visitor to Westworld, or has he hidden himself inside the park, with park operators not knowing he is there? He certainly seems to have gone native, for want of a better phrase. Perhaps, PERHAPS, he was originally an in-world character, and has broken his own programming, and somehow flown under the radar of Anthony Hopkins and Felix Leiter? I leave these thoughts here so if one of them by chance turns out to be correct I can point back at my own prescient genius. If I’ve got it all wrong, well hey at least I’m imaginative.
Back in the real world, there’s been trouble due to the most recent updates affecting some of the robot “hosts” negatively. Anthony Hopkins says he must be allowed to make mistakes as he continually evolves the machines (as natural selection did before him), but Shrill British Guy tells Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman that too many updates will make the robots too real, and guests don’t actually want things to be too real.
I suppose he’s got a point. I love the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland as much as the next five-year-old child, but slightly creaky animatronics singing “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me” while pretending to quaff rum is always going to more charming than the current Johnny Depp.
The negative impact of Anthony Hopkins’ new “reveries” is first seen in some sort of Sheriff-bot having an episode of robo-lepsy while out hunting Hector the Bad Hombre. That’s more an inconvenience than anything, but the update becomes a genuine problem when one of the henchme who earlier had attacked Delores' parents goes on a milk-induced rampage in the brothel, threatening a few paying customers in a non-approved improvisation. The guy was literally moments away from a Space Jump so it was only right park authorities act.
Super cranky about this shitstorm, Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman orders all updated robot hosts rounded up for assessment. It means Shrill British Guy has to advance a narrative loop forcing Hector the Bad Hombre to rob the hotel/brothel a week earlier than planned. But he punches up Hector’s big triumphant monologue as compensation - only to see Hector shot in the neck by a bumbling guest in a sharp purple coat, who dispatches his similarly-attired wife to get a photographer to capture them both as pleased as punch.
Things don’t turn out quite so well for Teddy/Bicylops again either - a casualty of the shoot-out between Hector’s men (or rather, woman), he dies by the side of the road, a distraught Delores washing his wounds with her tears. “Everybody has a path…” she weeps, echoing a sentiment she mentions several times during the episode. It seems her Bicylops beau’s path is to fail to protect her when it counts. I wonder if that’s more than Teddy can bear?
As the “heroes” take pictures with Hector’s corpse, Delores asks a nearby woman for help - and it turns out to be a park ranger (I’m yet to discern what their technical names are). She reassures Delores that this whole incident of violent death on the street will soon feel like a distant dream, and until then, she should rest in a deep and dreamless slumber. That’s obviously the Westworld safety word, as Delores passes out like instantly like a bewitched Disney princess.
Delores, Bicylops and a bunch of other ‘bots are wheeled into the repair centre to be put up on blocks, or drenched again in that weird while milky substance they’re created in (certainly a fair bit of liquid symbolism there). Felix Leiter indicates to Sharply-Dressed Modern Business Woman that most seem to be OK, but one is very much NOT handling the reverie upgrade.
For while she of the lovely locks was out explaining landscape painting to a bunch of rich assholes, her Daddy had found a random photograph of a woman, dressed in modern attire, standing what appeared to be Times Square, or at least some sort of cityscape. It’s enough to drive Hal 9000 to close the pod bay doors forever.
Delores finds her Daddy on the porch, having stayed up all night staring at this photograph. She seems to glibly look at the picture, but not see its contents, as Sherlock Holmes might accuse Dr Watson of doing. But Daddy starts freaking out, including whispering something in her ear. It’s scary enough to prompt Delores to ride off to town to find a doctor, and get caught up in the shooting mentioned above.
Later during their examination, Daddy appears to get close to Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction levels of anger, telling Anthony Hopkins that he wants to meet his maker, and when he does, he will visit such revenges on him, they will be the terror of the earth. Anthony Hopkins, sorry, Ford, tells Barnard the King Lear quote is a relic of a former character the host used to play, a cult-leading Professor. The freakout, therefore, is a result of the reverie update leaking past character traits through to the Delores’ Daddy character.
It’s somewhat sad that such an amazing piece of crazy robot acting was rewarded by the character being put on ice. Daddy, along with the rampaging milk-drunk henchman, was sent into a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style treasure trove, only with less archaeological wonders and more frozen wang. When Delores reappears in the world, she has a new Daddy, one with a suitably era-appropriate moustache.
Finally we discover that what Daddy1 whispered in Delores’ ear was “These violent delights have violent ends”, another Shakespeare quote, this time from Romeo and Juliet. In R+J, of course, it’s what Pete Postlewaite says to Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as he marries them, even though they’re like 14 years old. It means something about how short-lived joy can lead to bad ju-ju. I think, anyway. I used to be a huge Shakespeare nerd, but I’m going to have to make like a Cole Porter musical and brush up.
Point is, we’re back at where I started - Westworld appears to be about robots gaining sentience and turning on their creators/masters, yeah?
I mean, I’m down with it. It’s got high-falutin’ literary references, so that’ll no doubt result in some existential philosophical ponderings. To use low-falutin’ rhyming slang, I’m sure it’ll be a Yul Brynner.
(Damnit, I just checked, and “Yul Brynner” in rhyming slang is dinner, not winner. Jackson Pollocks. GASP ED HARRIS PLAYED JACKSON POLLOCK IT’S ALL CONNECTED WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE PEOPLE).
Other Questions or Things Worth Remarking Upon
THANDIE NEWTON DON’T GIVE A SHIT
And I love it. It was super great when she shot that Bad Hombre right in the face, and his face just exploded over the scared other hooker nearby. Then she shot the other one. She’s also a sassy sex robot, and I cannot wait to see more of her. Like, her character, not her body, I’m not a complete Weinstein.
WAS THAT A HEMSWORTH?
A quick IMDB check (don’t worry, I didn’t spoil anything for myself) reveals that yes, it’s a “Luke” Hemsworth. I didn’t even know such a Hemsworth existed, and I’m from Australia, Land of Hemsworths. For shame. He seems to be a programmer or “fixer” of sorts, but not as loving of the machines as say Anthony Hopkins or Felix Leiter. Yes, Ford and Barnard. That’s their names. I’ll get around to using them eventually.
The fly was a recurring motif in this episode, don’t think I didn’t spot it. In the first shot of Delores, naked and being interrogated by either Felix Leiter and/or “Luke” Hemsworth, a bug crawls across her forehead, down her nose, onto HER EYEBALL and she doesn’t move. Deadset robot that’s for sure. I have a phobia about my eyeballs. One of my biggest irrational fears is getting a papercut on my eyeball. And congratulations - it’s now one of your biggest irrational fears too. A PAPERCUT ON YOUR EYEBALL. You will now never want to use a photocopier again, so apologies for the drop in productivity.
Don’t think I didn’t also notice those tinny pianola cover versions of classic bangers including “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden (RIP Chris Cornell 2017) and “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones (RIP Keith Richards when the heat death of the universe occurs and not a moment before).
The pianola is a key feature of the opening credits sequence as well, and for good reason - as an early example of automated entertainment, and one particularly evocative of the Wild West, it’s dripping in ivory symbolism for the whole concept of Westworld.
Thank you all for reading! I look forward to our next instalment a week hence. Until then, may your violent delights be more delightful than violent.