Westworld: Who We Are When the Lights Go Out

Spoiler-free:

I’ve watched the first two episodes of Westworld, and like many of you, I watched in fear and trepidation, because we have seen this show. Remember Dollhouse? I was imagining Dollhouse done by HBO, and I admit I had my hands over my eyes the first time through, hoping they didn’t fuck this up. Because basically, you know: tits and explosions and sexual violence as titillation, because women are robots so you can do anything to them, just like real life and man, that sounds awful.

BUT SOMETIMES LIFE SURPRISES YOU.

Here was the first tell: the co-writer/creator/executive producer is Lisa Joy (Nolan).  She has a lot of great writing credits under her belt, including Burn Notice, Pushing Daisies, and Battlestar Galatica. So yay, a woman co-creator on the show! Good. The second tell was this: the first two actors in the credits are Evan Rachel Wood and Thandi Newton. Not Anthony Hopkins and James Marsden. You generally give top billing to the main characters, right? No matter how they are listed in IMDB, that’s how they are listed in the opening credits.

THIS IS A SHOW THAT ACKNOWLEDGES WOMEN’S STORIES EQUALLY HOLY CRAP FOR REAL?

It appears so, yes.

Fittingly, this is a show about bodily autonomy, and our most sympathetic heroes are the women in the show, and it’s setting up really well for this to be their story. Oh, there are some mis-steps in this: there’s a shot of a woman getting dragged away as seen in the reflection of a man’s eye, right there at the outset. We should have stayed in her POV throughout, and felt what she felt in a way we did later on in the episode, when she’s sobbing over her dead lover, and there at the beginning, when we see the man in black looming over her. But having watched that first episode twice now, this appears also to be part of the redirect.

When we are dropped into Westworld, we assume we are getting a certain type of show. I certainly did, anyway. We were going to follow Men Being Bad and Men Being Good and the robots would go crazy and kill everyone, probably, and have to be put down.

But the reversal of this expectation happens almost immediately. And it keeps getting better from there.

If “….(CHARACTER) is the oldest model in the park” doesn’t make your skin crawl at the end of episode one, you are dead to me.

I tried to write a more detailed analysis, full of spoilers, after writing this part, but I’ve found that I still can’t get all my thoughts together. The imagery here: the piano that plays according the script, the incredibly beautiful vistas hiding the darkness, the way the bodies are shot not as sexy but in this cold dead lighting that makes them look so sad, the cut aways from the worst violence (sexual and physical, except when one guy’s head is blown off), the incredible acting (holy fuck Louis Herthum’s performance with Hopkins), and of course, the obvious but necessary black and white hats. And I love the puffed-up gaming writer, the visibility of bisexual and lesbian characters (even in passing), the fact that the world wasn’t all white (tho still mostly so, alas). The quest givers and the little moments of beauty amid the horror, and OMG WHEN SHE WAKES UP ON THE TABLE HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO GREAT.

This is indeed Dollhouse meets Jurassic Park meets Groundhog Day, only seemingly far more aware of issues related to humanity, bodily integrity, and dare I say: women. I am watching this show for the same reason I watched Spartacus, and that’s because I CAN’T FUCKING WAIT for THE DAY OF RECKONING. You are just so ready for the robots to burn all this shit down.

Every monologue Hopkins gives makes it clear there is a heavy meat beneath the promise of this show, and by god, it better fucking deliver. Hope springs eternal because of that second episode, and the choice they made with the man in the white hat. I am used to nihilistic, dark, mean TV, and expected them to go what has now become the tired grimdark route, but this is promising to show us a far more varied place than that.

I will say it now: if this show actually delivers on the promises it makes in these first two episodes, we are in store for some fine, fine television. This whole show is right up my alley.

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