Review: Westworld (Season 1, Episode 1)

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Is it just me or does the black-and-white credits remind you of the cloak-and-dagger, noirish opening to True Detective? Jonathan Nolan definitely shares his brother’s knack for arresting imagery such as the cold open with a nude Rachel Evan Wood deprogrammed in a chair while a fly scampers across her face and her lifeless eyeball. In a complimentary fashion, the crane shot of the frontier town has the scope of Michael Cimino’s exorbitant Heaven’s Gate.

After years of fluttering in mediocrity, James Marsden has finally rebounded with an occidental twinkle. Jeffrey Wright is flawlessly cast for the omniscient voice of the scientist who is troubleshooting his creations for system errors and bugs. Ed Harris is The Man in Black, the slimy frequent shopper at the resort. His standoff with Marsden is cinematic and garishly villainous with the squibs ricocheting off his vest before he drags Evan off to her deflowering fate.

The rudimentary plot is Groundhog Day for the synthetic cyborgs a.k.a. “hosts” who awaken with tabula rasa of the previous days’ events. Isaac Asimov prognosticated that artificial intelligence would experience”reveries” which are the facsimiles of memories. Nolan and Lisa Joy corroborate his scripture that virtual reality will eventually become less theoretical and more tangible. The honeycomb within Bernard Lowe’s sanctuary is an Orwellian den of office-bound soullessness in which the technicians clinically browse the hairless, “life-like” models for imperfections.

The jerky, robotic mannerisms of Michael Wincott as Old Bill is pitch-perfect as he zips himself back into his body bag after a congenial chat with creative director Dr. Robert Ford )(Anthony Hopkins). Having only seen the 1973 predecessor as a Michael Crichton curiosity, this HBO incarnation is emancipated to be openly hedonistic and burrow beneath the oater adventure.

Every host is on a lockstep trajectory and much like us, they glitch whenever there is a deviation on the path. Their happiness lies in familiarity. They also coincide with Alan Baddeley’s episodic-buffer model for short-term memories in which the recall is confined to 24-hour diurnal before a reset. However, I do hope they illustrate why immersion into wagon nostalgia is such an irresistible craze for millenials.

Obeying the laws of robotics is the mandate that will inevitable be breached but Nolan suspends the logic better than the admittedly rejuvenated Jurassic World did. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quartermain), a querulous programmer, complaining that they can’t “close the park and issue gift certificates” is the type of naysayer that ‘Jaws’ preyed upon. On a sidenote, the saloon piano rendition of “Black Hole Sun” is magnificent along with “Paint It Black” during a shootout.

The wind-up is so impetuous and grandiose that I’m not sure how the series will continue without diminishing returns. There is already a snag in the fabric of the hosts’ apocryphal reality, Harris is causing mischief among the “narrative” and there are threats of a widespread cessation on the corporation’s activities. On one hand, I loved this inception. It was white-knuckle and gruesomely rewarding but couldn’t a miniseries or feature film have sufficed?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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