Should we care about Westworld?
After just three episodes, the problems with HBO’s Westworld are beginning to show. I’m not saying it won’t get better, but shouldn’t a series endear a viewer to its characters? Westworld seems to be doing quite the opposite. After the first episode I was very excited. It was full of invention and originality, especially the part whereby Dolores, one of the hosts, is told to shut down emotion as a man reviews her performance, and then she is asked to lose her accent and return to natural speech. This was showing AI in a different way than I had ever seen before, and it was clever and satisfying. Dolores’ father was also actually quite touching, watching him being put out of service.
The whole thing felt like a canvas of many colours, a visit to the Wild West, set in the future, what could be better? The potential was obvious, and yet now I question what I feared all along. Some stories can become more complex over time, and more interesting, but some stories have limits, and I believe this is one. What Westworld doesn’t give us, at least not yet, is a sense of the real world beyond the futuristic park. Just like the 1973 movie starring Yul Brynner, we are stuck in this futuristic park and the humans and the hosts do very little to make us care. The lack of a sense of scale was okay in the movie because the concept was simply one of survival for the human characters stuck inside it, but it tires quickly when it comes to the much longer form of TV, especially when it treats the material as being richer and more fully fleshed out than it actually is.
When I write a story the first thing I have to consider is will somebody care for the characters I have created? Do I care for them? And to get to the end of episode 3 in Westworld, while feeling no empathy for any of them at all is a mistake, not a clever plot ploy, not a clever analogy of the unfeeling world of robots, oh how clever, but no – a mistake.
It may pick up, there may be twists and turns, the characters may become endearing to me, if I can bring myself to continue watching, but at the moment I feel the canvas has turned grey, the characters have fallen flat, the hosts die and come back, and no matter how human they may seem, we know they are just robots. This my friends is a world of zero consequences, and if eventually there are consequences, or bad things happening, so far I have no clue of the future world beyond this theme park that would actually care, or how its ripples would spread. After all, think about it, at $40,000 dollars a day, the only real people that could get hurt are those vacationers who have that kind of money and are willing to pay it in order to live out their murderous and sexual desires in the Wild West. There is literally nothing in this series to care about. The shows needs to give us characters we can care about, that we can warm to, then it needs to put them in mortal peril, anything less than this is futile.
When Dolores’ father quoted Shakespeare and started to turn demonic towards Hopkins’ character Dr Robert Ford, I felt fear, I felt a sense of danger, but then he was just turned off and put into cold storage. If this series doesn’t do something to hot things up, it runs the risk of doing the same to its viewers.