Ever watched through an entire first season of something and wondered what, in the stench ridden armpits of hell, you had just seen?
Back in pre-streaming years I’m sure this applied to many of you whenever Twin Peaks had aired and we mused whether the red-suited, dancing dwarf from the Black Lodge was the key to whole storyline. Or, in later years, if there really was a demonic, man-eating polar bear in the lush jungles of Lost. Frankly I’m not convinced we’re really any the wiser even if the shows have long since finished.
Which brings me to Westworld, one of the more recent offerings from TV’s vault of the downright bizarre. Based on the 1973 film of the same name written by Michael Crichton, it’s a seemingly simple tale of a Wild West Fantasy theme park where humans interact with pre-programmed AI characters (Hosts), each with their own history and storyline. Naturally, being set in the Wild West with all its brutality and debauchery (see Deadwood for western-based story-telling at its finest), the human customers can fornicate with and murder their artificial counterparts without fear of being whacked themselves. AI on a leash you could say.
You know what happens next. In that regard, the premise of the story is very simple in that the leash breaks. But it’s figuring out why and how it breaks that is the devilish charm of Westworld. Is it a simple malfunction or is there something more sinister afoot? Who are the good guys and who are the villains?
After a 4 evening, 10 episode mini-binge, when the kids had gone to bed and the lunches prepared for the following day, I’ll admit to thinking I know what happened but not 100% sure how I do. There were times it felt like being repeatedly poked in the head with a protractor by a crazed maths teacher yelling “You know the answer Mister. Think. THINK!” It is staring you in the face but so tantalisingly out of reach that every time you approach your Eureka moment, the writers throw you a curveball. Immediately you doubt everything you thought you knew and you have to stand like a dunce in the corner of your own living room.
Sounds like a wonderful evening’s entertainment doesn’t it? Except that it truly is and if you are prepared to have your mental agility challenged again and again, it’s worth sticking with until the end of the first season. Even then, after a number of big character and plot reveals, you have to delve back into your memories of earlier episodes to try and connect the dots. You’re never quite sure who or what is or isn’t real.
TV shouldn’t just be about mindless gratification, a few hours spent away from the stresses of everyday life. Sometimes it should force you to think and think hard about what you are witnessing. Westworld has this in spades. It’s classy, highly entertaining and a riveting head-melter of the first degree.