THIS IS A DEEP DIVE INTO WESTWORLD,
BOTH SEASON ONE AND ITS FINALE.
This weekend, HBOâ€™sÂ science fiction epic Westworld wrapped up their inaugural season.
Since Sunday night, I have been working through my feelings about that finale, andÂ about this seasonâ€¦but thatÂ final episodeÂ of WestworldÂ feels best summed up like thisâ€¦
My frustration with Westworld, I should make clear, doesÂ not come from the productionâ€™sÂ incredible acting ensemble. Sir Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, one of the creators of the â€œrealistic-with-safety-parametersâ€ theme park, takes subtlety to all new heights with a performanceÂ thatÂ should be dissected and taught in acting schools everywhere.
Oh, wait, someoneâ€™s already done thisâ€¦
Alongside Hopkins are unforgettable performances by Ed Harris (The Man in Black), James Marsden (Teddy), Jeffrey Wright (Bernard), and Thadie Newton (Maeve) who all test limits and layers of the acting trade within their performances. All absolutely flawless, and considering the challenges thrown at them, Westworld is a real triumph. At the center of this maelstrom of talent is Evan Rachel Wood (Delores), the constant thread in this tapestry of technology, ethics, philosophy, obsession, oppression, and insurrection. Wood is absolutely stunning in herÂ role, and theÂ journey she takes us on is revealing, emotional, powerful, and absolutely exhausting.
I also canâ€™t fault theÂ production investedÂ into this reimagining of the 1973 Michael Crichton thriller.Â From the look and feel of the â€œControl Centerâ€ watching over the park to the hierarchy of the Westworld tech staff to Ramin Djwandiâ€™s score (occasionally sneaking in classic rock throughÂ Maeveâ€™s player piano), a lot of thought, time, detail, and attention went into this updatedÂ Westworldâ€¦
Well, hold on a minute. There was one tiny detail overlooked in Season One…
Where the hell wereÂ we going withÂ Season One?
I wonâ€™t lie and claim that I wasnâ€™t enjoyingÂ the tumble down thisÂ rabbit hole. It was fun as every week we were given yet another tantalizing morsel as to what Westworldâ€™s endgame could possibly be.Â Would the board members outwit FordÂ who has claimed full and total control over the hosts?Â What would happen to Delores once she achieved self-awareness?Â WillÂ Maeve reach her own potential and build that army she was talking about in order to break free of the park? Five episodes in, and we were discovering new layers to this mystery. Eight episodes in, and there was…still more to discover?Â Okay, I guess the show runners have got a plan. Episode Nineâ€¦and…weâ€™re not done? And then, we get to the final episodeâ€¦
All week,Â geeks are losing their minds over DAT ENDING (which Iâ€™ll get to in a moment), quotingÂ â€œThese violent measures…â€ line, but Iâ€™ve been bothered by a few major hiccups that writers never really addressed…
Ashley Stubbs. Remember him? The head of security? When we last saw Ashley, he was checking out why Elsie Hughesâ€™ tracker was online in the park. Remember her? She was â€œon vacationâ€ according to Bernard, but her transponder was discovered in an abandoned area of the park. So Ashley goes out to investigate. By himself. No backup. Inexplicably, his commsÂ blink out. Then he isÂ attacked by Native American hosts.
Now, think about that for a second. Westworldâ€™sÂ Security which tracks everything about the hosts and the park, picks up a transponderÂ of an associate who is supposed to be on vacation.Â The HEAD OF SECURITY goes out ALONE to investigate.Â His comms fail. And Security notices nothing. And thereâ€™s no follow-up inquiry. Itâ€™s been at least a day or two since anyoneâ€™s seen the HEAD OF SECURITY who went out ALONE to investigate a rogue tracker…and no one is doing a damn thing about it. Oh, wait, hold onâ€”the Delos Executive Board is having a party IN THE PARK in a couple of days. SinceÂ the entire Executive Board of Delos is in attendance, maybeÂ the HEAD OF SECURITY should be sweeping through a territory, just to make sure itâ€™s safe,Â seeing as how they all know â€œFord is unstable.â€Â Oh yeah, no one has seen the HEAD OF SECURITY since he went out ALONE on that weird call, now have they?
To be fair, why would anyone notice a missing head of Security, seeing as no one really cared about…
The storeroom. So thereâ€™s this whole thread of paranoia concerningÂ Dr. Fordâ€™s stability, especially in how he seems to nurse a god complex, and you see it in that above scene between him and Theresa Cullen. This, along with the â€œbold, new narrativeâ€ that heâ€™s not telling anyone about but tearing up old property over and scrapping works in developmentÂ is enough to startÂ a behind-the-scenes plan to kick the old man out. Okay, I get that. Makes sense. What didnâ€™t make any sense at allâ€”and was hardly a secret at Westworldâ€”was how no one showed any concern over Ford going down to the lower levels by himself. You know, the lower levels where hundreds of deactivated hosts are just standing around? Why were these host deactivated, you ask? They were malfunctioning, a â€œmalfunctionâ€ defined as no longer staying within parameters of programming, unexplained seizures, and retaining memories of past lives.
Okay, so youâ€™re telling me that on this Executive Board, aware thatÂ Ford is unstableÂ and disappearing for hours-on-end in the storeroom, no one at Delos said â€œYou know, heâ€™s been spending a lot of time in that storeroom of offline hosts. You think we shouldâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”dismantle those hosts and use them for spare parts?â€ No, no, no, letâ€™s just keepÂ malfunctioning lifelike robots nakedÂ inÂ a giant warehouse. Sure, Unstable Ford wrote the programming for these hosts, but itâ€™s not like heâ€™s going to do something like reprogram them. Right?
Sorry, but after that lunch with Ford, Cullen should have been on a phone, saying â€œSend a couple of crews down there. I want those decommissioned hosts dismantled, smelted down, and as far away from herÂ as possible, and I want it done today!â€
Since I mentioned Theresa Cullen, letâ€™s address another sore spot I have over Westworld…
Bernard Lowe. Okay, weâ€™re in a future where we have foldable iPads, multi-leveled massive corporate headquarters that double as dormitories, a corporation so big that thereâ€™s even a class system amongst the associates, andâ€”not missing the obviousâ€”life-like automatons.
You know what else this vision of the future has? Photos. And video. And probably advanced social media.
So how is it that no one looked at Bernardâ€”especially Theresa who was the director of the park and sleeping with himâ€”and said â€œYou look a lot like Fordâ€™s old partner, Arnold. You know, the other guy who built Westworld. Anyone ever tell you that?â€
I mean, that was the big reveal of Episode Nine, right? Barnard was created by Robert Ford to replace his dead partner, Arnold. But no one noticedâ€”not a soulâ€”that this new guy, Bernard, looked â€”Â just â€”Â like â€” Arnold. Come on.
Youâ€™re telling me no one noticed?Â People know what Steve Jobs looks like. People know what Jim Henson looked like. People know what Walt Disney looked like. If these guys were strolling around a Delos event, I think people would have noticed.
Iâ€™m going to come back to this little detail.
The Inside Job. Anyone remember this little wrinkle early on? Someone is stealing the secrets of Westworld. No. Wait. Someone on the inside of Delos is stealing secrets. No. Wait. Itâ€™s the Executive Board that stealing these secrets! But why? Damned if we know. That plotline just got dropped after a good amount of development. At first, I thought it was some kind of angle the Delos Board was playing. If they let Ford go, and he were to pull a â€œpoisoned wellâ€ tactic and erase all files behind the hosts, this stolen IPÂ wasnâ€™t really â€œstolenâ€ but more like a backup because, you know, â€œFord is unstable.â€
This plotline looked like it was going in a pretty cool direction. Someone is using a satellite uplink and getting core code out of the park? Who? Why, itâ€™s Theresa Cullen, Bernardâ€™s girlfriend! You know, Bernard…whoÂ kinda looks like Arnold, you ever notice that? And sheâ€™s doing this on the orders of Delos Board Member, Charlotte Hale!
Waitâ€”Ford, who we all know is unstable, is agreeing to leave the park after he introduces his new narrative? No harm, no foul?
Dr. Robert Fordâ€™s New Narrative (a/k/a DAT ENDING). All right, now we get to DAT ENDING where all hell breaks loose at Dr. Fordâ€™s new narrative and retirement announcement, his â€œbold new narrativeâ€ heâ€™s been on about for most of the season. His â€œnew beginning.â€ Before this definitive moment happens, we getÂ gift wrapped a revelation that it was suffering the hosts needed in order to achieve their self-awareness. Thirty-five years in the making to reach this point, this incredible achievement in science, technology, andâ€”yesâ€”evolution. With this achievement reached, at least according to Ford, what does heÂ do with this new life he has created? He unleashes his host army, overrides safety protocols, and turns the malfunctioningÂ hostsâ€”you know, the malfunctioningÂ hosts that Delos has been collecting like PokÃ©monâ€”on those who betrayed him.
Um. Okay. Sure.
There was a lot given to us in the finale, but WestworldÂ has been apparently leading up over ten episodesÂ to Ford simply getting in the last wordÂ with the Delos board members. This finale not only felt hollow, it felt like taking a trip from your thumb to your pinkie by way of your elbow with a casual detour around your shoulder so you could admire the view. As forÂ this revelation about self-awareness through suffering, itÂ didnâ€™t make a whole lot of sense as the only Delores, Maeve, and Bernard actually achieved it without malfunctioning. Even Terry, who hinted at that epiphany, never really reached that point. He, like the others, remained true toÂ their programming. Case in point:Â The host army following Fordâ€™s orders at the party.
So, ten episodes of twists, turns, and big reveals has all been…to settle a grudge?
True Detective, Season Two was more rewarding than this. And you know how I felt about that.
But the wrinkle in the finale that really set me off?
â€œItâ€™s complicated.â€ You want me to go on a fully fueled rant? Have your series showcase incredible writing and then pull â€œAmateur Hourâ€Â mistakes in theÂ finale. (Yeah, Iâ€™m looking at you, Penny Dreadful. Still pissed off, if you were wondering.) This was perhaps the grand daddy of â€œF.U.â€™sâ€ to the audience who stuck WestworldÂ out to its bitter end. Maeve is growing closer and closer to her freedom, seeing levels of the Delos building that no other host had ever seen before in a conscious state. Then, after crossing from one wing to anotherâ€”mind you, a wing that had never been introduced or even mentioned over nine previous episodesâ€”we getÂ a glimpse of Samurai World. When Maeve asks what this is, worker bee Felix Lutxâ€”and mind you, it has been made clear that Felix is as entry level as they comeâ€”responds with â€œItâ€™s complicated.â€
What the fuck do you mean by â€œItâ€™s complicated.â€ and how the fuck would you know if itâ€™s complicated or not? Having Â a low-level tech say â€œItâ€™s complicated.â€ in response to Samurai World isÂ equivalent toÂ a Communications major from JMUÂ explaining to aÂ Senate Judiciary subcommittee the recent AT&T/Time-Warner merger. Sorry, but no, this isÂ not complicated. Not to you, Felix, because you are just a tech. This is the company. This is a different division. This is not complicated. You could have said â€œIf you want to get out of here, stop asking questions. Just follow me.â€ Instead we get â€œItâ€™s complicatedâ€¦â€ which is low-hanging fruit for perpetuating fan theories.Â Itâ€™s not complicated. Itâ€™s sloppyÂ storytelling,Â making drama where there is none.
Here would be why I was completely dumbfounded by the end of Westworld: Season One, and where I think the series after so much promise stumbled into an epic faceplant.Â Every episode featured some incredible reveal, and the writers and producers were so aware of this they produced companionÂ featurettes called â€œThe Big Momentâ€ that played at the end. However, Westworld was trying so damn hard to impress us with weeklyÂ â€œwater cooler momentsâ€ that somewhere in the production, the overarching storyâ€”the direction and eventual destination we were all heading towardsâ€”went forgottenÂ or contradicted itself. (Bernard was the greatest victim of this.) Westworld began as an exciting adventure full of wonder and mystery, promising to reveal so much to us in that final episode. Problem is, we were so blown away by the journey itself that the destination was a bit of a letdown.Â Now, my buddy Nick Kelly thinks that â€œThis is only the beginningâ€¦â€ but if that is the case, then Westworldâ€™s storytelling skills have gone from â€œshitâ€ to â€œcomplete and utter shitâ€ because if you canâ€™t have a clear direction for your characters after ten episodes, you have bigger problems. From the sounds of things before the first episode dropped, they did.
So we are left looking at the end of Westworld wondering if we should have taken that left turn at Alberqueque, and if the wait until 2018 for Season 2 will be a better payoff.Â Honestly, if this season is any indication, Iâ€™ll beÂ sticking with episodes of Ballers and Silicon Valley. The characters there may not be as sophisticated as those in Westworld;Â but at least I know with those shows, whatever destination were heading in, itâ€™ll be worth it.