What We Thought Of Westworld

Image: HBO / Westworld / IMDB

It's hard not to watch something that costs $10 million an episode. So when HBO's blockbuster sci-fi western thriller wrapped up earlier this week, you'd better believe we had some thoughts.

Like we did with Gilmore Girls, Westworld spawned some heated debate in our offices. Most people were pretty happy about how the series panned out, although there were a few who simply couldn't buy into the concept.

As always, this is going to be ladened with spoilers. So if you haven't seen the series yet, turn away now!


Spandas Lui, Lifehacker Journalist

Image: Westworld/HBO

I love Westworld more than I love Game Of Thrones. There, I said it.

I’m not a big fan of the Wild West setting but the sci-fi aspects and the underlying eeriness of the show sucked me right in. Machines becoming more human than humans? Fuck yeah! I, for one, welcome our robot overlords (especially at the rate 2016 has been going).

That final episode was bonkers; I thoroughly enjoyed watching Armistice and Hector’s rampage through the Westworld facility. I’m sad to see Anthony Hopkins’ character get killed off; I’ll miss Dr Ford’s dramatic pauses.

I was also waiting for sassy behavioural tech Elsie to return but that never happened. Goddammit, I want her back!

The acting was superb and kudos to Rachel Evan Woods (Dolores) for nailing the ‘stone cold killer face’ in the final scene when she shot Dr Ford. That face gave me cold shivers.

I have a few gripes with the show, namely around potholes and over-indulgent monologues, but they’re really just minor annoyances and they don’t ruin the show for me.

On a side note, I feel bad for James ‘Cyclops’ Marden, who seems to have been relegated as a forgettable support character once again. His character Teddy didn’t really stand out much in the show but let’s hope he gets more screen in season two.


Campbell Simpson, Gizmodo Editor

Image: HBO/Westworld

I went in to Westworld not knowing a thing about it. I watched half of the first episode, got supremely bored, then switched it off. A couple of weeks later, someone convinced me to give it another go, and I did — I watched that first episode, then the one after it, then three more. Then the day after I binged another four. Then I watched the finale the day after. I don't usually binge shows but this was an exception because I was intrigued.

Westworld takes some time to get into and it takes some attention to pay off — it's not mindless popcorn-munching TV. It's a hard show to like, too. The complicated timeline makes things difficult, and none of the characters are especially likeable. But that's exactly why I liked it, because there's a pay-off at the end, and that's exactly why I'll keep watching more. The idea behind the hosts being almost-human-but-not-but-also-better has a lot of potential.

Next season, I want to see the concept behind Westworld expand more, though. I feel like those existing characters' stories have already played out for the most part, although the reset mechanic makes it easy to give them more depth. But I want to find out about those crazy robot samurai. Are there more worlds? Is it all one world with borderlands, or are they separate attractions? Is there a low-budget Westworld with whalers on the moon?


Nathaniel Sussman, Allure Account Manager

Image: HBO/Westworld/IMDB

Best new show of the year for me. The concept was unique, both the writing and acting excellent.

Moving forward, I want answers! The biggest question I was left with is what happened to Logan? And how the hell did William still take over the company after physically and emotionally ditching his fiance for a robot… Oh and also super keen on those robot samurais.

Maeve is [a] boss for sure. But I can’t help but feel Dr. Ford’s 35 years of playing the bad guy, all to flip it on its head at the end, might be worth a call out as challenger.


Chris Jager, Lifehacker Editor

Image: HBO / Westworld / IMDB

I would have enjoyed Westworld more if the guests were required to wear special badges in the park. No, really.

As it stood, they had no way of identifying guests from hosts which, from a safety standpoint, is completely implausible. We know all guns in the park are harmless to humans, but what happens when a guest decides to randomly stab a host or coward punch them from behind? For all they know, they could be accidentally murdering another human.

Badges, man. This small addition would have solved everything.

Otherwise it was pretty good. If you haven't already, go check out the Yul Brynner original. It holds up surprisingly well.


Alex Walker, Kotaku Editor

Image: IMDB/Westworld/HBO

I came into Westworld a little late, and my initial impressions were soured by complaints from my erstwhile managing editor, Mr. Serrels.

He's not a fan. And based off his complaints, it made sense. It was difficult to connect with the story. And particularly the people.

And while you can't criticise anything after one episode, I understood what he meant. When your story operates in an environment where all of the humans are effectively automatons, it's difficult to find anyone to relate to, anyone to connect to.

But you have to give the story a chance. It begins to open up. Dolores and Maeve discover and begin to explore their inner voice, their own consciousness. The political machinations behind Westworld become interesting; it expanded from a discussion of "maybe these bots are breaking down" to "someone is deliberately invading this world".

In a lot of ways, Westworld doesn't kick into gear until the first half of the season. And that's not just because the story needs time to establish characters and the setup - most of that is done by the second episode, after William and Logan enter the picture, after we've gotten a proper introduction to Maeve, and after the set pieces are established.

I have my doubts about how well everything will hold up once we start dealing with multiple worlds - as indicated by Maeve's little journey outside. But I'm on board the Westworld train. There's enough humanity in the performances, enough charisma and enough intrigue that I've bought in for a second season.

They'll have to do exceptionally well to fill Ed Harris's role though. I felt like it was his malevolence, and the theories tying him to William, that kept a large part of the action within Westworld going until the final episode. Anthony Hopkins was superb, but from the opening Harris bound the park to the real world.

How they fill that role is going to be crucial - it'll probably be the most important arc of the second season, even more so than what happens with Maeve and her daughter. After all, you can't just let the park's majority shareholder die without a few consequences.


Mark Serrels, Kotaku/Gizmodo/Lifehacker Managing Editor

Image: HBO/Westworld

Honestly, and this will probably surprise no-one, I thought Westworld was a bit of a mess. For a number of reasons.

Note: I gave up on the show after episode 5.

First and foremost, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. Westworld's high concept is an interesting one but unlike — say Jurassic Park — it doesn't feel like a place that could actually exist.

I didn't believe in Westworld. I didn't believe someone would build a place like this, didn't believe it could function. Didn't believe people would spend exorbitant amounts of money to sit in a saloon and play cards and have sex with robot prostitutes. Didn't believe it would be cost effective or even humanly possible. Didn't believe they could clean the place out, fix up the hosts, etc in a single night or whatever.

Westworld never earnedthat legitimacy. Never earned my belief as a place that could actually exist.

We don't really know how the park works, how it functions. That's a problem. Are these characters on daily routines? How long do people stay for? Westworld is one of those weird shows that's loaded with terrible expository dialogue that constantly states the obvious, but never really answers the questions we actually need answers to in order to suspend our disbelief.

Also: it is full of terribly drawn characters. The narrative designer who shouts a lot and is angry all the time for no good reason — he doesn't feel like a real person. At all. Westworld is just loaded with characters like this, particularly in those behind the scenes moments. It's filled with characters I literally don't care about, because the show does such a terrible job of making you care about them.

The pacing of the show is a problem. It takes real liberties with its audience. It repeats itself, it's banal, flat out boring in sections. The writing has its moments (the Shakespeare line "these violent delights have violent ends" fits perfectly with the show's themes) but for the most part the dialogue is not memorable at all. The writing is almost completely dependent on these 'OMG' twists, which is a problem with almost all of the 'golden age' TV shows, but especially an issue with Westworld.

And it takes itself so goddamn seriously.

I am not a fan of this TV show! Watch The Expanse instead!


So that's how we felt about the first season of Westworld. What did you think of the new HBO blockbuster? Have you watched it yet, and if so, will you be returning for a second season?


Comments

    Loved everything about Westworld from the soundtrack, the cinematography and the outstanding acting all round. I will absolutely be returning for season 2!

    I've got a funny feeling that the host that Ford was constructing in his basement, is most probably a Host of himself. Which means that it could have been his host that was shot in the final.. not himself. Furthermore, we never actually witnessed William get killed, he got shot in the arm but that was it. He may also return in season 2 and be aligned with the Hosts. Where are Elsie and Mr Hemsworth? Good question. Hopefully they're in some bunker somewhere working on the (probably with the real Ford) Samurai T9000's for the new park.

    Mark, I personally believe that we could absolutely see a "Westworld" esk thing happening in the future. I highly doubt we'll ever see artificial intelligence and 3d printing on that scale in our lifetime but perhaps down the track in the distant future. A lot more believable than Jurassic Park imo. As a fellow Dark Souls lover myself, I implore you to give Westworld another chance :)

    I'm with @markserrels all the way. I'm a few eps off finishing the season, but I don't get how the guns work. Here's what I (think I) know:

    Guns shoot real lead (engineers pulled real bullets out of the robots at the end of the day)
    Guns shoot real lead into robots
    Gun shoot something at guests (enough for puffs of smoke to fly off Ed Harris's jacket when getting shot by Teddy)
    How do guests not shoot other guests by accident?

    Also, my other gripe was that the robots are TOO real, in the way of every tiny little gasp of breath, eye twitch etc. I had to keep forcing myself to remember they were robots, cos they didn't do anything interestingly robotic (yes I know that's the idea of them in the park). But I felt like I was often watching a Western show, not a robot show...which made it kinda boring.

      Yeah exactly! The guns! And how do you know if you're shooting someone real or a host.

      There's just all this stuff that wouldn't work! I can't get past it all.

        I felt like when I was watching WW I had to keep telling myself stuff like: "This is the latest hot thing, you should like this", "This costs 10mil per ep", " this is sci fi, you like sci-fi"

        Trying to convince myself to like it...but I just didn't

        Last edited 09/12/16 2:24 pm

        Why does it need the explanation though? It could be as simple as NFC built into the clothes that prevent anything weapony from doing weapony type damage. Gun detects what its pointed at is a fleshbag, it fires a blank. Not fleshbag, shoot lead.

        Not everything needs to be explained to us, particularly something set an unspecified distance into the future. I just assume there is a techy answer that allows it to happen, and its something quite commonplace in the future.

        To put it another way, how do driverless cars know whether that object in front of them is a person or a lamppost so it knows which subroutine to follow? Programming and sensors, thats all. But try explaining that to someone living 100 years ago.

        Gotta say Mark, while I usually agree with you on everything, today is not that day.
        The guns are a simple FOF ID system. They change the muzzle velocity based on the target. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.

        The whole point of westworld is that things can happen here that can't in the outside world.
        The Man in Black states at one point that people outside are near immortal. That diseases have been eradicated and also sorts of "weak" people get to live.
        The danger and risk of westworld is part of the appeal for the customer. Also you sign a waiver to go in there, accepting that while unlikely, injury and/or death is possible. Not unlike going skydiving, bungee jumping or whatever.

        There are little tidbits that were filled in outside of the show on the website and various advertising materials such as a mock price list and contract to be a guest. They also state later in the season that repairing and "printing" new hosts is fairly cheap. They became more organic over time because that was easier and cheaper to fix than the robotic/mechanical version at the start.

        I find your comments strange because the same stuff can be said about ANY sci-fi. You have to suspend belief to some extent in any of these shows.
        Faster than light travel, Lightsabers, Teleportation, Time travel etc is all OK but the cost of running a park or "smart" guns is a problem?

        I would agree with your sentiments if the show pretended to be set today. If it was trying to be realistic then I agree those could be problems, along with the cost and the fancy 3D printing. I actually felt the same way at the start.
        But the show is purposely vague about what year it is and what the outside world is like.
        We don't even know if it's on earth.
        Because we know nothing about the outside world, we also know nothing about why people would want to come to the park. Clearly there is appeal and people do come and pay. Why is that a problem?

        I think you just didn't like it (which is fine) but I don't think your reasoning makes sense.
        I agree that some parts were slow and some parts were difficult to follow... there was perhaps a little bit too much "hidden" information that you really needed to remember or pay attention to. Re-watching past episodes is actually very interesting. So much get's missed.
        The other thing is the attention to detail. Westworld is one of those shows where every single little thing makes sense and ties into the greater story. The final scene in the series is actually shown in episode 3 but we simply didn't know it (or notice it).

        It's difficult to pull off these back and forward links and circular references properly but WW did it pretty damn well. It wasn't perfect but it makes Walking Dead, GOT and various Netflix Originals look like child's play.
        There's nothing wrong with watching a bunch of people behead each other in GOT, but the depth of WW's story is amazing.

        That being said - the Expanse is also excellent and I'm super glad that Netflix has taken it on. Although, the season finale is bordering on ridiculous so season 2 could be incredibly stupid if not done right.
        But at the same time they are very different shows. The Expanse is fairly plain and simple sci-fi very well executed. WW is a completely different beast. Far more philosophical than sci-fi. Sci-fi is the setting, it's not the focus.

        Last edited 09/12/16 4:25 pm

        Almost every show or story has holes. When it comes to science fiction and fantasy it is usually easier to "suspend disbelief" as it is essential to enjoying the show. In this case they aren't shooting lasers they are using something conventional in an unconventional way. I am sure that there can be some convoluted explanations created to justify it but ultimately why bother. It's a rule of the park. You either buy into it or don't. It may also be an intentional plot device to have you asking this question as it may be fully explained over following seasons. If you can't accept this at the moment then it is obviously not the show for you.

        p.s. I tried the Expanse and though it boring with poor characters so I guess it just demonstrates the world is a diverse place. Maybe we can just agree that we both hate the "Gilmore Girls" so we have something in common.

        You think they can build a perfect life like AI but can't figure out to make a gun know when it is being aimed at a real person versus a host?

        Isn't that a bit of a daft line of reasoning, there a multitude of technologies now that could be built in let alone in a future where they can provide something with the processing power of a super computer inside a human.

        Blue Tooth 8+ whatever they're on could simply link up with everything around it and know what is and isn't human, everything is bespoke remember, they said it at the start.

        You're having trouble accepting the guns in Westworld (rather than the far more futuristic robots), but you're happy to wave away the magical Epstein Drives in The Expanse?

        I'm a big fan of both shows, mind you. I just find it fascinating what things different people are willing to accept - anything that looks familiar must be fully explicable, whereas "futuristic" stuff can be pure fantasy, like there's an Uncanny Valley of technology.

        In one episode the team "approve" an explosion before Bill can get out of his cage. I'm assuming everything's simulated.

        I think the creators took the concept of "We can't explain it so we won't"

        It's a little annoying but it's better than attempting to explain it with completely unscientific concepts like the old "10% of brain" myth that keeps coming back.

    Looking forward to binge watching it very soon :)

    @markserrels, how can you say the narrative designer was terribly drawn? He's shallow, self-absorbed and with delusions of grandeur, he thinks he's both more talented and more important than he really is, and at the end of the day his head is so far up his own arse he's incapable of seeing the bigger picture around him.

    I've run into someone like him in almost every company I've worked for, usually in sales or marketing.

    I was also waiting for sassy behavioural tech Elsie to return but that never happened. Goddammit, I want her back!

    I hate to break it to you... But she dead.

    Ford had Bernardbot kill her.

      Yeah how'd he miss that? They showed it twice.

        Officially she's MIA. They said they may have her back. Same with the security guy.

          Unless they come back as Host I don't see an easy way to explain it.

      You don't actually see her die. You saw Berniebot grab her but never saw him kill her. Also people that are killed by Ford tend to show up later on as "accidents". Her and security guy never showed up as dead, just missing.

      Plus the clues released on the website after the season finale seem to suggest that she's still alive.

        I hope I'm wrong because if love to see her back, it just seemed pretty strongly coded to me that she was dead by linking it to erasing the memory of his other murder.

          I found that scene very interesting. Bernie asked Ford if he ever made him kill anyone else and Ford said "no". Ford was about to wipe his memory so he had no reason to lie to him. For me it made sense that either Ford ordered Bernie to capture her but not kill her or that Bernie did it without Ford requesting it, suggesting that someone else may be manipulating things.

    I love the show but I agree that it definitely requires a large ignorance of concepts. Things like the guns make little sense especially when you consider that the park initially opened around 2017/2018 if the timeline is correct. There is a lot more focus on monologue and metaphor than explanation of the scientific concepts which could really irk many sci-fi fans. Then again Legends of Tomorrow exists. "We don't know where in time to find Savage even though two of our crew members have been killed by him hundreds of times. Hey, we caught Savage but we don't know how to kill him... ahh let's just let him go and find him later"

    But I do believe that the park is a valid concept. The Western theme is something that could be easily sold to Americans. The concept of a piece of their history and a chance to unleash their carnal desires that they couldn't do in a restrictive world. But with the level of technology here you would think that VR would have advanced greatly and may be a better and cheaper option. Then again, maybe there are VR parks in this future and this is just the rich person's version.

    I think in the end this show is much like Lost. It's a drama and a mystery with sci-fi concepts rather than a sci-fi show with drama and mystery. Lost did this well because it suckered people in with the drama before they knew they were watching a sci-fi. This created a fan base. Westworld is sci-fi from the start. It's already targeting that sci-fi audience. Sci-fi fans are turning up to watch it and are falling asleep. I went in with zero expectations (other than a love of the original movie) and I really enjoyed it. But from a sci-fi fan perspective I can see why some people don't feel the same.

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