HBO’s long-awaited much-anticipated Westworld finally arrived, premiering on October 2, 2016 with episode one titled “The Original.” We’ve been hearing about Westworld for years and not all of the reports on the production have been positive. Filming was actually put on hold for a while as the overall plan for the series was reconsidered, however the pre-premiere buzz was mostly positive leading up to episode one’s debut. The big question ultimately is whether HBO spent its money wisely on this big-budgeted sci-fi action series or if this will be a one and out like Vinyl. Based solely on episode one, it appears Westworld’s future is bright and viewers won’t be let down after such a long wait for the show.
The effects, acting, and story in “The Original” were all first-rate although the violence – in particular the violence toward women – might turn off some viewers. In interviews leading up to the series’ debut, producer J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) acknowledged the concern over the show’s violence toward women. “I would say the criticism is accurate but you can’t tell a story about oppression without depicting the oppressed,” said Abrams in an interview with the Press Association. “If it was a movie I would say: ‘Damn it, they’re 100% right.’ It’s a series and it goes somewhere for a reason. No one was going into this thinking ‘let’s do a show that somehow dehumanizes women.’ This is a show, I would argue, very much about the opposite.”
The series is set in the near future in which people can live out their dreams by visiting a park populated by androids (called ‘hosts’). Visitors pay to do whatever they please to (and with) the hosts, no matter how disgusting and depraved. The hosts, however, are unable to harm any living creature.
Westworld Season 1 Episode 1 Recap:
In the operations headquarters of Westworld, a fly crawls over Dolores Abernathy’s eyeball as she’s asked if she ever questions the nature of her reality and what she thinks of her world. She responded by saying she sees the world’s beauty.
The story shifts to the actual park where Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) lives with her parents on a ranch. Dolores is a beautiful young woman with a sunny disposition. She exchanges morning pleasantries with her dad, Peter (Louis Herthum), outside of their farm house and then she’s off to town for the day.
The newcomers, as Dolores calls them, are on a train heading to the Western town. They arrive at the station where they’re met by gentle townsfolk going about their ‘normal’ lives. The Western town has everything imaginable you’d expect from a Wild West setting and Teddy (James Marsden) heads to the saloon/brothel where he orders up a whiskey and spots Dolores outside the saloon. She’s so happy to see him again, and they’re all flirty as they ride out to her place against a stunning backdrop of hills, meadows, and cows. They pause on their ride and he leans in for a kiss, but she stops him and says her dad won’t be happy to see him. They finally arrive at the ranch and it’s now nighttime. They’re still a bit away from the house when they hear gunshots. Teddy rides ahead and kills the thieves who’ve broken into Dolores’ house and murdered her parents.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) arrives and we learn he’s been visiting Westworld for 30 years. We also learn he lusts after Dolores but unlike with Teddy, she doesn’t remember him. He expresses regret he wasn’t the one who got to kill her dad and Teddy, upset, begins shooting at the Man in Black. He’s hit but not injured in the slightest and Teddy’s confused. Teddy doesn’t realize he’s a host and can’t actually hurt the Man in Black. Teddy falls at the Man in Black’s feet, incredulous. The Man in Black hauls Dolores away by the neck while she screams, taking her into the barn to rape.
In a voice-over Dolores is told there are no chance encounters. This unseen person from the corporation explains she was built to gratify the people who pay to visit the world. Dolores doesn’t grasp the concept and professes to love all of the newcomers.
And now the action reboots, with a new day in Westworld beginning with Teddy back on the train but with different newcomers sitting in front of him. Zoom out and we see the theme park is being overseen by technicians who monitor every event. They’re also busy constructing new horses and putting them through their paces. New hosts are also being created for different purposes – hookers, cowboys, etc.
In one of the cubicles where hosts are prepped for Westworld, a hooker host is exhibiting behavior outside the norm. She touches her finger to her lip and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) are fascinated by how new programming updates are incorporated that include memories from past days in the park.
Bernard is alerted there is unscheduled activity in sublevel 83, the storage area. An armed team accompanies Bernard to the sublevel, even though Bernard doesn’t think he needs them since the hosts can’t hurt them. Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) pipes up and says all kids rebel eventually. They walk through rows and rows of naked robots, seeing nothing unusual until they hear someone talking. An old cowboy named Bill is drinking with Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Robert reveals he’s the second host they ever built. Robert says they broke down constantly and he tells Bill to put himself away. Bernard congratulates him on the new gestures included from the memories into the updates, saying they’re beautiful.
Dolores heads out, passing by her dad once again. He warns her to be home before it’s dark. He was once a lawman and wants her to be safe from the murderer hiding out in the hills. They are having a sweet heart-to-heart and then she heads into town.
The train pulls up to the station and it’s a replay from the prior day except the Marshal recruits a couple to help with the manhunt for the outlaw hiding out in the hills. Teddy once again sees Dolores but he’s stopped from following her by newcomers who want him to show them around. Instead, the Man in Black meets Dolores at her horse. Fortunately for Dolores, he says he won’t be visiting her tonight. Instead, he heads into the saloon to play cards.
The Marshal and his team head out and find a dead body, and the newcomers are uncomfortable and don’t want to be up there at night. As the Marshal’s talking, he breaks down, like a computer program gone bad.
Back at the operations headquarters, Bernard says the Marshal is exhibiting strange behavior that could be due to the last update. That means 200 hosts might have to be taken down. Head of Narrative Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) is upset because pulling 200 hosts would screw up all the storylines guests are engaged in in the park. Westworld’s Head of Quality Assurance Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) wants to know if the 1,400 guests in the park are in danger. Bernard assures her they’re not because even if they malfunction they can’t hurt a fly. Cullen decides to not pull the hosts but to make sure they keep a close eye on everyone for any strange behavior.
Dolores is at the river, painting, when a couple and their young child walk up. There are three horses grazing and the young boy gets to feed one an apple. He says to Dolores, “You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re not real.” She looks confused and warns them to get home by sundown because there’s bandits in the hills.
Dolores’ dad discovers a piece of paper mostly buried in the earth while rounding up his cows. He shows it to Dolores and it’s a photo from now. Dolores doesn’t look fazed but he’s completely confused by what he’s seeing.