The buzz around “Westworld” has reached critical mass and I’m another of its autonomous followers. The show is phenomenal on multiple levels; the effects and costuming are absolutely stunning and prove that a show can transition between Western and Sci-Fi genres with ease. The acting is also strong for the most part. However, I have serious concerns about the show’s pacing and characters. To be clear, the show is a magnificent spectacle, but its content does not seem to reach the same heights as its visuals.
Onward Robot Soldiers
The biggest problem with “Westworld” is the absolute lack of pacing towards an end-game. Of course, the inevitable robot uprising against their human overlords will occur, but why should we care? The humans are, sometimes painfully, depicted as the villains throughout the first three episodes. On top of that, there appears to be a vague conspiracy coming from the upper echelons of the unnamed robotics company—who, what, and why are not even touched upon. Are we simply supposed to hope that the robots seek revenge? That will be great to see, but revenge stories are not known for their depth. Pitched as the Sci-Fi-Western “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” needs to reach for something greater to earn that status. The deeply dramatic tone and hyper-violent sprinkles certainly make “Westworld” feel like it was cut from the same cloth as “Game of Thrones,” but the content and execution are highly disparate in terms of quality.
Thankfully, Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood deliver amazing performances as Dr. Robert Ford, the unhinged creator of Westworld, and Dolores Abernathy, the oldest robot “host” of the perverted park, respectively. In my opinion, their juxtaposition is one of the most fascinating aspects of the show, but it is rarely touched upon. In fact, Hopkins has so little screen time that his brilliance is diminished by the other human characters who are even more one-dimensional than their robotic creations. It makes me wonder: is Hopkin’s lack of screen time due to budgetary restrictions? If so, I’d prefer less visual set pieces and more of Hopkin’s Colonel Kurtz-style philosophical meanderings; the man is an acting legend, let him be the dramatic anchor.
On the other end of the acting spectrum, Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa Cullen is painful to watch. She exemplifies all the “evil” of the human characters and is either smoking, drinking, having extramarital (?) sex, or saying “fuck shit” for no apparent reason. I’ve never seen Babett’s prior work, but this character does not seem real—she is a literal symbol for the “bad humans” which is beaten over the viewers’ head. Jeffrey Wright is slightly more believable as the director of the programming division, but he has so little dialogue that it is difficult to know his opinions; sure we get a sad, pensive look, but that’s about it. Ed Harris as the mysterious Man in Black does add an element of chaos to the “Old West” scenes, but he is also so under-developed that it is difficult to know why his mission is important to the autonomous world around him.
Jumping the Gun
To be fair, the first season of “Westworld” is not even half-way done, but the slow drip of information is puzzling and troubling to say the least. As a die-hard LOST fan in a previous life, I get concerned when a show seems to have no direction and a plethora of mysteries—some huge and some seemingly pointless. Will anything be answered? Do the show runners have the answers or are they making this up as they go? Why should I care about the answers if most of the characters are paper-thin? I hate to dismiss “Westworld” as an instance of style over substance, but it is dripping with style and I wish it’s pacing and character development were given that same amount of care and respect.