In 1973, author/screenwriter, Michael Crichton, (Jurassic Park, ER) released a motion picture starring Yul Brynner called, “Westworld.” It’s about a robot who goes on a killing spree towards guests located at the titular park with a western vibe. The film earned positive reviews and made enough money at the box office.
Seventeen Years Later, Michael copied & pasted elements from Westworld to write a similar story involving dinosaurs as the main attractions, rather than cybernetic cowboys. What I’m referring to is the Magnum Opus of his career known as, “Jurassic Park.” His infamous book is considered a spiritual successor to Westworld, this encouraged Hollywood directors to adapt it into a motion picture. James Cameron almost adapted it, until Steven Spielberg managed to beat him. Without Westworld, Jurassic Park would’ve never existed in the first place!
Plans for a remake of Westworld was around during The 1990’s, but plans were scrapped when Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan) & Lisa Joy pitched a concept for a television series with a gritty realistic dark tone in the same level as Blade Runner. Producers of HBO approved on the idea and immediately commenced a pilot episode with help from show runner/film director, J.J. Abrams assigned as an executive producer.
After filming was finished in 2014, production was temporary stopped in early 2016, so that Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy can flesh out a episodes for a complex world building story.
Westworld: Season 1 aired in fall 2016. Season 1 earned critical acclaim from critics and viewers alike as well as earning a lot of viewership.
The series went on earn bunch of nominations at The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards & The 74th Golden Globe Awards.
With Season 2 is about to air on April 22, 2018, I want to share on what’s good or bad about Season 1. I’ll have you know this is my first television series based review. I will only write an article about a particular show, unless every single episode is interconnected as a 10-12 hour movie.
This article doesn’t contain any huge SPOILERS. If you’ve never seen the entire season, feel free to read all about it. Keep in mind, some SPOILERS are light as well.
What you’re about to read, is a bunch of pro & cons I’ve wrote for each episode to break them down one by one to help you understand what’s going on. Think of this as a fully detailed tutorial/manual from a video game.
The Entire Season
Positive: Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Luke Hemsworth, & James Marsden all did an excellent job on their respective performances.
Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy both did an amazing job on developing, directing & writing season 1. If Jon’s big brother Christopher was called in for help, I’m also gonna show him some gratitude.
Cinematography has a lot of visual eye candy, makes you wanna visit the park.
Composer, Ramin Djawadi (Game Of Thrones, Iron Man) orchestrated musical pieces for the soundtrack.
Costume Designers did extensive research on costumes from The Wild West dating back to The 1850’s – 1890’s.
Practical Effects were heavily used while C.G.I. was used sparingly. Jonathan is much like his brother for not using too much C.G.I.
Main Characters have interesting story arcs, as Season 1 progresses one episode after another, most them earn Character Development.
According to Jonathan Nolan, video games including Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock Infinite & Skyrim were used as influences to portray the park as video game coming to life. A guest represents a playable character and a host represents a non-playable character.
In most video games, you can come up with your own ending as a hero or villain. Westworld uses this concept on branching paths on how you want to play a game by making decisions that’ll effect the narrative.
A symbol called, “The Maze,” plays a pivotal role as several identical looking ones are scattered in various locations.
The local town, “Sweetwater,” is named after the town from Once Upon A Time In The West. Jonathan Nolan mentioned this movie as an influence to the show and also is favorite western.
If you analyze Dolores Abernathy’s initials as D.A. I bet it’s a hidden Easter Egg to Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight. Prior to Harvey’s transformation as Two-Face, he used to work as a District Attorney. Get it, the initials? I’m giving Jonathan an Extra Point for giving us Nolanites (fan name for The Nolan Brothers) a subliminal message.
Anthony Hopkins’ character, Ford, is perhaps a triple reference. One, it could be a reference to Harrison Ford’s last name. Both Christopher & Jonathan Nolan, stated that Blade Runner is one of their favorite films. Two, possibly named Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company. Three, a subtle reference to filmmaker John Ford, known for western films and his collaboration with John Wayne. I guess Jonathan is like his older brother, making meta-references.
Lee Sizemore is a caricature of HBO, he wants to crank the violence and nudity up to eleven. Unlike professionally talented HBO writers, Sizemore never properly establishes a cohesive storyline, he unintentionally stirs controversy towards his co-workers without thinking this through.
The two technicians’ names are, Sylvester & Felix. Why do these names sound so familiar? I got it! I discovered two Easter Eggs! The Nolan Brothers named two the technicians after two famous felines. I’m giving both Christopher & Jonathan an Extra Point for sliding a subliminal wink and naming the two technicians after Sylvester & Felix The Cat!
The Hosts are reprogrammed to repeat the same events over and over again. I guess The Nolan’s watched Groundhog Day & Edge Of Tomorrow as a reference to come up with a host to go on a constant loop.
Like Memento & Batman Begins, Season 1 is told in a non-linear narrative. (out of order timeline) Make sure you pay close attention to everyone involved, because you’re totally gonna be lost. Evan Rachel Wood herself, admits that the show is complicated to remember.
Jimmi Simpson’s character is named William. Wait a second! Stranger Things also has a character named William! Both Wills factor in to the plot of season 1’s Westworld & Stranger Things! They both aired in 2016 & they were developed by a sibling duo! Don’t forget Dolores & Eleven’s involvement to their shows as they are connected to both Wills!
Steven Ogg, (Trevor Philips from Grand Theft Auto V) makes occasional guest appearances as a host.
If you hear someone mentioning Arnold or Wyatt, make sure you pay close attention, because they factor in the story.
Speaking Of Arnold, do I sense a Terminator reference based on cybernetic organisms? If so, I believe The Nolans made a reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic titular character from James Cameron’s The Terminator series. Wait a second! Jim almost directed Jurassic Park before Steven Spielberg beat him to make a film adaptation! Congratulations Nolan Brothers, I gotta love your meta-references! Are one of you like Abed from Community who’s known for knowledgeable meta-jokes?
Negative: If you don’t pay attention or have a tendency to get easily bored, you’re gonna get lost, unless you keep yourself invested to each episode. Think of it has a jigsaw puzzle with every single displayed in a certain plot point. I’ll give this flaw a pass, because The Nolan Brothers want you to engage in a mystery to connect every single piece on the puzzle, much like a detective trying to solve s complex case.
Episode 1 – The Original
The first episode properly establishes the world, characters & storyline.
The last scene with Dolores, foreshadows what’s gonna happen in future episodes.
An instrumental westernesque cover version of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” is played during a shootout.
Dolores’ motto is “So people choose to see the ugliness of the world, the disarray, I choose to see the beauty.” Believe it or not, I memorized her motto.
First episode introduces The Maze symbol.
Johnny Cash’s “Ain’t No Grave,” is played during The End Credits. Looks like somebody’s been watching Django Unchained. Remember the theatrical trailer to Django featuring Johnny Cash’s song? Disney also used Ain’t No Grave to promote Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales.
Episode 2 – Chestnut
Richard Lewis did a wonderful job for directing the second episode. If that’s really Larry David’s buddy from Curb Your Enthusiasm, I’m so gonna give Richard, Extra Points for helping out. HBO if you’re reading this, I want to see a host designed after Larry David. Imagine how he would interact with guests and other hosts as a way of providing comic relief?!
A piano version of Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” is played at a saloon. It was Jonathan’s idea to convince Djawadi to include the song. Jon & Chris are big fans of Radiohead.
Sizemore’s proposed storyline represents how bad a screenwriter/author never thinks before he/she acts, or else the writer will receive backlash. Ford shuts his butt down by explaining a storyline like this would never work, it needs to have a message that a certain guest can positively relate to a host. Similar to real life viewers/readers can personally connect to fictional characters.
Thandie Newton’s character, Maeve, Millay, has a mysterious backstory prior to losing her memory.
One character jokes about having a fear of clowns. Jonathan co-wrote The Dark Knight? The Joker ring any bells?
My favorite line in Chestnut is, “You can’t play God without being acquainted with The Devil.” The line is used by Ford, he has a point about playing god by making your reality resembling a city building video game.
Episode 3 – The Stray
A book of Alice In Wonderland is used as a metaphor to demonstrate Dolores’ story arc.
We get to learn about Arnold, who’s mentioned as Ford’s business partner/close friend. A brief flashback shows Ford looking at a host under construction.
Bernard has a tragic backstory. I refuse to tell you all about the juicy details.
If you recall watching episode 1’s final scene, a similar scene came true.
Towards the end of episode 3, a shocking moment unexpectedly occurred.
Episode 4 – Dissonance Theory
Comic Book Writer, Ed Brubaker, co-wrote the fourth episode. Ed is known for writing Marvel & DC stories. I smell a connection between Ed & The Nolans’ experience based on comic books. I’ll assume that Jonathan told Ed by using a cliché line, “We’re not so different you and I.”
If you’re a fan of The Cure, an instrumental piano version of “ A Forest,” is played.
When bandits enter the town, Carmen’s Habanera, is played in the background. The song is also used in Pixar’s Up, Bad Santa & The Bad News Bears.
Remember when one of the hosts is experiencing “side effects” from a previous episode or two? A pivotal element is used as a subtle Easter Egg to Memento.
Two important characters mentioned co-founder, Arnold.
Anthony Hopkins stated that Ford’s conversation with Theresa, is his favorite scene.
The Man In Black uses a cigar as an explosive to escape a jail cell.
Episode 5 – Contrapasso
Once again, Arnold is mentioned as a plot point.
Evan Rachel Wood claims that Contrapassso is her favorite episode. As this article is a non-spoiler review, I’m afraid I can’t tell you why Contrapasso is her personal favorite.
Ford finally reveals Dolores’ personal creator.
Someone calls Dolores, “Blondie.” A reference to Clint Eastwood’s character in The Dollars Trilogy.
Episode 6 – The Adversary
Arnold is mentioned as co-creator of first generation of hosts.
My favorite part of the sixth episode is a high octane shoot out. All it’s missing is a remix of James Brown & Tupac from Django Unchained.
Teddy remembers who he is prior to his reprogramming.
A family of hosts living in a house, are modeled after one of the co-founders’ childhood home.
Similar to role-playing video games, one of the hosts earns an augmented upgrade based on his/her attributes.
Episode 7 – Trompe L’Oeil
Bernard reads Alice In Wonderland to someone he personally knows. Won’t tell you who that someone is.
A prominent host is decommissioned in the most uncomfortable way you can never imagine.
One Chase Scene resembles a mission or side mission from Red Dead Redemption.
Before Trompe L’Oeil ends, a Plot Twist is used, it made me gasp. Courtesy of The Nolan Brothers’ trademark to use an effective Plot Twist.
An important character actually dies for real as part of a “blood sacrifice.” I don’t wanna spill the beans.
Episode 8 – Trace Decay
Man In Black reveals his true intentions on why he wants to decipher The Maze.
Arnold is mentioned yet again as a pivotal plot point.
Dolores finally learns the truth about her past before she was reprogrammed.
Maeve also remembers her past as well.
A piano cover of “House Of The Rising Sun” is played at the saloon. The song was also used in the trailer for the remake of The Magnificent Seven & Suicide Squad. Both films came out the same year Westworld aired.
A piano cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” is also played at the saloon.
A recurring character gets killed in the most agonizing way.
Like the sixth episode, a host mentioned that it made modifications, this time an upgrade to its “cerebral cortex.”
During a bandit raid, something very important happens to the hosts.
Episode 9 – The Well-Tempered Clavier
After nine episodes of patience, we finally get to see Arnold’s physical appearance.
We further go deeper into Bernard’s back story connected to his partnership with Ford.
Teddy brings up his encounter with Wyatt.
If you’ve seen Season 1, we learn who truly created Dolores. Sorry viewers, I can’t tell you who the person looks like. I’m still gonna let you interpret in multiple theories.
Episode 10 – The Bicameral Mind
The Bicameral Mind ties loose ends to some of the main characters’ story arcs, are officially resolved or not, until the next season.
Opening Scene shows us the oldest host of the park.
After ten episodes in, Man In Black reveals his true identity. I refuse to say his name, but It’s really gonna shock you in a positive mood. To be honest m, I did not see that coming!
The ongoing plot about The Maze, finally concludes. What’s inside you say, watch the entire season from start to finish.
Arnold’s motives fully explains out to help you understand why he played a crucial role to the park.
Actual Death Scenes are incredibly brutal. Near the end of the season, one of the characters goes out, with a bang. (no pun intended)
Dolores said her signature motto from the first episode.
A painting of Michelangelo is obviously mentioned as a metaphor on creating human life, much like scientists building cyborgs at the park. Symbolism at its finest.
The Arc Words: Those violent delights have violent ends.” Someone uses it as one of their final words.
A Shootout Scene kept me invested. To put the cherry on top, a classified lab room properly sets up Season 2.
Wyatt isn’t just a host, but something else.
Dolores fully embraces her true destiny.
The Ending will keep your head scratching before Season 2 finally gives us some answers.
A Post-Credits Scene managed to put a smile on my face.
The Final Verdict: A, FOR APEX!
Westworld: Season 1 is a modern masterpiece. Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy both crafted a cohesive but convoluted narrative. Performances from The Main Cast were unforgettable. The titular park makes you want to go for an immersive experience as a cowboy, bandit, prospector, etc. Season 1 is a must see for those who are fans of The Nolan Brothers or a lifelong sci-fi enthusiast. If I were you, get off your butt and buy Season 1 on Blu-Ray/DVD, it’s worth every penny!
I can’t wait for Season 2 to air on April 22. Be sure to mark the date on your calendar!