“These violent delights have violent ends.”
Season 1, Episode 1 – The Original
On the surface, Westworld is a very familiar concept. Nothing about artificially-intelligent machines that start to become self-aware is inherently new or groundbreaking. One could probably make several guesses as to where the next few episodes (or even the whole season) will ultimately lead to, and most guesses will probably be correct.
However, this is not to say that TV shows, or art in general, have to bring something wildly original to the table in order to grab the attention of audiences. In spite of its familiar concept, Westworld manages to be so riveting in its first episode. Far from simply making you accept its ambitious scope and sci-fi concept, Westworld makes you believe in its feasibility and care about the characters, and all before you reach the first half of the one-hour plus episode.
The show’s familiarity in fact benefits the experience of watching it, because it doesn’t have to concern itself too much with setting up the rules or explaining away concepts. It still does these things of course, but in a way that advances the plot instead of laying it out to the audience. There’s still exposition of course, and instances of, “Okay, we get it already,” when characters spend just a little too much time talking about things that should already be obvious to them, but it’s never insulting or awkward.
It’s very rare for high concept genre series to sustain themselves season after season by providing twists and new-ish ideas. Time will tell if Westworld can keep relying on its high production values and impressive cast to deliver compelling television. After all, the most successful HBO series have always been character-driven, and Westworld seems to be no different even though it’s in a genre that HBO hasn’t really done before.
One can assume that HBO and Jonathan Nolan wouldn’t invest and adapt Michael Crichton’s 1973 book and film (which the show is based on) into a long-form narrative series unless they plan on seriously expanding it. When HBO greenlights a project, you can be rest assured that it’s a very big deal, and Westworld is one of the biggest in the premium cable network’s history with a staggering $100 million budget for the first season alone. But based on just this one episode, Westworld is already off to an excellent start.