I watched the first couple of episodes a few months ago, before the sixth episode aired if I remember correctly. It wasn’t in line with the tone I was looking for from my entertainment at the time, so I stopped watching it. Then the season finished. On the internet, people’s minds were blown, and friends said it was an excellent distraction from the election results. So I picked the show back up in the middle of December. But with Xmas looming, I didn’t get the last two episodes in until last week. Now, having seen and reflected on the entire first season, I think—
Wait, Canelli has already written about Westworld here and here and here. He’s explored the philosophical edges more than I ever will, so go read that just for that stuff. What I’m going to say, though, is something he also said: there’s a strong sense of ambivalence about whether this was good television or not.
So, to begin with, there are a lot of people who want very much for this show to be the next Game of Thrones. HBO needs another big title to carry the network once GoT ends in a couple of seasons. The fans want something to obsess over for the same reason. But, for me, I can take it or leave it. These days I’d rather read a book. Or write a book.
That said, here’s what I think: Westworld season 1 is the equivalent of True Detective season 2 if True Detective season 1 never existed. Was TD season 2 good television? Maybe, if we hadn’t already been witness to The McConaissance.
Here’s what I liked about the show: the multiple timelines was well done. Looking back, they ease us gently into this idea in the first half of the season. Then, in the last episode, when Dolores is stabbed by Logan and runs off into the desert, the knife wound magically disappears. If you’ve been paying attention, then you know it’s because we’ve jumped to a different timeline. The thought, “Holy Christ, how many times has she gone this way? What kind of cyclic hell do these robots live in!” blows up in your mind. In a way, it’s a very cold, “western” (as in European versus Asian [like, Tibetan]) take on death and reincarnation. So now you don’t know when you’re looking at Bernard or Arnold or what visit number we’re seeing Billy at (on his journey to becoming the Man in the Black Hat [Ed Harris, mofo!]). That…that’s really interesting to me.
What isn’t very interesting to me is the hackneyed, heavy-handed, and ridiculous “humans creating robots that discover consciousness” thing. Kinda played out, yo. For all the money that HBO undoubtedly poured into this show, it turned out to be not very ambitious.* That is very disappointing.
The finale was a hot mess. I can see the conversations they had in the writers’ room when it came time to write that episode.
“Oh crap, we’ve got one episode left in the season! We gotta tie everything together and answer all the questions! What do we do?”
“I know! We’ll do a montage with narrative voiceover explaining all the things. And then the robots will rise up and kill all humans! No way will anybody suspect we didn’t know what we were doing in the first half of the season!”
And let me finish with a quick note about dicks. This show was lauded for all the dick it showed. How equal opportunity it was being with the nudity. (Or maybe not!) But here’s the thing: it showed less dick as the show progressed but still managed to give us roughly the same amount of naked lady action. Seriously. That last episode, where was the dick? Oh, but the lady with the snake tattoo? She was naked all the way up to when they hit the hallways in search of humans to kill.
There’s a bunch of other things to say, finer points to make, but the show kind of tired me out. I’m just ambivalent about it as Canelli is. I hope season 2 is much more ambitious than the retread “robots learn to know themselves” schtick that’s been done before and much better. I mean, it has to, right?, if it’s going to be the next GoT.
* Right after I wrote this sentence, I started thinking about how to compare it to GoT in terms of ambition and, via stream of consciousness, I realized GoT is a metaphor for overall lack of global governmental action in regards to climate change.