Even dragons do business in Shōgunworld
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”
Directed by Jonathan Nolan
Written by Jonathan & Lisa Joy Nolan
* For a review of the next episode, “Chestnut” – click here
First of all, dig the opening sequence and title song. Very eerie in a sci-fi sense, yet also beautiful, too. Excellent tune.
Someone talks to Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). She’s in “a dream.” He’s testing the equipment so to speak. He asks general questions about whether she’s ever questioned the truth of reality. More specifically, her reality. She lives in a gorgeous vision of the old West in America. We meet the “newcomers” such as Teddy Flood (James Marsden). He comes in on a train to where Abby lives in her town. Everybody’s there to enjoy a bit of the old life.
The place: Westworld. Outwardly, it appears as a real slice out of time. Everyone talks the talk. Teddy goes for a drink and checks out the local landscape. He meets a young lady named Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) – ladies of the night. He’s more interested in Abby after he catches a glimpse of her through the saloon window. They’ve clearly had some kind of relationship already. They continue it together, gallop through the picturesque America West. Later in the night, Flood comes across a dirty bastard named Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his partner, who he guns down; they’ve killed the Abernathy family. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) turns up cryptically taunting Dolores about not knowing him. He stands toe to toe with Flood, who shoots away and does nothing to the Man in Black.
That’s because Teddy isn’t real.
See, Westworld isn’t real. It’s a futuristic getaway where people can experience life as it was during the frontier days when America was still gaining its proper legs. People like Dolores and Teddy, they’re park products. They’ve been engineered to provide services for those willing to pay a ton of money. And some of those people, like the Man in Black, are absolutely horrifying. Dolores, she goes on thinking about “how beautiful this world can be.” It starts all over again each damn day. She and Teddy wake up, then go on about their predetermined routes. Sad, right? They’re merely little pawns on a massive scale of operations. Outside Westworld is the real world, where a company makes and designs robots to serve as people, horses, whatever they need. What a gorgeously eerie sequence, as director Jonathan Nolan takes us through the toyshop of Westworld’s company.
Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is checking some of the robotics, such as gestures on Clementine the prostitute. He talks about Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and the “tiny things” that Ford does to make the robots feel real for the customers. A genius, it seems. Called up to the operating floor, there’s talk of “critical failure.” So Lowe heads out to do some maintenance. Down in the lower levels, he goes with a team of armed men into a storage facility filled with naked “hosts.” They come across Dr. Ford with a cowboy, drinking and having a chat. The cowboy’s Bill, one of the first hosts ever built. Looks to me as if Ford is starting to get sick of what he’s done. Who knows.
But still, things go on as they always did inside Westworld. Dolores and her family wake up, they go about their business like usual. The Man in Black, he’s living it up in his sick dream every day, over and over.
The visitors get to experience all aspects of life in the old West, from prostitutes and saloons and riding on horseback through treacherous territories. When one couple is out riding the Sheriff goes into a hard malfunction, scaring them a bit. In the real world, Lowe inspects the malfunctioning host. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), obviously in charge of the narratives in Westworld, is livid that Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) might want to haul out a ton of hosts. What Lowe does is reassure there’s no threat of violence towards the guests. “If there‘s so much as an unscripted sneeze, I wanna know about it,” Cullen advises.
What I love is the focus on people going to Westworld, how they’re affected by being able to do what they want to these hosts. Some are there for the mere experience of a time in history they’ll obviously never get to experience otherwise. Some are sick fucks, like the Man in Black and others, who go there to rape, murder, do all kinds of awful things to the hosts. Things they can’t do in the real world. Then there are innocent little things, such as a visiting boy who asks Dolores to her face if she’s real. Will this cause a glitch? Or are they programmed to simply walk away, deflect if that happens?
Stranger still is when Dolores’ father finds a picture buried in his field. A photo from the future. It’s likely Times Square by the looks of things. This perplexes the man, although Dolores passes it off. Very curious how the real world might intersect with Westworld in different ways.
Theresa and the others stay, in shifts, on a huge sort of skyscraper set atop a mountain in Westworld. She and Lee debate a bit about Dr. Ford and his “demons.” Lee starts dropping suggestion that he knows the further reach of Westworld for those who manage it – the “bigger picture,” as Theresa puts it. But she is one bad ass woman. No mincing words with her.
The player piano plays a version of “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, as Westworld goes on and on into oblivion. Love, love, love that.
Things are getting quite serious in Westworld. The Man in Black isn’t only there to do in hosts. He kills one of the hosts he meets across a table playing cards, though there’s something more behind it.
In the meantime, there’s bad stuff happening elsewhere. One of the bandit hosts is going buckwild. So production is shut down, a couple terrified guests are assuaged, and Lowe tries to fix the situation. He determines it’s the latest update. Just needs some touching up. The “minor improvisation” here has turned into something more, and Theresa isn’t having that shit. They only need a good swerve for the narrative, to make things feel natural for any of the guests curious as to what’s happening.
Ford’s let in on the whole thing by Lowe. He doesn’t feel bothered by being alerted of his mistake. They talk about evolution, natural selection, all that fun stuff. Furthermore, Ford ruminates on how far they’ve come. “This is as good as we‘re gonna get,” he laments. Something more is going on behind that man’s eyes. You can tell just through the way Hopkins plays him.
Out on the open plain, the Man in Black is bleeding his host friend dry. He’s got questions that need answering. I guess the perfect place to do some dirty work would be a place like Westworld. Like, say, if you wanted to scalp somebody the way the Man in Black does. But why?
The next day, Dolores finds her father still captivated by that picture. He’s been broken. He rambles to Dolores before going into a troubled state: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” This sets Dolores’ world on fire. She rides to find a doctor, only to find Teddy. He goes with her to try and help. At that moment, cloaked strangers on horses head into town. Out in the real world, Lee talks about a man named Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) arriving. In the background, a rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” plays while Hector begins his assault on the Westworld town. Oh, he’s a bad dude. Nasty. A massacre begins, as he and his crew lay siege to everybody in sight. In the crossfire Teddy is shot and dies in the arms of Dolores. Then one of the guests steps out to blow Hector away bloodily. Scary is how the guests rejoice at how real the murder feels, enjoying the sensation. Sick stuff.
Outside, the host recall is starting. They check everything thoroughly now to assess the damage. Lowe brings Theresa’s attention to Dolores. She’s malfunctioning a bit. We’re back at the beginning with her being questioned by maintenance man Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), as the picture is pulled out from her father and he’s brought to be checked by Ford and Lowe. The father host rambles more, as Ford commands him to look into his configuration. He goes back to normal briefly, though continues stuttering into his rambling. He talks about “warning” her. He knows too much. And he wants to meet his maker. That’s some eerie stuff. He goes on about wanting to get revenge on them all – “terrors of the earth” and that type stuff. But eventually Ford determines it was the host being previously used in a horror gimmick, quoting Shakespeare. Case closed.
“These violent delights have violent ends,” is the whisper between Dolores and her father last she saw him (a Shakespeare quote!). She’s been put through all the questions from Stubbs, as her father gets a few readjustments and she’s cleared to go back home. We discover that Dolores is the oldest host in the park.
And she goes back to waking up every day, to the same old place, the same people, the same situations. Except now she’s got a new dad. Though she doesn’t notice. Her old one is herded into storage, along with the malfunctioning bandit. A sad end for the equipment of Westworld. Speaking of equipment, when Dolores begins her day all over again she does something the hosts aren’t meant to do: she kills a fly lingering on her face. She’s changing, even in the slightest.
Oh, and the Man in Black, he’s uncovering more secrets for himself. What’s his endgame? He has a scalp now. One with a labyrinth printed on the inside. Intriguing.
An amazing premiere episode! Wow. Never expected such awesomeness right off the bat. Nolan is doing good stuff already. Excited for the next episode titled “Chestnut” and it’s directed by Richard J. Lewis.