‘Westworld’ Series Premiere: “The Original” Review (Season 1 Episode 1)

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An adaptation of the classic 1973 film by Michael Crichton, of “Jurassic Park” fame, “Westworld” was sort of the logical predecessor of that classic novel/film, only instead of a theme park populated by dinosaurs, it featured one populated by androids.

Naturally, things go horribly awry, and in the original film, the androids start acting on their own accord and rebuffing and, in some cases, outright killing some of the guests, eventually going completely amuck until only a few individuals are left standing, if I recall correctly.

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In this re-envisioning of the tale, we pick up in a time in which things have been running smoothly for some thirty years without incident. Though it isn’t said outright, perhaps the incident referenced was the one taking place in the original film? We’ll just have to wait and see on that one, I guess.

There was also an ill-conceived sequel, “Futureworld,” made without involvement from Crichton that wasn’t very well received, but I’m not sure if it’s considered canon to the events here- or if the original’s events are as well, for that matter. It could just be its own thing. Either way, something obviously went wrong before at one point, and yet, the park carried on, this time without troubles- until now.

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We begin with a focus on an individual android, Delores (Evan Rachel Wood, previously of HBO’s “True Blood” and “Mildred Pierce”), one of the malfunctioning robots in question. It seems that a select few androids have started acting out of sorts, with the one thing they have in common being that they have been given recent updates, intended to make them that much more lifelike.

Their creator, Dr. Robot Ford (Anthony Hopkins, “The Silence of the Lambs”) is an eccentric old man who’d rather hang out with one of his creations that interact with humans. The typical move is to “wipe” the androids of all their memories from time to time, seemingly on a daily basis, though occasionally the androids are completely repurposed for something else entirely and given a new identity, new role, new occupation and so on.

This time around, Ford opted to give a select few something he dubs “reveries,” in which they are able to connect with their past histories, forming what amounts to memories of sorts, albeit of a disjointed past that is somewhat scattered and occasionally overwhelming, as we discover when one of them completely malfunctions, going into a sort of frozen state that reduces them to a series of tics and non-verbal communications.

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As the android that goes awry is one of the ones given the upgrade, the woman in charge, Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen, “Borgen”), has everyone concerned keep an eye on all of the androids given a similar update, just in case that is the reason. Sure enough, another eventually malfunctions, and it is clear that they will need to decommission all concerned androids.

The problem is, they don’t want to disrupt the “storylines” going on at the moment too much that the guests, here known as “Newcomers,” are participating in. So, the man in charge of writing said scenarios, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman, “The Devil Inside”), is ordered to do what amounts to a “rewrite” to cover up the fact that the newly-updated robots are being taken out all at once.

To that end, he stages a huge robbery, in which all the concerned androids are gunned down by the dastardly “Man in Black,” aka Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro, the “300” movies). Things go vaguely awry when a few Newcomers intervene and take out Hector and his equally vile girlfriend, Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, “Hercules”), delighted to do so after having run afoul of the initially malfunctioning android in question previously, but all’s well that ends well.

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Mission accomplished, all of the androids in question are brought in, wiped, and questioned one by one, with one notably decommissioned entirely, Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum, also of “True Blood”), aka Delores’ “father.” It seems Peter was questioning his “reality” after discovering a modern photograph he found buried in the dirt of a woman in front of a huge building that looks to be in New York City.

In other words, he caught a glimpse of the “future,” as opposed to the Old West environment that he was used to “living” in, and it made his brain overload with questions, causing him to malfunction. When they “wipe” his memory, it’s not enough, and Peter not only remembers his current incarnation, but others, such as his past as a Sheriff and a Professor.

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Peter tells Ford he wants to “meet his maker,” which just so happens to be Ford himself. Peter tells Ford he will have his revenge on them for what they’ve done, indicating Ford and his second-in-command, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright, “The Hunger Games” films), who also helps create and maintain the artificial people.

Realizing after Peter is shut down that he has remembered every single bad thing that has happened to him, Ford deems him in a “prison of his own sins” and thus, irredeemable, and has Peter decommissioned altogether via what amounts to a robot lobotomy.

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He is then put into a storage area, apparently where all androids who suffer such a fate are taken, as evidenced by the creepy sight of a bunch of naked, motionless androids gathered together in one space. These are the androids “beyond help,” it would seem, and one assumes all have suffered the same fate.

Shortly thereafter, we learn that the first android ever is none other than Delores, “The Original” of the episode’s title. Peter whispered something to her before he malfunctioned, and the man in charge of security, Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth, of “The Anomaly,” which has a similar vibe to this show, in a way) wants to know what it was.

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“These violent delights have violent ends,” says she, a quote from “Romeo & Juliet.” (Ford equipped most of the androids with a working knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton, and so on- even a few that wouldn’t have been around yet in the Old West, like Gertrude Stein. No wonder they’re confused!)

She says that her father was questioning reality, but that she herself does not, and didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary of the picture he found and showed to her.

Delores says she has never lied, and that she would never hurt a living thing, ever. Stubbs has her mind wiped yet again- Delores has been wiped more than any other android in the park, as the oldest of them all- and she is given a “new” dad, which she appears to not notice at all. However, was that all Peter whispered to her after all?

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When a fly lands on her and she kills it without a thought otherwise, it would seem to be the case. In the opening, we see that androids don’t react to the likes of flies, letting them crawl all over them, even their eyes, as they are programmed to never harm a living thing, period- even a fly.

As such, one would think that Peter told Delores something else beyond what she claimed, perhaps to not let on that he had figured out what was going on here, at least to some extent, and that there was more to their lives than it seemed. Is this the first step to Delores becoming self-aware? It would seem to be the case.

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In addition to all of this, there’s also a rogue Newcomer, known only as “The Gunslinger” (Ed Harris, “The Right Stuff”) who is convinced there is more to the stories going on here- some underlying mystery to be solved. A nasty character, and seemingly the show’s version of Yul Brynner’s iconic character of the same name in the original film, it’s hard to say whether he’s human or not, though he presents himself as such.

On the one hand, he is shot repeatedly by Teddy (James Marsden, the “X-Men” movies), and left completely unharmed, which would seem to be an indication that he is human, as the androids can’t harm humans, even if they “shoot” them, as the guns they use only fire blanks, one assumes.

Then again, in the big shoot-out at the end, we clearly see that when the Man in black kills a fellow android, its face explodes, so maybe not. However, that could have been planned to go down that way as, remember, the plots in Westworld are scripted.

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That said, when The Gunslinger tortures a Native American android, it bleeds and seems to feel pain. So, just how real are these androids? Or how real do they think they are? Could it be that the Gunslinger is indeed an android that has already become self-aware, and somehow has evaded notice from the higher-ups? Could it also be that the Gunslinger thinks he is not only a human, but one of the Newcomers? We’ll just have to wait and see on that one as well.

Whatever the case, as the premiere ends, he scalps the Native American android and finds a map-like illustration on the inside of his scalp. It’s of a stick figure-like man in the middle of a maze. Who in the world put that there? And why? If the Gunslinger is human, as he believes himself to be, then is he right that there’s something else going on here, something on a “higher level”? If so, what?

I imagine those questions will formulate the rest of the season, along with Delores’ continued self-awareness and where that leads. One gets the idea that perhaps Teddy is also starting to “remember” things as well, as evidenced by the fact that he finds himself consistently drawn towards Delores. Is that programming- or is it something akin to real love?

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Perhaps needless to say, all of this is a fascinating set-up, filled with nifty touches and warped scenarios. My favorites include the sly player piano version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and the more obvious orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” as well as the scene in which, left alone with a sexy android, Clementine (Angela Sarafyan, “Paranoia”), Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward, “Raising Hope”), Bernard’s right-hand woman, can’t resist sneaking a kiss.

It’s also disturbing at times, such as when a man on the train headed into Westworld comments how he came to the park once with his family and had fun, but it wasn’t until he came back without them and went “evil” that he really “came alive” as a human being. Yikes!

In another scene, the Gunslinger, after slaughtering Delores’ family, kills Teddy in front of her, then drags her to the barn, presumably to rape her and do God knows what else. Then, the next day, he approaches her as if nothing happened, throwing it in her face that she doesn’t remember it at all- or him, for that matter. But will she eventually? It will be interesting to see what happens when-and if- she does.

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All in all, this is great stuff, and those who worried it would just be HBO up to its old tricks, only interested in sex, nudity and violence need not fret- there’s a lot more going on here than cheap thrills. Although, if that’s what brought you to the show, you won’t be disappointed, either.

Indeed, despite the eyebrow-raising cattle call that sought out people willing to do extensive nudity and engage in explicit sexual acts for the show early on in HBO’s casting process, the goings-on here are very much equal opportunity for once- there’s as much full frontal male nudity on display as female, and interestingly, as we see in the warehouse scene, of all kinds and shapes and what have you. The show is nothing if not fair in that respect, which is more than one can say for “Game of Thrones” most of the time, as much as I love it.

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The cast is first rate across the board, and also includes Thandie Newton (also of Crichton’s long-running “ER”), Michael Wincott (“24”), Brian Howe (also of HBO’s “Vice Principals”), Demetrius Grosse (“Justified”), Currie Graham (“Murder in the First”), and Lena Georgas (“Kingdom Hospital”). It’s a testament to how good this is that it was able to attract such excellent performers like Hopkins and Harris, to be sure, who rarely do television, at least these days.

I’m definitely curious to see where this all goes, and I wonder how closely it will or won’t follow the original. So far, it seems as if it will feature nods to it, without fully committing to following it to the letter, which I think is for the best. Otherwise, there would be no surprises, right?

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I like the notion of potentially making the Gunslinger either human or a completely self-aware android, and the mystery element he’s involved with is already intriguing to me. Can’t wait to see where all this is going.

I also adore Evan Rachel Wood, and it’s great to see her headline a series like this, full of big ideas and grand concepts that could really formulate into something special. Here’s hoping they don’t drop the ball on what is already one of the more fascinating characters on the show.

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Might this be HBO’s heir apparent to the “Game of Thrones,” um, throne? Could be. Either way, I’m in for the season, that’s for sure. Let me know what you think down below and any predictions you might have for the future. I’ll check in later on in the season to see how things are going!