It is a pretty rare thing to have a show with expectations as high as they are for HBO's new sci-fi drama Westworld. The show has been in the works for quite some time, thanks to a pretty hefty production delay, not to mention the borderline ridiculous amount of big-name talent attached. The wait is finally over and Westworld has arrived. In short, it has been a very long time since a show debuted that has as much potential as the pilot episode titled The Original.
The Westworld premiere frankly starts off pretty bold and strange. HBO is clearly not going to treat the audience as if they are stupid. It just sort of starts and doesn't beat viewers over the head with any kind of exposition. It just hits the ground strolling, not running. There is a pace to it. The show is based off of the movie written by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and much like other works from the beloved author, there is a very rich world to tap into. The show is centered around a futuristic theme park filled with incredibly realistic artificial beings that are prepared to allow guests to fulfill their deepest and darkest desires. Things start to go a bit awry when a new update that makes the artificial beings even more realistic causes some malfunctions, which is just the tip of the iceberg.
While movie-to-TV adaptations have been a big trend lately, sometimes there simply doesn't seem to be a huge reason for taking the source material and stretching it out over several seasons. Westworld proved in one episode that this is something that should have never been a movie and really that it was born to be brought to life in the modern television renaissance we are currently living in. That is not to say that the first episode of Westworld is enough to sell everyone on the show, nor is it one of the most flashy, outstanding first episodes of TV ever made, as some seemingly expected it to be. But it really doesn't need to be. That is not to say it isn't great, because it is.
This first episode merely introduced the core ideas and characters that Westworld will explore over the course of its run in an organic way that forces the viewer to invest and become interested. It was done in a way that demands curiosity, a way that raises many questions and provides few answer. Which is why many who watched this first episode are very likely to tune in for the rest of this season. HBO had a lot of confidence in Westworld, so this first episode did not suffer in the way that many TV pilots do by having to cram so much into one episode. Viewers are going to have to trust in the journey of this show, and they probably should based on this first episode.
The show very much feels like a product of the talent involved, such as J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nolan and HBO as a whole . Bits and pieces of every creative person's DNA are all over the place, which is what makes Westworld feel so unique. This show appears to be doing for sci-fi what Game of Thrones was able to do for fantasy. It is something very smart, well thought out and most importantly entertaining on a broad scale. Outside of Star Wars and maybe to a lesser degree Star Trek, hardcore sci-fi isn't something that can often cross over to the masses, much like fantasy wasn't really able to do prior to Game of Thrones. But it starts with the rich source material, and again, like Game of Thrones, Westworld has a very rich bit of source material to tap into in order to bring this series to life.
Perhaps the main difference between something like Game of Thrones and Westworld is this; Game of Thrones made stars of the majority of their cast members, Westworld has a ton of them to start with. Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris are both every bit as excellent as we have come to expect them to be and their presence is felt in a massive way in this first episode. The show is really being put on the shoulders of Evan Rachel Wood, who is paired up with James Marsden, both of whom seem like they were tailor mode for the roles they are filling in this series. Rounding out the truly astonishing cast are names like Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson and Tessa Thompson. Truly, if Westworld fails (which we seriously doubt it will at this point), it will certainly not be for a lack of talent.
There is something so fascinating and welcoming, yet at the same time offputting, about the idea that Westworld is set in a world full of cutting edge science against a backdrop of the old west. It is so visually appealing and fascinating. That being said, we really don't know much. This first episode really just lays out some of the basic rules of the show and provides what we assume will be the central conflict of artificial intelligence gaining a bit of sentience, which Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) appears to be the linchpin of. On one hand, it is borderline frustrating how little we actually learn about this world in this first episode. On the other hand, it really does justify the idea that this story needs to be told in a series and not in a movie.
Westworld is a visual feast. It is violent. It is thrilling at times. It is mysterious. It is perplexing. It is smart. It has a borderline absurd amount of potential that we as viewers can only hope that they are able to tap into throughout the rest of this first season. HBO may very well have found their heir to Game of Thrones, but make no mistake, this is a very different show and it is something that will require a little bit of faith on the part of the viewer, but in the best and most refreshing of ways. Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO.