Monday, December 5, 2016

TV Review: WESTWORLD - Season 1

In an undefined future, a park has been created called Westworld, populated by artificial beings called hosts. They resemble humans in every possible way. They are made with blood and bones and are programmed for interaction with the humans who visit the park, called guests, for a whopping $40,000 a day. Based on the homonymous 1973 film by Michael Cricthon, Westworld takes the original idea to a whole new level with a sophistication and complexity worthy of a Nolan brother.

The story kicks off with a new update being uploaded to the hosts by Ford (Anothony Hopkins), the creator of the park. This update, known as called the reveries update, is a code that gives hosts unconscious access to their memories in order to obtain gestures and improvisational behaviors that will better the hosts' human resemblance and augment the authenticity of the experience for guests. However, when the park starts to register some minor strays from the normal administration of the park's story-lines, things start to seem like there's a lot more going on than what it looks like.

To talk about Westworld proves to be an incredibly daunting task given just how complicated the whole ordeal is. This is one of the biggest productions I have ever had the pleasure to experience both from film and TV. The sheer scale of content that is present in every one of the episodes is staggering. I cannot imagine what Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan must have done to keep up with this giant opera and the work that must have gone into keeping everything coherent to the rules of this world and develop every character in it, yet, in some unthinkable way, they pulled if off and have graced us with one of the best seasons of television I have ever seen and one of the most thrilling and beautifully structured stories of our time.

What the masterful 90-minute finale graced us with was a work of fiction that surpassed every possible expectation I had. It gave us everything we wanted and more, it was so good and so ingeniously built, it made the whole season even better than it was in previous episodes. Every story thread was given a meaning, every character a value and resolution, all of the doubts were cleared to the perfect level where they left just the right space for interpretation and all of the questions it left us with are questions that I will be glad to spend time with as I wait for the second season.

You see, there were doubts about the show. I had some myself, some people thought this whole gargantuan narrative was going to collapse unto itself, a couple of friends of mine even halted their watch because they started doubting the story as it was being presented to them. But, what Joy and Nolan have taught us here is that when your vision is as complete as theirs was, trusting your audience will lead to unimaginably satisfying payoffs. The whole mystery that was established from the first episodes: What is the Maze? Who is the Man in Black? Who is Arnold? When and where is this taking place? What is Ford's Plan? Every question that has accompanied us through the way of figuring out this puzzle leads to a fascinating story beat that gives the whole narrative a higher meaning. The more I think about the final episode the more I recognize its overwhelming genius and the more I start discovering and understanding past events.

As it seems right now, one might criticize this season for being purely based on its finale, on the questions it answers and the resolution it gives, but there could be nothing further from the truth. Every week we tuned in to watch and experience a wide range of magnificent characters journey through the mysteries of this land and every week we got to be participant in the complex moral conversation their stories aroused and tried to figure out what the whole picture would look like. Then the finale came and every single one of the characters' journies climaxed to its fullest potential and made the whole picture all the more significant.

The cast is just too big of an ensemble for one to dive into every one of their stories, this reflects the complexity of the overall plot, but it is also indicative of how brilliant it is. The writers have built a narrative that is ambitious in ways I don't think I have experienced before, but what is better is the fact that they have crafted it with the utmost brilliance it could have. The characters that populate this world are so varied, yet they all manage to become so distinguishable and unique in their own way throughout these episodes. Everyone of them has a journey of growth and change which culminates in a touching end for all of them. Through all of the complicated twists and turns of the plot, the heart of the story is never lost and by the end you care so much about all of them, even the most unlikely ones. You don't know on which side you're on, which makes for a terrifically satisfying watch, full of complicated emotions and moral reflections that touch upon themes which are very, very hard to grasp, but on which the writers, nonetheless, manage to focus in and emerge with a moving perspective. The ambiguity of what is going on makes the show what it is, plus on a more basic level the plot is simply way to fun to follow and try to sort out.

On a technical level this show reaches a level of excellence that I have to admit no other show has done before, not even the great Game of Thrones. The choice to shoot on film pays off even when watching from a TV screen, the production design and overall art direction is truly absorbing, the design of the human facility is something really original and the way in which the Old West is brought alive is unique in its very little way and has a touch that really gives it that creepy distinction from the authentic Old West that makes the whole concept of the park even more fascinating. The directing in every episode is top notch and in all of them we are graced with many shots of beauty, but even more importantly of incredible visual storytelling.

And finally, the beating heart of the show, what ultimately brings all of this together in the classiest of ways: the cast. The range of actors we are presented is almost poignant. From veteran actors, to unknowns, to underrated stars, to people who never had the chance to show their potential, the variety and diversity is a blessing and everyone of them gives it their all, this show is cast to perfection. Of course one could go on hours about how Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton steal the show from each other, or how Jeffrey Wright and Jimmi Simpson manage to be so magnetic in their every scene, yet for me the stand outs have to be the two veterans, the guys whose every scene in the show was both a lesson in acting and a joy to experience: Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins. The range of places where they managed to take me through this complicated journey is truly remarkable, what a pair of performances to be graced with. 

I have already written this much and we haven't even covered the tip of the iceberg. This show is amazing, it is emotional, thrilling, moving, reflective, full of adrenaline and is very cerebral. I loved it with every inch of my body and can't wait to visit it again and delve as deep as I can into its details. If you haven't seen Westworld, do yourself a favor and do so, you will not be disappointed, I promise.

James' Score: 9.5/10

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