Game of Thrones I want to watch & re-watch because the world is so expansive. Characters talks of going beyond where the map ends. Oceans are crossed. Even climates are colliding. This world is huge.
Westworld is the opposite. You know it’s a contained theme-park. You know the violence and gore are purposefully fake, without stakes. This isn’t a “world” you want to see. You want to zip past that stuff, like the first souvenir stands at a theme park. Get past the crowds and first time visitors, and head straight for the big rides.
But this is where Westworld differs. There is no big ride. There’s a long, dark mine shaft, and the drama is on a slow fuse. It’s like old western prospecting. The plot is slowly digging deeper while tension burns like a fuse. And once or twice per episode the fuse ends, EXPLODES, and you’re left with emotional rubble. You sort the characters like debris. “Oh that character was just a useless plot device after all.” And you’re left with a new nugget of gold. So you want to dig deeper. Wondering if the next blast will expose a larger nugget of truth, and increasing the tension that the whole mine could collapse.
What Have We Found (No spoilers I promise)
It’s early, so the nuggets are small, and we know the whole thing isn’t caving in soon. But there’s still some great themes to make the wide-open ‘world’ seem claustrophobic.
- The world fits on a control table that is looked-down upon by controllers, staff, executives. The smallest details are micro-managed.
- The company itself is feeling outside pressure from its own executive board, and what looks to be an upcoming hostile takeover. Bandits are casing the place.
- The benevolent creator is past his prime. Vultures are circling.
- The ‘benevolent’ creator may control the vultures, bandits, and who knows what else.
- The inner workings? It’s down an 83-floor elevator to a dank, humid, room crowded with ‘people’.
- There are constant shots looking down endless floors of a corporation, and employees walking among crisscrossing escalators.
All of this puts pressure on the characters. There’s tension. People are maneuvering and preparing for battle, but unlike GoT where characters scheme in different countries & regions. This is all taking place inside of a single building or theme-park. And since all of the day-to-day action is repeating in all the park the characters that matter are concentrating on each other. Gathering strength, intelligence, and allies.
But is it a Great Show?
I’m hesitant to call this a great show just yet, but HBO has delivered another compelling show. The slow burn style of the show makes it tough to sit through long stretches of the show. But I love catching tiny details and playing Name That Tune with the player-piano when I review an episode. It is a brilliant show.
Some people have reported they couldn’t get through the first 15 minutes of the first episode. I can understand that. E1 is basically explaining how the park/plot works, and there’s not enough characters to create drama. It seems odd that HBO didn’t debut the show in a two-episode premier like Band of Brothers. Both shows with lots of characters to introduce and no real stakes in the training episode.
It reminds me of a personal favorite, Carnivale, which only lasted two seasons. I still remember three words that summed up that show: “Frustratingly dense mythology”. It made you feel trapped & confused. Westworld seems to have solved that problem by slowly revealing bits as it mines deeper.
I started by saying I put off watching it. Now I feel compelled to catch up, and wanting more even though it can feel like work to absorb it all.
Mechanics, Ratings, and Numbers
4 stars out of 5….so far.
I don’t care about show budgets, actors/directors getting paid, or Nielsen ratings. Go somewhere else for that.