The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Westworld

    160825 westworld s1 key art 1024x374Didn't think I was going to enjoy "Westworld" on HBO. I liked, not loved, the movie although it was sufficiently violent and creepy to appease my young mind.

    But the first episode of the series has me wanting more.

    You think you know what this show is about: A wonderland of fantasy where any whim can be accommodated. That's about as close to what is presented as the old TV show "Fantasy Island" is to the porn films that use the same title. The movie itself showed/implied a lot of this from what I can remember; the series kicks that theme up several notches.

    The show's 1st episode more than implies what that would really mean to anyone wealthy enough to buy a ticket to this world where anything goes; and given what's on the horizon technologically- and virtually-speaking, the thought of this world or some form of it existing is getting much closer which is even more troubling.

    westworld 2016 evan rachel wood1Violence in "Westworld" is epidemic. The Wild West is used as a motif purposefully. Blood (faux) flows as "people" (robots called Hosts) get their throats cut or shot in the neck. In one scene, a leering manbot host about to rape a fembot prostitute host in a saloon is shot from behind and his face opens like a squeezed grape. It's a quick image but memorable nonetheless. One hapless manbot gets scalped and although you don't actually see the gruesome details (yet) you are shown the beginning and end, and that he has been bled nearly dry by his tormentor.

    Ultra-violent, seemingly senseless gunfights take place in streets as outlaws roar through towns shooting women and men. No children have appeared so far but can't that be far behind given the level of violence that the first 45 minutes has shown. Or maybe not. Even the hint of that particular sexual/violent perversion would cross a line because it would be all too possible here and I'm sure neither the builders of Westworld (nor the producers of the show) want to introduce even the possibility of that. Thanks to them (all) for that small restraint although you have to wonder if they are being true to the themes - would that ever be off the table if this Westworld was real? Let's continue to hope so - I don't want to squirm any more than I already am while watching this.

    What's perhaps hardest to accept in "Westworld" is the level of violence and perversion. And I'm no prude. It's not prurience that bothers me. TheSheepLookUp It's the hearty embrasure of this "vacation" shown by the human participants. I think we are perhaps headed there with lightning speed, at least sociologically and that truly make me a bit queasy.

    But more than that, the cynicism in the builders of this world is horrifying - because it's probably true. They are providing a service and in order to satisfy the customer (us) they give the robots human feelings, gestures and a some new wrinkles explained in the first episode. That cynicism has extended to the point of having the robots have relationships with each other. Evan Rachael Wood greets her manbot lover (James Marsden) with, "You came back." And he says, "I told you I would." They care about each other and seek each other out almost every time they restart the "game." Ed Harris postulates about why the designers did this and what he says gives you uncomfortable gooseflesh.

    Let's get a bit sideways from the critique of the show - for a reason that has everything to do with the show and why it's so good.

    It's been shown that even visualizing violence creates a strong synaptic response in our brains - we do as they do, virtually-speaking. So let's assume that the humans who come to Westworld are responding with true enthusiasm in a very disturbing way even though they know intellectually that the people who are being killed are not real people. This is shown by Ed Harris' character in a graphic way as he indulges violent, psychopathic tendencies. He both kills and rapes in one scene and then mutilates and tortures in another.

    westworld 300x250But this is what makes me nervous - what does our even once or twice removed responses to this violence say about us? Don't we all deep down want to be able to stretch our moral boundaries until they break just once? Or twice? Or more? Imagine if you could do anything you want without consequence. Would you? It's a bit like watching Dexter dispatch bad people. When in the world did you ever think you'd root for a serial murderer? To be honest, it's this recognition that may cause me to walk away from this show like I did "Dexter." I can't deal with the thought of me acting out my baser instincts like that. It makes me sad and unhappy that we simply cannot get beyond that as human beings. But at the same time, I need to be responsive to it as a writer.

    Tie sex into the violence and you have the other component of ego run rampant that this show both perpetrates and comments on. In Westworld you can have any robot you want to do anything you want. Comedian Dennis Miller once said (paraphrasing) that when it become possible to have sex in a virtual world with supermodels, crack cocaine is going to seem like white bread.

    Indeed. And here, writ large by HBO, is an even more horrifying near future. Anything you want you can have. Like a video game with flesh, blood and other bodily fluids.

    When you get down to it, Westworld is really just an extrapolation of the video game trends. Of course there are many technological hurtles to overcome to get to a Westworld-type situation but how far away are we from that really? Years, decades or...closer? Physicist Steven Hawking is already warning us that AI (artificial intelligence) is going to destroy us. But perhaps he isn't speaking of killer robots and Skynet per se - perhaps he's seeing that once ego is unbound, once you can interact with a virtual personality in the form of a manbot or fembot and do anything you want, where would that lead humanity. I think Westworld is attempting to answer that question in terrifying fashion.

    This is what attracts and repels me about the show. And I want to shout this from the rooftops -JS101460222

    This is TRUE scifi!

    Science fiction has ALWAYS been less about laser beams and killer aliens and more about the sociological impact of extrapolated worlds and societal trends. It makes you think; it makes you question. The best scifi scares us as much as it amuses. I grew up on Isaac Asmiov and Ray Bradbury but I also voraciously ingested Harlan Ellison and other dystopians like John Brunner and William Gibson. Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" was probably the first true clarion call to ecological disaster. Thematically, great scifi examines our world, the trends, and the consequences, and then vomits out the horror.

    And more than anything else, "Westworld" does this in spades.

    This is as bleak a vision as any I've seen of a truly dystopian future but from a sociological perspective. No bombs go off, no viruses run rampant - just human beings seeking to satisfy their egos. In a world of the Twittering Trump, this is what can happen if we give into ego unchained. There is a price to be paid. I'm sure "Westworld" will make that abundantly clear.

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised at any of this given it is HBO with all its amazing quality of programming and exec producer J.J. Abrams is behind the scenes. Abrams has proven time and time again that he gets it. When I met him on the Paramount lot once and had a brief conversation, I had no idea who he was even though his show "Alias" was kicking tail in the ratings. But I could hear and see the intelligence behind this man. Years later, I am a huge fan of him and Bad Robot Productions. In fact, J.J. if you or any of your acolytes are reading this, I want to work at Bad Robot - I'd even clean up after the nasty robots' mess. Have your people call - well, I don't really have people so just call me directly.

    Westworld may not prove itself over a long form series. That is yet be seen. But sh*t-howdy is it good so far.

    Check it out.

    Copyright (c) Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Fair Use Statement

    Fair use refers to the right to reproduce, use and share copyrighted works of cultural production without direct permission from or payment to the original copyright holders. It is a designation that is assigned to projects that use copyrighted materials for purposes that include research, criticism, news reporting and teaching. When a project is protected under fair use provisions, the producers of that project are not subject to sanctions related to copyright infringement. The maintenance of fair use protections is central to many non-profit and education projects, especially those that operate in digital and online spaces.

    This website may contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holders. The material is made available on this website as a way to advance research and teaching related to critical media literacy and intercultural understanding, among other salient political and social issues. Through context, critical questioning, and educational framing, the Orange County Screenwriters Association, therefore, creates a transformative use of copyrighted media. The material is presented for entirely non-profit educational purposes. There is no reason to believe that the featured media clips will in any way negatively affect the market value of the copyrighted works. For these reasons, we believe that the website is clearly covered under current fair use copyright laws. We do not support any actions in which the materials on this site are used for purposes that extend beyond fair use.