It’s just taken two episodes, but HBO’s Westworld is already my new TV series obsession. Layered allegorical storytelling, intriguing narrative, interesting characters, dark tone, and some of the finest production design to be found on both the small and big screen right now. It seems that the $100 million price tag for the ambitious show’s first season was money very well spent, as the husband and wife showrunner team Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have taken the concepts of Michael Crichton’s original 1973 sci-fi action thriller and delved way, way deeper than before.
One of the concepts introduced in that original movie was that “Westworld”, the Western-themed amusement park filled with lifelike robots, was just one of many. Also mentioned in that movie was Roman World and Medieval World, and a movie sequel (which Chrichton was not involved with at all, and is rather terrible) also took place in another park called Futureworld.
With the showrunners previously stating that they had already mapped out all five of the planned seasons, this has led some fans to wonder whether upcoming seasons would actually see the story shift to these new locations. But during the show’s panel at New York Comic Con over the weekend (via Mashable), Nolan was quite definitive when asked whether we would see these other worlds in season two.
“You said Roman World and Medieval World, right? No.”
So what will season two consist of? More of season one, it seems.
“There were a handful of things that we weren’t able to touch in the first season; we’re now currently breaking the second season. One of the really nice things about TV is, you get to go again.”
Much like some of the more intriguing mysteries already presented on the show, don’t expect to get any explanation any time soon though on what that “handful of things” are, as Joy explained that the secrecy was very necessary in telling this story the way it needs to be told.
“You let the content dictate the structure, so in starting with the point of view of the hosts, and in limiting our view and our unveiling of the world from that aperture — which is also why we aren’t talking about whether there are external worlds, because you want to find them rooted from the hosts’ POV — so you learn the rules of the world through them,” Joy said. “It allows us to live with questions without being too expository up front. Sometimes that’s frustrating because you wanna know ‘how does everything work, tell me now!’ But the hosts don’t have that luxury and so neither does our audience.”
Joy also went on to elaborate (via Variety) how important that POV was. This wasn’t like in the movie, where guests showed up and suddenly saw robots running amok. This time we would follow these robots, who were programmed to believe everything about themselves was really, and slowly breaking down as they realized the truth of what they are and what has been done to them by the guests.
“When we started, and J.J. (Abrams) brought this to us, he said, you could approach this from the robots’ perspective. It wasn’t just this binary switch going off, and the robots kill everyone… You got to see this emerging consciousness and explore that awakening.”
For anybody that’s a gamer, this change in direction should be particularly affecting. How many videogames didn’t see us as godlike characters who could do whatever we want in this virtual world, without caring one bit for its digital inhabitants. Those parallels are no accident as Nolan revealed that video games were a huge influence on Westworld.
“We played some as research for making this show, as when (Michael) Crichton first wrote his movie, video games literally didn’t exist except for PONG.”
Of particular influence were games like Grand Theft Auto, which play out like digital power fantasies and allow players to go “evil” and break laws, stealing and killing with abandon. Well, if you play them that way, that is.
Nolan: “My wife is the world’s more boring ‘Grand Theft Auto’ player. She’s the only person I know who stopped at traffic lights.”
Joy: “The city looks beautiful if you just slow down and take your time.”
And that links perfectly to the world presented in Westworld. As Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Ford muses in the latest episode, you can go off and do all the cheap thrills, but you can also stop and pay attention to all the smaller details, the nuances. And in that you may just reveal a little bit about yourself. And in the case of Ben Barnes’ character, Logan, he gets to be all callous and hedonistic.
“[Logan is] on a kind of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ mission of indulgence – he wants to see how naughty he can get. For me it was certainly very freeing to play someone who doesn’t give a… care. [Pause] Can I say ‘shit’?”
According to co-star Thandie Newton, even the way certain aspects/characters introduced (like the old man with the “fetch quest” in episode two) hark back strongly to videogames.
“The way they crafted some of the shots is to mimic a video game… Suddenly this authentic world becomes a game. This is a game, we’re in a game.”
Either way, whether viewed as a scathing commentary on how far gaming – and specifically violence in gaming – has come, or as an insightful thesis on the “humanity” and morals of artificial intelligence, Westworld is making for riveting, must-see television at the moment.
Last Updated: October 12, 2016