Game Of Thrones won't be around much longer, so HBO has a much-needed hit in Westworld to anchor their schedule and burnish their brand. But is it any good? (Spoilers ahead.)
After watching the first season, I've got a lot of problems with the show. Above all, it's slow going. We know the robots (they're called hosts and guests on the show, but I'm going to call them robots and people) are going to rise up. That's the whole point of the thing. That it took ten hours when it could have been accomplished in two doesn't speak well for the show. I know they want to set up the basic situation (before blowing it up), but we get a ton of repetition, in both action and theme.
As Maeve starts figuring out her situation and wants to do something about it, one of the lab boys supports her--another necessary plot development which I didn't like--while the other has misgivings. It would have been easy for the latter to stop Maeve along the way (without endangering his job) but he blows every chance he gets. For instance, Maeve's intelligence is set at 14--as high as any robot in the park. She asks this guy to raise it up to 20, which he does. Wouldn't this have been a good time to lower it to 1, so she'd be manageable, and he could figure out what to do with her? In any case, since no one wants any robot to be smarter than 14, why is it even possible to set their intelligence higher?
By the end, Maeve, with some robot compatriots, shoots her way out of the tech area. The lack of competence in the security staff is stunning. The robots should never have gotten so far to begin with, but once you've got three of them armed with machine guns, that's when you should really swing into action. You cordon off the area and encircle them. Instead, in Westworld, every security guard works alone so he can be picked off, as one after another they run right into the line of fire, even after they've seen others killed this way.
Then there's the story of William and the Man In Black. I didn't bother to read much theorizing about the show, but even I heard about how these two characters were the same person, just in different timelines. This was confirmed in the finale. I wish I hadn't heard about it, since I could have had the pleasure of figuring it out, or the pleasure of being surprised. But once you think about it, their story makes no sense.
This is bad enough, but when we discover he turned into the nasty Man In Black years later, it doesn't seem earned. The transition is hinted at, but it doesn't make much sense--so you lost Dolores, snap out of it. Making even less sense is why William--a rich philanthropist back in the real world--would come back regularly to Westworld on a quest. I can see him coming back every year to sate his bloodlust, but he's searching for the "maze" he's heard about to help him understand the place. Why? What's to understand? What can he possibly think he's going to find? He already knows Ford. There's no special mystery. The park is what it is.
(Speaking of this violence against the humans, I don't see how the park stays open. The insurance alone must kill them. People pay $40,000 a day for the privilege of going there, but isn't the park too dangerous--even beyond the savage beatings which, apparently, are considered acceptable? How do people know if others are robots or humans--you start a knife fight with a real person, someone can get hurt. And with all the action around, don't guests get hurt, just by, say, falling and hitting their head on something? I know they'd have to sign waivers, but if enough people got hurt, wouldn't the authorities shut the place down?)
Anyway, despite all the nonsense of the William/MIB plot, at least, at its heart, it matters. There's a whole lot of people just playing cowboy throughout the first season, and none of it makes any difference. It's all a game, so it's hard to get involved in this side of the story. Remove this pointless stuff and the season has two or three less hours.
Dolores is troubled from the start. Her character starts each day fresh and full of hope, but lives through tragedy--her family is killed, she's abducted, etc. But she can't shake these memories--in fact, she's got to work them out. It's part of her going through the "maze," which leads, through suffering, to Dolores confronting herself. This allows her, allegedly, to gain consciousness. She merges with a new villain, Wyatt, and becomes a killer.
This is all Ford's plan (which makes you wonder if there's consciousness, or free will, involved). In the end, she shoots Ford, and the robots are ready to go on a rampage against all the upper class people invited there.
Second, I just don't see where this can lead, unless the humans who live outside Westworld are as stupid as the ones who live inside it. If any of the humans escape the finale's rampage, they'll report to the authorities what's going on in Westworld and have it shut down. (This is assuming there's a real world out there that we would recognize--we see nothing in the first season outside Westworld, except a glimpse of Samurai World, meant to whet our appetite for the next season.) And even if no one survives (or some ridiculous plot development like Delos tries to cover it up), a lot of rich people not returning from Westworld would be noticed. The authorities would investigate and, finding the park full of killer robots, shut it down.
I guess the question is will I return to Westworld? On the positive side, there's some fine acting and a well-done (and expensive) look. In addition, I'm a sucker for sci-fi, and robots on the verge of consciousness. So I guess I'll keep watching. But I wish they'd up their game to a 20, or at least a 14, since right now it feels like it's about a 3.