HBO took a big gamble on ‘Westworld’. After expensive flops like ‘Vinyl’ and the second series of ‘True Detective’ – not to mention reportedly spending vast sums on reshoots for the ‘Westworld’ pilot – the cable channel needed a ‘Game of Thrones’-sized hit to prove the doubters wrong. But four episodes in, our commitment to this sci-fi western is already starting to wobble. Here’s what ‘Westworld’ needs to do to keep us watching.
1. Give us characters to care about
‘Westworld’ is set in a rich man’s playground where the businessmen of the future let off steam by riding the range and abusing the human-like robots who populate the park. Which leads to an inherent problem: all the main characters are either androids whose personalities can be re-programmed at the drop of a stetson, the awful scumbags who patronise the park or the engineers who keep this whole nasty edifice ticking over. And with the arguable exception of Jeffrey Wright’s robotics expert, it’s hard to give a hoot about any of them.
2. Lay out the rules more clearly
The writers of ‘Westworld’ have done a fine job of building this world – we know who the robots are, who the visitors are and roughly what the rules are within the park. But so much of it is still really confusing. To take just one example, how often do the robots run through their pre-programmed ‘stories’? Hero androids Dolores and Teddy seem to have gone through their little romantic routine three or four times now, all within the space of a single visit by punters William and Logan. Isn’t it weird for the visitors if the robots start re-enacting their parts?
3. More peril would be nice
The western genre doesn’t lend itself to eye-popping action: sure, you might get the odd horse chase or barroom brawl, but big battle scenes and roof-leaping heroics aren’t really the order of the day. It doesn’t help that we know no-one in Westworld can get seriously hurt: the robots can’t shoot the visitors, and if they damage each other all it takes is a quick visit to the workshop. So what’s really at stake here?
4. Show us the other worlds
In the 1973 movie that provided the inspiration for ‘Westworld’, the titular park was just one of three – the others being Roman World and Medieval World. The creators of the TV show have confirmed that the first season will be set entirely within Westworld, but haven’t ruled out the possibility of visiting other worlds in series to come. Imagine if they’d kept the entire first series of ‘Game of Thrones’ in Westeros, and left out all the fun barbarian stuff. Exactly.
5. Get to the point already
Unlike, say, ‘Game of Thrones’, where you knew from the first episode who was who and what the stakes were, ‘Westworld’ plays its cards close to its chest. We know the park isn’t what it seems, we know creator Anthony Hopkins is hiding something, we know Ed Harris’s Man in Black is looking for some deeper secret, but none of these storylines seem in a hurry to get anywhere. We understand the need for to hold on to the mystery, but this drip-feed of information is getting a bit aggravating.
We’ll definitely give ‘Westworld’ a few more episodes to up its game: it’s still crammed with ideas and spectacular to look at. But let’s hope things pick up a bit before the end of the season.
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