"Take me to the place you promised."
Christmas break is for binge-watching, so I’ve been binging Westworld, the new, hyper-violent HBO sci-fi show that’s been receiving all the accolades. It is fascinating to watch but three episodes in, I’m already distracted. For a premise that’s exploring emotions, humanity, and what it means to be human, the writers and producers are missing out on some basic human behavior. Had they included it, the show would be far more interesting. Here are nine beefs I have with what could be a great series:
- Where are the humans with Savior-complexes? If a rich do-gooder goes into an expensive fantasy world, rape and pillage and bank robbing are not high on the fantasy list. Trying ones hand at excising a burst appendix, being a hero police officer who prevents a crime, giving a sermon in a church, conducting a world-class orchestra (or sitting first chair!), being a rockstar ….now that’s power that’s out of reach. Why wouldn’t those people exist? It doubly makes no sense when people are shot and killed as though it’s nothing. There’s plenty of carnage, why not the traditions that go with it? (Oh! And where’s the embalmer?)
- Why aren’t humans beating the crap out of each other? There’s plenty of alcohol. Where are the fights with other humans — over women, cards, loot. Since there is no way to tell who is who, there’d be men hitting on other men’s wives, at the very least, and likely being punched in the grill (especially if there’s alcohol involved), but none of that happens. Somehow, the humans dehumanize the robots that they can’t tell are robots but don’t dehumanize each other? Seems weird.
- Why isn’t there an obvious tell when it comes to the non-humans? I know, I know. Somewhere down the line in the show one of the “people” we think are designing these creatures is actually a robot, too, and probably creating all these interactions. But it’s ridiculous that someone would go into a world with hundreds of robots and not know who is real and who is not. That would scare off me, as a consumer. Hell, no.
- Where is the compassion? With robots this realistic, most people would be cripplingly traumatized at seeing a massacre. People would be hugging and caring for not only each other but the robots, too. These humanoids feel pain, fear, grief. Humans would comfort them. It’s a natural human reaction — because, again, they don’t know who is and who is not human. How could a decent human allow some criminal robot to take a woman robot and go rape her? How does that not trigger natural impulses to protect? And why wouldn’t he do that knowing that the “Hosts” cannot kill him for protecting her? The lack of compassion seems unreal.
- What idiot programs a humanoid to have homicidal and self-learning capabilities? Those two traits together seem like a no-way combination. So, this killer robot likes knives but will stop short at killing the innocent human because he’s programmed to never harm Guests? By the way, he has a protocol where he’s constantly learning to be more human?
- So, the “Hosts” (aka deranged robots) have drives like wanting to marry, wanting to run away, wanting to be with daddy, wanting to be safe, but not to procreate? The heuristics are weird. It seems that some of the innate motivations cannot be separated from other innate human motivations. That is, you cannot program something to make a loving choice without programming it to make a loving but stupid choice. How to tease that behavior?
- Do these robots run on nuclear generators? Where do they get their energy and power? We see them decommissioned. We don’t see them recharged. We see them explode in bloody messes. We see them scalped and their computer circuitry exposed. It’s weird. What keeps them going?
- How have these robots not escaped? There’s word that an artificially intelligent Russian robot escaped the lab and ended up causing a ruckus in a nearby street before running out of power. How have one of these amazing human-like robots not taken a train out of Westworld?
- Finally, to the game theory. In my son’s video game, I can’t remember which one, there comes a point where he has an enemy leader captive and must make moral choices. If he kills him, he’s killed a defenseless man. If he imprisons him, the evil guy escapes and kills part of his unit. It’s a terrible choice, and we spent a long time discussing the cruelty of war and terrible choices one makes when lives are at stake. None of that processing seems to take place in Westworld. There are other first-person shooter games like Plants versus Zombies or Halo or Shadow of Mordor where the interaction is between non-human things and plants or zombies or pig-like aliens or beasts. Then there are video games like Call of Duty or Star Wars that force moral choices. Some video games are just pure fantasy — Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto. In these videos, moral choices don’t seem to be part of the equation. Crazy bad stuff happens with little consequences. But Westworld operates in the realm of a realistic human moral ethic. No one seems phased, or too few do anyway, by the wretched storylines in which they participate.
Like Game of Thrones, the theme seems excessively violent. There’s been one gratuitous sex scene (so far). Seeing naked robots isn’t remotely titillating. It must be difficult for the actors, but their nakedness at least serves to dehumanize the “Hosts,” which is the purpose, I think. It’s difficult to tell right now.
If obvious plot holes continue, the show will just be an irritating mish-mash of modern filmmaking wizardry.
The acting is solid. James Mardsen and Evan Rachel Wood are compelling every time they inhabit the screen. Luke Hemsworth’s character is the only one with sense, and that’s enjoyable to watch, too. The human creators seems irritatingly stupid (ala Jurassic Park-level hubris). It’s probably because the owners are shadowy and the back end of the theme park is hazy about politics, ownership, and motivation.
The scoring is superb. Listening to the playlist from the show might be the best outcome. The camera work and lighting create beautifully moody environments, too.
None of the great elements matter, though, if the story is stupid. Right now, the story is stupid.
Exit question for those who’ve watched the whole thing: Does it get better?
Photo credit: Westworld screenshot