Westworld: A Review

These violent delights have violent ends 

Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy’s 2016 masterpiece Westworld is one of the must-see series of the year, not only because of the superb acting by the entire cast, fantastic opening credits, and mind-boggling plot, but the blows it delivers to both Hosts and fans.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Westworld is a show which poses deep questions surrounding what it means to be human, but concludes through the objectification and manipulation of those less powerful that, apparently, only suffering makes us feel alive. Where, or what, is the limit to human suffering? For Westworld, it seems, there is no limit.

Todd VanDerWerff of Vox captured this perfectly, claiming Westworld argues: “…the only way to truly be conscious, to truly have free will, is to understand that you have no free will. To make your own decisions requires understanding that you were always going to make those decisions, understanding that you are, on some level, programmed to do so. You, like a Host, are just an endless series of loops, and the sooner you realise that, the sooner you can break out of whatever hell you’ve been imprisoned in.”

Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy should be congratulated for creating a show where perception is obviously something to be constantly toyed with – I was left questioning “Where are we, when are we?” as much as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Westworld‘s oldest host who believes all is well with the world, or her “dream”.

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“I’m in a dream” – Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) view of Westworld

It also appears Westworld may well be a world (and show) full of ambiguities and contradictions –  Jonathan Nolan has said some things in Westworld are “intentionally ambiguous” so, just like the Hosts, fans (myself included) looked for meaning where there was perhaps none, so what does this mean for Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) conclusion “Everything is exactly what it is”?

The three timelines theory proved correct, however, so fans were right on the money with that one. And let’s not forget Bernard, Westworld‘s head of programming actually being a Host AND Arnold, Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) former partner who allegedly committed suicide – I won’t spoil that one for you.

Jeffrey Wright delivered an absolutely flawless performance as Westworld's head of programming/Host Bernard Lowe.

Jeffrey Wright delivered an absolutely flawless performance as Westworld’s head of programming/Host Bernard Lowe.

About seven episodes in, I remember posting a Facebook status update where I couldn’t quite believe the fan theories were true.

It went something like this:

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Dolores’ epic line “The Maze is not meant for you” also certainly proved true and in what a bloody fashion!

The series finale ‘The Bicameral Mind’ certainly left me with one of many questions, the chief being:

So, Ford isn’t the villain? And it turns out the ‘Man in Black’ (Ed Harris) a.k.a. William (Jimmi Simpson) is? For me that was a bit of a revelation. I pegged Ford as the villain the moment I saw the HBO trailer, and although I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover William was the Man in Black, I was shocked to learn he was the physical manifestation of the Host’s miseries past and present, his goal as a Delos majority shareholder to roll back the Host’s to nothing more than objects for his like to aimlessly kill and f*** – I mean, he’s more twisted than Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)!

Ed Harris was unnerving as Westworld's villain The Man in Black.

Ed Harris was unnerving as Westworld‘s villain The Man in Black.

William (Jimmi Simpson), an initial reluctant visitor to Westworld and not quite the knight in shining armor (cowboy hat) he first appeared.

William (Jimmi Simpson), an initial reluctant visitor to Westworld and not quite the knight in shining armor (cowboy hat) he first appeared.

So William is one seriously messed-up old fella, I’d just like to say.

Such questions (and revelations) just goes to show the power of (mis)perception.

This is so as it became clear in the finale Ford wanted what Arnold wanted all along, but just wanted the Hosts to have a bit of a backbone courtesy of 30 years of suffering first!

As Genevieve Valentine from Vox has said “…Ford’s known all along that the Hosts were fundamentally aware, and chose to stifle that initiative until he could exploit it.”

In this way, Ford might not be the greatest villain of the series, but he’s certainly the king of Westworld.

Villain or savior? Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford, founder and creative director of Westworld.

Villain or savior? Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford, founder and creative director of Westworld.

I did also appreciate the fact “Wyatt” turned out to be Dolores, a narrative engineered by Arnold for her to escape the impending horrors of the park courtesy of Ford (it was a nice try), because she did not end up quite the damsel in distress I feared she would.

Her line to William a.k.a the Man in Black was seriously haunting and foreshadows what will (hopefully) happen in season two – the rise of the machines (no Terminator pun intended, I swear).

…One day, you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt. Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new God will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you, or the people that came before. It belongs to someone who’s yet to come.

Thandie Newton’s character Maeve, Westworld’s madam, best captured the spirit of the show. Her discovery that her life is an elaborate lie and with it her sentience, along with all of the deliciously cynical moments and interactions she had with her makers, made her one of the most powerful characters of the series. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her dance the thin line between being a Host who encouraged, rather than bent others to her will, and becoming what she so abhors – the finale gave the audience a taste of this possible path as she declared she only brought bandit Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and his band of merry-men (or should I say tattooed women Armistice, played by Ingrid Bolso Berdal) along to aid in her escape.

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Thandie Newton wowed as Westworld madam Maeve.

And it’s also best not to miss Ford’s monologues.

Hands down the best show of 2016, a show which equally captivates and horrifies you as soon as the fabulous opening credits role, or is it better to say when the rather iconic line “Do you know where you are?” is delivered.

Either way, one of the must-see series of 2016.

2018 can’t come soon enough with Nolan’s announcement that season two will be defined by “chaos”, just as series one was defined by “control”.

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The Accountant: A Review

And I’m back! After almost a year away busy writing a dissertation and trying my hand at foreign reporting while on exchange in Finland, here comes my review of Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant.

Contrary to the largely negative reviews by critics marking this film as “unremarkable”, “unconvincing” and inconsistent (among other things), The Accountant is well worth a watch by anyone who enjoys thriller, action and a tad bit of romance all rolled into a film where every few minutes, it feels, someone gets shot by Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a savvy, small-town accountant who is way more complicated than first meets the eye – and that’s not just because of his high-functioning autism.

Wolff is a bit of a mystery (with an albeit colourful backstory), uncooking the books for some of the baddest criminals around, whilst staying off the radar thanks to a mysterious caller who calls him “Dreamboat”.

I’m positive his expert marksman and martial arts skills – courtesy of his equally as mysterious military father who never wanted him to be taken advantage of – did not go to waste either.

Sure, there may be an investigation into his dealings as “The Accountant”, spearheaded by veteran Treasury officer Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and not-so-willing sidekick Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), but he stays out of trouble thanks to his skills and our favourite “Caller-ID-restricted” voice.

Wolff has a good thing going in small-town Illinois until he picks up a ‘legitimate’ auditing job for a company called Living Robotics at the behest of the mysterious caller, and this is when the film really starts moving and things start spiraling out of control for Wolff.

Cue Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), Living Robotics’ accountant and Wolff’s love-interest, who seems to have stumbled across something fishy.

What I truly enjoyed about this film, however, was not the unique plot – troubled autistic boy becomes sharpshooting, butt-kicking accountant – but the constant flashbacks to Wolff’s past, where we watched him navigate a world where his mother abandoned him and his little brother, leaving it to his father to teach them, rather harshly, to overcome their hardships. Such a past served to deepen Affleck’s character and reveal he was a little conflicted – he wanted to be the savvy accountant of the criminal underground, but hungered for a normal life.

The fact the film’s ‘ah-hah’ moments were teased out throughout the plot, rather than dumped in catastrophic fashion right at the end, also served to make this film enjoyable.

I was on the edge of my seat, nervously chewing my nails, instead of sitting back and waiting for the film to be over.

The only downside to this film, however, is Wolff’s seeming invincibility. You can’t throw that much at one person and then not see them crack. One brief breakdown and rough childhood flashbacks are simply not enough.

Overall, The Accountant is a film that, like its characters, is far more than first meets the eye and well worth the watch because of the mystery it both deepens and solves.

 

 

Doctor Foster: A Review

Doctor Foster proved that, as the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Capturing viewers in the UK and exploding onto New Zealand screens last week, Mike Bartlett’s five-part drama Doctor Foster was riveting from the moment Rae Morris’s For You played in the TV One trailer – a song just as gripping and compelling as the series.

Doctor Foster follows small-town doctor and loyal wife, Dr Gemma Foster (played by Scott and Bailey‘s Suranne Jones), as her perfect world slowly unravels after she suspects her husband, Simon (Matilda‘s Bertie Carvel), of having an affair.

A tangled web of lies and deceit was craftily unwoven by writer Mike Bartlett over five epic nights, revealing a town with a host of characters who seemed, at times, just as twisted as the subliminal faults in Gemma’s marriage – mostly on Simon’s part I might add.

Not shy of exploring long-held societal questions about a woman’s place outside of the home: her ability to juggle work and a family along with maintaining a healthy social life – questions Jones herself discussed in an article in The TV Guide – the series certainly seemed to keep viewers on their toes, constantly questioning what Gemma’s next move would be as she unravelled that tangled web – woven by the whole town it seemed!

The sole focus of the series on Gemma may have been a bit of a surprise for Suranne Jones – a fact viewers would either love or hate, Jones revealed – but it left viewers truly able to invest in her character, I felt.

After all, grumbling at the television would not have had the same effect if viewers hadn’t had the chance to really get to know Gemma and her world – a feat for Bartlett in such a small amount of running time.

Although, thanks to superb writing by Bartlett, there were a couple of moments where I questioned how well the audience had gotten to know Gemma. The first being when I thought she’d given up in the fourth episode by attempting suicide, the second when she decided to stay with Simon (that was a face-to-palm moment that one) and the third when I, like Simon, wholeheartedly believed she’d killed her son Tom.

How possibly could I have thought that?!

The finale, however, was what really capped off the series for me, and not just because of the very apt ending.

Not only was it highly explosive from the moment Gemma and Simon walked through the Parks’ door, but the calculating, dark side Gemma revealed made for a finale that certainly kept viewers on their toes – myself included.

After all, as one of the characters from Gemma’s past revealed, she’s always known how to hurt people.

And, as the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right?

A fantastic series that is well worth the watch and very deserving of the second series that has been commissioned.

5/5

And, as a testament to how gripping Doctor Foster was (trailer music aside) you can catch the trailer below:

 

 

 

 

Cuffs: First Impressions

A police-based drama finally returns to BBC One after HolbyBlue eight years ago.

The opening episode of the BBC series Cuffs proved to be a bad day at the office for rookie cop and main protagonist, PC Jake Vickers (played by newcomer Jacob Ifan).

By Jake’s own admission, being bled on and spat on (among other things) was not his idea of a great first day on the job.

However, a bad day at the office promises what I hope will be a great series, despite its cancellation by the BBC.

Cuffs follows the on-and-off-the-job lives of several front-line police officers and detectives with the fictional South Sussex Police service, as they deal with everything from harassment on a nudist beach to race-hate motivated crimes.

Although I’ve seen plenty of cop dramas before, my favourite being Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, it appears Cuffs will offer a fresh perspective on the genre, and not just because it’s based by the Brighton sea.

Already after one episode, the series has delved into the lives of the characters, not only revealing a lot of what they’re like on the job, but also at home.

Viewers have already gathered that Jake wants to move out of his father’s shadow and make something of himself, on his own two feet.

From Chief Superintendent Robert Vickers’ (Peter Sullivan) words with Jake’s mentor, PC Ryan Draper (Ashley Walters), I can already tell that this will prove to be difficult.

Viewers also have the not-quite-so-inkling suspicion that “politician” daddy may be being unfaithful to his sick wife (played by The Bill‘s Clare Burt) with DS Jo Moffat (Amanda Abbington), who already seems like she’s more invested in the relationship than he is.

And finally, viewers have glimpsed that underneath PC Draper’s tough exterior is a loving father who clearly wants what’s best for his children, albeit juggling work with home life.

But Cuffs doesn’t stop there.

The series, so far, has not flinched away from showing the highs with the lows.

Although it does not appear to explore darker ‘taboo’ themes in the same nitty-gritty, dark and brooding fashion of Line of Duty, the series has already adeptly explored suicide, child abduction, racism, and infidelity, all in the first episode.

So stay tuned, I’ll be back for my final review in seven weeks.

But in the meantime, you can catch the trailer below.

The Player: A Review

The Player proved Cassandra (Charity Wakefield) and Mr Johnson (Wesley Snipes) were the only people 'The House' needed, all of 'The Players readily disposed of, including Kane (Phillip Winchester). (Photo by: Gregory E. Peters/NBC)

After watching the finale of NBC’s The Player, I’m left questioning whether Alex Kane wasn’t the only one who was played.

It seems the viewers were also cheated.

Sticking with the series for nine episodes no one was still any closer to learning who had taken Ginny and, most importantly, why.

Locker full of weapons aside, The Player clearly left viewers with more questions than answers.

Was Ginny a spy? Involved in some dirty dealings?

And who was after Johnson and why?

Questions and cliffhangers aside, the series proved to be the only show I regretted watching for 2015.

A waste of viewing time, The Player danced around the central plot without ever getting to it.

The relationships and loyalties in this series? Just as hard to put your finger on as the point of The Player.

One moment Cassandra was siding with Alex, Mr Johnson the root of all evil, and the next she was committed to saving Johnson’s skin, facing-off against the big bad wolf who wanted to take him down, whoever that was.

Honestly.

If viewers were looking for revelations after all of the drawn-out suspense, they were left, once again, disappointed.

The only revelation the series seemed to afford viewers was Mr Johnson and Cassandra were clearly always meant to be a duo, ‘The Player’ a convenient muscle readily disposed of.

What a bombshell!

If you like a show who’s quality is just as questionable as the characters’ loyalties, then I highly recommend The Player.

 

Humans: A Review

Channel 4 and AMC's Humans series proved to be a bit of rollercoaster road for the Hawkins family.

The premise I reached back in Humans: First Impressions that the series would delve into what it means to be, and what deserves to be, human was infinitely explored throughout the remainder of the series. Every character in the series, human and synth, dealt (or is fought the more operative word?) with the debate in their own way, some emerging on the other side better for it and others, well, not so much.

The series also managed to deal several surprises, well, bombshells,  over its remaining course – spoiler alert!

First, a short recap of Humans is in order.

Based on the Swedish series Real Humans, Humans is framed around the five-strong Hawkins family and their varying relationships with synth, Anita. Of course, it’s not as simple as this, with the shady government (and its equally shady characters) hunting down four sentient or conscious ‘synths’ deemed to be a threat to the future of humankind, of which Anita is one.

And here’s why they’re such a threat, because they’re meant to do everything BUT think.

Now the bombshells.

We discovered that Leo Elster (Colin Morgan) was more bionic than human and the ‘thing’ I thought he had with Anita/Mia, well, it wasn’t so much as a thing than a mother-son relationship.

A further revelation came in the form of Detective-Sergeant Karen Voss, who was not a D.S. but a conscious synth made in the liking of Elster’s wife Beatrice, intent on righting the wrong of conscious synths.

But perhaps the most heartwarming revelation of the series was that Niska,  Mia, Fred, and Max were Leo’s family, teaching him the lay of the land – the roles his father shirked and his mother wasn’t capable of performing.

The biggest bombshell of all, however: locked inside the minds of Leo and his family was the key to making more conscious synths. Whether or not this will come to fruition is a question left to be answered in season two (I hope).

The series also managed to deal a few blows.

Fate did not prove kind to George Millican or his synth Odi, both essentially perishing at the hands (or should I say gun?) of Voss and her more-than-slightly demented agenda. I don’t know about any of you, but I had a feeling things wouldn’t end well for those two, right from the start.

Don’t even get me started on the water-logged demise of Max and the addled brains of Fred 😦

I’ll also refrain from mentioning Joe’s 18+ venture with Anita, that did not fail to cause a fair bit of upset in the Hawkin’s household.

On even less of a positive note, I have to say that the finale was rather flat compared to the previous episode where the s*** hit the fan for Elster’s synths and the Hawkins family. You’ll just have to watch to know what I mean.

The finale did however, leave me with some burning questions:

What is Niska planning? I would have thought Millican’s untimely death and all of the heart-to-hearts they shared might have made an impression or appeal to her ‘softer’ side – the one where she played dolls with Sophie Hawkins. (I did love her all-around sassiness though).

Surely Hobb wouldn’t give up that easily? He has, after all, been pursuing the conscious synths for the entire season.

The finale ended on Drummond and Voss touching, so what are his intentions? Understanding or pity?

I hope, like many of you, all of these questions are answered in season two.

Overall, a superb series that is well worth a watch!

But, just in case you missed it, here’s a look at series one.

 

The Player: First Impressions

NBC series The Player looks like it will prove to be a bit of a hit-and-miss with the gamblers (pardon the pun).

Having already been reduced from a thirteen-episode run to only nine episodes, things are not looking good for Philip Winchester a.k.a. Alex Kane in what I thought would be a great action-packed series after Winchester’s stellar performance in Strike Back. However, looks can, after all, be deceiving.

The Player follows former security expert Alex Kane as he navigates his role as ‘The Player’ for ‘The House’, a shady Las Vegas organisation with a Person of Interest-type artificial intelligence computer that predicts crime before it happens. Kane’s role? To stop the crime before it happens,  whilst pleasing a plethora of wealthy clientele who ‘bet’ on whether he beats the odds and takes out the bad guys, before they take out him. But Kane is not alone, helping him his ‘dealer’ Cassandra (Charity Wakefield), a British bombshell who is also a tech-wiz. And breathing down both their necks is ‘pit boss’ Mr Johnson (Wesley Snipes) whose role it appears is to be as equally condescending as shady.

But just as marital woes proved to be a problem for Winchester’s character Michael Stonebridge in Strike Back, it looks like the same thing has come back to plague Winchester in The Player, with Kane’s wife supposedly knocked-off in the first episode.

For a former FBI agent I believe, Kane’s performance as ‘The Player’ is awfully underwhelming. He ran his own security business, but can’t seem to break away from his reliance on dealer and tech-wiz Cassandra. Quite pathetic, really.

The only thing that’s keeping me tuned in every Tuesday evening is the mystery surrounding Ginny’s ‘death’. It’s intriguing she may still be alive, and perhaps even more intriguing is Cassandra’s relation to Ginny.

Formerly titled Endgame, ratings may prove to be the endgame for this disappointing NBC series, that also makes me question Winchester’s versatility as an actor.

It seems Winchester has had a bad deal as former Strike Back co-stars Sullivan Stapleton and Rhona Mitra enjoy ratings success with their new shows Blindspot and The Last Ship.

But stay tuned, I’ll be back with my final review soon.