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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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.

American Odyssey: First Impressions

Anna Friel as U.S. Army Sergeant Odelle Ballard in the NBC thriller American Odyssey.

I saw the trailer for the NBC thriller American Odyssey on YouTube a while back and took note to watch it when it eventually made its way to New Zealand shores.

Well, four months behind its premiere in the U.S., American Odyssey premiered here in New Zealand last night.

And what a premiere it was, getting straight into the story of U.S. Army Sergeant Odelle Ballard (Anna Friel) and her journey to stay alive after her team is murdered whilst on a secret mission in Mali, following their discovery that major U.S. company, SOC, has been funding Islamist terror groups.

The premiere unveiled a web of lies and corruption high up in the U.S. Army and business world that is sure to unravel as the series continues. The ‘good guys’ were separated from the ‘bad guys’ almost from the word go, and it’s clear that Ballard and her allies back home – former U.S. State Attorney Peter Decker (Peter Facinelli) and G8 protest organiser Harrison Walters, played by Jake Robinson, are in for a conspiracy-filled ride.

And let’s not forget about Aslam and the news team at Al Jazeera.

From watching the first episode, it appears as if the world is against Ballard and her allies, with high-ups in the U.S. Army and SOC spinning a web of lies about the demise of Ballard and Task Force 24 on the homefront.

This makes for a promising watch (yes, I know, things don’t bode well because the series has been cancelled) so stay tuned, I’ll be back at the end of the series with a review.

In the meantime, I hope she guards that pen drive!

 

 

 

 

 

Forever: A Review

Ioan Gruffudd and Joel David Moore as Dr Henry Morgan and Lucas Wahl in the ABC drama Forever.

The critics didn’t seem to peg Forever well right from the get-go, and that’s probably why it didn’t get a second season.

Maybe it was the immortality, or lack of interest in Dr Henry Morgan’s English charm?

Either way, I still enjoyed this series.

Sure, it had it’s moments, and ending on a cliffhanger was not the way to go. A flash forward to see how Jo handled the “It’s a long story” wouldn’t have been too much to ask, would it?

Other than that peeve, I don’t really see how a second series could have panned about.

The storylines were all wrapped up: Burn Gorman’s character, known only as “Adam” had been defeated, the mystery surrounding Abigail’s (MacKenzie Mauzy) disappearance had been solved and we knew that Henry would continue being his old Sherlock-y Medical Examiner self, solving crime in his 200-year-old style with Detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza) and Detective Mike Hanson (Donnie Keshawarz) in tow, with Abe (Judd Hirsch) close behind to keep him out of trouble (or should I say in trouble?).

Well, for those who are yet to fall in love with Henry’s English charm, 200-year-old manners (and views?), pocket watch and waistcoat (or already have and don’t mind a refresher), here’s a bit of a down-low on what Forever is all about:

It’s 1814 and Dr Henry Morgan is shot dead on his father’s slave trading ship for trying to free slaves. Flash forward to modern day New York and Henry is a Medical Examiner, solving crime and trying to navigate a perplexing never-ending existence, when Detective Jo Martinez and Adam enter the picture. Keeping his secret just got harder…

It was great to see Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman as the villain Adam, a formidable fellow immortal who just happens to have been around the block a bit more than Henry (for 2000 years), and all the more darker for it. Gorman gave a superb performance, so much so that I wouldn’t want to run into him in a dark alley anytime soon. With his gravelly voice and a particular talent at pressing all of Henry’s buttons, his beef with Henry was what really had the story moving. You never knew what kind of sadistic game he’d play with Henry next. And after all, what scares an immortal more than knowing that the game might be up.

Ioan Gruffudd was absolutely amazing in his role as Dr Henry Morgan. I quickly fell in love with Henry’s eccentricity and a certain panache that came from being a man out of time. Sure, he did his best to adapt in his survival, but with his characteristic dapperness, manners and views he was the “same old Henry”. His rather philosophical and self-reflective narration at the opening and closing of every episode (which usually centered around purposeful and accidental deaths) added a poignant depth to the series.

What I can describe only as a crime procedural with a 200-year-old character thrown in, Forever was a thoroughly enjoyable watch with enough mystery, villainry and deaths, you’ll forget my grumblings about cliffhangers and the fact that there’s no second season.

Don’t believe me? Check out the trailer below: