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”.

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.

 

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.

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!