Westworld is a wide, sweeping drama re-introducing us to the world Michael Crichton brought to life once before for the big screen in 1973.
It's a compelling and thrilling look at what it means to be human in this technologically driven world. The stories revolve around the Gods, or park creators and engineers, the park employees, the hosts (AI) and the guests, called newcomers by the AI.
At its heart, Westworld is a character study. Whether human or AI, the question remains the same. Humanity as a concept isn't limited to those created in the womb when Dr. Robert Ford (a magnificent Anthony Hopkins) and his key engineer Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) have gone to such lengths to ensure the park "hosts" are living, breathing, crying and bleeding in ways so similar to their counterparts.
Guests who enter the park come in all varieties. Some come in with the expectation that since it's hosted by robots, killing, raping and maiming should begin upon entry. Others take a different approach, even falling in love with the AI, returning, again and again, to have a different type of fantasy fulfilled.
Westworld caters to male clientele. The female hosts do little more than acts as wives, mothers and sex slaves for their pleasure. When actual wives arrive with their husbands (some come with children in tow), it's unclear where they're supposed to fit in the overall picture. I would have liked to have seen a 2016 Westworld expanded to include something for the ladies, perhaps a group of college girls attending to live out their cowboy fantasies. It doesn't look good so far, but that's hardly a quibble.
Evan Rachel Wood plays the AI through whom we get to most intimately understand the hosts. Something about Dolores feels special, and it's not just her scripted story, one that brings her closest to the black-hatted evil doers who come to Westworld. She's at the forefront of a change sweeping through the hosts.
There's a problem with the AI due to some programming that was introduced to make them a little bit more human. This bit of code accesses their stored, supposedly wiped past "lifetimes," the story arcs they play out every day. For some in the parks' 30-year history, they have died as many days as the park has been open.
That type of information coming into the conscious mind of any sentient being bring with it many possibilities, not many of them pleasant.
Anthony Hopkins is the enigmatic Dr. Robert Ford, one of the original creators of Westworld. He has both a fascination with the creatures he has brought to life and a casual disregard for them, reminding his top engineer Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) to stop questioning the morality of what they do.
There is no being fooled into getting too close, to believing there is more than meets the eye. The hosts feel neither pain nor shame. You can't play God without being acquainted with the devil.
It's hard not siding with the AI, hoping that even if there isn't a glitch in the software that someday there will be. They look so much like us and act so much like us that suffering what they do is unfathomable, even for a robot.
And at the core of it all is what it means to be human. What does it say about a person, a guest, who wants to dress in black and go out and "kill" AI that look, act and bleed just like us? What does it say about the ones who choose to be heroic? Guests pay good money to get a glimpse of who they can be when pushed to their very limits.
Like the very best shows on television, amid the beautiful vistas and thrilling action scenes, Westworld makes you think. Not just about if we'd ever see an AI population during our lifetime, but about other aspects of our lives and our thoughts on good vs evil.
Westworld producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have created a beautiful look at a complex subject through a visually stunning piece of art. It's thought provoking. It's gut wrenching. It's maddening. And I simply cannot wait for the saga to continue.
The series also stars Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Luke Hemsworth, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Angela Sarafyan and Shannon Woodward.
Westworld premieres on Sunday, October 2 at 9/8c.