WESTWORLD, aka Real Doll’s Big Day Out

Westworld is the new HBO show based on Michael Crichton’s film from 1973. It’s set in a futuristic Western-themed Disneyland where robots are programmed to act out set storylines. The guests participate in these pre-defined scenarios. It’s a bit Groundhog Day (every day is the same), a bit The Searchers. Human visitors come and go as participants in the robots’ Wild West. Then we go a bit Truman Show, where the Park world is juxtaposed with the Control Room, wherein the executives and scientists who control the robots play God. As they’re all super sciencey, they all come across as heartless dicks (bad Silicon Valley!). None of the human characters is sympathetic in any way, nor do we actually get to know any of them or participate in their lives — essentially they seem like plot devices, because the world we’re exposed to is primarily the robot Wild West world inside the Park.

As one can imagine, the limited world skews decidedly male, as “Cowboys and Indians” is a little boy fantasy. It would be mostly men who would likely spend tens of thousands of dollars (did one participant mention a fifty-thousand dollar pricetag?) to go back in time to the Old West, where they can ride around on horses playing outlaw, indiscriminately kill others with pistols, and then throw back shots at the Saloon (aka Brothel, where, apparently, on-demand prostitute robot sex is one of the main thrills).

It’s made clear that the female characters in this world, especially, exist only to provide pleasure to the male guests (rape fantasies, anyone?) — who, then, by default, seem just a bit disgusting.

Let me start by saying: Evan Wood, how I love thee, let me count the ways. You are enchanting. As the Vampire Queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq in True Blood you stopped time.

That said.

Westworld is a show in which every human character is an irredeemable dick and, seemingly, the Hosts (toy robots) are supposed to be naive, innocent, loveable gems.

We get it that the commentary is that real people, in the age of advanced technology, have become robotic. Yes, people have become disassociated.

But does it then automatically follow that robots become the emotional touchstone? No. They’re robots.

One of the most basic writing lessons learned is that writing is about the emotional journey. This specifically is why it’s a dance to have sympathetic protagonists. The audience emotionally connects with them — and that is how they then track the world. If not the protagonist, then someone in the story has to be that emotional anchor. That’s why it’s tricky, and risky, to write the negative character arc: if we love that character, we don’t want them to lose, die, go completely nuts, etc.

In Westworld, there is little to hold onto other than plot devices.

At the conceptual level, were there no discussions amongst the writers that having programmable robots (the female of whom are specifically likened to moving sex toys) be the sole emotional protagonists of the story was risky and maybe even alienating?

Am I really supposed to feel emotionally engaged by this?

We could create a fantastic show in which my printer gains consciousness and starts printing up wonderful love notes to me about how wonderful and fantastic I am and it would be about as emotionally engaging.

This could have been easily remedied by having the protagonist be a person, or small team of people — and by people, I mean actual, relatable human beings — who live and work undercover in the Park and they live alongside the Hosts. In part, the Hosts would learn through them — thus furthering the anomalies. But they wouldn’t know that individual was human. I think that would have been a very easy fix that would have resolved the emotional problem. And would have created nice complications down the road with the human guests.

I’ll note here that there are marked differences with these robots than with those in HUMANS, wherein the whole point of that show is that a handful of very special robots have attained a level of consciousness and emotional maturity that parallels that of humans. Moreover, in the show, they take the time to actually explain why that’s the case. I wept in the scene where Charlie kneels down and prays to God, even though he isn’t sure he can even believe in God because he is a robot.

Episode 3 for me felt very clearly that the show had jumped the shark. There was a massive shootout between robots. Um, do I care in any way about that? No. No, I do not.

At the close of episode 4 (about half of which, by the way, I fast-forwarded through), when asked by an Outlaw, “What does it mean?,” the Saloon Madame character responds, “That I’m not crazy after all. And that none of this matters.”

Yep. Exactly.

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