02 December 2016

Westworld

I've been trying to figure out what I think of this show. So here goes

Good
Anthony Hopkins is playing a villain.
Cultural homages to Shakespeare, Frankenstein, and Hannibal Lecter ensue.

They've done a pretty capable job of examining the concepts of memory and solipsism as they might interact with an AI (or anybody with a really good memory but a traumatic life). This has also been by far the most interesting question marks of the show for me to think about is the intersection of memory and story telling.
Note: Game of Thrones also deals heavily in the question of story telling and history/memory. I might have a thing for shows, books, or films that highlight the difficulty communicating information accurately to other people, or the difficulty of remembering things accurately, or the effect of a narrative or even thinking in narrative arcs to pervert memory and thinking into a rigid space rather than a purposeful and open investigation of the nature of reality.

The two android characters that have been the most built-up by the show (Dolores and Maeve) are at least the most engaging characters. I suspect one of them does not have an important plot line, which is a problem for the show. The downside of this is that I really don't care about any of the human characters. That includes the feud between Arnold and Ford over the question and importance of the nature of consciousness. Which should be an interesting philosophical digression. But isn't. Partly because Arnold's idea of how to "create" consciousness was... let's say idiotic. This could have been Ford telling a story, which is to say, lying. But after the last episode it doesn't look like that's the direction the show is going.

There are some nice shot constructions and cinematography to build up the world, and little details within it as a universe building experiment. These aren't always fleshed out, but I'd rather see a pretty well shot show that I am not sure what to make of than a poorly shot show that I'm not sure what to make of (see: all of Game of Thrones' scenes set in Dorn).

Meh
There's a lot going on. There is however a maxim for how to treat that. I'm pretty sure this show does not live up to that one. Not all of the sound and fury matters here. There's really only one or maybe two plot lines that matter. The rest is window dressing. Most of it looks like it was hacked into the script later. Very messily at that. Given the frequent Lost comparisons and connections with the production team, this is not at all encouraging. The show is rather uninteresting to me until about the 5th or 6th episode, The fact that at that point it doesn't feel very connected to the first several episodes which were technically fun but uneven plot wise suggests they didn't originally know what they were going to do. It is possible this is suggesting that they may have taken some time to figure out what they wanted to do. Or that they still haven't figured any of that out. But essentially, if Lost comparisons keep appearing, that's not the space they want to be in.

Note: I never really watched Lost, because it clearly was heading in this direction of plot gaps and sloppy writing but lacked the acting chops or technical effects that this show does have. It was heavy on meaningless detail and symbolism from what I can tell though, which is not how I like my shows.

Most of the reveals have been boring and predictable rather than interesting plot twists (next week's season finale doesn't look any different on this score). That's fine... if the point is to do something other than tell an interesting story. Like make a show about the process of making stories. And complain about people who want to edit those stories to be less complicated. While also needlessly stuffing the plot with complex details that don't mean much of anything. But it also means you can't really sell the show as being full of mysteries and secrets either if none of them aren't easily solved several weeks before they appear.

Bad
The show doesn't really present a plausible explanation for whatever is going on most of the time. Which is to say, it presents a series of roughly to totally incompetent human characters interfering or attempting to interfere with Ford's little empire in the sun, little to no internal security measures despite the prospect of intellectual property rights theft and sabotage or technical malfunction, elaborate coding requirements that don't get overseen or phased in through testing. And finally all of this advanced technology and huge amounts of land and resources being expended on a weird fantasy world built around what amounts to a MMORPG complete with pathetic little side quests for its players. We can already do that and kill other human beings repeatedly online (usually not literally). But sure. Let's build a giant park to kill the same robots over and over. I usually accept the dramatic universe premise for say, a comic book, fantasy, or sci-fi series. This sort of thing was a huge problem with any of the post-Aliens Alien movies however. Assembling a team of incompetent morons to go investigate a major xenobiological find on another planet? Uh. No.

This show isn't True Detective season 2 level of gahdawful writing and acting performances (McAdams was fine, everything else about that was absolutely terrible). It isn't Prometheus level of stupid. It isn't yet at Lost levels of useless incoherence. It's probably better than Walking Dead for that matter, with a more invigorating prospect of having both heroes and villains from non-human interactions to spice up the plot (where Walking Dead more or less relies on humans only to provide villainy, and the non-humans are there as atmosphere or background radiation at this point).

But I also don't think it's the next best thing to Game of Thrones going right now in popular water cooler shows, or whatever that term would be these days.
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