Westworld (Pilot) [SPOILERS]

Westworld is a science-fiction psuedo-Western mystery drama television series created by Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy for HBO. It is based upon the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton. The series stars Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris. Westworld premiered on October 2nd. I have been anticipating the series for quite some time, and it is finally time to see if my high expectations can be met.

Taking place some time in the future, Westworld is a hyper-realistic theme park populated by lifelike androids called hosts. Regular programming updates occur, managed by head of the Programming Division, Bernard, the successor to the brilliant and enigmatic Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of both the Host androids and Westworld itself.There are also updates to the main narrative of Westworld, managed by the arrogant but creative Lee Sizemore. Theresa Cullen is the Operations Director of Westworld, working closely with Bernard to deal with any malfunctioning Hosts or other developments. Hosts that are either outdated or begin to malfunction are sent to cold storage. Bernard is usually able to fix the bugs and send them back into rotation. Westworld Hosts begin to experience a number of bugs and glitches. Bernard discovers that these glitches are due to Dr. Ford’s “reveries.” These reveries are subtle gestures Hosts use that make them seem more human and lifelike to the guests. Hosts have their memories purged regularly, but Dr. Ford discovered a way to access them, creating a subconscious of sorts. The updated Hosts are all killed in a robbery orchestrated by the team and rolled back.

Meanwhile, we follow Delores, a Host in Westworld. She wakes up every morning and goes down to the station (where guests arrive) and normally, barring any interruptions by the guests, encounters Teddy, another Host and the love of her life, who arrives on the train with the guests every morning. A peaceful day with Teddy is interrupted by The Man in Black, a sadistic and mysterious guest with a hidden agenda, who spends the episode searching for answers to his unknown query. The Man in Black ruthlessly murders Delores’ father, mother, and Teddy, and presumably rapes and kills Delores. It is possible and probable that guests kill the Hosts, but Hosts cannot, due to their programming, bring harm to any living thing, even a fly. Hosts kill other Hosts all the time. One of the Hosts glitches out, killing several other Hosts in a psychotic rampage. Throughout the episode, Delores must deal with the turmoil in her life caused by the glitched out Hosts and the mysterious Man in Black. Of course, she has no memory of these events after being killed.

The film on which the series is based is a rather straightforward narrative about AI gone bad with hidden depths. Westworld as a series is so much more than that. Instead of AI gone bad, we are presented with an Asmovian tale of the android Hosts and their benevolent and omnipresent masters behind the scenes. Delores is the series’ de facto protagonist, as it seems. You end up caring more for the Hosts than you do about the humans, who are presented in a more antagonistic vibe, though you can understand and empathize with everyone’s perspective. as well. The Hosts have thoughts, beliefs, emotions, much like humans, but they are treated as tools. Peter, Delores’ father, discovers a picture of a guest from the real world, which causes the android to have nothing less than a complete and utter breakdown.

In the film, the robots go bad in a big way, but I don’t think that is what the series will focus on. We are one hour in, and there are already many questions, both philosophical and narrative ones, that need to be answered, questions about the nature of reality, the nature of artificial intelligence, ethics when it comes to technology, and humanity’s reach exceeding its grasp. Westworld is truly a work of narrative brilliance.

The acting in Westworld is flawless. Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Ed Harris, and Louis Herthum are all great. Westworld has a budget of $100 million. With this massive budget, series creator, writer, and director of the pilot episode, Jonathon Nolan, is able to create a believable Westworld, and a believable future, as well. Subtle visual effects were used to make the actors seem more robotic.

Westworld is as intense as it is philosophical. The events that occur in Westworld itself are brutal, violent, and vicious. The series is as much a straight western as it is a sci-fi. To me, the most important question isn’t what’s going on with the Hosts at large, but what is up with the Man in Black? What does he want, and why is he torturing and slaughtering Hosts to get it?

Speaking of black, Westworld showed off its musical stylings and cinematic flair in one very interesting and engrossing scene. Using an orchestral cover of Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, the saloon robbery is possibly the most notable scene of the entire episode.

Featuring a score by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, the music of Westworld is as haunting as it is addicting; it is another wonderfully constructed piece of the wonderfully constructed puzzle that is this series.

Westworld’s premiere episode had the network’s highest viewer count since True Detective in 2014, drawing in 3.3 million viewers. It is already well on its way to being HBO’s flagship series following the soon-approaching end to Game of Thrones. This excellent revival of an excellent film is certainly a must watch for me, and it should be for you, as well. The pilot episode is free to stream right now. As for any further reviews, I will most likely wait until the season is over to share the entirety of my thoughts on it, I just felt it necessary to get the word out, because this show is awesome and it can only get better.

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The Wire: The Complete Series (Season 1)

The Wire is a HBO original television series that was broadcast from June 2nd, 2002 to March 9th, 2008. The Wire was created by David Simon. David Simon is an extremely dedicated and talented journalist who has authored several non-fiction crime novels in addition to producing, creating, and writing television series. Simon worked as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun from 1982 to 1995. He took a leave of absence in late 1987 after a change in ownership at The Sun caused his work “not to be fun anymore.” Simon had persuaded the Baltimore Police Department to grant him unlimited access to the Department’s Homicide Unit for the entire calendar year of 1988, during which time he shadowed detectives and observed their procedures and noted the unusual, sometimes absurd and unusual cases they investigated. Simon published Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets in 1991. It won acclaim and notoriety upon its release, and was the basis for the critically acclaimed procedural drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran on NBC from 1993 to 1999. Simon served as executive producer and writer on the series, with several characters being closely based on real law enforcement personnel. Homicide, unlike other police procedurals, was known for portraying realistic detective work and Baltimore street life. This came in very handy when Simon pitched The Wire to HBO following the end of Homicide. Over its five season run, The Wire received obscene amounts of critical acclaim from viewers and critics, with many noting the series’ realistic, uncompromising, cynical, yet sympathetic depiction of not only law enforcement but the criminal element as well, portraying urban street life with the same commitment to realism found in all other areas of the show. The series is also known for dealing with heavy themes such as the institutional failings of the corrupt and sometimes gleefully inept city government, the effects of the drug trade on the city at large as well as on an individual and personal level, and police surveillance, hence the title. The Wire, in addition to its unending commitment to realism, is also known for including very cutting, topical, cerebral, poetic, even sometimes humorous dialogue, and is a very well-written series in that aspect, as well. To this day, The Wire is considered by many to be the greatest TV show of all time. AMC’s Breaking Bad was once comically referred to as “the show that finally got TV snobs to shut up about The Wire.”

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Season 1 follows series protagonist, Baltimore Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty, played by English actor Dominic West. McNulty is a naturally gifted, intelligent, and talented detective with a multitude of personal and professional issues. He is extremely insubordinate, immature, has a drinking problem, and a major superiority complex. McNulty witnesses an open and shut case against D’Angelo Barksdale fall apart at the seams thanks to the very subtle influence of Stringer Bell, played by the now-famous Idris Elba. McNulty complains to the presiding Judge Phelan, a former prosecutor and friend of McNulty’s. McNulty explains that Avon Barksdale, D’Angelo’s uncle, is a major player in the Baltimore drug trade, has been operating for more than a year, has complete control of the Westside Terrace buildings in the Projects, and has been linked to more than a dozen murders. Despite this power and notoriety on the street, neither the Baltimore Police Department or any federal agencies have anything of note on the Barksdale Organization. Phelan lights a fire under the PD, causing major embarrassment for the Deputy Ops and other high-ranking officials. McNulty’s strict, vindictive, and angry unit commander Major Rawls, played by John Doman, grows to despise McNulty for causing this embarrassment and insubordination, and wants nothing more than to ruin our protagonist’s career.

In a move meant only to appease the judge, a special detail is formed to investigate the Barksdale Organization. Led by Lieutenant Cedric Daniels from Narcotics, the detail is composed of dead wood: two lazy drunken detectives nearing retirement, an incompetent detective from traffic, a laconic man from the Pawnshop Unit, McNulty, and another detective from Rawls’ Unit. The only saving graces are McNulty and three detectives from Daniels’ unit: Kima Greggs, “Herc,” and Ellis Carver. Stationed in the basement of the precinct, these men attempt to build a case against drug kingpin Avon Barksdale… a case that no one really cares about and which ends up causing political and social turmoil for the City of Baltimore.

The case hits major roadblocks and controversy, not the least of which is caused by drunken “field interviews” conducted by Herc, Carver, and Prez at 2AM.

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Season 1 deals with the themes of police corruption and brutality very heavily, as you can see. As I see it, these scenes involving their “field interviews” do not paint Herc, Carver, or Daniels in a bad light for their actions. I should say, it doesn’t paint them as evil or inherently bad, though Prez is an idiot, that’s a given. In keeping with the realistic nature of the series, The Wire doesn’t view police brutality through any sort of biased lens, and more as just a regrettable thing that happens when cops do stupid stuff. There’s no secret cabal or extensive cover-up, Daniels doesn’t have Prez murdered because he’s worried he’ll screw up with IID. The Wire feels almost journalistic, in a sense; like I mentioned before, it is unbiased yet uncompromising. Granted, the show was the creation of a very talented investigative writer, so that makes sense.

The Wire paints cops as fallible human beings, with personal problems but an important job to do. There’s a lot of empathy in the series for McNulty, Daniels, and Kima. The series treats the other side of the coin in very much the same way. D’Angelo Barksdale, believe it or not, might be one of the most likeable characters on The Wire. Most TV shows treat their antagonists as wholeheartedly evil. There’s nothing wrong with that, and for most shows, it works out well. The Wire is not that type of show, though. D’Angelo, known by “D,” is a smart, cunning, emotional man who doesn’t really have the stomach for violence. He really isn’t big on the whole drug thing, either, as he later figures out. D, in my eyes, is a man who was born into the street life and, at first, accepts it wholeheartedly. As things start to get more and more hairy, though, he realizes he might want out. Nobody who knows how to play chess should be working the street corner like a low-rent banger.

The Wire received immense praise for this scene, and is, in fact, the reason The Wire’s first season won several awards. On the surface, it’s just a scene explaining chess to a bunch of street kids, but it’s actually a lot more than that upon further analysis. Peter Honig, a high school film teacher and The Wire fanatic, explains:

The chess lesson from “The Buys” has become one of The Wire’s most iconic scenes. It is a brilliantly-scripted and -acted scene, one that actually serves as a double metaphor. D’Angelo uses the familiar world of the drug hierarchy to explain an alien and complex game to Bodie and Wallace. At the same time, Simon and Burns use this scene to explain the (presumably) alien drug game to their audience using the (presumably) familiar rules of chess. Call it a meta-metaphor.

If you have HBO, let’s face it, you ain’t street, “street” is an alien concept to you. The audience needs to become acclimated to this foreign environment, and Simon and Company do that very well.

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In addition to being a rather flawlessly written show, The Wire also has remarkable acting talent. When casting, big, household names were purposefully avoided to preserve the show’s realistic feel; big, well-known talent increases the audience’s need for suspension of disbelief. The casting is great here, with Lance Reddick’s Lieutenant Daniels being my favorite law enforcement member of the show. He has gone on to make somewhat of a name for himself playing mysterious, authoritative characters on other television series, though his talent as a leading man since the end of The Wire has been wasted, in my opinion. Idris Elba, now a household name after achieving notoriety with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the very good BBC crime drama Luther, and the controversy surrounding his completely hypothetical and imaginary casting as James Bond, is an amazing actor here in his role as the criminal genius Stringer Bell, and I am surprised his breakout into the mainstream didn’t occur until years after The Wire. Dominic West is great, and I was delighted to see him and Elba team up again for one of the most underrated roles in Finding Dory, playing a pair of laid-back, territorial sea otters. As I said before, D’Angelo Barksdale is the most empathetic drug dealer I have ever seen portrayed, played with amazing skill by Larry Gillard Jr. Notably, The Wire features future Creed star Michael B. Jordan as Wallace, an intelligent 13-year-old street kid and low-level member of the Barksdale Organization. Truthfully, all the acting in The Wire is excellent, and continuing on this subject would just be needlessly tedious, with me listing off every main cast member and telling you how good they are. So let’s just skip that, say they’re all great (they are) and move on. The Wire also features some good cinematography, as well. The Wire was remastered in HD relatively recently. The decision to remaster this classic in glorious 16:9 and Full HD is what spurred my interest in my binge-watch of this series.

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Throughout this long and extensive review, I have done nothing but praise the first season of The Wire. I stand by all that praise, but this show is not for everyone. This is a hard concept to explain, but in keeping with the realism, there aren’t a lot of bombshells, twists, or assorted craziness. It is the diametric opposite of 24, which premiered around the same time, a high adrenaline show full of mind-blowing twists and great action (for the first five seasons, anyway). As someone who has a poster of Jack Bauer hung up behind him as he is writing a review of The Wire, I will say I love both, but the reasons I do could not be any more different. 24 is like my sweets addiction. You say you just need one, and a second after you say that to yourself, only the hollow bag of Hershey’s Bliss remains. The Wire is lobster. You have to savor it, to understand that it’s a Hell of a lot more expensive than Bliss. 24 is a show that invests itself in you, it hooks you in. The Wire is a show you have to invest yourself in. The Wire is a deliberately paced, realistic, painstakingly researched, accurate portrayal of not only law enforcement and the internal politics thereof, but of street life, as well. It is character-based and very dialogue-heavy, with little of what one would call “action.” If you can get into it, it is an excellent show. I first watched the first season of The Wire while on vacation at my aunt and uncle’s up in Wisconsin my Freshman Year of high school. It was a fishing vacation, and I rather despise fishing. Someone loaned my Aunt Martha Season 1 and 2 of The Wire on DVD. Anything’s better than fishing, and I was aware of The Wire‘s high status, so I figured I’d give it a shot. 14-year-old me rather enjoyed it. Martha and I were both surprised at that. “You like The Wire, Aaron?” “Yeah,  I know.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact The Wire was my only good option and it meant I could watch something from HBO (we all know what that means), I probably wouldn’t have invested myself into it as much as I did. It is rather slow, but purposefully slow; it is not a detriment to the show. The Wire is a great show for a lot of reasons, but it is understandable if you can’t get into it. My Mom turned it off after twenty minutes after I loosely recommended she try it after she asked for recommendations. It isn’t for everyone. I would, however, recommend everyone give it a fair shot and watch the show with intent to watch and invest up until the end of Episode 3. The Wire shows an extremely complex, well-written, dour, well-fleshed out, and entirely realistic side to law enforcement investigations and their criminal adversaries. If you do find yourself liking The Wire, be prepared to be treated to one of the most interesting, well-made series ever put to television.

Westworld: Full Trailer

Westworld is an upcoming HBO television series based upon the 1973 film of the same name written and directed by Michael Crichton. Crichton was an acclaimed writer, director, film producer, science-fiction novelist and physician best known for authoring the 1990 novel Jurassic Parkupon which the 1997 film was based. Crichton was also the creator of the hit medical drama ER, and served as the show’s executive producer. The works of the diversely talented and extremely intelligent Dr. Crichton usually dealt with humanity’s obsession with technology and tampering with the natural order, showing what happens when humanity’s potential with technology exceeds what it is able to firmly grasp.

Crichton’s 1973 film directorial debut, Westworld told the story of a theme park in the near future called Delos. Delos is populated by lifelike, high-tech androids. There are three worlds in this park, West World, styled as the American Old West, Medieval World, and Roman World. The lifelike environment and the countless androids that populate the parks exist to allow visitors to role-play as whatever they would like. James Brolin and Richard Benjamin starred as two visitors to West World. One of the attractions, The Gunslinger, is meant to instigate duels for the visitors to participate in. The weapons issued to the guests have temperature sensors to prevent them from shooting other humans, but permit them to “kill” the androids. The Gunfighter is programmed to let the humans win and kill him, and return back the next day for new guests.

The technicians at Delos begin to notice systemic failures and malfunctions in the androids accross all three parks, spreading like an infectious disease: a robotic snake bites Benjamin’s character, an android refuses sexual advances in Medieval World and a knight kills a guest in a swordfight. This goes against the androids’ programming The frantic tehnicians are told by the Chief Supervisor:

“We aren’t dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they’ve been designed by other computers. We don’t know exactly how they work.”

Eventually, the androids begin to run amok and the Gunslinger kills nearly every patron in West World and lock the engineers out of the system. The movie follows Brolin’s character’s desperate attempt to evade The Gunslinger and escape with his life.

The film recieved critical acclaim and is considered by many to be a cult classsic film; it was the first film in history to use digital image processing to pixilate film to show an android’s point of view. The film recieved praise for its storytelling, with Variety calling the film excellent, explaining that it “combines solid entertainment, chilling topicality, and superbly intelligent serio-comic story values.”

Westworld was followed by a failed sequel and a failed television series, neither of which had any involvement with Crichton, who passed away in 2008 at 66. In 2013, HBO announced plans to revive Westworld as a television series. Despite having yet to see the original 1973 film, Westworld immediately grabbed my attention due to the very interesting ideas presented.

Westworld is brimming with potential. The idea was pitched by none other than Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan is the younger brother of acclaimmed filmmaker Christopher Nolan. He has co-written several of the screenplays for his brother’s films, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar. Jonathan wrote a short story inspired by his general psychology class at Georgetown University entitled Momento Mori. Jonathan pitched the story to his older brother on a cross-country road trip. Though the final screenplay was drastically different than Johnathan’s original story, the basic premise served as inspiration for Christopher’s critically acclaimed debut, the mind-bending psychological thriller MomentoThe original story was published by Esquire Magazine in 2001. In addition to assisting his brother, Johnathon has also been noted for serving as the creator, executive producer, and head showrunner of the CBS technothriller series Person of InterestHe directed and co-wrote several individual episodes of the critically acclaimmed series. Though it started out as a crime procedural with a very interesting premise, the series eventually evolved into a more serialized show around its third season, and broadened it’s exploration of deeper themes and the nature of artifical intelligence, which is when audiences and critics truly began to take note. Nolan is serving as head showrunner alongside Lisa Joy, his wife and former head writer for USA Network’s critically acclaimmed and well-known spy series Burn Notice.  Also serving as showrunner is the Prince of Nerds himself, J.J. Abrams. I am very doubtful his name needs any sort of introduction.

The 88-minute film managed to pack in a lot of philosophical discussion about the nature of technology and servitude in a relatively short amount of time, but that will understandably pale in comparison to what the right crew can do with a 10-hour serial. Indeed, it already seems as though the Westworld series will go much deeper than the film ever could. Headed up by Nolan, who’s entire previous project revolved around the nature of A.I, self-sentience resulting from that A.I, and humanity’s responsibilities when it comes to use of technology, and J.J. Abrams, Westworld very much so has the potential to become one of the best, if not the best, science-fiction television series.

The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.

The series will star an ensemble cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Luke Hemsworth, and Clifton Collins, Jr. With so much talent and star power evident on this project, I would be suprised and a little disappointed if Westworld doesn’t end up being another HBO staple that no one can shut up about.

The pilot episode of Westworld, which was written and directed by Jonathan Nolan, will premiere on HBO Sunday October 2nd at 9PM.