The Buzz: What the Westworld season finale shows about us
The internet is only just recovering from last week’s Westworld season finale, and it’s time to talk about it. HBO’s new sci-fi/action/western series is an intense, psychological thrill ride, and it’s already made a big impact at the Golden Globes. This year, though, the nominations were announced Monday, and Westworld is one of the most-nominated programs with three nods, trailing just behind heavy-hitters like The People Vs. OJ Simpson. For these stories and more, read on:
Westworld: Back when the show first aired, we immediately pegged Westworld as a show designed to get people talking. The show’s ratings are following the same trends of recent HBO hits like Game of Thrones and True Detective; they start off decently, and grow as time goes on due to glowing reception from critics and audiences alike. The first episode aired to 3.3 million viewers initially, ultimately reaching approximately 6 million multiplatform. This was HBO’s biggest drama premier since True Detective, which also debuted to 3.3 million. By the time True Detective reached its first season finale, the audience had expanded to a whopping 11.9 million viewers across all viewing platforms.
Westworld does everything that HBO does best. Gripping, brainy premise? Check. A cast of well-known and reputed actors, mixed with young up-and-coming talent? Check. Production value so good that at times you forget you’re not watching a movie? Check. Getting audiences talking? Let’s see. Last week’s season finale of Westworld drew in 3.6 million viewers initially, a season high. In comparison, the first Game of Thrones season finale drew 3.04 million initially. Once again, HBO has grown a series into not just a hit, but a sweeping pop culture phenomenon.
There’s no mystery as to why the show has drawn such an audience. The show’s premise itself explores human instinct and desire, and how we as humans act on them. It takes place in a future where the world’s richest people pay $40 thousand a day to visit Westworld, a high-tech theme park designed to give people whatever adventure they choose. Westworld is a simulated old west civilization in which its cowboy inhabitants are all complicated androids called “hosts,” programmed to keep the park’s visitors entertained and happy. Whether it’s bringing them on a yeehaw-ing adventure or seducing them with robotic prostitutes, the guests go to the park to indulge.
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is a host whose role is to be a damsel in distress. At the start of every “loop” (the hosts’ storylines) Dolores drops a can into the middle of the street. If a guest picks it up for her, they can initiate a romantic storyline with her. If not, Teddy, a dashing cowboy played by James Marsden, will. Unless guests intervene, Dolores’s loop almost inevitably ends with her house being attacked by outlaws who murder her parents and rape her in a barn. The next day she wakes up with no memory of the loop, ready to repeat the day all over again.
The park is controlled by people in the real world, who can adjust the hosts’ personality and actions with a simple swipe on a tablet. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a programmer tasked with giving hosts “reveries” – a new feature which gives them tiny quirks to make them seem more lifelike. However, the reveries contain a glitch that may inadvertently allow the hosts to retain memories from previous loops. Dolores suddenly starts to remember her house being attacked many times before, along with Maeve (the incredible Thandie Newton), a brothel madam who starts dreaming of her experiences outside the park when she’s being operated on. As the two hosts become more self-aware, a chain reaction of events shakes up the status quo the creators of Westworld try so hard to contain.
“These violent delights have violent ends.” Much like the theme park itself, Westworld the show is precision engineered to intrigue and seduce its viewers on every level. The story is adapted from the 1973 action film directed and written by Michael Crichton, but the show’s creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan bring many layers to the story that go way beyond the original film. Interactions between the hosts and the humans working on them take place in dimly-lit laboratory straight out of a Frankenstein movie, and explore themes such as consciousness. The Westworld-based storylines contain explosive shootouts and heart-pounding action that inject excitement into each episode. As Bernard repeats throughout the series, though, these violent delights can only have violent ends. The build-up to the season finale is a remarkable example of suspense, and each episode feels like it’s changing the game from the previous one.
Most of all, though, Westworld is made for us. If you were given the chance to kill, take, and have sex with anyone or anything you wanted with no consequences, would you? The park and the show toy with the idea that, in a world with limitless possibilities, what makes us human may not necessarily matter anymore. While the audience watches people being seduced by the park, the show has already seduced them. The ride is completely worth it.
Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards: Fairly new to television, it’s refreshing to see Westworld already being rightfully recognized as one of the best programs of the year. It trails only behind only The People Vs. OJ Simpson and The Night Manager for television nominations. This year, the Golden Globes is giving new shows the spotlight; along with Westworld, hits like Stranger Things, This Is Us, The Crown and Atlanta scooped up multiple nominations, while mainstay holdovers like Modern Family and Game of Thrones were shown a lot less love.
In a year of that puts more emphasis on breakthrough, it’s no surprise that The People Vs. OJ Simpson, a standalone series in the American Crime Story anthology, is sweeping shop this season. The show follows the infamous murder trial of the NFL player, and has thus far been a dominating force at the Emmys and other awards shows. Will it be a strong player at the Globes? Probably. At this point it would be shocking to see it not win in major categories, such as Courtney B. Vance for Best Actor.
Simpson is in the Best Limited Series categories, meaning the drama race between The Crown/Stranger Things/Game of Thrones/Westworld/This Is Us is wide open. With Game of Thrones being the only holdover, perhaps voters will want to go a different direction – though it did take home the trophy for Best Drama Series at the Critic’s Choice Awards. Though I am a little biased (or a lot), I think Westworld has a legitimate chance at taking home the prize. Evan Rachel Woods and Thandie Newton both took home Best Actress titles in their respective categories at the CCAs, while This Is Us and Stranger Things left empty-handed. The Crown’s John Lithgow took Best Supporting Actor. Westworld walked away with the most wins of the night, out of the five Globes-nominated shows. Maybe voters will want to give the park a chance.
Click here for a full list of nominations.