HBO’s new epic venture Westworld has been a bonafide mega hit. Near-network best ratings, positive critical reception and an enamored fan base, Westworld has managed to strike all the right chords and rile up anticipation for the show’s future – the mantle of TV’s next king is clearly being slowly phased from Game of Thrones to Westworld. There are a number of things that have made Westworld so appealing and addictive; the story, the acting, the writing, the score and soundtrack, it’s a great show with many great elements to it. But above all of this, Westworld‘s most unique element is that of its setting, and its inextricable link to the show’s premise. Surreal is just one of many adjectives which could be applied to the show, but with regards to the universe of Westworld, surreal may just be the perfect way to describe it.
‘Westworld’ is an artificial recreation of the old west, occupied by robot “hosts” who play varying roles and characters to enhance the realism and richness of the theme park world the human guests visit. Some come for leisure, some for entertainment, some for self-indulgence, and some for much darker desires. Whilst life, if you can call it that, goes on in the park, a large creative, technical and business team work behind the scenes to ensure that the park runs according to their stories, routines and plans, because after all, an artificial world has to be monitored and regulated. Westworld is essentially a fourth wall breaking film set inside a TV show. The AI question their existence at times due to manufacturing bugs and errors, and stories can be taken up or interrupted at any time by guests. There’s an element of The Sims to it all, as well as a more immersive virtual reality to it.
We never venture out of Westworld or its control centre, though we get some glimpses at other possible parks, but our knowledge of the wider society and world of this show is very limited. Is the show taking place in the distant future? The near future? The present? The past?! All we know is that Robert Ford and his partner Arnold created Westworld and all inside it, though we don’t know exactly how long before the show’s time frame that they did this or when it’s meant to be set. The ambiguity of Westworld is its key; the park has multiple layers of conspiracies, secrets and complexities, but so does the wider world. It’s like a Russian doll that requires numerous passwords, codes and keys to access, with doll after doll within to open.
Is there even a world outside of Westworld? Could society be in some kind of post-apocalyptic or war ravaged state, with the park being a way of escaping such horror? We know that the guests are primarily the rich; is this their safe haven, or just another holiday destination? And why is there so much politics plaguing the board and the staff of Westworld? Mistrust, deceit and secrets seem to run deep, and we are yet to truly understand why, but surely this can’t be regular business practice. Is this confirmation that the show is perhaps taking place in some kind of fatalistic and doomed wider world? What kind of event or occurrence could lead to the creation of Westworld? Is this just a business practice for money or is there a much wider and darker intention at the heart of Westworld? I have no doubt that moving forward, Westworld will continue to push into the surreal and the even more complex; perhaps even to expand beyond the old west…