Westworld’s pilot episode The Original introduces us to a world right out of the best science fiction writer’s worst nightmare in the best way possible. While it asks existential questions about human nature and life, it always stays compelling.
Westworld is a vast remote park where guests, dubbed “Newcomers,” can live out their wildest Western fantasies. Advanced androids known as “Hosts” follow basic scripted routines that Newcomers can interact in. They can ride alongside them, make love to them…or indulge in more base desires.
However, the fantasy is disrupted as a number of glitches take hold of the Hosts. Some develop weird facial ticks, some shut down and others go on murderous rampages. And a Man in Black (Ed Harris) is testing the limits of this world.
From its opening sequence, The Original messes with our expectations. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is a beautiful young Host who is seemingly hooking up with what appears to be a Newcomer in Teddy (James Marsden). We think we’re watching a young man live out an old fashioned Old West romance.
But then the Man in Black arrives and wreaks havoc…and he is the human.
This is a work of science fiction at its darkest. Setting this fantasy world in the Old West is fitting. It was a time of lawlessness. Throughout the show, humanity is shown at its worst. When no consequences are involved, many people will indulge in their more salacious desires. They shoot Hosts and cheer when they writhe in pain. And the Man in Black does much worse to Dolores.
The fantasy world and the technicians behind the scenes are equally compelling in different ways. James Marsden is a severely underrated actor and while Teddy seems to be pretty straightforward, there is a lot of tragic potential for his character. Thandie Newton doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the episode as Maeve, but the little we see shows that she is a very tough woman.
On the other side of Westworld, Anthony Hopkins is quietly charming as the mastermind behind the Hosts, Robert Ford. He treats the Hosts like wayward children and muses on the evolution of humanity with a wry smile. Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is the weary head programmer with some weird observational ticks. There are hints to a tragic backstory that may be fleshed out in the future.
But the standout here is Evan Rachel Wood. As Dolores, Wood has to careen from naive happiness to abject terror to sorrow at the drop of hat. And every time, it’s utterly convincing. There are moments when you can see something just underneath those smiles, indicating that something is not quite right there. Wood has always had a solid reputation as an actress, but this role could really put her in the forefront.
Director Jonathan Nolan, who also co-wrote the episode with Lisa Joy, does amazing work in both roles. As stated above, the story is always compelling and dialogue never feels wasted. Some of the camera work in the episode is amazing. The motif of white and red is everywhere, creating some striking imagery.
The Original lays the groundwork for some amazing mysteries to unravel over the season. If you like your science fiction on the dark side, you may have found your latest obsession.
Score: 10 out of 10