Wild, Wild ‘Westworld’

From the mind of Michael Crichton, 'Westworld' explores an immersive theme park in which it's nearly impossible to differentiate between humans and artificially intelligent beings called hosts.

click to enlarge James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld - PHOTO: JOHN P. JOHNSON/HBO
Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO
James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld
Michael Crichton had a knack for envisioning sinister theme parks. Most are familiar with the dystopian dinosaur dreamland Jurassic Park, which he wrote. But he’s also the author behind Westworld (9 p.m. Sundays), HBO’s latest big-name, jam-packed drama set in a visual playground.

The themes and characters explored in Westworld are as vast as the expansive, immersive titular theme park. Before the guests arrive, they’re outfitted in authentic-looking 19th-century Wild West garb, down to their choice of weapon (which can only “kill” hosts — the artificially intelligent beings that populate the park — rather than other humans).

They then arrive via an old-timey train to a dusty and bustling main street, where it’s next to impossible to identify the other human guests from the hosts. From cowboys to Indians to barmaids to bank robbers, along with their horses and other animals, they’re all made to look and act real. 

Inevitably, the line between human and manmade creatures is blurred — so much so that you can’t help but wonder if some of the assumed human characters are actually A.I., or vice versa. 

Can something created to look and think like a real person — up to a point — reach a consciousness level high enough to be considered a human? And can a man descend into such evil that he loses some of his humanity? 

And what kind of visitor would you be in such an environment? Would you unplug for a weekend, explore the beautiful natural surroundings, go horseback riding and hunt for gold? Or would you veer toward the more sinister activities in the brothels and on the battlefields? 

Westworld offers more questions than answers.

This week’s episode explores the idea of a mysterious maze within Westworld. Its head of programming Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) continues his secret meetings with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), this time introducing the maze concept to her, as the Man in Black (Ed Harris) continues his own search. Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), Westworld’s mastermind and creative director, and Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who maintains the park’s standards and safety, discuss the future of Westworld. Ford appears to be introducing a religious component to the attraction.

Picks of the Week 

American Horror Story (10 p.m. Wednesday, FX) – Everything we think we know about this season is about to change… Or so the showrunners tease.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (8 p.m. Thursday, Fox) – This campy cult classic gets the (pre-recorded) TV musical treatment, in an interpretation that’s perhaps a little too squeaky clean, considering the source material.

Black Mirror (Season Premiere, Friday, Netflix) – This buzzed-about British anthology series, which explores the underbelly of near-future technology, makes the move to Netflix for its third season. Six episodes premiere now, with more to come. Expect a dark look at social media, virtual reality and even an episode set in the ’80s, when tech was very different but already held scary implications. Prepare to binge on all six, then catch up on any other episodes you may have missed — previous seasons are also available on the streaming platform.

Saturday Night Live (11:30 p.m. Sat-urday, NBC) – Tom Hanks hosts; Lady Gaga performs.

The Walking Dead (Season 7 Premiere, 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC) – Which major character is on the receiving end of Negan’s bat? So much focus has been on what will follow that final fateful moment of last season’s finale — when an unidentified member of the group fell victim after a most disturbing game of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” — that little thought has been given to how this season will move the story along. Reportedly multiple characters meet their ends in this season opener, at the hands of new baddie Negan and elsewhere. But how the survivors move on will determine the rest of the season.


CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern

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