So, I got into HBO’s Westworld recently by a friend’s recommendation. When I first started watching the show I thought, why choose the Wild West? That’s so random. But as time went on I began to understand the setting more and more.
The first obvious reason is that back then, we assume that there was no law. And I guess for the most part there wasn’t, or at least the laws back then were different than the ones we have today. The Wild West allows for prostitutes, gun slingers, drinking and other vices, all reasons why people go to Westworld. There also isn’t racism in this world. Well there is, at least with the Native Americans being savage and evil, but for African American women, there seems to be a lot of agency. The show even throws in some Asian tourists for laughs, I guess that counts as "diversity." So maybe it’s set in the west to be racially inclusive?
Another reason why west is a good setting for the park is because it's the total opposite of the people’s present future. We never see the futuristic world that lies beyond Westworld's HQ, all we see is Westworld and its labs. So we have to assume that the world the wealthy guests live in is a utopia that isn’t what it seems.
Next, in the latter half of the season they address the civil war. War adds higher stakes to the “game” so this seems like a good reason to set it in the west. Not only does it add higher stakes, but the western front is empty of all civilization which means even less rules. Therefore, the guests can get lost in their animalistic selves by also justifying and rationalizing their actions later in the outside world.
The time period is also good for the hosts. Because the Wild West is so in the past, no host would think of the future having technology to create AI. Lastly, it the word “west” works with alliteration.
This brings me to the reasons why I like Westworld. This took some time to answer and figure out because I actually didn’t like it. I didn’t like the pretentiousness of it (the Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Alice in Wonderland references, UGH), the rampant use of rape, the characters were all assholes and still are, but some of them are dead or missing so it’s better? Everyone’s basically evil. It also added nothing new to the AI cannon. It copies everything from The Matrix, Chobits, The Animatrix, I-Robot, Exmachina, Frankenstein, down to the Turing test. I guess some new things are that the AI don’t know they’re AI rather than them knowing that they’re AI already, that they’re actually not seen as better than “real people,” guests volunteer to go there rather than being forced to live with AI. But in reality, there’s nothing new in the show that I couldn’t predict they would do with the idea of AI.
My favorite characters are Maeve and Teddy. So was it the characters that drew me in? Eh, kind of. I think what drew me in most to binge watching 12 hours of TV in 2 days was the mystery. The mystery is really good. It’s not a who dunnit, it’s more of a what’s gonna happen next? They set up so many sub plots that it’s kind of a mess sometimes, but there is a bigger picture that they’re trying to show. It’s slow at first, but each episode builds on each other to culminate to a great climax. Also, Ford (which I swear they got this from Brave New World) is a more evil Walt Disney.
Now, the mystery centers on the plot, but it’s also based on this thematic question, why do people go to Westworld?
There are three answers given from three different characters given in the show. William/Man in Black says people go to find themselves, their deeper self. He only discovers this after he “stops pretending.” The world helped him become who he always was. “The world out there, the one you'll never see, was one of plenty. A fat, soft teat people cling to their entire life. Every need taken care of... except one... Purpose, meaning. So they come here.”
Logan, his business partner says people go there to bring out their animalistic impulses. He, like so many of the business people in Westworld’s HQ believes that the public just goes there to “shoot and fuck.”
Lasty, Ford, the creator of Westworld says people go for the details, the little things, the reveries, which he puts into the game. The details are little gestures or sayings that people notice in the real world, but don’t think anyone else notices them until they go to Westworld and see those details realized.
So, we have three perspectives of why people go to Westworld. One is philosophical and “deep.” It’s said by someone so immersed in the game, he finds meaning when there is none. The maze wasn’t made for you. The other is removed, cold and cynical. This shows the deep divide between Ford, the creator, and the board of directors. The directors see the park as something they can control and contain. Something they can own. They see it as highly disturbing, but as long as they make money, they don’t care. Lastly, we have Ford. Ford, the creator, who like William, is highly immersed in the reality of the park. But even Ford and William have their differences. William owns the park through financial means while Ford has an emotional connection to it. Ford sees the park as serving a purpose primarily for himself. Like William, he uses it for his own sick enjoyment. However, Ford knows more than William, which is why they do not use the park in similar ways. Ford knows that there is no higher meaning to the park because he’s created it. But William for the whole first season thinks the game has a hidden level, when in reality it was all a ruse set up by Ford. Showing that Ford’s emotional connection with the park is stronger than William’s financial ownership of it. I guess the show is trying to illustrate that heart is stronger than money, even though William let his heart get in the way of his mind and sanity.
21 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.