I get hooked on a lot of TV shows, but some are different. You know how “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” hooked you right away and made you desperately wish it was Sunday night, even if that meant you were heading back to work in a few hours? Well, I’ve been hooked by another one: I am now officially addicted to HBO’s “Westworld.”
If you’re not familiar with the show yet, and there have only been three episodes so far, it’s based on the 1973 film by Michael Crichton of the same name. We’re in the future and there is a theme park set in the old West populated by robots that look, sound and feel like humans. You can hurt them, shoot them and do all sorts of dastardly things to them, but they can’t really hurt you — imagine getting into a “real” gun battle or visiting a lady of the evening in a saloon while swilling whiskey in a cowboy hat.
Now, imagine how that can go terribly wrong. And what if, all of a sudden, those robots start to remember each of the times something has gone terribly wrong with them, and the mind wipes after each scenario aren’t really taking anymore?
It’s a pretty chilling look at artificial intelligence, something our greatest intellectual minds have been warning us about. What makes us sentient? Is it being self-aware? Is it having feelings? Is it the ability to love or feel attachment, even if it’s programmed? By that logic, the robots in “Star Wars” are sentient and therefore, as beings with owners, slaves. What if you couldn’t tell if someone was a “host,” as they call them on the show? It’s a deeply compelling discussion to have, and in this setting, it makes for a gripping show.
OK, sure, you say: You love lots of things. Why should I watch this one? Well, if you read the column every week, you know how I feel about the representation of women. You know I’ve had major issues with the way sexual assault has been handled in “Game of Thrones” (not well) vs. "Jessica Jones” (very well).
That was my biggest fear for this show. Human nature being what it is (and TV shows being what they are), you put real-looking people with robots who supposedly can’t feel, bad things are going to happen. They do that in the show. However, so far, sexual assault has been handled extremely well, if such a thing can be said. That’s a hard thing to do. It’s certainly part of the human experience for many of us and a story that needs to be told. It’s certainly been in the news lately.
The thing is, there are ways to show the trauma without showing the act and making it “entertainment,” something “Jessica Jones” did particularly well. It’s also not done as an inciting incident. (Jessica Jones was already on her path before it happened. It wasn’t what made her do what she does.) Frankly, the most violating and horrifyingly intimate moment of control so far on the show is done with a kiss, no more.
I just wanted to take a moment to point out when things are going right. “Westworld,” my Sunday nights are yours.