“These violent desires have violent ends,” says Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), echoing the prophecy her father shared with her and Shakespeare shared with the world an indeterminable number of years before her story begins.
Dolores’ warning is meant for the audience but delivered to its surrogate — the architects of Westworld and the visitors who pay top dollar to experience it. HBO’s new sexy-violent drama makes it clear: we are the patrons of the elaborate tourist destination where anything goes. It is a reflection of our desires.
The series, which premiered in Seattle and other U.S. cities Thursday, jumps between an expansive, Wild West-themed plain and the high-tech lab behind the artificially intelligent androids that bring the park to life. Dolores is one of those “hosts,” a seemingly innocent creature subjected to all manners of abuse.
Described as a “dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin,” Westworld weaves a complicated tapestry with the fibers of morality, evil, desire, and exploitation.
By feeding the audience’s nostalgia, escapism, and fascination with sexual violence at the outset, Westworld already accomplishes the intrinsic goal of science fiction. It goes to extremes to make us question our own reality. After all, the audience wants to spend time in this scary, beautiful old world just as much as its guests.
HBO’s technologists blur that line even further with a virtual reality experience designed to complement the premiere. I tested it out and, like Westworld itself, the demo was fascinating … and a little frightening.
Immersed in VR Westworld, I sampled a fraction of what it would be like to visit the park, where there are no clear lines between reality and fantasy. The show’s premise is a perfect match for virtual reality, the new frontier in entertainment.
— Monica Nickelsburg (@mnickelsburg) September 30, 2016
HBO debuted the experience at TechCrunch Disrupt this year and it’s headed to Comicon next. Beyond that, Colin Foran, creative lead on the project, says they’ll have to wait and see. The consumer market for VR entertainment is in its infancy but he hopes experiences like this one will show the medium’s potential.
Foran credits Jonathan and Lisa Joy Nolan, the husband and wife team behind Westworld, for making the VR experience happen. With their support, HBO greenlighted the experimental project.
Westworld was inspired by a 1973 cult classic by the same name. The film immediately captured the attention of sci-fi vet J.J. Abrams, who serves as executive producer of the HBO reboot.
The series is off to an exciting start but only time will tell if it’s able to build momentum and scale. Sci-fi on the silver screen always runs the risk of becoming so grand in scope it becomes more silly than scary (ahem Orphan Black).
For now, I’m optimistic about the series, which promises a high-quality narrative to reflect our collective anxiety about losing our humanity as the age of A.I. approaches.
Westworld premieres on HBO this Sunday, Oct. 2.