Monday 26 June 2017

Westworld: 'Seven episodes in, I’m on the verge of quitting'

*Spoilers ahead*

HBO’s ‘Westworld’
HBO’s ‘Westworld’
Gamble: James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood star in HBO’s latest TV series 'Westworld'
Westworld - Anthony Hopkins
Fantasy: Thandy Newton
HBO's Westworld
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

It happened with Game of Thrones. It happened with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. It almost happened with The Wire during the interminable tedium of those union/port scenes, though that wobble was eventually cleared. And now it appears to be happening with Westworld. Seven episodes in, I’m on the verge of quitting.

Is it me? Is there something wrong with my brain, that I reject certain TV shows which, by all accounts, are artistically comparable to Mozart or the Sistine Chapel?

After all, as we’re continually reminded, this is Television’s Golden Age, and shows like Westworld are what make it shine. It’s complex and intelligent, with beautiful production values, top-line acting and a thematic profundity which raises it from popular culture to Art.

And yet…I’m kind of bored by Westworld. Unsatisfied. Irritated.

HBO's Westworld
HBO's Westworld

Why would I sooner turn on a dumb comedy like Archer, or re-watch Justified for the zillionth time? Is the problem me…or is it Westworld?

Well, it’s Westworld, obviously (my credentials as a cultural epicure are impeccable). For a few reasons, the main one being this: the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, and has more holes than a colander thrown into emergency service as a Great War battle-helmet.

I’m okay with suspending disbelief; in this case, buying into the notion that technology has advanced to a point where synthetic creations are indistinguishable from humans. It’s all the other stupid things that don’t make sense which bother me – and there are many. (Spoilers below, needless to say.)

Why do the bullets shred clothes and “flesh” on robots/hosts, but only ping off humans? What, does the bullet change consistency in that split-second between leaving the gun and identifying the target?How exactly do robots bleed to death? Why do some consume food/water – how can a robot need or use food and water? Why did Teddy’s skin take on a dying pallor, as if he was a person?

Gamble: James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood star in HBO’s latest TV series 'Westworld'
Gamble: James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood star in HBO’s latest TV series 'Westworld'

How do artificial animals interact with biological ones? Wouldn’t all the flies have fecked off if there were no live mammals creating poo for them to feast on?

And why are the two geeky scientists helping Maeve again?

I don’t remember, or made myself forget, one or the other.

It goes on and on…and on, but I think I’ve made my point. Except to add: the most glaring plot-hole concerns Bernard.

How did Robert get a robot employed in this hugely responsible, corporately sensitive job at the park? Wouldn’t company HR bods have done a basic background check – and discovered that their new key scientist didn’t have any?

Wouldn’t his girlfriend Theresa have noticed, even during a casual fling, that he never seemed to eat, drink, pee, poo, sweat or generally excrete any of the other normal bodily fluids. (I’m just thinking about their sex-life now. Yech.)

Fantasy: Thandy Newton
Fantasy: Thandy Newton

And speaking of both, why did Robert bring Theresa to that basement, where he explained exactly what was going on, before having Bernard kill her so she wouldn’t tell anyone? There was no need to do either.

The reason, probably, is that the writers had in mind a really cool scene – and it was, that scene was thrilling and terrifying – but didn’t work out how it would make sense within the overall story. They crowbarred it in because they wanted it so badly…and tore a big hole in the overall narrative.

But an even bigger issue for me is length – which, as it happens, was mostly the problem with all those other shows I gave up on.

The Westworld movie told its tale, and made its point, in 88 minutes. This series is already commissioned for a second season – that’s 20 episodes, an hour each, and there’s online scuttlebutt about the show extending to six or seven seasons.

Why, in God’s name, does it have to be so long?

Westworld has great themes – the nature of consciousness and reality, the technological Pandora’s Box, what makes us human – but they’ve been done before, many times. And in much shorter time-frames.

Any art-work should be as long or short as it needs to be, and Westworld does not need to be more than one season. Sure, producers will say this lengthy duration allows time to expand on the fictional universe: what pretentious types call the “mythos”.But this is a self-referential (and rather self-regarding) argument. The only reason a programme needs six years to expand its mythos is because the makers invent that mythos to fill six years.

Anyway, it’s just telly. Contrary to devotees who insist otherwise, it’s not literature or, indeed, actual mythology. This feels too much like homework; there’s too much commitment required. I don’t want to have to work this hard just to enjoy a TV show. I’ll put in the effort for Proust, sure, but not a TV show.

You spend years working through Proust, at the end you’re filled with an enormous, earned sense of satisfaction. You spend years being baffled and annoyed by a TV show, and all you’ve done is spend years being baffled and annoyed by a TV show.

So I’m out, I’m afraid. Happy trails, pardners.

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