Westworld Premiere Recap: "Violent Delights Have Violent Ends"

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO.
Winter has come and Game of Thrones is on break, leaving the door wide open for a new sci-fi/fantasy obsession. Westworld, it seems, aims to fill that gap. After this premiere, I'm a believer.

A brief plot summary for the uninitiated: Westworld is based on a 1973 movie of the same name, written and directed by Michael Crichton. (You probably know him as the author of Jurassic Park.) The series centers on the titular Wild West-themed amusement park, in which paying guests interact with increasingly lifelike hosts that are artificially intelligent androids.

The first episode, "The Original" (more on that later), does a good job of setting up an intricate storyline for characters both real and virtual: The setting shifts back and forth between the park and the high-tech facility that administrates it — a constant reminder that many of the characters we're interacting with aren't technically alive. If you're the kind of person who has trouble keeping track of the various Houses at play in Westeros, beware: This promises to be just as complicated.

Since the first 15 minutes of this episode are CRUCIAL to our understanding of the world we're about to discover, I'll focus on them in more detail than I usually would. (Note that there is a voice-over throughout, which is in italics for clarity, as the narration reflects the action.)

The first scene opens with a dull-eyed Evan Rachel Wood, whose name we later find out is Dolores Abernathy. She is naked and expressionless while being questioned by a disembodied voice-over. A fly crawls on her face, across her nose, and onto her eyeball. It's evident she cannot feel it on her skin.

Voice-over: “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?"

Dolores: "No."
Voice-over: "What do you think of your world?"

Dolores:
“I choose to see the beauty, to believe there is an order to our days, a purpose.”
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We next get a glimpse of Dolores in her "reality." She wakes up, smiles, comes down the stairs, steps out onto the porch, and says good morning to her father, Peter Abernathy. They banter. She says she's setting off to paint. It's all very quaint.

Voice-over: “What do you think of the guests?”

(The "guests," we learn, are the customers who pay — a hefty sum, according to one complaining husband — to visit this virtual world, a.k.a. the Westworld theme park.)

With these words, we meet James Marsden's character, a chiseled gentleman known as Teddy Flood. He's sitting on a train staring dreamily out the window while guests chatter around him.
Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO.
James Marsden as Teddy Flood and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy.
Dolores: “The newcomers are just looking for the same thing we are, a place to be free. To stake out our dreams. A place with unlimited possibilities.”

Teddy gets off the train with the rest of the guests, his walk into town giving us a feel for the surroundings. Welcome to the Westworld town of Sweetwater.

Teddy gets asked to join a posse to hunt down known outlaw Hector Escaton, but turns the sheriff down. ("Not today." These words later take on more meaning when we realize that the outcome of this exchange could in fact be radically different on another day, when this whole cycle is repeated.) Instead, Teddy heads straight for the saloon, where he asks for a whiskey and shares banter with two prostitutes. One of these ladies strokes his face and promises him a discount, but Teddy doesn't go for it. When you look like Teddy, you'd "rather earn a woman’s affections than pay for them.”

Enter a badass Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) as what I assume is a brothel madam. “You’re always paying, darling," she scoffs. "The difference is our costs are fixed and posted right there on the door.” (Do I detect a deeper meaning related to the show's premise? I believe I do.)
James spies Dolores through the saloon window and takes that as his cue to exit. She is perfect, blonde, and ready for her affections to be earned.

Voice-over: “Do you ever feel inconsistencies in your world or repetitions?”

Dolores: “All lives have routines. Mine is no different. Still, I never cease to wonder at the thought that my whole life could change just based on one chance encounter.”
Obviously, Teddy and Dolores already know each other. Maybe he's a returning guest?

He asks to see her home, which in this world means a pit stop in the plains to admire the beautiful canyon scenery. He wonders about the cattle — how do they all know where to walk? Dolores laughs at him: “I forget you dress like a cowboy, but that’s about the extent of it.” (Essentially, Teddy is like Jon Snow: He knows nothing.) They soon leave, because daddy won't be pleased if Dolores comes home after dark.

But back at the ranch, something is very wrong. Bandits have come to call. Teddy, our hero, kills them both — but not before they shoot and kill Peter, Dolores' dad.

Voice-over: “Last question, Dolores. What if I told you that you were wrong? That there are no chance encounters? That you and everyone you know were built to gratify the desires of those who pay to visit your world? The people you call the newcomers.”

A new character enters the fray: Ed Harris, looking fearsome in an all-black cowboy outfit. He also seems to know Dolores, although she has no idea who he is. He grabs her.

Teddy is all set to play the hero, but it soon becomes clear that something isn't right. Because — and this is the twist — Teddy isn't a guest. And here we learn the most important rule of Westworld: Hosts cannot hurt guests. It is literally coded into their core system to do no harm to living, breathing humans. Guests on the other hand, can do whatever they want to hosts: Therein lies the fun of this virtual experience.

So when Teddy tries to shoot Ed Harris — listed in the credits as The Man in Black (LOL)— nothing happens.

Voice-over: “What if I told you that you can’t hurt the newcomers and that they can do anything they want to you.”

And with a final shot, the Man in Black leaves Teddy lying dead and drags Dolores off, kicking and screaming, presumably to assault her in the barn. He also intimates that they have a history that she knows nothing about and that he wants her to be fighting him.

Voice-over: “Would the things I told change the way you think about the newcomers, Dolores?”
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“No, of course not. We all love the newcomers. Every new person I meet reminds me how lucky I am to be alive. And how beautiful this world can be.”

(Those last words resonate even more strongly when heard alongside the amazing shot of Dolores screaming for mercy reflected in Teddy's dead eyes.) The scene fades.

And then, things start over: Dolores wakes up smiling in her bed again, as if she hadn’t been brutally assaulted and had her lover and father murdered. It’s just another beautiful day. Teddy wakes up in that same seat on the train, with more guests talking about their surroundings. He smiles — not a care in the world.

Some key takeaways at this point:

1. The hosts cannot hurt guests. This is stressed over and over again. The hosts, we are told, "literally couldn't hurt a fly."

2. What the hosts say and do is literally programmed into them, with little room for deviation. They can improvise based on guest interactions, but that's about it. Anything more than that is a glitch. The fun part will be trying to figure out what is scripted and what is out of character.

3. Some of the hosts have intertwined storylines, but guests may do with them as they please.

4. In Westworld, it seems storylines have a set time to deviate before they reset themselves again, which explains why Teddy wakes up after the Man in Black has "killed" him. The hosts' memories are wiped, although it's later mentioned that they are still there for them to potentially access. This theme of inherited trauma — the idea that you literally inherit the experiences of ancestors and past selves — is something that will clearly resonate throughout the series.
Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO.
Jeffrey Wright as Bernie Lowe, head of programming for Westworld.
The rest of the episode continues to move between Westworld and what I assume is reality. We learn that the park was created by Dr. Anthony Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and is run by a corporation which seems to have an agenda of its own. The hosts are programmed by a team of engineers headed by Dr. Bernie Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and managed by Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babbett Knudsen), Westworld's Quality Assurance head. The storylines within the park stem from the highly imaginative Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), the park's douchey (and grammar-impaired) programmer.
In short, we find out that recent updates in the host's codes have enabled them to tap into their erased memories, which translate into what Dr. Ford calls reveries: little gestures and characters traits dug up from past "memories." In a nutshell, the hosts have been given a subconscious, which turns out to be a very big problem, as certain hosts are unable to cope with this newfound mental depth.

This fact, combined with Dolores' father's major life-altering experience of discovering a picture of Times Square left behind by a guest, leaves the Westworld team scrambling for answers: Should they recall the hosts? Should the updates be rolled back? Should the hosts even be this lifelike? (For all of douchey Lee's flaws, he does make a good point: “Do you want to think that your husband is really fucking that beautiful girl or that you really just shot someone? This place works because people know that hosts aren’t real.”)

Back in the park itself, we see more of Teddy and Dolores, as history repeats itself with minor variations caused by guest interventions. This time, Teddy doesn't get to Dolores outside the saloon, because he is accosted by a group of bros, one of whom says Teddy was his tour guide on his last visit. (Teddy, of course, doesn't remember this: His memory is wiped clean, though we have yet to find out how often that happens.)

The saloon gets robbed by outlaw Hector Escotar (Rodrigo Santoro, a.k.a. CARL FROM LOVE ACTUALLY) and his mysterious sharpshooter lady sidekick, Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). Teddy dies again — shot while defending Dolores from the outlaws. The robbery comes to an abrupt halt when Hector is shot in the neck by one of the guests. This, ultimately, seems to be the point (at least superficially) of this game: Westworld is a place where you can kill, fuck, and drink with complete abandon and with absolutely no consequences.

The hosts, we are told, 'literally couldn't hurt a fly.'

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The Man in Black, on the other hand, seems to have a more specific purpose for his visit. He's after another level of the game — a deeper level. We still don't know what that is, but it seems to have something to do with that map etched into some poor shmo's bloody scalp that he cuts off.

Ultimately, the host glitches get to be so bad that Bernie orders a recall of almost 200 hosts, including Dolores and Teddy. They all check out — except one: Daddy dearest.

The mental confusion caused by a modern picture of Times Square seems to have scrambled Peter Abernathy's programming beyond repair (I mean, who can blame him?). Questioned by Ford himself, the host keeps going back and forth between various personalities that have been coded into him over the years (included a quite fearsome-sounding professor/cult leader). Basically, his "subconscious" has pierced through his code, leaving him defunct. It is decided that the best course of action is to retire him altogether, thus providing us a glimpse of the creepy basement where hosts go to hibernate when they're not in use.

But just to make sure this thought plague hasn't spread any further, Dolores is questioned. It's unclear if this is a repeat of the beginning of the episode, or if everything we've seen up until now was a flashback stemming from this very scene, but the questions posed are eerily similar.

Some stand out. Peter whispered something in his daughter's ear when she confronted him about the Times Square picture. When asked what he said, she answers: "These violent delights have violent ends.” This line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet basically sums up the entire premise of the park, so keep it in mind for the future.

Finally, Dolores is asked if she would ever hurt a living thing. Of course, not, she answers. It's against her code. She would know. Because — and this brings us back to the name of the episode — Dolores is The Original: the oldest host in the park.

Satisfied, Bernie puts her back into play and everything returns to normal. Well, almost. Dolores wakes up in her bed, same as always, but the father who greets her on the porch is a different host. She doesn't seem to notice. Looks like anyone can be programmed to be anything.

As Dolores stares out into the distance, a fly lands on her neck. She slaps it dead, literally killing a fly. Uh oh.

Things to look out for going forward:


—All those damn flies: Beyond the life metaphor, their presence on the face of every single host going haywire seems crucial to the mystery of what's ailing these robots.

— The deeper level: It was hinted at throughout, but the Man in Black seems to be the only one to have figured out the true meaning of Westworld. And it seems sinister. His obsession with Dolores, combined with her status as oldest host, seems to indicate that she may hold the key to unlocking this hidden level.

— Ford's demons: There's a lot of talk about the Westworld founder hiding his demons within his creation. Could this be a clue as to the real purpose of this fantastical place?

— More grammar jokes! Theresa is the best.

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