Westworld: Episodes 1-4 review

Here’s our spoiler-free take on the first four episodes of Westworld

Meteo Mingo as Boy,
Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores

We don’t like to brag (okay, maybe we do a little), but we’re lucky enough to be able to count ourselves among the number of those who have seen HBO’s TV-length take on Westworld – the first four episodes, to be precise. And we’re happy to say that we’re impressed.

True to HBO’s recent burn , it’s a slow-burner more in the Vinyl or Luck mode than in the more bombastic Game Of Thrones, True Blood or Boardwalk Empire vein, although you shouldn’t take this as a negative indication of quality: it’s gripping stuff, with the obvious potential to be even better.

As we expected, it closely studies the Battlestar Galactica school in the way it reimagines the source material to the point where it takes on a new life entirely. In fairness, this is absolutely necessary, considering that Michael Crichton’s 1973 original only really had two characters (if you don’t include Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger): Richard Benjamin’s Peter Martin, and James Brolin’s John Blane.

Here, they are represented by reluctant visitor William (House Of Cards’ Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), who gleefully dials Blane’s mild dickishness up to 10.

Theirs is just one of the various narrative strands on show though: separately (but sometimes intertwining), Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), Teddy Flood (James Marsden) and  Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) go on their own journeys; the mysterious and brutal Man in Black (Ed Harris) ventures on a more literal one, and behind-the-scenes bods Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) have their own conundrums, all the while Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) surveys his creations.

Beyond them, the supporting cast members impress too. Shannon Woodward is eye-catching as rising park star Elsie Hughes, Simon Quarterman steals scenes galore as the park’s sweary artistic director, Luke Hemsworth provides a much-needed touch of realism, and Clifton Collins Jr puts in a surprisingly affecting performance as outlaw Lawrence.

As we mentioned, it’s slow, but not without incident. Fans of the original who want to see a full-blown robot uprising in the first episode will find that this isn’t the show for them, but that isn’t the kind of show the makers of Westworld are keen on making: the building blocks are being put into place slowly here – this is the kind of show that will stand up to repeated viewings rather than being a flavour-of-the-month curio.

The only question is where it’s all going: we’re not sure that something akin to the ending of the original would be as satisfying here, but then we never really saw anything from the perspective of the main attractions. If that film was intended as a warning, then the TV series is more of a general request for us to stop and take stock of things.

Even at four episodes in, we’re still not sure what the bigger picture is with Westworld, and there are still questions to be answered. While this kind of secrecy has been an issue with other shows in the past, the difference here is that we genuinely can’t wait to find out the answer.

Westworld will premiere on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV in October. For all the latest TV news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.