Real Villains of Westworld are HBO and the Audience

By Dan Gainor Published on October 25, 2016

Violence. Rape. Murder. Depravity.

Normal people might be sickened, but to HBO’s Westworld, they’re plot devices. Only HBO could come up with a version of the Old West more vicious and violent than the original. The cable giant’s sci-fi/western averages nearly a body every two minutes — more than 30 overall in just the first episode. That’s more than enough to satisfy even Hannibal Lecter.

Except Lecter would be too sedate for Sweetwater, the main town in Westworld. He took his time killing. Not so HBO, which begins blasting its way through the cast after just 11 minutes. The J.J. Abrams-led program is proudly TV’s latest serial-killer show.

Only there’s a catch. This time the audience gets to see its stars abused in an endless loop because most are “robots.” The characters don’t even get to escape through death. They just get repaired, cleaned up and killed again. They inhabit a manmade purgatory, doomed to relive their abuse every day for the enjoyment of customers, viewers and network programmers.

There’s plenty of abuse. Westworld’s sets are piled high with bodies. The premiere’s final fight scene leaves roughly 20 dead in the street and nearby saloon as orchestral strains of Paint It Black float through the air. Only, this isn’t cartoon violence. This is the real thing. The robot characters cry, bleed, beg for mercy and die just like real people. One has his face blown off, another his hand nailed to a table with a steak knife. The guests laugh maniacally while they kill their prey and seek a photographer for frontier selfies as the dying still writhe on the ground.

It’s a sadist’s Disneyland.

HBO spent $100 million crafting this perfect successor to its award-winning Game of Thrones. And it is possibly the most-twisted thing ever put on TV. Network execs expect to see green and lots of it. But all the viewers get is red. Buckets and buckets of blood as one character is first drained of life and then scalped. Westworld, we are told, is “a place with unlimited possibilities.” That can only mean HBO will have to shock us with even more perverse and perverted plotlines. Expect more f-bombs, lesbianism, kinky sex (a bisexual foursome and S&M, along with one character proposing necrophilia — so far) and regular nudity. The website promises: “No sexual desire is too sinful or twisted.”

Then there’s the violence that looms everywhere: stabbings, torture, rape and murder. Lots of murder — more than 50 brutal killings on screen in two episodes.

Westworld begins as a beautifully crafted love story. The saga of Dolores Abernathy and Teddy Flood — two sweet, honorable people who find each other back together after Teddy’s absence.

Sadly, this is HBO. Dolores and Teddy ride toward her ranch only to hear gunfire. Two thugs murder her mom and then butcher her dad. Teddy guns them down only to have Ed Harris’s mysterious Man in Black arrive to turn the tables. We learn the couple are robots as we watch them brutalized. Dolores is beaten. Then she is dragged across the ground by her hair to be raped in the nearby barn. She is made to beg and watch as her love can’t harm her attacker and is slaughtered — the first of three such killings Teddy endures in only two episodes.

That’s Westworld, what the network bills as a “dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin.” They got the dark part right, but that’s what HBO does well. The show combines the violence of True Blood with the amoral nature of Girls. It’s HBO getting to “play God” or use “witchcraft” to bring to new beings to life, in the words of the amusement park’s creator played by Anthony Hopkins.

HBO has filled Westworld with actors familiar with either screwed-up fictional worlds or, even worse, the real kind — Hollywood. The result is what we now call a “dystopia” — a future so messed up it’s the opposite of Utopia. This one even has actor Jeffrey Wright, Beetee from another dystopia, Hunger Games. He’s part of an amazing cast. Hopkins, who once played serial killing cannibal Lecter, is the park’s genius. Evan Rachel Wood, who gained fame in the youth, sex story Thirteen, plays our heroine.

Critics either love it or want to. Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-, calling it “State-of-the-art TV about state of the art escapism.” But it admitted the show was: “Disturbing? Hell yes,” and even The New York Times mentioned the program’s “moral horror.”

When the Times notices immorality, you know it’s impossible to miss. One of the characters in the premiere described his previous Westworld experience: “I came alone. Went straight evil. It was the best two weeks of my life.” That’s precisely what HBO wants us to do. To watch the show, embrace its evil and blacken our souls along the way.

Westworld is like much of Hollywood. It’s beautiful, well-acted, extremely well-produced and morally bankrupt. Maybe if fewer viewers watched, the network might get hit with deserved financial bankruptcy instead.


Researcher Sarah Stites contributed to this piece.

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