Westworld: Season 1 created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (Home Box Office, Bad Robot, Jerry Weintraub Productions, Kilter Films)

Starring Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Hemsworth, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Angela Sarafyan, Jimmi Simpson, and Rodrigo Santoro.

The Nature of Consciousness

Philosophers like to have fun too. Even if most people believe the philosopher ponders obscure, high level concepts like epistemology or ontology, there’s never been a thought experiment a philosopher hasn’t loved. Typically, these illustrations emerge in the entry-level courses. What better way to capture the mind of a student than introductory mind puzzles?

Can we prove our mind isn’t functioning in a basement-level vat of fluids? (Depends on your view of what we truly know. If you subscribe to Cartesian doubt, you likely couldn’t prove it.) Do we actually know what the color green is? (No. We create color within the context of our culture. We tell each other what green is, thus creating a reference point. However, we can’t prove that we are objectively viewing the same color.)

Within this tradition, the nature of thought emerges as a worthy pursuit. How do we think? What process creates thought? Are our thoughts a product of physical means or do they occur in a different realm? If we define consciousness as a series of determined processes, how do we differentiate between the human brain and artificial intelligence?

These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

These rich, philosophical explorations provide the bedrock of the first season of Westworld. Set in the future, the show’s eponymous park offers a playground of carnal desires for the public. A gargantuan park, Westworld populates its Old West frontier with “hosts,” robots programmed to act, react, emote, and bleed like humans.

Much like role playing games such as Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto, the visitors can proceed through focused narratives drafted from Westworld employees, or they can go off script and do as they please. While the visitors are immune to violence in the park, the hosts suffer all manners of indignity and death daily, just to be scrubbed of memory and repaired for the next day’s visitors.

Through complex layers of narrative, the viewer acquires the point of view of the hosts through Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton), gaining an understanding about how these hosts initiate consciousness and how they begin to perceive their unjust situation.

Likewise, the viewer sees the park through the eyes of a visitor, specifically the Man in Black (Ed Harris), a veteran customer seeking the deeper questions of the park.

And finally, Westworld offers the corporate politics behind this operation. Namely, the company seeking to oust the park’s creator, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Dr. Ford’s principle developer and loyal sidekick, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) aims to balance these roiling tensions with his own investigations into the emerging consciousness of the hosts.

Unearth the Mystery

Ultimately, Westworld unearths its mysteries much like Lost before it. Through many twists and turns best left unsaid, the series begins to explore deep philosophical questions of consciousness and what truly separates humanity from artificial intelligence. A bit convoluted and almost functioning as a long preface before the action Season 2 will surely provide, Westworld Season 1 represents an obvious starting point for a post-Game of Thrones world. Recommended

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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