“Westworld” lassos in viewers with themes of morality

Image courtesy of HBO

Carina Smith

Features editor


Imagine an amusement park where you can live like a cowboy in the middle of the Wild West. You get to shoot a gun, ride horses, capture bandits and no one cares if you kill the man next to you. Why? Because they’re a creepily lifelike robot whose sole purpose is to help you live out your wildest fantasies.

“Westworld,” which started its first season on HBO at the beginning of the month, is a show that explores this very idea. The robots, which are referred to as hosts, were invented to look just like real people to make the theme park seem like the guests have travelled back in time to the days when cowboys ruled the streets and the saloons. While guests are at the park they are allowed to do whatever and be whoever they want to be without any consequences. The park was purely designed for guests to leave ethics at the door and live a lawless life.

Running an amusement park with machines that can easily break and ruin the entire experience is no easy task, so “Westworld” also shows what goes on behind the scenes of the park, where the engineers and designers work to make the hosts even more humanlike and get rid of any possible viruses that may arise in their programming.

The biggest draw to “Westworld” isn’t the beautiful scenery or the elaborate backstories of the hosts but instead the ideas that it delves into about what normal, everyday people are able to do when they are given a world where their actions don’t have consequences. It’s easy for audiences to forget that a host isn’t a real person when they have just been shot and are bleeding out while guests are laugh at their pain. The hosts are programmed with heart-wrenchingly real emotion — they cry, laugh, scream and hurt just like real people.

The guests don’t see how hurting the hosts is like hurting a real human; they see the park as their time to kill the hosts and pillage towns and do what they can’t do in society because it goes against regular human morals. “Westworld” leaves viewers with some complicated questions after each scene: If you were told you had no rules, how far would you be willing to go? What are you capable of? Who could you hurt?

However, a show where everything runs according to plan is no fun. While guests are having fun running rampant throughout the park, the engineers are trying to figure out how to not allow the artificial intelligent hosts run out of control. While the show is still in its early stages, it’s opening up questions about what happens when you give too much power to a machine and too much power to a human and what will be left in the aftermath.

“Westworld” is the sci-fi show that can appeal to everyone. It has romance between hosts and guests, mystery, realistic technology, corruption and a possible host revolution in the making. Despite the fact that there’s only been three episodes so far, “Westworld” holds much promise in the following months as it answers questions to thoughts we didn’t even realize we had about ourselves and our dependency on technology. “Westworld” is only beginning to reveal its secrets.
Tune in at 8 p.m. on Sundays on HBO.


  1. Calvin,

    I have to adamantly disagree with your narrow definition of a cowboy. Being a cowboy is a way of life for many of us. A cowboy is a hard working, industrious man. A man who feeds his family with from the sweat off his brow. Being a cowboy isn’t just taking care of the cattle or the horses, it’s about becoming one with nature, with the world, and understanding the flow of life. Something that has passed you by in your city life.

    As an amateur part-time TV critic, I have to vehemently disagree with your OPINION of the show. The author is more than correct with her writing. The hosts are the star of the show. Her ideas after watching only one episode were nearly spot on for what many of us around the ‘net and on messaging boards were thinking. Not until later did the theory that was ultimately correct come to light. As a fan of the original Michael Crichton masterpiece, I am nearly insulted that you would think that the hosts WEREN’T the most interesting part of the narrative.

    The techs were a sideshow, merely a prop for the writer’s graceful hands. This is easily picked up on since so many of the techs are thrown aside when their time was up. The writers wanted to show the futility of life and that there is no line between human consciousness and the hosts fabricated lives. The viewer was supposed to become attached to Delores, to the mistress, and to many of the hosts in the park. Missing this theme of the show, I really have to wonder if you and I were even watching the same great story.

    • Growing up on a farm as I did I understand the difference between a farmer and a cowboy. Many people can’t. For the average viewer anyone who rides a horse comes off as a cowboy. Same thing for bandits. Jesse James was no cowboy.
      I wrote my piece from the point of view of only the first episode. That is all the writer had seen when she wrote her article so it seemed fair. Your misunderstanding comes from having watched the entire first season and making your comments on that.
      As for the first movie…I saw it when it first came out at the theater in 1973 when I was 14.

  2. As I write this the season finale has already run on HBO.

    First, the writer uses the term “cowboy” incorrectly. There were many people in the old west and the writer would say they were all “cowboys” because maybe they road horses. In fact, they were black smiths, businessmen, teachers, politicians, whores, wives, miners, and farmers. The “cowboys” were those men (and a few women) who actually worked with cattle or horses. They were not gunfighters. Gunfighter was something completely different. Enough about the lack of knowledge on the part of the writer.

    To take apart a TV show with only one episode would be very difficult under normal circumstances and probably impossible with today’s twists and turns. I couldn’t even tell if the writer even knew of the movies from 30 years ago. Those of us who do recognize the arrival of the two “buddies”. Using just the first episode (to be fair) as a guide it is not the guests who are the most interesting. It is the techs who have to talk to the hosts, to analyze their failures and faults, and to put them back out on the street all the while trying to remember that they are only machines. I have pets and somethings I give them human characteristics. Imagine working on a nude woman or man and trying NOT to treat them as human. To be embarassed at their nudity or to be worried that they may not recover from their injuries. For those of us who read and THINK about science fiction futures, where would you draw the line on humanity or the collection of programs that look like humanity.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.