Television

'Westworld': Where the Women Aren't Disposable, Just Recycled

Ellen Gray
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

Westworld offers a vision of the future of male-female relations almost as dispiriting as the thought that Clinton, at 68, is still not quite old enough to be excused from the demands of random men that she smile.

It’s a challenging time to be a woman watching television.

(I say challenging because to say infuriating might make me seem — not nice. So I hope challenging’s OK. Maybe interesting’s better? You choose.)

On Monday, I saw Hillary Clinton smiling through her debate with Donald Trump. It was hard not to think of Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and Morning Joe cohost Joe Scarborough, to name just two of the men who’ve expressed very public opinions in recent months about how the Democratic presidential nominee’s face should look when they’re watching her.

On Sunday, HBO opened its newest drama, “Westworld,” with a shot of a shadowy female figure, seated with knees together, and, apparently, naked. As the camera closes in, we see that she is young and blond and that her eyes are vacant, her face bruised. She makes no move to swat the fly that walks across her forehead.

The face and body belong to Evan Rachel Wood (“True Blood”), who plays Dolores Abernathy, a character whose face and body belong to a corporation.

The bruises? They’re no accident, anymore than it’s an accident that Dolores wakes unblemished every morning with the hint of a smile on her face, eager to begin a day of whose ending she knows nothing.

Hers is a look that television — and, no, not just the network of “Game of Thrones” — deems acceptable for women.

A sci-fi drama inspired by a 43-year-old movie about an android-stocked theme park for rich people, “Westworld” offers a vision of the future of male-female relations almost as dispiriting as the thought that Clinton, at 68, is still not quite old enough to be excused from the demands of random men that she smile.

Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who developed “Westworld,” aren’t, of course, endorsing a future in which android “hosts” are raped, maimed, and killed by wealthy people on a western-theme holiday.

Because, hey, that would be nuts.

Besides, not all the guests come with murder on their minds, as theme-park madam Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton, “ER”) could attest. The ones who do? Well, where’s the harm in homicide if no human gets hurt?

But when the guests — and we — have trouble telling the robots from the humans, things can get murky. Particularly when some of the “hosts” begin to show signs of remembering the traumas they’ve endured.

It’s as though the targets in a first-person shooter game suddenly developed PTSD.

I think this is meant to bother us, but I don’t know how long it will, based on the four episodes I’ve seen (there are 10 this season).

As one android host after another got shot, maimed, or otherwise eliminated from play, I was reminded of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” that very popular show where humans are encouraged to become killing machines simply because those they are mowing down are no longer considered human.

Look, I’m not immune to the creepy glamour of “Westworld.”

The opportunity to watch Anthony Hopkins in a weekly series would alone be reason to watch, and here he’s surrounded by people who can play at his level.

The former Hannibal Lecter plays Dr. Robert Ford, the park’s founder, who’s as brilliant and highly focused in his way as the late Walt Disney.

Jeffrey Wright (“Angels in America”) is Bernard Lowe, the head of programming, whose experience of genuine loss may be coloring his approach to his artificial creations, and Ed Harris (“Pollock”) is a guest who’s the park’s equivalent of a casino high-roller.

Wood and Newton excel in making artifice real, and I was happy to see Sidse Babett Knudsen (“Borgen”) as quality-control chief Theresa Cullen, who knows more than she’s telling about the park’s future and is under no illusions about the well-orchestrated raping and pillaging that drives its success in the present.

There’s always value in questioning nostalgia, maybe even more so in a year in which so many disagree on the meaning of words like America, great, and again.

But for those of us for whom the past might not be the happiest place on Earth, there’s a danger in having our faces and bodies employed as object lessons.

Because whether bruised or smiling, the images of people as objects have a way of lingering long after any lessons are forgotten.

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