Westworld is mirroring Game of Thrones' descent into schlock - and that's ok

Wednesday, 6th June 2018, 12:11 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th June 2018, 16:34 pm

*Spoilers for Westworld season two, episode seven. Minor spoilers for Game of Thrones*

Westworld's latest episode, 'Les Écorchés', may be remembered as the instalment where a certain heavyweight actor resumed his delightful business of delivering slightly baffling monologues with an air of real gravitas.

It is far more likely to be recalled, however, as the episode where Anthony Hopkins wields a sub-machine gun while telepathically commanding a terrified Jeffrey Wright to murder a whole bunch of people.

This bloodthirsty 'ghost' version of the God-like Ford, fresh from the Matrix, is just the tip of the iceberg, of course.

'Terminator Teddy'

If the cowboy vs ninjas antics of episode five, or the overblown fort battle in episode three, hadn't already made it clear, Westworld is now far more open to gleefully over-the-top action than it was in season one.

With Dolores and her followers launching a direct attack on the park's control centre, Les Écorchés brings us such delights as James Marsden's newly merciless 'Terminator Teddy' (as some fans have taken to calling him) dual-pistoling an entire squad to death, before quite literally punching a man's face off.

If Westworld season one was an arthouse sci-fi mystery spun over ten hours, season two has the increasing whiff of a schlocky B-Movie. You only have to witness a ruthless, sadistic Delos henchman deciding to drop his guard and let himself get blown up by a grenade, just because an attractive female host tricks him with sex appeal. It's the oldest cliche in the book. Something even most dumb action flicks would shy away from now.

The sheer incompetence of the Delos troops, who make Star Wars' stormtroopers look like SAS operatives, is a running joke at this point.

Dolores continues her bloody revolution - with a re-programmed Teddy her ultimate killing machine (Photo: HBO/Sky)

Westworld's latest action scenes are exhilarating. Thrilling. An enjoyable bloodbath, if you're into that kind of thing. But given that episode four of this season, The Riddle Of The Sphinx, was an accomplished blend of both powerful character development and existential terror, you would be forgiven for finding this all a bit jarring.

It also mirrors a shift from high-brow to pulpy that another flagship HBO show has undergone.

Glossy, eye-popping 'trash'

Season seven of Game of Thrones was another gloriously entertaining feast of spectacle, but its storytelling and writing took something of a nosedive in the intelligence stakes.

From a hare-brained scheme to capture a zombie, to a confrontation between two characters that made very little sense, a lot of things about last year's run seemed out of place for a show that had somehow established a believable, 'realistic' world in an otherwise fantastical setting.

It was still compulsive, must-watch TV. But the veneer of heavyweight drama had begun to fade.

Hopkins' lofty pronouncements are something we're familiar with. The veteran packing heat is a surprise (Photo: HBO/Sky)

The same could also be said of Westworld lately, though use of the term 'schlock' needs qualifying perhaps. Westworld's current goings-on may be trashy in essence, but as with Game of Thrones, they are carried out with assured direction, glossy eye-popping set design, costumes and effects, and a phenomenally talented cast.

There are still moments of dramatic heft and thought-provoking themes too.

Lawrence turning on The Man In Black in Les Écorchés actually hurts, given the latter's significant shift earlier in the season. To see past sins catching up with a character who has finally started to realise his mistakes is compelling. To see Lawrence extinguished soon after, and the normally resolute Maeve distraught and on the verge of oblivion, genuinely sad.

Game of Thrones feels increasingly distant from its source material. Westworld still feels wholly connected to its own

Refuses to conform to formula

While the increasingly ridiculous nature of Westworld may grate on certain viewers, those with a love of pulpy sci-fi B-Movies and action flicks (myself included) will no doubt be thoroughly entertained right now.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the original Michael Crichton film was a suspenseful little thriller that paid little heed to philosophical pretentions beyond its core set-up and premise. It was simply a movie about a guy being stalked by a killer robot through a fake desert.

While Game of Thrones feels increasingly distant from its source material, Westworld still feels wholly connected to its own.

There's no telling if showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan will pull off another radical shift. After all, season one and two are chalk and cheese in terms of emphasis and tone, and season three could go anywhere, really.

Westworld's latest season is highly entertaining. But increasingly hard to term 'high-brow' (Photo: HBO/Sky)

In some respects, the beauty of Westworld is that it refuses to conform to formula, and is frequently creative in the way it segues between moods and genre beats.

In 2016, the show spent more time immersing us in its mysteries, building atmosphere and character, and pondering some fairly big questions. Now, it's happy to throw us into an entire episode set in a recreation of feudal Japan, or spend the bulk of its latest sixty minutes indulging in androids-vs-soldiers ultra-violence, just because it can.

That's not necessarily a bad thing either, though it is certainly different. Your mileage may vary. But guilty pleasure or not, seeing Anthony Hopkins with a machine gun is undeniably fun.

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[Main image: HBO/Sky]