Carol Vernallis: The opening credits raise questions about machines, minds, and intelligence. Leonardo de Assis claims that simple code can produce complicated effects. Here, multiple body parts, including irises, are built up from thin skeins of polymer. A piano roll’s keypunches and pegs make tunes, and then these little blocks of a melody proliferate through reiteration. Suddenly we have a lifelike woman riding a lifelike horse and pointing a gun (though we can still see the horse's polymerized ribs). Both sound and image color Westworld. Does a robot make a different sound if you punch it? How do we recognize them?
In Season One's final episode, Sweetwater Saloon’s Madame, Maeve Millay (a robot), hovers between taking a train out of the park into the real world or returning to the park to find her daughter. She appears to sense what we too have learned about ourselves through neuroscience and psychoanalysis. Her feelings and thoughts about her daughter are submerged in her brain's subroutines, outside her reach. Some have been maliciously inserted by the park’s AI programmers (a core trauma for her; for us, ideology). Maeve yearns to leave, and she knows this is partly due to a dominant subroutine she cannot alter. Recent impressions weigh heavily on her - the young mother and daughter seated on the train before her, the goodbye kiss for a robot/lover whose death is imminent, or the just-paid compliment to a human staff-member. Like us, Maeve may feel adrift, unable to ascertain the limits of her autonomy. She watches; her choice might be triggered by a sensation in the mouth, a change in atmosphere, a memory of a spinning roulette wheel.
Josh Stenger: HBO’s reimagined Westworld inhabits two of cinema’s most enduring and symbolically potent heterotopias: the near-future technocapitalist corporate citadel and the atavistic landscape of the American West. Yet, as Carol Vernallis’s reading of the series’ hypnotic opening credit sequence invites us to consider, the synthesis of future and past here is unmistakably animated by and preoccupied with recent, new and emerging media and technologies: cybernetics, robotics, VR, AI, 3D printing, fabrication, simulation, immersion, and personalized, interactive narrative. If Westworld’s diegetic architect Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is to be believed, all these tools have built is a “prison of our own sins” – where the repressed returns, the oppressed revolt, and our (national) destiny becomes terrifyingly manifest.