HBO has been teasing fans with its upcoming sci-fi drama Westworld for the better part of two years now. The series from co-creator Jonathan Nolan and producer J.J. Abrams was first ordered in November 2014, and since then tales from its somewhat bumpy production have become just about as interesting as the series itself purports to be. Thankfully, like the setting of the series’ futuristic theme park, that is all in the past, as the show and its incredibly impressive cast are ready to premiere in early October.
With Game of Thrones preparing two more truncated seasons before the winds of winter are silenced forever (or until the inevitable Hot Pie spinoff is announced), Westworld is HBO’s next big thing and the key to its future as a destination for top-notch television that can still compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. But it also represents the inexorable downside of Game of Thrones‘ incredible success. As the chosen one to carry the Sunday-night torch for premium cable channels, the series must not only match Thrones in terms of audience engagement, it also arguably has to up the ante in terms of visual and narrative spectacle. That’s a tall order for anyone, even the co-writer of the Dark Knight Trilogy and Interstellar.
So far, the series has teased an unnerving story that uses only the broadest strokes of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name. Here, instead of autonomous robots run amok, terrorizing the patrons of a wildly successful theme park, the series looks to take a more existential approach by exploring the nature of existence and consciousness, while also steering headlong down an equally troublesome path of exploitation and free will. It sounds like a heady adventure, one that is bolstered by the talent involved, which includes Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and, as the new trailer establishes, Ed Harris as the Man in Black.
Previous trailers have offered a glimpse of Harris’ enigmatic, possibly Johnny Cash-inspired character before, but none have established what his role in the series would be. While it seemed likely that Harris’ character might be an analogue of Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger from the original film, it now looks as though he is something far more interesting. Despite his otherwise villainous attire, the Man in Black acts as a central figure in a brewing conflict between the autonomous creations inhabiting the Westworld theme park and their creator Dr. Robert Ford (Hopkins).
As seen in the new trailer, the Man in Black aims to free Wood’s Delores Abernathy from the false world she’s been living in, and in doing so opens her eyes to the truth about her creation and her existence. “No choice you ever made was your own. You have always been a prisoner,” Harris says, before asking, “What if I told you I was here to set you free?”
Well, that’s a pretty good question Harris asks, and presumably he’s talking to Dolores, seeing as how the trailer – and all previous advertisements for the series – indicates that Wood’s character is central to the story being told. This development turns what once looked like an archetypal antagonist into something more akin to the mentor, which alters the supposed dynamic between these characters a great deal. That, along with some of the new footage released, gives a much better idea of what viewers can expect when the series finally premieres in a little over a month.
Westworld premieres Sunday, October 2 @9pm on HBO.