How To Watch 'Westworld' Even If You've Never Seen An Episode
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
There's a lot of great stuff on TV right now, which is awesome but also exhausting. We have reviewed or featured at least 13 TV shows this year alone, which is like 129 hours of assigned viewing. And we're not even counting the Olympics. No one has time for that. But no one wants to be left out of the cultural conversation either. So we're going to spend the next few minutes telling you exactly what you need to know about a show to sound not clueless at a dinner party. Think of this as a TV cheat sheet. We're going to start today with HBO's "Westworld."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WESTWORLD")
JAMES MARSDEN: (As Teddy Flood) We've ridden 10 miles and all we've seen is blood. Is this really what you want?
EVAN RACHEL WOOD: (As Dolores Abernathy) It's us or them.
CHANG: The show comes back Sunday for its second season. And here to help us are David Chen and Joanna Robinson. They host the podcast Decoding Westworld, which recaps and breaks down each and every episode. Hey guys.
JOANNA ROBINSON: Hi.
DAVID CHEN: Hello.
CHANG: This should probably be obvious by now, but just to underline, there will be spoilers ahead, people. With that out of the way, let's start with just, like, a Cliff Notes (ph), bare-bones synopsis here. What is this show about? Can someone please tell me?
CHEN: Yeah, sure. "Westworld" takes place in a futuristic amusement park called Westworld where the ultra-rich are able to interact with androids called hosts and basically indulge their wildest fantasies, whether it's going on an adventure or visiting a brothel. The robots are - what they experience - you know, they experience horrors because they are shot and killed and tortured based on the whims of the guests.
CHANG: So people pay to go into this park to live out fantasies, and most of the fantasies getting played out are about realizing our basest desires, our most vicious needs and wants. That's what people want to do in this park.
CHEN: Yeah. It's like an extreme version of Vegas with robots.
ROBINSON: There are some family-friendly sections of the park. You know, you could take your kids to go, like, horseback riding or whatever in the countryside.
CHANG: While your dad goes to rob a bank.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Exactly.
CHEN: (Laughter) Yeah, that's right.
ROBINSON: It's fun for the whole family, Ailsa, so...
CHANG: That's great.
CHEN: And so at the very end of the first season what we find out is that Dr. Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins, who's one of the co-founders of the park, he has decided to set the hosts free against the humans.
ROBINSON: The way I like to think about it is because this is a Michael Crichton story - and this predates "Jurassic Park." And so I always think of the robots as the dinosaurs and the guests as the guests to the park.
ROBINSON: At the end of Season 1 the fences are down, the dinosaurs are out and the guests are in trouble.
CHANG: Part of what we're trying to do here is to keep people in the conversation even if they have not caught up at all on a show. Let's just picture I'm at a party. Everyone is talking about "Westworld." I am nodding like I'm following the conversation.
CHANG: What are some informed questions I can just kind of casually toss in there so I'm not feeling totally lame?
ROBINSON: One question you could ask that would be deeply safe...
ROBINSON: ...And not show your ignorance is, which side are you on, the robots or the humans? Because there really is no correct answer to that one, and it could spark a philosophical conversation about artificial intelligence.
CHEN: One of the things that the show does really well I think is question, what is it that makes a human human? Like, what is it that separates us from AI, or what is it that separates us from the robots? What is the definition of consciousness? At what point does a robot consciousness become a human consciousness or so human-like that there's no distinction between them?
CHANG: That's getting super deep.
ROBINSON: Yeah, David's going deep at the cocktail party. I like it so much.
CHANG: So another thing that you see a lot - I'm thinking particularly on social media - are memes or catchphrases. You know, like, inside jokes for people in the know. Are there any notable "Westworld" quotes that I might come across out there?
CHEN: I think one of the most notable ones is an expression that one of the characters in the show, Bernard - the audience and him have assumed that he is a human this entire time for most of the first season. But one of the other characters finds schematics of the Bernard robot and presents it to him. And when he looks at it, he says, that doesn't look like anything to me. And that's a saying that I've seen in memes. It's kind of a way to say like, I will reject anything that conflicts with my programming or my understanding of the world. Anytime you see a news story you disagree with, just that doesn't look like anything to me, and you'll be referencing "Westworld."
CHANG: And what about the lovers and haters? Like, what's the line that divides people who are crazy about the show and people who totally despise it?
ROBINSON: I think it depends how much you like twists and turns in your TV shows. If you get into fan theories, if you don't mind sort of letting go and going along for the ride, "Westworld" is a great show for you. If you get a little agitated if you don't know what's going on at any given time, "Westworld" doesn't always give you the clarity you might desire.
CHANG: Well, this is actually kind of whetting my appetite. I might just do it. David Chen and Joanna Robinson - you can find their podcast at decodingwestworld.com. Thank you guys both so much.
CHEN: Thank you.
ROBINSON: Thanks for having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMIN DJAWADI'S "MAIN TITLE THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.