'Westworld': Ranking the Series' First 10 Episodes

9:45 AM 12/19/2016

by Josh Wigler

From "The Original" through "The Bicameral Mind."

HBO

Depending on who you ask, Westworld was a journey of highs and lows. It's nearly impossible to argue against the power of the performances, as delivered by an extraordinary roster of actors including heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood. But the twisting-and-turning story structure was considerably more divisive; many viewers happily submerged into the show's rabbit holes, while others were less interested in the mysteries wrapped within mysteries.

In any event, with personal preferences aside, there's no denying that Westworld has served as a massive hit for HBO, a show that captured the public consciousness right when it needed it most. With the show off the air until 2018, Westworld fans are left to reflect upon the one season they currently have at their disposal — and with that in mind, here are our reflections on the first season's strengths and weaknesses, episode by episode.

  1. 10
    10

    "Trace Decay"

    Season 1, Episode 8

    John P. Johnson/HBO

    The big Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) reveal in episode seven is a tough act to follow. The series' eighth installment does its best to move pieces into place for the final hours of the season, but short of Maeve (Thandie Newton) enacting momentary vengeance against scummy Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum), there's not much that makes this hour stand apart from the rest.

     

  2. 9
    10

    "Contrapasso"

    Season 1, Episode 5

    Courtesy of HBO

    The extraordinarily elaborate orgy scene aside, the episode sees Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) make major strides toward her ultimate transformation. As she ditches the Alice in Wonderland aesthetic, the oldest host in Westworld simultaneously busts out some shocking moments of violence, proving that there's much more bubbling beneath the surface. 

     

  3. 8
    10

    "The Stray"

    Season 1, Episode 3

    Courtesy of HBO

    Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have discussed how the show explores the tension between abhorring real life violence and enjoying television violence. "The Stray" offers an example that falls firmly in the second category, as a stray host bashes its own head in repeatedly due to a glitch — one of the most absurd and unforgettable images of the series. The episode also features Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) filling both Bernard and the audience in on the Arnold back story for the first time, a key piece of the show's mythology.

     

  4. 7
    10

    "Chestnut"

    Season 1, Episode 2

    Courtesy of HBO

    The second episode of Westworld introduces two human faces into a sea of hosts: William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), current colleagues and future brothers-in-law embarking on a wild west bachelor party excursion. It's the start of one of the season's biggest twisting-and-turning journeys, truly pulling the curtain back on the guest experience for the first time.

  5. 6
    10

    "Dissonance Theory"

    Season 1, Episode 4

    Courtesy of HBO

    The Man in Black (Ed Harris) stands at the center of some of the show's most breathtaking action scenes, and this episode is no different. The enigmatic gunslinger gets himself thrown into prison, with the express purpose of busting out Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro). The Man scores extraordinary style points for using explosive cigars in his prison break, proving through action just how much power and influence he has within the park.

  6. 5
    10

    "The Well-Tempered Clavier"

    Season 1, Episode 9

    John P. Johnson/HBO

    The season's penultimate installment comes packed with a serious game-changer. After wondering all season long about the park's mysterious co-founder Arnold, who died many years before the present events of the series, viewers discovered that the man was staring them in the face all this time: Jeffrey Wright, pulling double duty as both Bernard and Arnold all season long. 

  7. 4
    10

    "The Adversary"

    Season 1, Episode 6

    John P. Johnson/HBO

    In an ocean of all-star actors, Thandie Newton rose to the top this season through her compelling narrative as a host learning about her true nature for the very first time. The season features countless magical Maeve moments, but none better than her first tour through the underbelly of Westworld, scored to a strings version of Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack." Not a dry eye in the house on that particular Sunday night.

  8. 3
    10

    "The Original"

    Season 1, Episode 1

    Courtesy of John P. Johnson/HBO

    The one that started it all. As the first ever episode of Westworld, "The Original" established the look and feel of everything that followed. It even established the show's method of twisting-and-turning storytelling, by leading viewers to believe that Teddy (James Marsden) was a guest, not a host, in its opening sequence. The final image of Dolores crushing a fly becomes more harrowing in retrospect, given the season's final act.

     

  9. 2
    10

    "Trompe L'Oeil"

    Season 1, Episode 7

    Courtesy of HBO

    As much as the subsequent Arnold reveal clarifies the show's mythology, it pales in comparison to the first big Bernard bombshell: not only is this host-studying scientist actually a host himself, he also follows the discovery of his true nature by being ordered by Ford to murder Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Bernard's lover. The final scene of the episode is among the more haunting sequences in recent memory, sickening and claustrophobic as the noose on Theresa tightens. 

  10. 1
    10

    "The Bicameral Mind"

    Season 1, Episode 10

    John P. Johnson/HBO

    Westworld viewers who studied the show closely and followed along with Internet commentary saw some twists coming: Bernard as a host, Bernard as Arnold, and the Man in Black and William being the same entity. But few anticipated that Ford's final plan was actually in concert, not conflict, with his old partner Arnold. The revelation that Ford was pushing his creations toward consciousness all along adds tremendous clarity and context to all that's come before, with Dolores' final deliberate act of violence paving the way for everything that's going to come next. In many ways, season one was prologue — and through its finale, the door is wide open for the true heart of the matter.

     

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