I finally finished watching Westworld season one last night. I ended up with very mixed feelings on the series as a whole - in some ways it was brilliant, with some smart exploration of interesting ideas, and an excellent final few episodes that paid off a lot of the build-up very well. And the production looked wonderful throughout.
Also, the quality of the acting was mostly very good - all-round to be honest, although having Hopkins and Harris bringing their best to a TV series like this felt like a particular treat, and the show instantly became 87% more engaging (approximately) whenever they were on screen.
But honestly, despite having so much going for it, I found the early sections of the season to be a slog. It often gave you so little to invest in - in terms of the characters and their motivations - that I came close to giving up on it altogether around halfway through.
(It's been interesting to go over threads and reviews from when the show was airing (here and elsewhere) and see people's reactions as they went along, and how much the show relied on speculation to fill the void that was created by the show giving us so little information about what we were actually watching.)
It was reassuring to see pieces start to really fall into place around the episode 7/8 mark though - I'm guessing the production break halfway through the season really helped them nail down their vision for what the larger story was, because it felt like there was far more focus and momentum towards the back end of the season.
While that's partly due to us gaining a lot more information about the characters and their true roots and motivations towards the end, it's also due to the way these later episodes were constructed: far more coherent than the early episodes, which often felt a bit aimless and drifting, even while they were setting out some very interesting details about the world of the show and how it worked.
The reveals towards the end were very well-handled though, and the strong final few episodes left me feeling much more enthused about the series than I was in the early stages.
But I'm still not sure the lengthy, opaque build-up was fully-justified: this wasn't a story like (say) Memento or The Sixth Sense where you thought you were watching one compelling story and then the twists revealed that you were actually watching something quite different; it was a show where so many characters were unknown quantities and enigmas that it was impossible to really properly understand what was happening until you were given some key pieces of information, quite late in the story. And while the reveals did make sense of it all, I'm not sure they made up for the lack of story (or at least, the unclear nature of much of the story) in those early episodes.
Hitchcock famously used to say "never confuse an audience - a confused audience is not emoting", and that's how I felt about Westworld's early stages.
That said, without those relatively plot-light early episodes, I don't know if we would have had so much time to get stuck into some of the ideas about consciousness, narrative and interactive storytelling that ended up providing so much intellectual meat, and which I thought were handled very well indeed.
It will be interesting to see where the show goes from here, anyway - in some respects I think the first season tells a story that is satisfying in its own right and doesn't really demand continuation, but in others I'm interested to see where the story takes us. In particular, it will be interesting to see whether the show introduces new mysteries to tease out slowly again, or whether the storytelling style becomes more immediate and direct now that the revolution has begun.