'Westworld' Premiere Spoilers: HBO Pulled Off A Fantastic Marketing Twist

Ed Harris plays a murderous cowboy in the HBO remake of 'Westworld.' HBO

Westworld opened on an interrogation of Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), a robotic actor, or “host,” at the Westworld theme park. She exists to entertain guests, living out the same story over and over, waking up with no memory (maybe) of the horrors she’s put through to satisfy the dark predilections of Westworld’s rich clientele. At first we are meant to believe her sweetheart, Teddy Flood (James Marsden), is a return human customer (“newcomer”), coming back for a new vacation adventure with the same old flame. Nope. Teddy Flood is just another robot, his entire purpose to give a sadistic human customer the thrill of killing a woman’s boyfriend before raping her. In the Westworld premiere, this sadistic customer is The Man in Black (Ed Harris), a customer whose cruelty pairs with a complicated plan (possibly industrial espionage) to strike at the heart of Westworld.

Give the marketing team at HBO a medal, because what actually happens in the Westworld premiere is the exact opposite of what’s been marketed, hyped and analyzed for months leading up to the first episode.

All of the trailers and marketing contributed to this impression, but this Westworld trailer may be the best example of why and how the actual show inverted audience expectations:

“You came back,” Dolores says to Teddy, already priming us to see him as a return customer, rather than another part of the grand, robotic dramatization. But the real marketing coup came with Ed Harris, who has been expertly positioned as the new Westworld ’s replacement for Yul Brynner, who played the out-of-control, murderous cowboy villain of Michael Crichton’s 1973 Westworld movie.

The marketing team and the structure of Westworld ’s opening few minutes relied on our natural biases and the kinds of storytelling we expect from robot narratives in particular. We’re used to sympathy for the robot — Blade Runner and even HAL 9000’s mournful song taught us that much — but we’re unaccustomed to their perspective. Westworld fools us by having the robots go through the motions of human life even when we’re not around.

It will be interesting to see if Westworld can pull off similar surprises throughout the rest of the season. It’s hard to imagine topping the disorienting realization that The Man in Black is not a machine and that his cruelties, as alien and monstrous as they appear, are all too human.

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