A Look At The Shock Value Storytelling In ‘Westworld’

by Frank Martin

Shock value is a very important storytelling tool. But it’s also a dangerous one. Adding shocking elements to a story can either pull in the reader’s attention or distract from the actual story the writer is trying to tell. But there is one type of shock value that is baked into the story itself and it cannot exist without a shocking element. This, of course, is the plot twist, and the show Westworld has made it a primary element of its storytelling.

The series has spent several seasons building off of big technological and sci-fi ideas. It essentially uses its characters to ask ethical questions regarding artificial intelligence and humanity, then it allows those questions to be answered as the story unfolds. The way it uses shock value is by employing a story twist to both catching the viewers’ attention and also move the story forward.

This happens predominantly in two instances. The first is in the climax of Season 1 when it is revealed that one of its concurrent storylines actually takes place in the past. The show uses this trick again in its fourth season when it reveals that one of the current storylines is actually in the future. In the more recent case, the good guys actually lost their fight, forcing the viewer to reconcile a new status quo as this revelation occurred halfway through the season. By using twists as a plot point for its storytelling, Westworld is able to both grab attention while telling the story. Of course, this tool can be wildly overused and also take the story in a direction that turns the viewer off. But whether or not Westworld‘s use of twists is successful is a separate question from acknowledging the power of a twist and analyzing how it’s deployed.

Westworld is streaming on HBOMax.

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