NSFW

The Infamous ‘Westworld’ Orgy Finally Came. And It Was Messy.

After a year of wondering why Westworld extras signed ‘genital-to-genital’ consent forms, the orgy scene aired Sunday. And boy was it problematic.

10.31.16 4:00 PM ET

These days, even orgies better be woke. 

Thus is the problem with Westworld’s already infamous orgy, which aired Sunday night on HBO after much pre-production foreplay—excuse us…fanfare. 

Listen. We’re always down for an orgy. 

Over the years HBO has been quite the madam, turning titillating sex parties into veritable TV events on Rome, True Blood, Game of Thrones, and, most recently, True Detective. And so it was curious, given the (comparative) frequency with which the network hosts such NSFW scenes, that early indications before Westworld even aired that there would be one on the new series caused such a controversial stir.

It was revealed last September—over a year ago, a much simpler time—that extras for the show must sign a sex and nudity consent form before appearing on the show, a rather typical legal exercise for a HBO prestige drama. That consent form, however, asked that the performers agree to posing “on all fours while others who are fully nude ride on your back” as well as “genital-to-genital” touching, which is, suffice it to say, rather atypical. 

Actors union SAG-AFTRA even launched an investigation into the contract in order to make sure that performers had a loophole to back out should they feel uncomfortable or get cold feet—the legal equivalent of a “safe word,” one supposes. The extras were reportedly paid up to $600.

Were the $600 worth it? Eh.

Sunday night’s episode included what we should assume is a pivotal character development: Jimmi Simpson’s white hat William succumbs to the pressure to give into the park’s moral depravity and actually starts murdering people and investing in the outlaw storylines, his increasingly sentient paramour Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) helping him get it up to do so, so to speak. 

That evolution is set up against the backdrop of the politest, cleanest looking orgy this side of whatever planet Westworld takes place on. “There is no such thing as heroes or villains!” Ben Barnes’s Logan barks at William about the “game” of Westworld. “It’s just a giant circle jerk.” 

Well, two truths and a lie, because while there may be no heroes and no villains—just gold-plated, fully nude courtesans and somnambulantly humping cowboys—at the Westworld orgy, no one is getting themselves off. 

Is it frustrating that there’s such a ballyhooed orgy and it’s not in the least bit sexy? Yes. To have three of the series’ attractive leads present at said orgy—the only three characters we’d have any sort of narrative, emotional, or even just sexual investment in seeing participate in such a party—and have them remain fully clothed? Yep. Frustrating. 

In other words, other than it being allowed to exist because of Westworld’s premise that people go there to indulge their wildest and, apparently, kinkiest fantasies, the orgy fell prey to the same problem that has plagued so much of HBO’s so-called progressive sex and nudity exhibition: there was no real narrative justification for it. 

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Sure, Evan Rachel Wood fretfully roams through it, alternately gawking disapprovingly at various groupings and then secluding herself in a room with a creepy fortune teller. And Logan uses the setting, perhaps the greatest extreme one can find oneself in outside of everyday life in the “real world,” to launch the climax of his bullying of William. 

But it’s sex and nudity, once again, as set dressing. Writhing, heavy petting set dressing. 

If the point is to titillate, its frankness, the rapid cutting, and the staunch decision not to sexualize any of it makes that point a failure. If the point is to reflect some sort of realism, the Eyes Wide Shut meets Goldfinger dashed with Día de los Muertos costuming, all set in some fantasy cowboy theme park, makes that a miss as well. And any narrative or character reasoning is still lost on me. 

It’s just, once again, headline-making nudity for the sake of headline-making nudity. Sexposition is the word coined to critique such things on Game of Thrones

Still, there are baby steps happening here. Watch the orgy scene and…is that…could it be…I think I see…yes! It’s a penis! Several of them! And look at all those taut male bums walking around next to the reliably nude women. 

While routinely decried for exploiting female nudity in its sexposition, mocked as a perverse wish fulfillment of nerd dude writers and directors, HBO has finally freed the peen. And it seems to, at least in one very long orgy scene, be swinging freely.

Of course, while female leads Wood and Thandie Newton have been required to appear fully naked several times thus far on the series, not a single of the show’s many, many male leads have done the same. Not even James Marsden, the highest profile “host” among the leads, who only shows a peek of bum compared to Wood and Newton’s frequent full frontal. 

And that leads us to the strange disconnect. 

There is so much, as mentioned before, frankness when it comes to nudity, whether it’s four people painted in gold fucking in the corner as William and Dolores have a very serious conversation in the foreground, or the bluntness with which Newton’s body is exposed as host Maeve, a madam of sorts, as she lays on the operating table. 

There’s a through line with which the show desensitizes you to the hosts’ nudity when they’re with the scientists. They are creations, androids, and ostensibly do not feel shame, and so the scientists deal with them fully nude as if poking a ragdoll. 

Still there are many times, especially (and unsurprisingly) when dealing with male hosts, that the distracting tactics used to shield nudity—a prop here to block a penis, an awkward camera angle there to disguise a woman’s bush—counteract this intended desensitization. It jars you right out of the narrative, once again raising the question of whether there’s a true justification to this “sexposition.” 

Then there’s the potentially most problematic scene from Sunday’s episode. It’s a fleeting moment, and actually a rare instance of a lingering penis shot. It’s when behavioral specialist Elsie (Shannon Woodward) is doing a tune-up on a black host named Bart, who is, as hosts always are, fully naked, and she leers and jokes about his giant penis—which the camera actually allows to remain in frame for more than a blink. 

As Kathryn VanArendonk points out in Vulture, it’s interesting to view the brief scene in the context of last week’s water cooler New York Times Magazine piece, “The Last Taboo: Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality.” 

Sure, the scene accomplishes one ostensible goal: it’s a black penis on a TV screen. But it’s not really progress when the character is an extra we don’t have any attachment to and who has no narrative, and the nudity is not given the same sexuality or romance we give to white men. Bart’s nudity is literally dehumanized, because he’s an android. But he’s also the only host whose nudity is leered at or treated with any sort of flippancy, which is a bit of an obtuse creative decision.

I don’t even recognize myself; this may have been the most sex and nudity filled episode of television…ever, and yet I’m criticizing it. But the truth is it wasn’t provocative, or sexy, or even thoughtful. It was a waste.

The big Westworld orgy scene finally, uh, came. And, as one might have predicted, it was quite messy.