Westworld S01E02 “Chestnut” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- “Wake up, Dolores. Do you remember?” says a voice, and Dolores wakes up. But does she remember? Whether she does or not, someone is definitely speaking to her when she’s sleeping… which is pretty weird.
- Two new tourists arrive in Westworld – one, Logan, has been before, but it’s William’s first time (and his eyes are as wide as a tarsier’s).
- Elsie is worried that whatever went wrong with Abernathy and the other host could be contagious. Bernard scoffs at the thought, but does he really think nothing’s wrong?
- Dolores is doing her daily “standing by her horse in the main street of Sweetwater” thing again. But she has a little moment of disorientation and thinks she might remember the gunfight. She tells local brothel madam Maeve, “The violent delights have violent ends…”
- Maeve herself is having some issues, having trouble scoring with punters because she keeps having visions of Indians attacking her. She’s hauled in for a check-up, but nothing is found.
- She tells her colleague, Clementine, who’s been having bad dreams, that she can always wake herself up from them by telling herself, “3… 2… 1…”
- The Man in Black rides into a hangin’ and shoots all the lawmakers so he can rescue the criminal, Lawrence, from the noose.
- Except he then takes the prisoner prisoner, dragging the guy behind his horse to the unfortunate chap’s home town. Then the Man in Black kills everybody in sight in a wicked gunfight (Butch & Sundance, anyone?).
- Threatening Lawrence’s family, he asks where he can find the Maze. Eventually Lawrence’s little daughter tells him. The Man in Black is pleased – his search for another level to the game can continue.
- William, meanwhile, seems a little lost in Westworld – rejecting Clementine’s advances, and being horrified when Logan sees off an old guy by stabbing his hand with a fork. And quite right, too. Logan is clearly Bad News.
- Ford wanders into the desert and discusses the state of the world with a little boy he meets (who we think is a tourist at first, but then he turns out to be a host – who is he? Ford’s version of himself at that age?).
- In a shock twist, Bernard and Theresa are revealed to be sleeping with each other.
- Dolores and William meet. Despite him saying to Clementine that he had someone in the real world, it’s pretty obvious from the way he looks at Dolores that he’s fallen for her hook, line, sinker, chair, jetty and anything else that might have been around him as it happened. What will Teddy say?
- Teddy gets shot at the brothel. So he doesn’t say anything.
- Maeve dreams of having a daughter, then sees herself about to be scalped in an Indian attack. She holes up in her house with a gun and her kid, but the Man in Black strolls in, threatening them – so she counts backwards from three and wakes up…
- …but HOLY CRAP, she doesn’t wake up in the brothel, she wakes up on the operating table in Westworld HQ! Two technicians are clearing out her insides, as she has developed MRSA.
- Freaking out – and quite understandably – Maeve runs away and finds herself in a room filled with “murdered” hosts who are being repaired. The technicians find her and subdue her, carting her away.
- Meanwhile, Ford isn’t pleased with the new storyline Sizemore has conjured up for the park, saying there’s no point to it (even though it sounds to us like a fantastic Tarantino film dialled up to 11). However, the fact Ford has rejected it might cause him trouble with the board…
- Dolores sleepwalks again and digs up a pistol buried in her backyard.
- Ford takes Bernard out to the desert and shows him something he thinks will soon spice up the place: a church steeple sticking out of the ground (at least, that’s what it looks like).
The opening scenes of this second episode feel as though they could have easily opened the series, with tourists William and Logan taking a shuttle to the theme park, one of them full of the joys of the place after having been before, and the other, quieter, being awed by the quality of the hosts and his surroundings. And the reason it seems so much like a beginning is because it’s more or less how the 1973 movie opened, with James Brolin’s cocky alpha male cheerfully explaining to his pal, the more subdued Richard Benjamin, that yes, all the women he’s seeing are fake and he’s about to have the time of his life.
The difference, of course, is that there’s already more depth in both these guys than either actor managed to project in the ’70s version, particularly William – played by Jonathan Nolan favourite Jimmi Simpson (ironically, his recurring character on Nolan’s Person Of Interest was named Logan; it would have been very confusing if he’d swapped roles here with Ben Barnes). The way William seems so fascinated by what he’s seeing, yet almost repulsed, as though he’s still easing himself into the idea of being able to do what he wants (or as he’s told, “finding himself”), makes him the perfect everyman for the audience to identify with. Which means that if he does end up paired with Dolores at some point, they’re without a doubt the show’s two heroes.
Although who knows? He could be hiding latent serial-killer tendencies for all we know. After all, Westworld seems to be the kind of show that will pull the rug out from under us on a regular basis. In this episode it was poor Maeve’s eye-opening awakening, a horrific experience that made us cringe even though we know she’s nothing but an android. What better way to create empathy with a robot than to show them going through a human nightmare? And you don’t get more nightmarish than waking up like that, do you? Kudos to Thandie Newton for doing such a magnificent job of freaking-the-eff-out, and without any clothes on to boot. Talk about traumatic.
Elsewhere, Westworld continues the quality levels set by its first episode with glorious cinematography and inventive production design – most notably the escalators surreally leading up into the desert, and the simply magnificent switch from “they’re in a bar” to “wait, no, they’re on a train!” The moment William looks out of the window to see the Grand Canyon-like vista barrelling past might rank as one of the most bizarre and beautiful moments on US TV this year. And we’re only on episode two!
There are also more delicious moral contradictions and puzzles to ponder, such as the observation that the further out you get, the more dangerous it is – how huge is this park, anyway? Is it a Holodeck? Will the Man in Black eventually hit a wall? Or is it infinite?
Then there’s Bernard saying he hates turning off hosts, which implies he has relationships with them. Does he see them as somehow human, then? Are they real friends? He’s certainly keeping secrets where Dolores is concerned.
The park also throws up other questions, such as what would happen if a tourist attacked another tourist without realising they were real. Are there safeguards? The guns don’t work on real humans, but what about knives against real flesh?
You also have to love how the writers have tackled one fairly obvious plot hole: why the hosts talk to each other when tourists aren’t around. Bernard says it’s so they can practice being human. You’d think they’d just freeze and save their battery supply, so this is a lovely touch.
And yes, we said this last week, too, but… wow. Those opening credits are just sublime.
- This conversation alone – William: “Are you real?” Host: “Well, if you can’t tell, does it matter?” – is a sure sign that a tourist sleeping with a host is, indeed, adultery. Those with husbands/wives/partners, shame on you!
- Could there be a more symbolic moment than William wandering into a room full of cowboy hats and having to choose one – and walking out with a white hat? Clearly he’s a good guy, then…
- This week’s player piano song is “No Surprises” by Radiohead. And, just as with “Black Hole Sun”, it sounded gorgeous. Will there be an album attached to this series? TAKE OUR MONEY.
- The Man in Black shooting up the town includes that old Western classic “sharp-shooting a gunman in a bell tower and watching him fall”. Brilliant. Also, you have to love how you think the fight is over and then a few more assailants turn up. Psych!
- Ford freezing the rattlesnake is a reference to a fake rattlesnake in the original film, which bites Brolin’s character even though it shouldn’t. (Rumour has it that Brolin received quite a nasty bite during filming that, too – art imitating life.)
- “Do they dream?” This might be a reference to Philip K Dick’s Blade Runner-inspiring story “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” Bet Maeve wishes she could dream of bloody sheep instead of what’s in her noggin each night.
- Not necessarily bad storytelling or anything like that, but hell, it’s hugely disturbing to see Sizemore attacking that Indian with the big nose. And the casual references to Maeve and Clementine being nothing more than objects to “ride” is also stomach-turning.
- It’s hard to make out, but the Man in Black has donned Indian warpaint for this moment (unless that’s not Ed Harris under there, but we’re pretty sure it is). This opens up all sorts of possibilities about what he’s done in the past. Also, why did the tech say, “That gentleman gets what he wants”? Who the hell is he?
- Best Quote: Ford: “Everything in this world is magic, except to the magician.”
Reviewed by Jayne Nelson