Westworld: season 1 episode 2 review – Chestnut
For subscribers of HBO, the network delivered the second episode of their original Westworld series early this week. This installment further develops the characters and introducers the audience to concepts that were not revealed in the pilot. Furthermore it reveals that the park operates on a grander scale than previously shown, and reveals the The Man in Black’s agenda. Below is our spoiler-heavy review.
While last week’s pilot of Westworld felt slightly less captivating than expected, the second episode titled “Chestnut” proves to a great follow up. Viewers are introduced to how new guests experience the park via the introduction of William (played by Jimmi Simpson) who is visiting for the first time, and his companion Logan (Ben Barnes), a frequenting guest. Since the pilot focused on Dolores and the visitors were mostly incidental, this was an interesting and welcome change. Logan is clearly interested in partaking in the more diabolical aspects that the park provides, while Will is very reserved and cautious. It will be interesting to see how their paths change over the course of the season, especially given that one of the main themes of this episode is the notion that guests attend the park to discover not who they are, but who they might become.
This idea was disclosed by none other than the park’s founder Robert Ford after offhandedly dismissing a new narrative for guests to experience, as conceived by the parks Narrative Director, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman). Ford undeniably has a God Complex, as he not only strives for the park’s visitors to become more than they are, but seemingly embraces the notion that his creations embody human nature and ultimately achieve true self awareness and free will. If this is truly Ford’s intent, it’s already beginning and will escalate as the season progresses. The pilot exhibited multiple androids malfunctioning after a recent update, and here we learn that they’re aware of the very human concept of dreaming, or more specifically of nightmares. This was revealed as the episode placed more focus on an android named Maeve (Thandie Newton), who reveals to fellow prostitute Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) how she is able to awaken from nightmares by closing her eyes, counting backwards from three, and then reopening them. Furthermore, she also begins reliving prior experiences in a very dreamlike fashion, during some of which she has a young daughter and the pair are violently attacked by a group of savage natives. During this sequence her attacker shifts into The Man in Black, and it’s unclear as to which experience actually happened. Given that the android experience each day on a loop, it’s plausible that both versions happened and the memories were merging together.
Thandie Newton shines in this episode, giving a truly stellar performance. In addition to her dream/memory sequences, we also see her character’s programming malfunction on several occasions, and the stand out scene is a chilling one in which she awakens during a lab procedure and is completely self aware and terrified. Naked, injured, and fleeing her overlords, she stumbles upon piles of “dead” androids awaiting repair. Whether or not she’s actually feeling the emotions she’s exhibiting is uncertain, however she is more than convincing. All of this begun for Maeve shortly after Dolores whispers “These violent delights have violent ends.” to her, and it’s worth questioning whether or not this line triggers self awareness, as it was also spoken to Dolores by her father shortly before she began having similar experiences.
Speaking of violence, The Man in Black had a heavy presence in this episode and his agenda was made clear. He is on a mission of destruction that will gain him access to the opening of a maze within Westworld, proving that there are further layers yet to be explored. He will stop at nothing to gain access to the labyrinth, and the lengths he goes to in this episode are truly frightening. He also declares that he’s been coming to the park for several decades, and that he has no intention of leaving again because there’s nothing for him in the real world. “You know why this beats the real world? The real world is just chaos; it’s an accident. But here, every details adds up to something.” was his most compelling line, and Ed Harris delivers a riveting performance.
The behind the scenes characters and operations proved yet again to be interesting, and this episode delved a bit deeper into that aspect of the series. We got several glimpses at how the androids are created and maintained, as well as to how the narratives that the guests experience are developed, most of which are unsettling and make the viewer question the morality of what the park is offering. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Therese (Sidse Babett Knudsen) were also explored further and are beginning to manifest as truly absorbing characters. Future episodes are likely to examine more of the overlords in a similar fashion, which is intriguing and something to look forward to.
Overall this was an incredibly meaty episode, so much so that it’s impossible to touch on all of the elements that I would like to discuss. Ideally, the first two episodes would have aired together, as combined they were more or less what I expected of the pilot. In fact, that was HBO’s original intent, but the decision to air one mega sized episode was ultimately revoked. If you have yet to give the series a try and have the time, I highly encourage you to view the first two episodes back to back, as I feel it would be a more complete picture of what the series embodies.
Image credits: HBO