Westworld S01E02 Review: Chestnut – Westworld goes in a more thoughtful direction in Chestnut

There is a certain formula when it comes to the second episode of a new television series. A pilot is used as a big introduction to a fictional world, complete with lots of expository dialogue, character introductions, and that all important first scene: the scene that serves as a mini encapsulation of the show as a whole. Westworld’s pilot done all of these thing admirably, but as Chestnut shows, it has by-passed many problems of the second episode. Usually, and especially in more episodic television, the second episode is a rehash of the first, presenting all of the themes over again, putting characters in similar situations but with more detail, meaning it can sometimes seem perfunctory. Chestnut is anything but perfunctory.
Westworld is a clever show in many ways, but its greatest strength is how it uses narrative. This is a show where you can see the strings being pulled: even the opening credits show robotic hands playing the theme before peeking behind the illusion as the piano keeps playing by itself. Creators Jonathan Nolan, and Lisa Joy are telling a story about people telling stories.

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Episode two pulls a lot of the same tricks as “The Original”, but tweaks everything ever so slightly in order to show us more. Last week we saw a typical few days in the park from the perspective of the robots: from Dolores’ and Teddy’s victimisation, to more mundane storylines, showing that they weren’t in control of their own lives, and the variety of adventure and sin the park has to offer.. This week we see things from a guest’s perspective: Jimmi Simpson’s William, and Ben Barnes’ Logan. Through William we are introduced to the park from what would be our own perspective. William may be the closest thing to an audience surrogate as it’s easy to put our own misgivings (all of which came from the treatment of the robots in “The Original”), on him as he seems uncomfortable with the whole situation. His introduction to Westworld is eerie in its detail, from the health questionnaire (not designed to weed him out, but to make his stay better), his choice of clothes, and whether his guide is real or not. The cleverest detail in this sequence might be the most obvious one: which hat William decides to wear. It’s a choice, not just of fashion, but of the type of morals you take into the park. It’s a basic Western choice: are you a white hat (hero), or are you a black hat (villain). William’s choice of the white hat not only shows us his morals, which he keeps up for the rest of the episode, but also signifies something for the audience to watch out for i.e. who’s wearing a black hat, and who’s wearing a white hat. The choice between black and white, seems like a simple shorthand for characterisation: William=good, Man in Black=bad, but this is HBO, let’s see what happens when those white hats get dirty.

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One character whose hat will never be white is The Man in Black. Ed Harris may spark a career revival for himself with the fun he’s having in this role. His quest continues this week as he ransoms an outlaw’s family in order to advance his mysterious quest. There were many quests raised by Harris’ character after the show’s premiere. In fact he may be the most talked about character so far, with many insane fan theories flying around about what his true purpose is. Well we might have had a glimpse, something that connects to his horrific abuse of Dolores last week. We see this through Maeve (Thandie Newton) as the brothel madam is the latest of the parks robot’s to glitch. Throughout the episode Maeve’s performance comes under scrutiny, with many of the technicians recommending that she be de-commissioned. Through Maeve we are given a better understanding of the humanity of these machines. She dreams, like Dolores’ former father, she has glimpses of another life, a past life where she and her daughter were terrorized by Indians. That is until, Maeve defends her home against the approaching enemy only to have the replaced with a smiling Man in Black. The cut from one danger to another is incredibly disorientating, and follows a logic close to a dream. This causes Maeve to wake up during her repair, leading her to a nightmarish walk around the parks backstage, full of her dead comrades (including a recently shot Teddy, that boy has no luck). It’s an intensely unnerving sequence which Newton play’s a perfect combination of fear, and confusion. This, and Dolores’ strange behaviour: remembering a secret conversation with Bernard Lowe for one, suggests this is all to do with the Man in Black’s plan. What if, instead of raping Dolores, he reprogrammed her, as it is suggested he reprogrammed Maeve, hell maybe he was the one who left the picture found by Dolores’ father. Either way, this mysterious character, and his destructive effects on the park, seem to be fine with the higher-ups.

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As Dr Robert Ford puts it:

“The guest don’t return for the obvious things we do, the garish. They come back because of the subtleties, the details. The come back because they discover something they think nobody noticed before. Something they fall in love with.”

This is Westword in a nutshell, or a chestnut shell, a show that forgoes contrived massacres, and normal conventions of right and wrong. A show with human robots, and figuratively demonic humans. We think we know what we want from this show. We think we want the blood, sex, and violence. Instead, Westworld gives the meaning behind all of this, the magic of controlling a rattlesnake, and also the falsehood of it. You can’t control a snake, especially if, like this false world, it’s in danger of devouring itself. That is, unless you’re wearing a black hat.

9/10 Westworld deepens its story, and themes, to provide a thoughtful episode that opens up the show’s world, while also giving us some deeply problematic answers.

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