Westworld Episode 2 Review: “Chestnut”
“This place seduces everybody eventually.”
Catch up with our coverage of last week’s episode.
One of my minor issues with last week’s premiere episode of Westworld was the way it dropped viewers into the park alongside the hosts without introducing us to it the same way guests first get to experience it. This week’s ep scratched that itch with the arrival of two new guests while other story threads manage to raise more questions guaranteed to bring us back next week.
William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan’s (Ben Barnes) very brief tutorial walks us though their choice of wardrobe, weaponry, and whoopee before arriving by train in the center of town. The pair, friends seemingly modeled loosely on Peter and John from the original film, approach the park with differing views on vacation morality and hat color. Logan is a returning guest clearly invigorated by the sex and violence, but first-timer William can’t mask his kindness and compassion even in the face of non-human hosts.
The idea that the park reveals a person’s true self leaves Logan saying that he “can’t fucking wait to meet the guy” that William becomes, but I doubt he’ll become the raucous bad boy that Logan’s hoping for. In the film the two friends were targeted by a marauding host, but these two are destined to face-off against each other in a big way. And what to make of Logan’s comment inferring the trip is both for play and work? I’m guessing it will tie in with last ep’s comment about the park’s technology being looked at for non-entertainment purposes by those back at corporate.
The glitch that Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) inherited from her “father” continues to be a concern for some members of the team down in the lab – I say some because Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) secret chats with Dolores make me think he might have his own role in their misbehaving. Elsie (Shannon Woodward) worries it could be contagious, and I think that much is clear. It appears to be verbally transmitted like the rage virus in Pontypool, and this week saw Dolores pass the same Romeo & Juliet quote – “These violent delights have violent ends” – on to Maeve (Thandie Newton) who I assume and hope will be passing it on to poor Teddy (James Marsden) next.
Maeve has dreams/flashbacks to an Indian attack including one where an Indian approaching her and her daughter becomes the Man in Black (Ed Harris). He’s been around a while, so it’s probably as simple as her remembering an interaction from when she embodied a different character, but for this episode at least – and given the rate at which he’s murdering them – I like the idea that he’s become something of a collective, subconscious boogey man for the hosts.
The real nightmare though comes for her when she awakens mid-surgery down in the lab. Naked, gut opened to reveal her crimson-colored innards, the shock of her situation and of the frighteningly antiseptic future-world she finds herself in is compounded by the site of “dead” hosts being casually sprayed down like lawn furniture. “Imagine how fucked we’d be if these poor assholes ever remembered what the guests do to them,” asked Elsie earlier. I’m thinking they won’t have to imagine for long.
While the hosts’ growing sentience is the main plot the show’s secondary narrative is responsible for more Lost-like questions. Who is the Man in Black, and what is he after? The show’s gone out of its way to convince us he’s a guest – guns don’t affect him, and a controller concerned that he’s been slaughtering hosts is told “that gentleman gets whatever he wants.” – so let’s assume there will be no late season reveal that he’s a host himself. “You could say I was born here 30 years ago,” he says, but rather than take that literally it seems relevant to remember the conversation from the previous episode where it was mentioned that the park hasn’t had a major malfunction in 30 years. That’s no coincidence. The math doesn’t work out for him to be Peter, the survivor from the film who watched his friend murdered, but he could still be someone affected by an earlier catastrophe who’s now been given free rein for life as compensation.
His pursuit of the maze continues, bloodstained puzzle piece in hand, and while MIB refers to Westworld as a game, not a park, he appears to be the only one playing. The fact that there’s a clue printed on the inside of a host’s skull suggests he’s not delusional, but who put it there and where does it lead? It could be a way into the park’s corporate offices and labs, but unless Willy Wonka is waiting there to hand ownership of the park over to the winner it makes little sense as a prize. MIB takes a host named Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) prisoner – via an annoyingly loose noose – to aid in his quest, but it’s the man’s daughter who provides the next clue preceded by a warning. “The maze isn’t for you,” she says before directing him to “follow the Blood Arroyo to the place where the snake lays its eggs.”
Curiously, but again not coincidentally, the new narrative that Lee (Simon Quarterman) is pitching is an elaborately violent story titled “Odyssey on Red River.” Blood Arroyo… Red River. Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) nixes it, but if MIB has his way Lee may get his river of blood anyway. Ford seems to be experiencing a change of heart of sorts regarding his creation telling a young boy – a probable child host modeled on himself – that he’s “just strayed a bit too far from where I’m supposed to be.” Could the next evolutionary step he’s after for his hosts be the concept of faith? The ep’s final shot of a church steeple rising out of the ground suggests as much… and when have religious convictions ever led to anything but peace and non-violence?
But, and, what…?
- Logan taking both a male and female host in his arms – along with the subsequent foursome where the second male is relegated strictly to voyeur status – is the closest the show has gotten to suggesting gay male sex exists here. We still get another girl on girl tease though via Maeve, so it’s all good.
- A woman dressed like a gunslinger exits the train after William and Logan. I find it hard to believe she’s the only female guest preferring not to play as a second-class citizen, so hopefully we get some lady gunfighter story lines soon.
- We know guests can’t be hurt with guns – a technology I’d still like explained seeing as they’re firing projectiles – but how do they prevent guests being injured by knives?
- What’s the deal with that special bullet the Man in Black loads into his revolver before his face-off with Lawrence’s cousins? It looks completely different from the others, but nothing comes of it. It’s possible it was the blast that knocked the bartender back, but that seems an excessive setup for the demise of a nothing character.
- I can’t be alone in thinking this park would make a bundle designing narratives based on popular movie Westerns like Rio Bravo, Hombre, and Blazing Saddles.
- Westworld’s Teddy is South Park’s Kenny!
- Maybe I missed it, but the episode doesn’t appear to clarify the meaning of its title. “Chestnut” could mean anything from an edible nut in the saloon to the color of Dolores’ hair, but could it also be a play on “that old chestnut,” as in an idea that’s grown tiresome and in need of retirement.
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Related Topics: HBO