Westworld: 1.02 Chestnut
Last week's Westworld was one of the finest pilots in recent years. Fortunately the brilliant introduction is not squandered in Chestnut; with the premise successfully established, it is a slightly slower affair but no less engaging. Instead we did a little deeper into the world, its characters and the many mysteries at play without the show playing its hand too soon.
We haven't had a guest we can relate to yet; James Marsden's Teddy was a big bluff and Ed Harris's man in black continues to remain a frightening enigma. But in episode two we introduced to Jimmi Simpson's William, a genuinely nice guy (he dons a white cowboy hat and helps a local to his feet when he falls off a cart). Juxtaposed against his friend / colleague Logan (Ben Barnes) who is literally snagging the first host before he even gets on the train, dons a black hat and fights, stabs and shags a harem of prostitutes, William is perhaps the viewer's window into this world, a role that wasn't established in episode one but is necessary as Westworld is explored further.
I'm curious to see how William adapts to this world; will he be corrupted by sinful desires (he claims to have someone waiting for him back home) or will he embrace the darker aspects of his personality? William and Logan certainly provide a window on humanity and could become prominent players as the show progresses. Through their journey we also got a glimpse of the future with their arrival to Westworld on the gleaming white train, the first look at this universe outside of the labs and the 'dressing room', complete with a host all in white.
The other guest of course, is the man in black and Ed Harris was no less intriguing or terrifying this time round. Have scalped the host last week and uncovered the maze on the inside of the skull, he was on a mission to find the entrance to the deeper levels of the game. He was definitely confirmed as a guest, Ashley in the control room shrugging off his many bloody kills ("Guests gets whatever he wants.") and he continued to deliver another bloody swathe through the game, first rescuing local Lawrence from hanging by murdering the group of men convicting him and then dragging him back to his hometown with the noose still around his neck. The scene in the dusty hamlet was almost as disturbing as his rape of Delores last episode. After a cool shoot out with the locals, he demanded the answers to the maze entrance while holding Lawrence's wife and daughter hostage. The daughter delivering that cryptic, automated message after her mother had been shot in the head was mysterious and creepy; just where Harris's guest takes this information is a journey I am very much looking forward to in the weeks ahead.
Delores was only present in a handful of scenes this time, though we did continue to learn more about 'the original'. It turns out Jeffrey Wright's Bernard Lowe is fascinated by this creation, having conversations in secret and wiping her memories. Whether he left Delores the gun or the man in black did, there is the suggestion that a bigger game is playing around her. She certainly is exhibiting signs of old memories, having a vision of dead littering the streets of the town. Lowe is also at the centre of the machiavellian game playing out behind the scenes. He's sleeping with his boss Theresa Cullen while advising her that the upgrade that plagued the theme park last week has been resolved. Rival Lee Sizemore is also playing the game, just not as well. His suggestion to Cullen that there should be a management change - resulting in Anthony Hopkin's Doctor Robert Ford's removal - backfired when his stupendous plans for the new epic story 'Odyssey on Red River' was shot down by Ford himself.
And as for Ford...he continues to play God like Lowe. I love their philosophical debates as the hosts are created before them. The conversation between Ford and the young guest in the desert was interesting; I wondered if perhaps the boy was a host created for Ford to play out this scenario than child who had become separated from his parents? Ford has his own plans for the next story, suggesting that he is not the old tired dinosaur Sizemore suggests.
The lack of Delores, did allow Thandie Newton the time to shine as brothel madame Maeve Millay. Over the course of the episode we saw her play out the same scenario three times, speaking the line "This is the new world and in this world you can be whoever the fuck you want."; first to a potential male client, faltering as she relieved flashbacks to a traumatic past. The idea of whether the hosts could have nightmares was a disturbing theme, one that Delores seems to be having too. After being 'regressed' by programming she played the same part again, aggressively towards a female guest, relieving that memory. Even after a third bout of programming at the hands of Elsie Hughes, to remove some of the aggression from Sizemore's narratives, she seemed lost, almost morose in her conversation with Teddy. Even his surprise shooting didn't seem to affect her.
Newton was fantastic throughout, delivering nuanced variations in her role. Maeve is not a particularly sympathetic character - not in the same manner as Delores - and yet you were absolutely engaged in her plight. Her final scene, waking up on the operating table in the lab, her stomach cut open was gripping. This on the back of a flashback to her past (a previous role?) which saw her and her daughter attacked by natives and the timely arrival of Ed Harris's man in black. If that was a dream, then waking up was a living nightmare; surely the sight of broken, bloody hosts, dismembered in piles, men mopping up blood was as close to hell as she could imagine?
Chestnut was a slightly slower affair but all the more richer for it. It gave Jimmi Simpson's guest William and Thandie Newton's Maeve Millay time to shine as the show explored Westworld thorough one person's eyes and the horrors inflicted on these hosts through another. Ed Harris's mysterious man in black continues to remain a ruthless but intriguing presence and all the mysteries are bubbling on nicely. As a follow up to The Original, this was certainly a worthy successor.