Before you saddle up, there’s a snake in your boot and spoilers in this recap. You can freeze the snake with your mind, though.
In “Chestnut,” Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is on a compu-spiritual walkabout, but Maeve (Thandie Newton) is the one tripping through a hallucination of peace ripped apart at the scalp by marauding Native American warriors. Meanwhile, reluctant hedonist William (Jimmi Simpson) has entered the park with a white hat, Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) pitches a gruesome new side quest, and The Man in Black (Ed Harris) takes out a whole village in order to find “the entrance to the maze.”
This is how all over the map this show is. No rest for the wicked in Westworld.
First we get a shiny new train and a peek behind the curtain as William enters the bespoke park with his pal Logan (Ben Barnes), a veteran visitor who’s rarin’ to get steel in his hand and something fleshy on top of him. They are the shoulder-dwelling angel and demon personified: one curious about the softer edges of the world, the other trying to convince his white hat-sporting friend to let himself loose.
They also represent a core question of Westworld as an experience. William turns down sex with Angela (Talulah Riley) and, later, with Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) because he’s got real love waiting for him back home, and while we’re not sure exactly what Logan has waiting for him back home, he doesn’t seem to mind treating Westworld as an ultra-realistic simulation.
Is it cheating if it’s with a robot? Even if you can’t tell the difference between it and a real person? What’s the line between a vibrator and a sex doll, and a sex doll and a sentient vibrator? Whatever the answers, William errs on the side of the angels.
Speaking of a sentient sex toy, Maeve gets the lion’s share of the story here, with a stunning performance from Newton, who delivers the smoldering temptress angle to varying degrees of sensuality and sadness before living a red screaming nightmare in the body shop. Her hallucination about being back on the farmstead (maybe she used to be Dolores?) was terrifying, and The Man in Black showing up made as much sense as a polar bear on a tropical island, but waking up during “surgery” and seeing all of her cohorts (Teddy no!) piled high like some nightly robot Holocaust is PTSD fuel.
Her storyline was also promising because of how it came about: with concerns of Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) virus being contagious. Last week we focused on her, and she seems to have passed the story baton to Maeve by reciting “these violent delights have violent ends” to her on the street. Solid shout out to Shakespeare, but the line that comes after it is “And in their triumph die / like fire and powder.”
Let’s keep our eyes peeled for an explosive ending.
Is this how the show plans to structure itself? Watching as the robots each gain sentience one by one and get their own episodes?
And how about all these sequences where scientists sit six inches away from the face of a robot they plan to decommission? The robot, forlorn and edgy. Stoic as conversation about placing it in the deep dark of cold storage swirls around. A fate sealed. These scenes are always shot with such magical foreboding, giving us the sense that, one of these days, that humanoid arm is going to fly out and choke someone.
Out in the wilderness, The Man in Black saves Lawrence (Clifton Collins, Jr.) from being hanged using his God Mode ability to survive bullets, dragging him to a town that almost no one knows about, and then slaughtering all of his cousins with the the menacing heartlessness of a 14 year-old kid taking out ghouls in Fallout 4. Even though the character work and tough guy one-liners are solid, this story feels like mostly hollow calories still. It’s Mystery Box intrigue that could either be the key to unlocking everything or as ho-hum as most video game easter eggs that you slog through the online guide to experience for yourself.
This one comes complete with a little girl’s riddle: to follow the blood to the place where the snake lays its eggs. It also comes after she tells him the maze isn’t for him. Buddhist-style dedication test? Is the maze for Hosts only? Or is it for people, and The Man in Black isn’t as human as he seems? His character is clearly modeled after Yul Brynner’s in the ’70s Westworld movie, and when you line up The Man in Black’s line about how long he’s been coming to the park (3o years) with Bernard’s line about the last time the park had a critical failure (30 years ago), the plot thickens.
Maybe this is a sequel instead of a reboot.
On the inside of the scalp we’ve got a horseshoe maze, a pyramid, and a stick figure version of the Vitruvian Man that acts as the model for new Hosts. After three decades of playing, I hope the lowest level of the game doesn’t disappoint.
Also out in the wilderness, Dr. Ford hangs out with a childhood version of himself (when you find a vest style you like, you stick with it, people) and contemplates a blackened church as the centerpiece of a new story he’s writing. The conversation is an exploration of some of the philosophical underpinnings of why he’s creating in the first place: a treatise against boredom, boring minds and the barren spaces they can’t help but see. His casual dismissal of incredible danger (that rattlesnake) hints at his own current boredom. He’s created a sprawling virtual reality, but even that joy must reach its limits after so long.
His new story will also come in handy since he firmly rebukes Sizemore (aka Yelling British Guy) for creating a new side quest that’s all empty spectacle. I’ve seen others online mark this as a rebuke to the blood and sex of Game of Thrones, but that only makes sense if 1) you think HBO would want to cement a sibling rivalry and 2) you don’t consider Game of Thrones an impressive chess match of character building and melodramatic genius as well as a bucket of breasts and lies.
Still, this episode of Westworld has a lot to say about Westworld itself. Ford’s monologue about what the guests (a.k.a. us, the viewers) really want is a defense of meaningful storytelling that doesn’t rely on shock and awe alone. It pairs nicely with William’s host explaining that there is no user’s manual to the park because “figuring out how it works is half the fun.” We, like William, are on our own, deciding how we want to approach this violent safe haven. If you’re experiencing Westworld, the park (or Westworld, the show), Ford trusts that you already know yourself, and that both William and Logan can enjoy themselves in vastly different ways.
At the same time, this episode questions whether we’re our “true selves” when we’re playing by the societal rules (William’s Philosophy) or if we’re our “true selves” when we unclench and become pure, roaming Id (Logan’s Philosophy).
Can we leer at the Grand Guignol and still have our hearts shatter when Maeve watches the same bloodbath? The answer seems obviously to be yes, but it’s unclear what that says about us.
Last but not least, we’ve got the mildest corporate intrigue back in the bunker. Sizemore continues to impotently scheme, and his tantrum-fueled pitch flops, no doubt pushing him further and further against Ford. Plus, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) are something of a couple, and he shares that the Hosts interact with each other because they’re constantly error-correcting, trying to become more human.
One more way they’re just like us.
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS:
- Westworld must be pretty dull if you aren’t a good shot.
- The Man in Black sequence is also a great parallel for video games where you can get shot 50 times before dying.
- There has to be at least one paying guest who is pissed at hearing Radiohead’s “No Surprises” on the pianola. He paid for antique authenticity!
- Which one of these people is a Cylon?
- Westworld’s has some seriously inept employees. The two morons working on Maeve could have their own sitcom spin-off.
- Seriously. The janitors at Google go through 5 abstract interviews, and those bozos get to perform robot surgery every night?
Did you visit Westworld tonight? Giddyup to comments below and share your thoughts.