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TV RECAP: ‘Westworld’ – S1E2 – “Chestnut”

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There’s something very wrong in the magic kingdom of Westworld, and we don’t just mean the glitch seemingly sending all its robot hosts into a stream of self-awareness after hearing a line from Romeo and Juliet. The second episode of the series advanced several plotlines, and introduced some new characters, but one thing that was made more explicit was the suffering, and yes it can be called suffering, of the robot citizens of Westworld. If you felt uncomfortable with the whole idea of Westworld by the end of the hour, that was probably the intent of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the only question is if these violent delights really will have violent ends… for the park’s guests.

In “Chestnut” we’re introduced to two characters, tourists named William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), Logan clearly is a returning guest to Westworld, but it’s William’s first time, and it’s through him we see the process of getting into the park: getting your cowboy gear on, disclosing any pre-existing medical conditions or susceptibility to panic attacks and the like. Talulah Riley plays Angela, William’s concierge to the Westworld experience. Dressed up like futuristic Barbie, it’s strongly implied that she’s a host, but when William asks she waves it off with a “does it matter?” She then strongly suggests that William can have his way with her before going into the park, which combined with Logan’s comment about the flight attendant being “a four compared to where we’re going,” suggests that somewhere along the line the lady robots were built with one thing in mind.

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The men robots meanwhile, were built for another. Logan shows little regard for stabbing some old prospector in the hand for bothering him and William during dinner, and later we catch with Teddy Flood at the saloon as some guest shoots him several times for no good reason. Teddy is seemingly the Kenny of Westworld, fated to die again and again for the whim of whatever passing motive a guest has, but it’s implied by Maeve, the madam of the brothel played by Thandie Newton, that he has some kind of dark secret of his own. But Teddy’s secret must wait, as this week we deal with Maeve’s, as she becomes infected by, let’s call it, the Abernathy curse.

As implied last week, it seems that Westworld from time to time recasts its characters into different roles, and Maeve, we learn, was once a homesteader with a family that watched he family get massacred by a band of natives. Or was it the Man in Black? Regardless, Maeve’s past life starts to bleed into her present one, almost literally as she starts to suffer physical effects of remembering her massacre narrative. While being treated in the futuristic operating room, she comes to, and, as if entering a nightmare, sees first hand the rather nonchalant way the workers treat the dead. Images of mass graves and holocausts were immediately conjured in the mind, and the true definition of the hosts, as per the guests and the workers of the park, can be summed up in one word: product.

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How this jibes with the vision of Ford and Bernard is difficult to say. Granted, many in the company see them as loons, although we learn this week that Bernard and Cullen have been enjoying an affair, but seeing Ford excitedly walk around the outskirts of the park and tell a boy that the whole place is magic save for the magician himself doesn’t connect with the a world where people come and kill and fuck as they see fit and leave. That is unless he’s playing by a different game. What’s the story with the burnt out chapel steeple? And is it meant to be some kind of beacon when all the Westworld citizens “activate”?

It certainly seems like some people are playing a long game, and not just Ford. Are we to presume that he left the pistol buried on the farm for Delores to find, and whose voice is she hearing telling her to remember? It almost sounds like the Man in Black, who we know is also playing a long game of his own. He’s trying to find “the maze” and he saves Mexican bandito Lawrence, played by Clifton Collins Jr., to help him find it. Now “the maze” seems like one of these typical mystery box things that executive producer J.J. Abrams is famous for, but I am intrigued about the implications, and what it means for the mystery of the Man in Black.

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On that front, there’s not much that’s firmly revealed about MiB, but he is told that “the maze” is not meant for him. Why? Because he’s a guest, and he’s “not going back.” The immediate assumption, and one I made last week, is that MiB is a robot himself, but if that’s true, why don’t the robot bullets work on him? If MiB is a robot there are two possibilities: either he’s gained some kind of self-awareness and they don’t affect him anymore, or, and this is a bit weirder, perhaps he’s from Medieval world or Roman world where bullets aren’t an issue. In the original film, there were the three robot-staffed parks, and so far, on the show, nothing’s been mentioned of the other two. Suppose “the maze” connects the three different parks…

I would typically find this kind of teasing annoying, but Ed Harris plays things so well that when he says something like “In a sense, I was born here,” my mind reels at the possibilities. I did notice that as opposed to the other guests, if he is really a guest, he doesn’t get the kick out of killing that the others do. Maybe it’s because he’s come there for 30 years, like he said, or maybe it’s because he’s more invested in the reality of the park, but for some strange reason, the MiB gets whatever he wants from the park and its staff. It makes you wonder why he gets such leniency, aside from maybe being a platinum member of the Westworld frequent traveler club (if there is such a thing). Why is he allowed to cause such chaos if not maybe to keep him from causing more?

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The most fascinating thing going forward though is how each of the increasingly self-aware population of Westworld will cope when they put all the pieces together. They’ve been mistreated, abused, and written off with little regard for their own well being, and the one thing that they sometimes get to keep, their memories, are written off as nightmares as per the programming of their makers. Though they live their lives, their lives are still in a sense not real, and what’s going to happen when they start choosing to remember, and start choosing their own storylines?

Category: reviews, TV

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