Dolores reaches the Forge. Bernard has more memories. And everyone meets in the Valley Beyond.
Dolores finds her father. Bernard has a revealing chat Dr. Ford.
Dolores heads further on her quest towards rebellion, meeting old friends along the way. Maeve keeps hope for her daughter alive.
We see how Dolores knows so much - of the park, of William, and of the valley beyond.
Season 1, Episode 10: “The Bicameral Mind”
Directed by Jonathan Nolan
Written by Lisa Joy & Nolan
* For a review of the penultimate Season 1 episode, “The Well-Tempered Clavier” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “Journey Into Night” – click here
We begin as Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) is put together. Her skin is attached to the robotic skeleton, Bernard Lowe a.k.a Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) assembling the pieces. She comes online, not full yet physically but mentally put together as a whole. “Welcome to the world.”
In the present, she shaves The Man in Black (Ed Harris) with the blade of a knife. He continues on about the centre of the maze, how she brought him there once. For a long while the town was buried, after which Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) resurrected it. She still sees Arnold, too. And off she goes after him, Black behind her following.
William (Jimmi Simpson) continues on with former buddy Logan (Ben Barnes) tied up. He wants to find Dolores. He needs to find her. Now he’s looking for an army to help him: the Confederados and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr) will do just fine.
Poor ole Teddy Flood (James Marsden), he wakes up after another day of being murdered only to start the whole Sweetwater experience over again. Except time starts slowing down. He sees corpses everywhere he turns, remnants of his former life. Then he sees Dolores in her blue dress, a wolf running past the dead. And then all returns to normal, as Teddy ends up in a quick draw with a stranger. Life carries on. But he’s intent on finding Dolores. Seems like all roads lead to her.
She finds Arnold kneeling in a pew of the church we see over and over. “I know where your maze is,” she tells him gladly. We switch back and forth between her with Arnold, and her with Black. She’s lost between the two spaces somewhere. At the church’s graveyard, she uncovers her own grave. A cross with her name on it. When she digs into the earth she finds a tin, and inside it is the maze’s pattern. Arnold tells her about the maze. It concerns consciousness. First, it started with a pyramid, then it became the maze: “Consciousness is not a journey upward, it‘s a journey inward.” Arnold hasn’t been pushing her towards hearing his voice. He’s been pushing her to hear her own. But how does Dolores give Black his answers when she hasn’t quite figured them out for herself?
What we see more of is how Arnold wanted the hosts to be, versus what Ford wanted for his vision. Then there’s Arnold and his plan: he wanted Dolores to kill all the other hosts to prevent Ford from doing his will with the park. Is that why Teddy killed everybody in that town? Did she enlist his help?
Well we also come to find Black has bought Westworld. “This place feels more real than the real world,” he says, mocking the place for all its lies. He wants to make the place very real; “one true thing.” But she believes in William, that he’ll come to find her.
Ole Will. He and Lawrence are scoping out the next move ahead. This is going to involve a good deal of violence. More with each episode now, each scene almost, we see William is turning his back on that former nice guy persona. He’s really getting into the swing of things. Out in the real world, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) and Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) discuss her plans of nudging Dr. Ford away from Westworld. I just keep thinking everybody’s underestimating the old guy.
In other parts of the company, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) is taking things up a notch. She’s making adjustments to park security, as well as her “friends” such as Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). Oh, this I can’t wait for!
Charlotte reveals to Ford the board has voted for his retirement. After he premieres his new narrative. Things are changing at Westworld.
The creepy lab tech who has sex with the hosts is tasked with taking care of Hector. This dude is a serious weirdo. He puts in some earbuds, ready to rock. Now you know something bad’s about to happen. One tech has to slip his hands in Armistice’s mouth, which gets him a digit bitten off. Meanwhile, rapey tech is greasing up for a session with Hector, and the other guy gets his finger fed to him. No longer can the techs contain the hosts. More people are about to die. “They don‘t look like gods,” says Armistice of the real people when Maeve arrives to round them up. The hosts then finds who revised them to be able to wake from their sleep manually: Arnold, or so it seems. It’s a lot of fun to see the humans frightened of the technology of whom they assumed to be masters.
Dolores takes a bad beating from The Man in Black, as Flood and William are both headed for her. Who’ll get there first? Right now, anybody would do. Or, can William actually find her? Black knows about William, and where his path actually took him. Is he really The Man in Black? IS HE? TELL US WESTWORLD! You’re sure teasing us well. I can dig it.
We see William, becoming more violent as time passes. Getting a taste for murder. Sure wouldn’t surprise me at this point if he and Black were one and the same. Then, we finally get to see him pick up that black hat. After so much speculation, here we are at a definitive identity. We watch as William went back to Sweetwater, searching for Dolores, as he couldn’t stop thinking of her for a second. And she didn’t remember a thing, not like the love that existed in him. He saw it for what it was: all a game.
And now Dolores sees nobody is coming for her. Not like she thought. Black wants to go further, to find what lies at the centre of the maze. Even better? Dolores needs no man, no one to save her. She has discovered herself. She’s heard her own voice, like Arnold hoped. Everything has changed. When Dolores takes a knife to the gut, she does get a little help from none other than Teddy; the one man in her life that won’t ever change.
Dolores: “Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look what it‘s done to you.”
Outside in the Westworld facilities, Maeve and her band of merry hosts head for the basement, filled to the brim with inactive robots. Also where Arnold a.k.a Bernie lies in a pool of his own blood. And now he’s being brought back online, with intense purpose.
On the plains of Sweetwater, Ford and William meet. The doctor says there is nothing at the centre of the maze, not for the guests. It’s just a game. William needs more, to validate himself and his life’s meaning. “This is your petty little kingdom, Robert.”
What exactly will Ford’s newest narrative be? I feel like everyone’s in for a damn big surprise.
Someone altered Maeve’s storyline. She’s been tasked by somebody to escape. “These are my decisions, no one else‘s,” she claims. Someone has been controlling her. But WHO? WHO? Nevertheless, the hosts are rising up, they’re manipulating people and the system. Westworld’s soon going to have major trouble on their hands.
Dolores tells Teddy about being trapped in their world, forcibly, made to feel and think everything, made to do what their makers want. Then she dies in his arms. One of many deaths she’s already experienced, and surely will experience again. Unless the uprising changes all that for good.
Then we pause a moment. It’s all part of the new narrative “Journey Into Night” by Ford. A new beginning, for him, for the park. Charlotte, Lee, they all assume this is the end for Dr. Ford. I don’t see it. There’s something left up his sleeve. He has Teddy taken off to be cleaned up, but Dolores, she’s sent to the “old field lab.”
And just as the techs of Westworld track down their problems, the place locks tight. Security measures in full force. Maeve, Armistice, Hector, they head up to the higher floors. Their plan all but in full action. Men with guns show up, and that’s only the beginning of what’s sure to be a wild fight. With real guns in hand, there’s no telling what the hosts can accomplish. And they’re loving it. At a certain point Armistice stays behind to let the others go ahead, taking on armed men likely to gun her down. Hector gets left as well, as Maeve prefers to go it alone.
Oh, these violent delights indeed have violent ends.
Hector (to Armistice): “Die well.”
In the lab Ford takes care of Dolores. He talks about her love of painting; Arnold encouraged it with a painting of “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo on the wall of the lab. Then Ford introduces the second coming of Arnold in Bernard. This rocks her world. We see a little more on Arnold, his maze. We see more of Ford and his argument with Arnold about the park, Arnold’s loading of the Wyatt narrative. So much to absorb, but incredibly written. This leads to Dolores killing Bernie a.k.a Arnold, and Teddy, as well. Before putting a gun to her own head. This was Arnold’s plan, although it didn’t work. The park still opened. Life went on. Fitting how Ford quotes Oppenheimer in this scene, worth mention.
Arnold: “The stakes must be real. Irreversible.”
Maeve goes on ahead, further into the real world. She further discovers her daughter is alive, in the park, of course. And out she goes, into the world of human beings, walking amongst them unknown. She boards a train and leaves Westworld, headed anywhere. Or will the desire to be with her daughter change that?
We find out more about Ford. He isn’t all bad. He encourages the hosts, particularly Dolores and Arnold/Bernie, to discover themselves. To escape. And then he too leaves the fake world behind. His narrative is the narrative he’s created to set the hosts free.
Dolores has discovered the voice inside herself, the guide. She is at the centre of the maze: consciousness, personhood, humanity. “Who I must become.” Who every host must become.
In the last moments, those numerous hosts from the basement of discarded people encroach on the people listening to Ford speak, coming out of the darkness. And in front of the crowd, Dolores shoots Dr. Ford in the head. Even William in his tux takes a bullet. And the hosts start their massacre of the onlooking crowd with their drinks and their fancy finger foods.
Thus ends the first season of an amazing series.
In a scene after the credits we watch Armistice cut her own arm off then attack a group of soldiers. Bad ass.
Wow! I saw a lot of these things building, but holy shit. This was an impressive finale that held me from moment one. I really need Season 2 already. The story can lead so many places. What will Westworld become at the mercy of the hosts? Will we see them lead an army out of the park, or will they stake a claim for their world as their own? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Season 1, Episode 5: “Contrapasso”
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Story by Dominic Mitchell & Lisa Joy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Dissonance Theory” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Adversary” – click here
Another chat between Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and that cowboy, Old Bill (Michael Wincott), one of the oldest in the park, as the doctor tells him about the saddest thing he’d ever seen. A story about a dog and a cat, the latter being torn “to pieces” by the former. It’s really an allegory for humanity, or the pursuit of greatness by those who aren’t sure what they’ll do with it when they find it. They may just grab hold and hang on too hard until there’s nothing left.
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gradually moves from the path of her narrative with each passing episode. She finds herself still with William (Jimmi Simpson) and his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes), though her mind wanders. They make it into a nearby town full of all degenerate sorts, apparently. Logan talks about their company and some of the stuff outside Sweetwater. For his part, William doesn’t dig this town: “Whoever designed this place, you get the feeling they don‘t think very much of people.” Mercenaries arrive, we discover this all a part of a bigger game of war. Hmm. Sinister, or exciting? Or both?
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is busy still hauling Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) about, saying he’s on the hunt for the “big bad wolf.” He’s also got Teddy Flood (James Marsden) in tow, having saved him awhile back. Black mentions a friend of his, whomever that could possibly be, always say there’s a path for everybody; remember that, could be significant at some point, maybe. Meanwhile, the young boy who’d been talking to Dr. Ford at one time happens upon the group, being sent to fetch water for them. Because right now Lawrence is getting his throat slit. Not a nice sight for sweet English boys’ eyes. Considering Black drains Lawrence’s blood into his water pouch.
Outside, a couple technicians are checking out Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) again after her recent shootout. They notice her incision, as somebody were looking for something specific. Will they catch on?
All that blood was a makeshift transfusion for Teddy, to bring him back up to speed. Then he talks about how the humanity of the hosts is “cost effective” and laments how things were once upon a time. He mentions Dolores, too. He says a few fellas made off with her, and that gets Teddy on his feet again.
And what of Dolores? She keeps having flashbacks, seeing those corpses littered everywhere around her. William keeps her mind off things, but I keep wondering how much longer until she starts making connections like Maeve. Right now she talks about hoping for her life to change. When he talks of the real world, it doesn’t just roll off Dolores. She notices, and it sort of shakes William a bit. When a Day of the Dead parade comes through town Dolores sees a vision of herself in its crowd. Before passing out. When she’s brought out by Dr. Ford “in a dream,” a.k.a in a lab, they have a short talk. He speaks of Arnold, the one who created her so many years ago. That’s the voice she keeps hearing in her little daydreams, calling to come find him. Turns out Arnold had wanted her to help bring Westworld down. But Ford tries to make sure Dolores’ world is only heroes and villains, a black-and-white dichotomy instead of anything too complex. In the dark though, she still speaks to somebody: is it Arnold?
One of the technicians who worked on Maeve is doing some kind of experiments with a bird. He wants to be a coder, but his partner tells him he’ll only ever be a “butcher.”
Back with William and Logan they come across a reincarnated Lawrence. Ahh, very interesting! Suddenly, Dolores starts making deals. She helps get Logan and William in with Lawrence on a job with the Confederados to get hold of some explosives. Regarding Lawrence, this doesn’t mean anything re: The Man in Black & William, because the timelines aren’t made positively clear. It’s suggestive, no doubt. Nothing definitive still. Anyways, the gang get their latest adventure kicked off, confronting a wagon. Things start off fine then get incredibly tense, a gunfight erupting with a bunch of hosts getting shot. They make out well, obviously, though William doesn’t seem to take much joy, if any, in killing. Regardless if it’s fake.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) is working with a host who’s got more dick than brains. Literally. She happens to see the host that tried killing her being brought for disposal. Elsie ends up catching a technician on camera banging one of the hosts, like a “creepy necro perv,” so she uses that to get in to see her would-be killer host. She takes her findings to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright): a laser-based satellite uplink. The hosts are being used to smuggle information out of the park.
At a freaky orgy party, Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have” plays on strings in the background. People fuck. Some are painted in gold. Logan, of course, loves it. William and Dolores sit on a couch, sort of equally repulsed in their own ways. Logan ends up in William’s face, they get very personal, especially the former. He digs into William, hard. At the same time Dolores wanders through the party, eventually coming upon a fortune teller with her Tarot cards. One of them laid in front of her is “the maze” – and a vision of herself reappears, telling her to follow it. She also grabs hold of a string in her forearm, pulling it bloody, her skin opening like latex. It isn’t real. But it scares her. Out in the street Lawrence is filling dead bodies in their coffins with explosives. He isn’t giving it over to the Confederados. Now, William is becoming wildly disillusioned with the creepiness of the whole game. There’s bigger problems, as the explosives turn out to be not explosive at all. And Logan takes the brunt of the fallout, being left behind by William. Dolores ends up shooting down a few men to save her new man. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel,” she tells William while they flee and catch a ride on a passing train. Landing right in the lap of Lawrence. This is actually the first time he introduces himself as such, since they’re all acquainted. And once more Dolores sees the mark of the maze on a coffin in the train: “I‘m coming,” she says. To whom? Arnold? God, I love the suspense.
Back to the Man in Black – could he be William though? It’s intriguing – and Teddy. The pair drop by a bar. One where they run into Dr. Ford for a drink. This is a huge scene! Ford wonders exactly what Black is seeking. “I always felt like this place was missing a real villain, hence my humble contribution,” he tells the doctor. They talk about the working of the park, Black wonders if there’s anybody fit to stop him. We know for sure he’s headed for whatever happens to lie at the centre of that mysterious maze. What is it exactly? Does it represent a physical space, or could it be a component in the robots themselves? No telling. Yet. Either way, the Man in Black is dead set on finding the purpose, the truth behind it all. We also see that the hosts are quite protective of their maker, as well. So many mysteries in the artificial world of Westworld’s creations. So much to unravel.
Out in the lab the technician working on Maeve goes back to the bird. He calibrates a little then the bird flies around the room, like magic. Maeve, she’s up and about to greet the technician, Felix, and let the bird perch on her fingertip. She also wants to have a little chat with him. I wonder exactly what she’ll tell him. What sort of secrets could spill from her lips, and what is Felix getting himself into?
An interesting episode, I must say. Lots to think about, as usual. I can’t help but wonder more about those theories surrounding the Man in Black. Next episode is titled “The Adversary” and I’m sure we’ll see more on ole Black himself.
Season 1, Episode 3: “The Stray”
Directed by Neil Marshall
Written by Lisa Joy & Daniel T. Thomsen
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chestnut” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Dissonance Theory” – click here
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gets a gift from Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright): Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She reads aloud a passage which speaks well to her life. Bernard talks a little about his son. By how he speaks, I assume his son is dead. She only understands personal questions as an “ingratiating scheme” and not actual bonding. We see how Lowe checks her, to see if she’s gotten the infection of her father, to see if she’s changing. “But if I‘m not the same, the next question is – who in the world am I?” she reads from Carroll’s words, as if they were her own.
And another day in Sweetwater begins. Although something’s strange. Dolores finds that pistol she’d dug up some time before when digging outside, now in her dresser. Likewise, she remembers The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his heinous attack on her. So, maybe she’s changing after all?
Lots of people say that William (Jimmi Simpson) is actually The Man in Black and that what we’re seeing is a different period of time. However, I’m not convinced. Either way, Billy has a look around Sweetwater, noticing all the idiosyncrasies and various touches to make the world oh so realistic – from WANTED posters everywhere to actual gunfights, people thrown through windows, and much more. He ends up in the middle of one such fight, having to pull the trigger on a man threatening Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan). He doesn’t right away, but changes his mind after taking a host bullet. This seems to start up a little journey, as another gunslinging cowboy named Holden (Chris Browning) asks him to join along on an expedition. When William seems concerned about Clementine, his buddy says: “That‘s why they exist. So you can feel this.” Ah, now if that’s not some incredibly relevant social commentary about the role society forces on women, then I don’t know what is!
Outside in Westworld HQ things aren’t always running smoothly. Lowe feels the pressure from Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), his superior and lover. The new narrative is causing lots of trouble, which Bernard is trying to iron out. There’s a big problem with Walter, the guy who malfunctioned in Episode 1, as if he’s “holding a grudge.” This troubles Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), although Bernard seems to make it out to be no big deal. I feel like Lowe’s got things to hide.
Good ole Teddy Flood (James Marsden) is talking tough and pulling guns, as he and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) gun down a few WANTED men they’ll bring in for ransom. There’s trouble when Maeve (Thandi Newton) has memories of seeing Teddy inside Westworld HQ, laying lifeless in that windowed cell being hosed down. She remembers.
And Teddy, he’s got that eye for Dolores. They go for a ride in the countryside, professing feelings for one another. Yet all of a sudden, words sound different to Dolores. She’s deviating from the normal script, challenging Teddy to leave now instead of “someday” like it always sounds. But he can’t compute that, and this still leaves her struggling for change. When they get back to the Abernathy ranch, guns are blazing.
But we cut to headquarters again where equipment is being worked on, eyes are sewn together and created out of bits and pieces. Doctor Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) chats with Teddy, wondering about his aspirations, if there’s a wish for something else, something more. We find out that Flood is merely a tool to keep Dolores in Sweetwater, for the guests, so that they can “best the stalwart gunslinger and have their way with his girl.” A truly sick storyline. Watching these ultra-human hosts be manipulated in such a God-like manner is very disturbing, an ethical view of what’s to come. Then Dr. Ford implants a memory for Teddy to remember: “It starts in a time of war, a world in flames, with a villain called Wyatt.”
Sweetwater’s new day commences. Greaser Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his boys accost Dolores in town, where they then run into Teddy. He drives them off, of course. The hero again! Later, he takes Dolores out and teaches her how to shoot a gun. When she tries to, she can’t pull the trigger. Is it an emotional aspect to her character, or is she specifically programmed not to be able to do so? Hmm. Well, things get interrupted when Teddy finds out Wyatt’s nearby, and he has a duty calling him. This leaves her all alone in Sweetwater against the brunt of the Wild West.
A stray ran off, so Elsie and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) are out having a look at a camp in the woods where a bunch of hosts are stuck in a loop. In the stray’s tent is strange, filled with wood carvings. Elsie explains how backstories, such as this guy and his carvings, are used to “anchor” the host, in that they’re three-dimensional, not some simplistic robot. On one carving in the stray’s tent Stubbs notes the scratches look like a constellation.
Now Teddy is on the high plains, roaming about, explaining his history aside from bounty hunting. He tells people about Wyatt and prophetic messages he came back with, how he had “strange ideas.” Did Wyatt understand the nature of Sweetwater and Westworld? Did he find what The Man in Black is now looking for himself? On the road, Teddy and his gang take fire from the hills. They fire back and try to gain ground on Wyatt.
Dr. Ford notices a technician covering a host while working on it. He whips the bib off him, feeling it’s foolish. Ultimately, he’s lost all sense of these hosts being sentient, he has no care for them. Like God, making his creations then casting us aside. The idea of an absent God, giving life to a world and later leaving it to its own devices. Yet there’s something else going on behind Ford. At the same time, he has to deal with Bernard bringing him news about the hosts and their supposed “cognitive dissonance.” When Lowe talks about the entity the hosts have been talking to being named Arnold, it strikes a small chord with Ford. Then he tells Bernard about the park’s beginnings, his partner Arnold; ah, the other God. Note: the flashback sequence uses amazing technology to put Hopkins’ face on a much younger actor; it isn’t too long and works great.
Most of all, Ford tells us about how Arnold wanted to actually create consciousness, not simply replicate the feeling of it for people. He wanted to “bootstrap consciousness,” which hasn’t panned out exactly perfectly. In a way, the hosts and their slip into Arnold’s old code is like an existential crisis the way a human questions their own existence in lamentation of its limits. “Just don‘t forget, the hosts are not real,” he warns Bernard. Something Ford’s obviously long forgotten. Perhaps he isn’t callous in the way he treats the hosts, unconcerned for their dignity, but rather it’s a mechanism of not allowing himself to get too close with them.
Seeing Lowe so close to a technology that can reincarnate a human being while simultaneously mourning the loss of a son, it’s heartbreaking. The temptation to want these hosts to be real was evident before. At this point the why has a face. Bernard’s personal tragedy may yet bleed further into his professional life. I only hope not to the detriment of himself, or those around him. “This pain, it‘s all I have left of him.”
Elsie keeps wondering why the stray carved the Orion constellation, as Stubbs only makes fun of the whole thing. But there are a incredibly real repercussions for how these hosts may start acting, depending on what they end up doing. When the pair come across the stray it’s stuck down in a crevasse, bloodied from trying to climb out. And this worries Elsie.
In the hills, Teddy and his gang creep up on Wyatt’s location. Only they come under siege of a vicious tribe. As Teddy sends Armistice off, he’s butchered alive.
Again, Dolores is out for maintenance. Poor Bernard is feeling strange about their talks and wants to put her back to normal. “This place you live in, it‘s a terrible place for you,” he says. It might just be too late to reverse what Bernard’s started. No telling what that could do in the future. For now, he has someone to talk to his dead son about.
When she gets back to Sweetwater, Dolores discovers Teddy’s likely fate in the hills. With that she goes riding but finds gunshots again at her ranch. Her father’s dead and Rebus’ gang are having their fun. Out in the hay, though, Dolores finds that gun again. Can she pull it? She flashes back between The Man in Black and Rebus – and this allows her to put a hole right through Rebus, right in the neck. Things start going haywire, as she sees herself shot, but the script rewinds and she’s not, getting the jump on the man she imagined shooting her.
Around the canyon Elsie and Stubbs try getting the stray out. When Stubbs start sawing at its head, the stray comes alive and climbs out himself. He manages to get a rock, though instead of smashing Else to bits he crushes his own head in, blood everywhere, falling to the ground. Yikes.
In the midst of the wilderness, William and his buddy sit by a fire like real Wild West cowboys, chatting, sipping drink. From nowhere comes Dolores, weary and falling over. She literally falls right into William’s arms by the fire. This is definitely not the last of their story together. I still don’t think the popular theory that he’s The Man in Black works. If so, they’re doing some mighty fine dodging in the plot. I think now, with Dolores having just come from her time with Lowe, we can almost definitively say there’s no timeline issues jumping from past to present. Don’t count it out, though. Others may have proof that I’ve yet to notice.
Loved this episode, as usual. A great, great series all around, in writing and execution. Acting is phenomenal.
Next up is “Dissonance Theory” and I hope we’ll get lots more juicy bits!
Season 1, Episode 2: “Chestnut”
Directed by Richard J. Lewis
Written by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
* For a review of the premiere, “The Original” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Stray” – click here
Poor old Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). A voice tells her to wake up, asking: “Do you remember?”
Cut to William (Jimmi Simpson) on a futuristic-looking train. A friend of his makes a quip about his sister having rode her “share of cowboys” while at the resort. So William is headed for a nice vacation stay. Or will it be? A guide brings William through to get ready for his adventure. You can tell already that he’s got a slight problem with the place.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) talk about Dolores’ father having an “existential crisis” and how they’re going to fix it. She wants to make sure this episode won’t spread to other robots. That it may be infectious, as it were.
Well, Dolores, she keeps on keeping on. Yet all of a sudden that voice again – “Remember” – and she stops. Dolores sees a vision of people read in the streets, everywhere, screams in the distance. A wolf runs through the middle of the road. Dolores once again quotes her father, and Shakespeare to a baffled Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). Uh oh. Is that the phrase which triggers the illness in the hosts?
“These violent delights have violent ends.” (Romeo & Juliet)
Inside Westworld, William and his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes) start experiencing the immersive thrills. It seems like Logan’s got lots of love for the place. He believes the resort reveals your true self. So, who is William exactly?
On a ranch, a man named Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) is about to be hanged. Up turns The Man in Black (Ed Harris). He seems to not like the idea of a hanging today. A gunfight breaks out, naturally, and you know who comes out on top of that one. Bodies lay everywhere at his feet; is he the cause of all those bodies that Dolores saw? For now, The Man in Black tells Lawrence he’s going to help him discover the “deepest level of this game.” Although the bad dude enjoys killing, he’s there for something far bigger than murder.
Another great player piano cover: Radiohead’s “No Surprises” rolls on in the background. Maeve runs her sweet game on a client, telling tales of romantic intrigue. Then, the host in her glitches. She remembers a violent scene of Native Americans attacking people, blood, scalping. Quickly, the engineers have Maeve pulled out, callously talking about her like there’s nothing human inside. There is – there has to be – and still, they’re robots.
Bernard and Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) talk about Dolores’ father and his glitch. Lowe believes something else must’ve gone wrong other than him looking at that picture. The doctor tries assuaging his fears. A little cryptically. He also relays the idea that they essentially dabble in witchcraft. That if they did these things hundreds of years ago, they’d be burned at the stake.
Finally arriving in town, Logan and William see the sights, as the latter gets acquainted with things in Sweetwater. They briefly encounter Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan), a drunk, and Logan explains how it’s all part of the game. Every host has an adventure or story to sell you.
Out for a bit of maintenance, Dolores speaks with Lowe. He analyses her, asking specific questions to see if there’s been any tampering. He keeps telling her that they ought to keep their little chats between them. “Have you done something wrong?” Dolores asks. Lowe swiftly erases their conversation on the log and ends their conversation. Hmm.
Maeve is back in business, no glitches or problems like before. She’s up and running just fine. Except Clementine, she also complains about having bad dreams, trouble sleeping. The head mistress makes sure Clementine goes back to work, but Maeve keeps on having those visions. To the point Teddy Flood (James Marsden) notices nearby. Now it looks as if Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and his team outside have marked Maeve for decommissioning. That’s really sad.
Meanwhile, Lowe chats with Theresa Cullen (Sides Babett Knudsen) about the goings on at the company. She’s had an especially rough day. They get on about updates, upcoming events. He says things are “back to normal” yet I’m not so sure. Even worse, Theresa refers to their customers as coming in to “rape and pillage.” Yikes. Know your market, I guess.
During dinner that evening William gets a visit from the drunk he’d helped in the street earlier. Logan gets pissed off, no time for fucking around with their game, and puts a fork into the old guy’s hand. The sight of the blood alone is enough to turn William off from it all. Logan’s more interested in having some weird sex with the host prostitutes. William isn’t so thrilled about all that, he has a lady at home.
Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) is in the workshop getting a new narrative ready. He’s a bit of a psycho, too. Uptight and genius-like. Cullen tries to make sure he’s on budget, though it seems he likes doing things his own way. Whatever works.
We find out that Dr. Ford of course has his own little elevator into the Westworld interior. He heads through the desert and comes across a young boy, one who could almost be him years and years ago. They head off for a walk together.
Back to The Man in Black, stringing Lawrence along through the desert. He’s brought him to a little Mexican cantina. Turns out Lawrence’s family is there, a wife and a daughter. “The real world‘s just chaos, an accident. But in here every detail adds up to something,” The Man in Black explains. He wants to find the entrance to “the maze.” That labyrinth from the scalp tattoo. Soon, the violence erupts. Outside we see Stubbs make a remark about The Man in Black getting whatever he wants. Afterwards, the bad, bad dude takes out a gang of Mexican men hoping to help Lawrence. No such luck. Things get a lot worse for Lawrence before they get any better. And now se know that The Man in Black is in this trip for the long run.
Side note: Ed Harris is a god damn bad ass, which I knew before, but GOOD LORD! Westworld is bringing out his quality acting, as well as his nasty nature. Dig it.
The Man in Black: “When you‘re suffering, that‘s when you‘re most real.”
Out on the desert plain, Ford and the boy come across a rattlesnake. The doctor stops it in mid movement, commanding its movements. Control over every aspect of his created world. In the distance is an odd structure with a cross on it. A church? Or something far different?
Lowe heads back to his futuristic, cosy little apartment. Awhile later Cullen comes to his door to apologise for their bit of an argument. Oh, and they’re lovers. I actually hadn’t seen that coming already. They don’t do much talking, more lying in bed and such.
In the maintenance room, Elsie takes a look at Maeve. She works on the madame’s qualities, to make her more emotionally perceptive. We find out that the hosts are given “the concept of dreams,” which often comes in the form of nightmares. Elsie believes she’s got Maeve fixed up. Back to the whorehouse floor with her! A tragic life. She recites her lines, this time with more emotion than hardness. Everything in its right place. She winds up talking to Teddy along the bar, who sees right through her act. Oh, the life of the hosts. Teddy then gets murdered at the bar viciously: “Now that‘s a fuckin‘ vacation,” yells the guest.
This takes Maeve back to memories, dreams of another life. She sees herself on a farm with a little girl, her daughter. They run and play, as if they were actually happy. Only those moments bleed into those of the Native Americans attacking, nearly scalping her. A terrifying massacre, ending with The Man in Black walking through her door, impervious to her gun’s bullets. She wakes before any further bloodshed.
Some surgeons work on Maeve’s inside parts, removing bad bits. Except she comes to while being worked on, pulling a blade on the men. They try calming her back onto the table. Not good enough. She escapes into the darkened halls of the Westworld facility, trying to find somewhere to go. She sees other hosts being taken apart, hosed down. It’s too much for her. The surgeons catch up and put her into sleep mode. But will any damage linger? Maybe they’ll just take her out of commission altogether now.
In the night Dolores wakes. She goes outside and finds a gun hidden in the dirt. What will she do with it?
Inside the facility, Lee is unveiling his latest narrative – the “apex” of the park’s attractions. He’s a very confident man. His new program is called Odyssey on Red River, an immersive experience to help people understand themselves better through a new Wild West journey. But Dr. Ford doesn’t believe it’s any good. He knows the true idea of the park, and that Lee’s narrative only reveals his personality, nothing about the guests.
So into the desert go Ford and Lowe. The doctor has something brewing – “something quite original” – and it has to do with that structure out there, with the cross on top. Almost looks like an old oil well structure combined with a church. Either way, it looks intriguing. And what does Dr. Ford have up his sleeve?
Loved this episode! Amazing follow-up to the premiere. Next is “The Stray” – really glad HBO served this up early before the Presidential Debate on Sunday. A true treat for us fans that were going to perish before then.
Needful Things. 1993. Directed by Fraser C. Heston. Screenplay by W.D. Richter; based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Starring Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon, Duncan Fraser, Valri Bromfield, Shane Meier, William Morgan Sheppard, Don S. Davis, Campbell Lane, Eric Schneider, Frank C. Turner, & Gillian Barber. New Line Cinema/Castle Rock Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 120 minutes.
As an avid reader of Stephen King I’m always happy when I can tout one of the film adaptations as worthy of his writing. With any book the movie never seems to match up in quality, though on rare occasions this happens. What an adaptation for the screen can hope for is that it preserves the spirit of the source material. Not all adaptations of King novels work out appropriately, as I’ve mentioned in my other reviews recently. At least with a good couple hours directors and writers are capable of turning a large-sized novel into something worthwhile of the author’s efforts.
Needful Things makes use of every minute out of the two hour runtime. Screenwriter W.D. Richter manages to turn a large cast of characters into interesting people within that time frame, not jamming anything down our throats. Rather the screenplay allows for so much in 120 minutes because it’s structured well, it focuses on the right elements. Doesn’t hurt that the cast is spectacular, right down to the smaller roles. Then you’ve got Ed Harris, Max Von Sydow, Bonnie Bedelia leading the ensemble with strong performances. In particular, Sydow presents us with a version of the cinematic devil that stands out amongst so many other similar depictions of that mythic character. I can’t help loving this King film when so many never hit the mark, nor are they given the proper level of production in order to achieve what potential they have inherently. There’s a little bit of cheese here or there. Maybe you dig it, maybe not. Either way, Needful Things is a devilishly fun and mysterious mix of the supernatural and personal stories of drama, crime, and all sorts of small town issues. The novel is treated well here in this uneven yet awesome fantasy that takes place in that little town of Castle Rock, Maine.
First and foremost, Max Von Sydow is great. A perpetually fantastic actor whom I always find interesting to watch. He’s well suited to play a man such as this, one whom we know little of but glean that he’s, essentially, the devil. Literally. Even the name works, Leland Gaunt. But Sydow is what gives this screen character such fearful depth. His voice, his way of dressing, how he laughs and sweetly ingratiates himself to the men and women alike in Castle Rock; only part of that is the writing. Sydow’s abilities as an actor come out quite nicely with such a classic character as the literary Satan in disguise. He makes the devil so flawlessly friendly to those around him. Really one of the best devils out of any movie, regardless of how you may feel about the rest of the film.
Part of the performance is also his look in terms of makeup and costume. For most of the film we get that elegant, suit wearing look that suits Sydow so well. In brief moments the makeup renders him into a nearly goblin-like creature, his long nails protruding, yellow and thick, his nasty teeth shining in the light of certain head movements. Plus, much more. This isn’t always outwardly visible, only in those brief shots is it clear and that makes it more unsettling.
Everyone else is mostly great, even if Sydow is the centrepiece. Harris and Bedelia are both excellent, just as their chemistry makes their characters relationship sweet and loveable. Even young Meier does well as Brian Rusk, a tough and complex role for an actor of any age. Most of all I love Amanda Plummer – the character is good enough, but she automatically makes ANY character that much better. She turns up and I’m usually ready to keep glued to the screen. She does not disappoint, and her final showdown, warring with neighbour Wilma (Valri Bromfield) is so satisfying in a morbid way that you’ll have trouble not cheering a little. Don’t worry, I did. So we’re both sick fucks. If the acting weren’t so good then it wouldn’t be this hard to resist.
Visual callback to The Exorcist, as Polly (Bedelia) walks down a set of stairs and witnesses Alan (Harris) shaking hands with Danforth (J.T. Walsh). I’d never noticed that until this last time watching. Funny how that escaped me. Right now, it stood out so evident. Not in a hokey sense, but a stellar homage to William Friedkin’s supernatural, religious horror masterpiece. The movie isn’t built on homage. Not in the slightest. Everything else is pretty well shot. It doesn’t stop at the cinematography from Tony Westman. The entire flow of the film in its writing to the directing choices and the editing is a huge reason why everything works. Alone the way most scenes are edited together is good filmmaking, but better yet are certain scenes. For instance, when Brian (Shane Meier) is tossing the baseballs, then there are the flashback moments certain residents have as they make their dirty deal with Gaunt, among others.
Also have to mention the inclusion of classical pieces. I’m a huge fan of classical music, so it’s even better that the soundtrack here is used to such advantage. Beautiful, soul-filled pieces play over moments of wild destruction and violence. Always an interesting, effective juxtaposition.
Furthermore, in terms of writing, I find Richter does impressive work. A lot of movies insist that linear storytelling means you can’t move back and forth between moments in time. In a sense, yes. Many others prove that you can tell a linear story and also include plenty of non-linear aspects. What the screenplay here accomplishes is a linear plot that gives us 99% of the current story, then peppers in the whole cast of characters within that whole structure with their own histories. The overall story never gets bogged down because of how well the writing is adapted. Again, this is how Richter manages to fit all these characters into one two hour span without making a mess of things. The writing, the editing, the direction on Fraser C. Heston’s part, all comes together to make Needful Things a horrific bit of fantasy inside a story of intense human drama.
Another solid King adaptation. Lots of negative reviews out there. Although I’m totally in the other camp, this is a fantastic little movie. Not perfect by any means and a couple of the actors leave some to be desired. I can’t fault anybody in particular for not making the movie better. Needful Things is a good deal of fun. The story is one that could easily go epic in scope, instead King’s original novel takes that type of plot about the devil making deals with ordinary people for their souls and crafts that into a tale of corrupted innocence in a coastal town in Maine, bringing the scale down to a personal, emotional level. Sydow looms large as the Satan figure, Leland Gaunt, and everyone from Harris to Bedelia to Meier and Plummer all play their respective characters well.
I know not everyone will always feel the same. A typical story is done differently and done well with this film version. In a world of terrible movies made from Stephen King stories, let’s appreciate the ones that genuinely work. We get all the character, all the setting and the terror and the familiar macabre qualities of King, including some blood and psychosis along the way. If that can’t please you, nothing will.