A strange, confused film that falls into tired Orientalist tropes the horror genre should've long grown out of by 2020.
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.