Westworld: “Chestnut” Season 1 Episode 2 Review

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Westworld isn’t Sizemore’s much-hyped new storyline for the park. When finally pitching what he seems to hope will be his legacy to Dr. Ford and the committee, it turns out to be the basic plot of your standard Western flick. Villains, sidekicks, landscapes, and romance. Any viewers who approached Westworld expecting the same are certainly getting what they thought they would, but it’s the layers beyond them that make the series so promising. The subtleties, as Dr. Ford puts it, are the reason to keep coming back, both for park attendees and us viewers at home. This meta-commentary may be masturbatory to the point of being slightly off-putting, but there’s no denying that Ford is right. This second episode really only deepens the intrigue beneath the surface.

“Chestnut” makes a lot of interesting moves after the table-setting premiere. We start with the arrival of William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes) to the park as they navigate the complex but welcoming process of entering Westworld. Jimmi’s role is obvious from the get-go, but also a role the show definitely needs. He’s the human hero, devoid of robotics but with a compassion for the androids he does encounter, with even a potential hint of romance with Dolores by the end. He’s also an outsider from the folks working at the park, and also a perfect antithesis to the Man in Black, white hat and all. As Westworld slowly pulls the curtain back on how the androids are becoming more sentient, Jimmi can be an accessible surrogate for the viewers at home. “Chestnut” spends a great deal of time establishing this new face, and rightfully so.

Meanwhile, of the androids, Dolores took a bit of a backseat this week to Maeve, who appears to start remembering past days at the park through dreams. Where Dolores’ suspicions developed more quietly in the premiere, Maeve full on wakes up while the behind the scenes guys are sewing her up. It’s an intense moment that Thandie Newton wonderfully plays with the fear of a human facing a new, unfamiliar world. Westworld also makes it fun to speculate when characters like this are hiding something from their human creators or not. I just hope the show has the foresight not to make Maeve forget her experience entirely. It’s the centerpiece of the episode, and it would be a shame for it to just be erased. Though we already know Dolores has gained the ability to quietly disobey commands when we get a flashback of Bernard telling her to erase their conversation. Maeve should receive the same reward for the emotional anguish, if you can call it that, she experiences here.

Though, as Jimmi’s guide at the top of the episode answered to his question whether she was real or not, “If you have to ask, does it matter?” Westworld hasn’t quite sold me yet on its philosophical ideals about artificial intelligence, but then that’s exactly where the creators want us to be. However, that lack of definition caused some issues in the Man in Black’s elongated shootout this week. After he drags a host named Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) through the desert to his family of hosts, there’s an uninteresting action sequence of the Man in Black still unable to be killed by the androids just massacring them. It’s really a lot of tension for nothing. As the series still figures out whether we should care for the park’s robots, the Man in Black threatening a family of them who aren’t exhibiting the same questions as Dolores or Maeve is always going to be a lot of flash with little substance.

But as the show slowly delves out information on this quandary, we’re at least introduced to a new mystery surrounding Ford. We see him throughout “Chestnut” seemingly uninterested in his own life’s work. He walks around the park with a host to what appears to be a grave site. Who Ford may have lost and how is interesting enough, but when he later returns with Bernard, he teases a new storyline for the park that confidently claims to be “original.” That’s another big, masturbatory promise for Westworld to make, but there’s enough intrigue in these first two episodes that I barely even care. This mystery and others the show has introduced are fun to ponder and debate. It makes Westworld‘s flaws forgivable for now. Though we’re going to have a problem if the show doesn’t keep its big promises. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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