Westworld recap: Season 1, Episode 2, Chestnut
If the Westworld premiere intrigued you — and “intrigued” was the word I saw most often among tweeted reactions last Sunday — I suspect the second episode hooked you. So often we watch a splashy drama series pilot and then week 2 feels like a clear step down — slower, less expensive, sloppier writing. Months or even years can go into making a pilot, after all, but the second episode sometimes has to be turned around in just a month or two. Yet tonight’s Westworld, titled “Chestnut,” threw even more mysteries into our laps, polished the characters, and added a pair of promising newcomers. If anything, the pace quickened. So let’s step into analysis and break down episode 2:
Dolores hears a voice: “Do you remember?” I assume this is Bernard’s voice (outside chance, Stubbs’?). Either way, that’s the big question, isn’t it? How much does Dolores remember from last week’s events now that her core programming — which is supposed to prevent her from accessing the memories of her previous lives — is no longer intact? Dolores steps outside and digs up a gun. Was this planted here for her to find? First the fly, and now she’s armed.
We go to a pair of visitors stepping off some fancy future-train: Logan (played by Ben “Prince Caspian” Barnes) and William (Jimmi Simpson). They’re the TV show’s versions of the protagonists of the Westworld feature film. We understand them immediately, or at least think we do: Logan is the arrogant jerk, and William is the passive nice guy. You could say they’re a bit one-dimensional, but given the flurry of multi-dimensional crypto-mystery figures we met last week, it actually comes as a relief to focus our brains on two archetypal guys (they’re very black hat / white hat, if you will). We pick up little expositional clues from their conversation that William is married to Logan’s sister and that they also work at the same company (we assume Logan is the boss).
Perhaps the most interesting thing about their arrival is that we get to see Westworld’s orientation process (or rather, it’s disorientation process). William is greeted by a Scarlett Johansson-esque hostess bot who takes him into a private set of changing rooms. She informs William that there are no formal guidebooks or instructions and that “figuring out how it works is half the fun.” Apparently Westworld has revolutionized theme parks in one of the ways that Steve Jobs did with personal electronics — no instruction manuals, just let the user figure out their iPods and iPhones and robo-brothels all on their own (though nobody would ever describe trying to import your music files into iTunes as “half the fun”).
“Are you real?” William asks her.
“If you can’t tell, does it matter?” she replies.
That’s a stunning line — the show’s central conflict wrapped up in one zinger comeback.
She presents him with an array of clothes and weapons, all fitted to his size. She’s oozing seductive allure this whole time, and we’re wondering what’s going to happen next. “I can help you [change] or, if you prefer, I can step outside,” she says. He asks what most people do, and she assures him he doesn’t have to worry about that — throw out your social norms, you’re in Westworld now!
This moment is William’s first choice: the initial A-or-B option in his Choose Your Own Westworld Adventure. Does he fool around with this host? We think he’s married to Logan’s sister, but Logan has noted that his sister, surely, slept with a few cowboys during her visit to Westworld. To paraphrase the host: If they’re not human, is it really cheating?
NEXT: So, what would YOU do here?
Since we’re seeing this scene from William’s perspective, Westworld is putting us in his position and making us ask ourselves: What would I do? It’s a choice that isn’t as far off as you might think. There have been weekly headlines lately about the development of so-called real-life sexbots. Just last week, a London business announced a robot oral sex coffeehouse, of all things (so many potential jokes, none appropriate). When we hear things like that, I suspect nearly all of us are repulsed by this idea — ew, gross, who would want to do that? But after watching this scene, the way it’s acted and shot, some of us might feel differently.
But wait, hold on again. Because in a way, this scene is the mirror of last week’s Man in Black-attacking-Dolores scene. Ask yourself: If William did have sex with the Johansson-bot, is that really different than the MiB’s presumed rape of Dolores? Yes, she’s willing, but only because she’s programmed to be willing by her masters, whereas Dolores was programmed to be chaste by the same people. It’s a very deep rabbit hole.
On his way out, William chooses White Hat, of course. He meets up with black-hat Logan and they enter what appears to be a narrow saloon. It’s a neat trick when the saloon is revealed to be the train that takes guests to Sweetwater. “This place is the answer to that question: Who you really are,” Logan proclaims, “and I can’t wait to meet that guy.” Logan cynically assumes William’s true self — everybody’s true self, probably — is just as lusty and bloodthirsty as he is.
On the streets of Sweetwater, we learn this is the park’s safest and most family-friendly area. The more you venture toward the park’s edges, the more “intense” the experience gets. Given that the town has an anything-goes sex-house and regular mass murders in the street, we wonder what could possibly be happening a few miles down the road; last week’s events alone were enough to put a vacationing kid in therapy for years.
William spots Dolores, the world’s most klutzy carrier of canned goods. We want to warn him to stay away; her story never seems to end well.
Dolores, meanwhile, is having some freaky memories, like an image of all the townsfolk dead and a direwolf, er, wolf trotting through the street. She goes to brothel owner Maeve and says that phrase her father told her last week: “These violent delights have violent ends.” Westworld techs embed programming in verbal commands, so this is Dolores spreading whatever virtual cold she caught to Maeve.
Maeve goes back into her saloon, and we hear Radiohead as this week’s player piano Name That Tune (“No Surprises”). There’s a series of scenes as Maeve gets put through the wringer, programming-wise.
NEXT: The maze runner
First Maeve tries to seduce a guest and then suddenly spaces out with a… memory?… of being attacked by a Native American in war paint — the first sign she’s caught Dolores’ virtual cold.
The tech team is annoyed: How dare a host fail to give a guest a boner! They threaten to decommission Maeve down into cold storage if she doesn’t become more bang-able ASAP. So they do what plenty of lonely, aging singles have tried on Tinder: Ramp up the aggression by 200 percent.
They put Maeve out in the saloon again. This time she’s way too pushy, grabbing a female guest’s crotch. The guest is creeped out by this Donald Trump-ian seduction tactic.
Okay, so that didn’t work. Next time, savvy programmer Elise steps in. She thinks Maeve is not hopeless, just getting a poor script. She also casually reveals that the hosts don’t dream, pointing out dreams are “mainly memories.” This basically confirms the hosts’ nightmares are indeed their past lives. “Can you imagine how f—ed we’d be if these poor assholes ever remembered what the guests do to them?” Elise wonders aloud.
Yup, that’s precisely what we’ve imagining.
She bumps Maeve’s “emotional equity” and sends her back into the field. This time Maeve transfixes a guest (who goes off with a different girl, but still — it seems the latest configuration has put Maeve back in the game).
Meanwhile, there’s also a debate whether to pull Dolores from duty after the events last week. They worry she might have a virus and could be contagious. They’re also still unsure as to the exact source of the glitch. Elise’s theory is that Dr. Ford screwed up and that Bernard covered for him. This assumes several things that may or may not be true: That the glitch is Ford’s fault, that the effects of the glitch are an accident, and that Bernard is blameless, aside from covering it up.
Elsewhere, the Man in Black is playing his own version of Red Dead Redemption. Apparently the Native American whom he scalped for a head-map has led him to a criminal: Lawrence, who’s about to be hanged. The MiB rescues him and explains he’s searching for a “deeper level” in this game, and that Lawrence is going to help him find the entrance.
He drags Lawrence to a distant town and marvels about how he’s played in Westworld for years and thought he knew all of Lawrence’s secrets, but he never knew he had a family. The MiB kills Lawrence’s gang. Back in the control room, the narrative guys monitoring his adventure consider slowing him down somehow since he’s racking up quite an expensive body count. They’re told the MiB “gets to do whatever he wants.” The MiB is very much a VIP, it seems.
The MiB gets Lawrence’s wife and daughter and orders them to reveal where the maze is. I suspect many viewers are on a knife edge right here, and if this scene had pushed the brutality just a little further, they would have done the casino dealer “I’m-outta-here” clap and switched off.
NEXT: Gunfight at the OK Computer corral
The MiB kills Lawrence’s wife. He notes that when it comes to the hosts, “When you’re suffering that’s when you’re the most real,” which is also a strategy the Westworld producers use to get us to empathize with their androids — when they suffer, we feel and relate to them more.
Lawrence’s daughter abruptly breaks character. She gives the MiB a message. It’s one that we suspect she may have never said before. “The maze isn’t meant for you,” she intones impassively, then gives him a riddle to solve: “Follow the blood arrow to the place where the snake lays its eggs.”
There’s so much to unpack in this scene, it’s like a bulging suitcase:
— We were reacting to the mother and daughter like they’re human, and felt totally sympathetic at their suffering. Suddenly when the daughter breaks character, we’re reminded: Oh yeah, she’s a robot. She’s not young or old, she’s a machine. So how do we feel now about what just happened?
— Does this maze mystery represent something that a guest is supposed to be able to find? Or is the MiB somehow hacking the game? Who set up this deeper level?
— “The maze isn’t meant for you” … is it a hosts-only maze? Westworld staff? Is this like going into one of the sneakily hidden doors in Disneyland that take you into its underground catacombs?
— “I’m never going back.” So the MiB plans to stay in Westworld forever? With his consciousness uploaded into a host-body, like we speculated last week? Or working there, somehow?
Backstage, Bernard and Dolores are finishing a chat. We’re not sure what it was about. He says she seems different and finds it fascinating, “but others may not see it that way.”
Dolores then asks a very interesting question: “Have you done something wrong?” Bernard tells her to delete their conversation.
We also learn Bernard and Cullen have a romantic relationship. This feels a bit out of the blue, given Cullen’s sharp comments directed at Bernard in front of the staff last week. Cullen says corporate wants to know if everything is on track for “the launch.” If that confuses you, it’s supposed to. Bernard also assures her “all the hosts are back to normal.”
Can Google please hire Jeffrey Wright to become a Waze navigation voice?
Westworld’s writer Lee is quite excited about a new story line he’s set to unveil: “Odyssey On Red River.” Vivisection! Self cannibalism! But Dr. Ford is decidedly not impressed: “No,” he says. Then he basically gives a retort to both Lee and Logan, who earlier told William that the park will reveal his true self: “[The visitors] already know who they are. They want a glimpse of who they could be. The only thing your story tells me, Mr. Sizemore, is who you are.”
Sizemore gives a whiney reply that every writer has desperately thought while reading online comments slamming their story: “Well, isn’t there anything you like about it?”
This scene is partly what I was referring to last week when I wrote about the Dolores controversy; how Westworld is a critique of traditional entertainment. Here’s the writer of Westworld — the theme park, not the HBO show — all excited about his garish new creation, and Ford playing the role of the critic: No, aim higher, we can do better. Another beat on this was Cullen’s self-aware sarcasm earlier in the hour: “We wouldn’t want anything disturbing our guests from their rape and pillage.”
Instead, Dr. Ford ventures into the park and meets a boy. We watch the kid closely, playing the “real or not real?” game. They come upon a rattlesnake and Dr. Ford halts it — the snake is robotic too. EW’s What to Watch podcast asked me after the premiere if the fly crawling on Dolores’ face was real, a question which at first struck me as silly, and then not. Everything else is artificial in the park, why not the flies? He commands the boy to leave, and we realize, yes, a host — and sort of an odd one to have wandering the desert, don’t you think?
RELATED: Your Burning Westworld Questions Answered
Dr. Ford finds what he’s looking for, an odd structure with a church steeple. This represents Ford’s plan to evolve the park, his next story line, something “original.” But how? Another Mystery for the pile.
Back in Sweetwater, more violence. A guest kills Teddy, again, just for the hell of it. Say it with me now: Oh my god, you’ve killed Teddy! You bastards!
NEXT: “When I waked, I cried to dream again”
This leads into the episode’s most harrowing sequence: Maeve is having a nightmare — a memory, we now realize — of a previous life, living with a daughter. The MiB enters to kill her. She takes the advice she gave earlier on how to wake herself up. She counts backward from 3… 2… 1. This is also what Elise said to Maeve when getting her to change awareness modes, so you wonder if that’s where Maeve first unconsciously picked this trick up.
Maeve goes from a sleeping nightmare and into a waking nightmare — on the operating table as two techs repair her wound. She’s not Analysis Mode Maeve, but fully conscious as her 19th century brothel owner self. She grabs a scalpel, slipping in her own blood, and freaks out at the repair techs.
She runs outside, abdomen cut open, fully nude, in this strange coldly impersonal facility that’s almost impossible for her to comprehend. She stumbles onto a room that’s used for stripping down and cleaning “dead” hosts. Teddy is in there, and many others she surely recognizes as well. She collapses in horror, overwhelmed in shock by the true nature of her world.
Many were upset by last week’s Dolores scene (understandably). One of my colleagues was most upset instead by the mass shooting scene (also understandably). I found this scene the most disturbing. I think a lot of it is due to Thandie Newton’s performance. She’s so believably wounded, traumatized, and lost here. This is also an example of full nudity used for major emotional impact, amplifying Maeve’s vulnerability and showing how the hosts are denied any kind of dignity.
After the techs recapture Maeve, they decide not to report what happened out of fear of being blamed. Exactly why she woke up and whether she’ll remember any of this is still unclear. One thing is for certain: The hosts are not back to normal.
For more coverage, check out our interview with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy where we ask some our burning questions about the second episdoe, plus our Q&A with Thandie Newton.