Westworld: 102 “Chestnut” Review
Reviewed by Alex Smith.
(As mentioned in last week’s post, this review is intended to be read post-episode, and will most likely contain major spoilers.)
After a strong first week, Westworld turns out a slower, more thoughtful piece in its second appearance – and, ultimately, is better off for it. Though there’s still a fair amount of action, and certainly no short supply of tension, “Chestnut” felt like it had a little more room to explore the show’s nuts and bolts, in several respects.
Much like last week’s episode, the opening sequence we got this week was an excellent piece of work. The transition from ‘real world’ to ‘Westworld’, largely skated over in episode one, is explored here in a little more detail through the eyes of Jimmi Simpson’s newcomer Will. Simpson has struck a chord with me personally in his previous work, particularly his role in the later seasons of House of Cards, and he brings much of that performance into his earnest, awkward induction to the park.
Though the contrast between him and his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes) feels a little too extreme to be natural at times – Logan is a archetypal example of the free-killing, hedonistic park guest we’ve been led to believe is the norm, and as such is not particularly interesting – Simpson’s scenes with android characters are fascinating, as he responds with atypical kindness and sincerity. Whilst him literally choosing a ‘white hat’ may have been a little too on the nose, his position as a sole genuine good guy amongst the park guests has a lot of potential.
Moving on to the ‘black hat’ of the show, Ed Harris’ mysterious gunslinger has been given more screen time but not a whole lot more to do. He exudes a lovely menace whenever he’s on screen, and his brutal apathy provides some great moments, but we don’t get much in the way of narrative progression; we don’t really learn anything new about the character, or about what he’s planning. Hopefully this thread will advance a little more rapidly next week.
Speaking of characters who don’t get much to do, let’s take a brief look-in at Teddy and Dolores, who seem to have been pushed to the sidelines after their time in the spotlight last week. I think this is an example of Westworld handling its sizable cast of characters with precision; not every character can be the star every week, and with other storylines taking up the main thrust of the episode, it feels natural that these major players slip into the background. Teddy’s brief bar scene and sudden death is a sharp reminder of how meaningless murder can be in the park, whilst Dolores’ daily repetitions are gradually taking on a troubling, sinister feel.
And, of course, that’s where this week’s most powerful sequence comes from; Dolores, using “these violent delights have violent ends” like a virus, infects Maeve (Thandie Newton) with the malfunction of memory. The surreal dreamscape, in which Maeve recalls the various terrors that have befallen her home and child, is chilling and effective in itself, but the real power comes after she wakes up from her ‘dream’. The concept of the android wandering through the android factory is not a new one within science fiction, but “Chestnut” executes that concept perfectly, and Maeve’s horror and vulnerability hits home despite the fact that the scene plays out more or less exactly as you’d expect it to.
The closing note of the episode comes from Anthony Hopkins, who also has a little more to do this week. His scenes are laced with the unresolved ambiguity that we found a little more abundantly in last week’s piece – his control of the young boy, who is initially introduced as a guest at the park, is a little unnerving, whilst his shut-down of Lee (Simon Quarterman, who so far is the cast’s weak point as far as I’m concerned – lots of shouting and melodrama, very little else) provokes a marvellous little speech that comments on the actions of the other characters in a lot of ways. I’m not sure what to make of the final shot – in which he reveals the first piece in the ‘new story’ he’s been developing for the park – but I’m eager to find out more.
Westworld came storming out of the gate last week, but with this second episode has shown it can run a marathon just as well as a sprint – it can do high-octane perfectly well, but it also nails the slower, smarter aspects of drama.